Economically valuing ‘ecosystem services’: a triumph for ecological economics, or merely for capitalism?

These two dramatic developments in recent days [see links below], especially that at Nagoya, seem to offer great hope. But are they really as good news as they appear? As argued in my paper in THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF GREEN ECONOMICS a couple of years ago ( ), I am deeply concerned that the sudden move to accepting the financial valuation of ecosystem services (1) embraces a brand of anthropocentrism that in fact aims stand opposed to ecocentrism (because the financial numbers are all based on capitalist economics, which attributes no real value to nature, only to human wants), (2) delegitimises moves to value nature on other grounds (once we have a number attached to nature, won’t people who say that it is priceless be told not just that they are merely sentimentalising, but that they are factually mistaken?), (3) is incoherent and so vulnerable to attack (because nature – and ourselves – IS/ARE priceless: it is literally absurd to put a price on a breathable atmosphere, etc.), (4) involves a pernicious set of propagandistic linguistic manoeuvres (are they ‘ecosystem services’ or are they the ecology of nature, of life itself?).

Stopping slavery and stopping climate chaos: On slaves and ‘fire-slaves’

This very thoughtful post carefully makes the argument that those opposing serious action on dangerous climate-change eerily echo the arguments of those who opposed serious action to stop slavery. It points out for example the striking parallels that exist between the arguments of the capitalists who called for only voluntary action to reduce the negative impact of slavery, and the arguments of the capitalists who call now for only voluntary action to reduce the negative impact of manmade climate change.
    But the parallels can be taken one stage further:
    Global over-heating is happening because of our burning of ever more fossil fuels. This burning gives us access to a vast energy glut, compared to which almost all the preceding existence of human beings has been extraordinarily low energy. But Peak Oil and the soon-to-follow Peak Gas mean that this glut will be temporary. In future, people will not have access to cheap energy in vast amounts; and they will have to deal with the potentially-utterly-dire consequences of our burning up fossil fuels into greenhouse gases like there is literally no tomorrow… In effect, we have grown accustomed to depending on what I call ‘fire-slaves’, to run our cars, to heat our homes, to do just about everything that our economy-on-speed depends upon. We use (up) non-renewable fire-slaves in huge numbers – thus depriving tomorrow of access to them, and heaping on tomorrow a dire burden of climate instability.
    In other words: like the slavers before us, we today, in our profligate and selfish use of ‘fire-slaves’, are imposing terrible costs — unfreedoms, manmade ‘natural’ disasters, sicknesses unto death — on other human beings. Unlike the slavers, we can’t see most of them, for most of them have yet to be born. But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility. It just makes it all the more acute. For at least a few slaves managed to escape, to survive, to win their freedom. At least the slaves triumphed in the end, and the proud American South was even defeated, humbled over the issue (and a damn good thing too). Whereas: if we are not careful we will utterly trap our descendants into a life (or death) where they are energy-poor while having to cope with disasters which Hurricane Katrina and the like are only trailers for. For them, there will be no escape.
    We ought to think long and deep about the parallels between being soft on slavery and being soft on climate-inaction. When this parallel really strikes us as it ought, and when we wake up at last to care for future people like our own children (have a listen to me here for more on this: ), then we may begin to turn the corner, as we succeeded in doing on slavery two centuries ago — despite all the dire warnings about how it would mean economic ruin, etc. …

UN to Impose Geoengineering Moratorium on Risky Climate Techno-Fixes

This is very important good news. Geoengineering puts our ecosystems at dire risk (and distracts from actually fixing the climate – which is why Newt Gingrich loves it).
…Major victory for common sense as hacking of planetary ecosystems is premature until such time as all other options are exhausted; and until there are global protocols, consensus and a sound scientific basis for any geoengineering that may or may not occur.
October 29, 2010
From Earth’s Newsdesk and Climate Ark, projects of Ecological Internet (EI) |

NAGOYA, Japan – Ecological Internet welcomes reports that the 193-member UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will close its tenth biennial meeting with a de facto moratorium on geoengineering projects and experiments. This is a tremendous victory for the ETC Group’s “Hands Off Mother Earth” campaign [1], which has carefully researched and presented the case for such a moratorium on “planet hacking”, and with whom Ecological Internet is affiliated. “Any private or public experimentation or adventurism intended to manipulate the planetary thermostat will be in violation of this carefully crafted UN consensus,” stated Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American Director of ETC Group. The ETC Group’s full press release on the victory, as well as the full text of the agreement, is included below.

