Re: [OPE] Alexander Cockburn on carbon catastrophism

From: Patrick Bond (
Date: Wed Feb 13 2008 - 08:33:50 EST

Jerry, that's too pessimistic. In the local Durban paper yesterday I 
argued the elites are useless on this issue and a new Climate Justice 
Now movement is developing a totally different strategy: "Leave the oil 
in the soil!".

I'm doing a N.American tour to publicize the analysis and movement 
building, starting at Georgetown U. next Friday, through to the Left 
Forum in NYC in mid-March (,40,3,1416 ). The Durban Group 
for Climate Justice has been touring around the US featuring Larry 
Lohmann and others. So we're moving quite a strong anti-capitalist 
project against the 'privatisation of the air'.

>     Given the above, I think it's most likely that mass social movements
>     around this question will only emerge _after_ the "tipping point"
>     has been reached. 

The Mercury

Columnists: Eye on Civil Society

South Africa in the dark about global warming
by Patrick Bond

February 12, 2008 Edition 1

It is tragic but understandable that South African society ranks - with 
the United States and China - at the bottom of a recent worldwide 
climate-consciousness survey by polling firm Global Scan: only 45% of us 
believe global warming is a "serious problem".

Latin Americans rank above 80%, and Europeans near 70%, while the US's 
consciousness is at 48% and China's is at 39%.

It is understandable that we have been kept in the dark, because even in 
the midst of the worst national energy crisis in South Africa's living 
memory, the simple act of questioning who abuses our coal-burning power 
generators is off the agenda. Instead, to get a meagre conservation 
reduction of 40MW, energy minister Buyelwa Sonjica tells us: "Switch off 
all lights in the home when not in use and go to sleep early so that you 
can grow."

Critics rightly call this a trivialising blame-the-victim game, whose 
broader aim appears to be distracting attention from those who are most 
to blame: the government and crony corporations like BHP Billiton.

In a presentation he delivered to big business on January 21, Eskom CEO 
Jacob Maroga bragged that at $0.03 (23c) per kiloWatt hour for 
industrial customers after 2007 increases, his prices still remained 

That's the understatement of the year, given that US electricity is 
three times and Danish electricity eight times more expensive than what 
the average firm here pays.

South African households pay more than double the industrial rate; with 
BHP Billiton trying to take over Rio Tinto, which is taking over Alcan, 
Eskom's smelter incentive at Coega will offer even cheaper power, less 
than $0.02 (15c) per kWh.

So it is not surprising - though something of a secret from the public - 
that measured by carbon dioxide emissions per unit of per-person 
economic output, South Africa emits 20 times more carbon dioxide than 
the US. That's correct: Our economy's carbon intensivity is 20 times 
worse than that of that Great Climate Satan, the US.


Although most electricity consumers, the service industries, 
manufacturers and some gold mines have taken a hit, it appears that the 
foreign-owned electricity-guzzling aluminium smelters have been 
untouched by the crisis. According to business journalist Mathabo le 
Roux: "For the duration of the power cuts, BHP Billiton's Bayside, 
Hillside and Mozal smelters received their full electricity complement - 
a formidable 2 500MW."

The smelters' consumption of electricity is hedonistic; their metals 
prices are 10% higher for local consumers than for international 
markets; they employ only a few hundred workers; their profit streams go 
to Melbourne; and their employees have, in the past decade, included 
former finance minister Derek Keys, former Eskom treasurer Mick Davis, 
and former national electricity regulator Xolani Mkhwanazi.

That wide a revolving door with the state tells you something about what 
academics term "captive regulation".

What's worse, these men are having the party, they are making the carbon 
dioxide mess, and now they hope to profit from the main Kyoto Protocol 
clean-up strategy, which is known as "carbon trading".

Recall that in 1997 at the Kyoto negotiations, US vice-president Al Gore 
told delegates that in exchange for adopting carbon trading as a central 
climate strategy, Washington would adopt the treaty - but US support 
never materialised.

Instead of cutting emissions at the rate we need to avoid climate 
disaster, large foreign corporations like BHP Billiton are taking 
advantage of Gore's gimmick.

Big greenhouse gas polluters have, in effect, been given trillions of 
dollars in historic property rights to keep polluting, so long as they 
gain an overall cap in emissions and kickstart the trade in clean air.

Interviewed by Responsible Investor magazine last October, financier 
George Soros ridiculed this approach: "The cap and trade system of 
emissions trading is very difficult to control and its effects are 
diluted. It is pretty much breaking down because there is no penalty for 
developing countries not to add to their pollution."

According to Newsweek magazine's investigation of third world carbon 
trading - through the clean development mechanism - last March: "It 
isn't working . . . (and represents) a grossly inefficient way of 
cutting emissions in the developing world."

The magazine called the clean development mechanism trade "a shell game" 
which has transferred "$3 billion (R23.4 billion) to some of the worst 
carbon polluters in the developing world."

Lacking an emissions cap at present, South African policymakers like 
former environmental minister and Eskom chairman Valli Moosa - who now 
makes money from the clean-development-mechanism trade (not only through 
conflict-of-interest-ridden ANC-Eskom deals) - were wooed by big capital 
and strongly support the mechanism as primarily a "commercial 
opportunity", as the 2004 climate policy paper put it.

Encouraged by Moosa, South African cities generated a variety of clean 
development mechanism projects - some attractive, like energy 
retrofitting in Khayelitsha township, but some dreadful, like keeping 
open Durban's vast Bisasar Road dump so as to extract more methane - 
whose overall effect will exacerbate not solve the climate crisis.

Throughout the electricity crisis, big smelting companies are protected 
with reliable supply and the world's cheapest electricity; and 
throughout the climate crisis, the government is negotiating hard on 
behalf of big capital so they receive a lucrative property right to 
pollute, which they can then trade for more profit.

In Durban, Sajida Khan fought carbon trading before her death by cancer 
last July.


There are similar struggles in many parts of the world, generating a 
wholly different strategy and demand by civil society activists: leave 
the oil in the soil and the resources in the ground.

In my own neighbourhood, which includes two of Africa's largest oil 
refineries, the South Durban Community and Environmental Alliance 
mobilises strenuously against corporate and municipal environmental 
crime, including three explosions and fires since September and a 
massive fish kill.

The highest-stake cases in South Africa at present are the vast Limpopo 
platinum fields and the titanium and other minerals in the Wild Coast 

Communities are resisting multinational corporations, but will need 
vigorous solidarity, because the extraction of these resources is 
extremely costly in terms of local land use, peasant displacement, water 
extraction, energy consumption and political corruption.

The recent Bali conference featured an alternative movement-building 
component outside the main jamboree, a Climate Justice Now! coalition, 
which criticised carbon trading and called for genuine solutions.

These included "reduced consumption; huge financial transfers from North 
to South based on historical responsibility and ecological debt for 
adaptation and mitigation costs paid for by redirecting military 
budgets, innovative taxes and debt cancellation; leaving fossil fuels in 
the ground and investing in appropriate energy-efficiency and safe, 
clean and community-led renewable energy; rights-based resource 
conservation that enforces indigenous land rights and promotes peoples' 
sovereignty over energy, forests, land and water; and sustainable family 
farming and peoples' food sovereignty".

As our climate consciousness hopefully rises to levels found in 
politically-alive societies, we should take advantage of renewed 
attention to electricity justice, to ask why the big, well-connected 
smelting and energy firms get such an insanely good deal from 
politicians who claim to be building a "developmental state" - not 
merely crony capitalism.

# Patrick Bond is director of the UKZN Centre for Civil Society and 
co-editor of the recent UKZN Press book Climate Change, Carbon Trading 
and Civil Society.

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