In announcing the outcome, the ETC Group publicly thanked Ecological Internet “for help winning a moratorium on Geoengineering” and particularly those that had “written to CBD delegates and spread the word. Many many thanks for your active campaigning. Your letters. really had an impact.” This is in reference to Ecological Internet’s Earth Action Network’s largest online email protest ever, where people from 83 countries sent 1,806,339 protest emails to CBD delegates just before the conference commenced [2]. Each delegate received just over 2,000 letters – just enough to make a critical ecological point, while being minimally disruptive – letting those in positions of power to doing something, that global citizens are opposed to geoengineering. It appears to have made a huge difference in the outcome.

“Ecological Internet is simply thrilled to have been involved with the ETC Group led campaign to place a moratorium on geoengineering. The atmosphere is a global commons, and ‘hacking’ it to avoid reducing emissions, protecting old forests, and ending coal and tar sands is dangerous and irresponsible. The precautionary principle clearly justifies a ban on large-scale geoengineering experiments and implementation, until all other options are exhausted, and there are global protocols, consensus and a sound scientific basis for any geoengineering that may or may not occur,” explains Dr. Glen Barry, EI’s President. “This is almost certainly the biggest victory EI’s large global network, together with allies, has ever achieved – as without this UN guidance, almost certainly private interests and climate-negligent countries were poised to launch large-scale, risky experiments upon our shared biosphere.”

### MORE ###

Geoengineering is the proposed large scale manipulation of Earth’s oceans, soils and atmosphere with the intent of combating climate change. Geoengineering advocates have put forward a wide range of proposals to artificially modify these ecosystems to address climate change including: blasting sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun; dumping iron particles in the oceans to grow CO2-absorbing plankton; firing silver iodide into clouds to produce rain; genetically engineering crops to have reflective leaves; spraying seawater into clouds to make clouds whiter; dumping large quantities of plant matter into the ocean, and burning plants from a huge land area to produce charcoal for burying in soils.  Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering [3] is a new publication by ETC Group that provides an overview of the issues involved.

Ecological Internet holds that modifying Earth at a planetary scale is so complex, and ecological and other side effects potentially so severe, that clearly humanity is incapable of safely engineering a biosphere. EI advocates for this and other ecologically sufficient positions necessary to achieve global ecological sustainability. This is the eighth major conservation victory for EI in 2010, though EI’s massive global network operates under the radar of most media, NGOs and the public. Sadly, Ecological Internet is chronically under-funded, depending upon network members for funding, and may have to close or significantly cutback operations – after all funds are expended – if the current 11th annual year-end fund-raiser does not pick up [4]. EI urges participation in its current alert to halt the Tar Sands pipeline through B.C., Canada’s temperate rainforests [5].

### ENDS ###

[1] Hands Off Mother Earth (H.O.M.E) | Stop Geoengineering

[2] Action Alert: Demand Upcoming Global Biodiversity Meeting Bans Geoengineering

[3] Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering

[4] EI 2010 Year-End Fund-Raiser: Raising the Roof on Global Ecological Sustainability
Please donate now to celebrate this victory!

[5] ALERT! Canada Risks Pacific Coastal and Temperate Rainforest Ecosystems for Tar Sands Pipelines and Further Oil Addiction

Immediate abandonment of NDR called for by Green Party Leaders, after announcement of funding withdrawal

Following the Government’s announcement yesterday that there is as yet no funding for a Northern Distributor Road, Green Party councillors havecalled for the Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) to withdraw the Joint Core Strategy (JCS). 
    Councillor Phil Hardy said ‘This announcement makes it clear that there is no funding for an NDR before a further review in December 2011.  This removes any case that the JCS plan can be implemented based around the NDR.  This news simply makes the JCS plan unsound and it should now be withdrawn immediately.  This would be good news for many people who oppose the housing allocations and the high carbon transport strategy.  Now is the time for the GNDP to go back to the drawing board and develop a Plan B that is low carbon, public transport led with more realistic housing allocations.
    Green Party councillors are also calling for the NDR to be abandoned as a policy at the County Council.  Councillor Marcus Hemsley said ‘The Government clearly don’t think the Councils have made a good case for the NDR.  They have dragged their feet for years on funding and have now put off making further decisions. Meanwhile, the County Council has wasted well over £10m in trying to develop the road whilst public services are suffering.  We are demanding, at this time of major cuts to public services, that no further money is spent on the road and the Council formally abandon it as a policy’.
    Concerns are also being raised about the way the plan was developed behind closed doors by the GNDP.   Councillor Claire Stephenson said “The public have been excluded from the GNDP meetings throughout the last 4 years as it developed its plan.  Most elected councillors have also been excluded.  Neither these councillors, nor the public, could see the minutes or agendas of meetings.  The result has been a plan that is hugely unpopular and the public feeling trodden over.  We are calling for the governance of the GNDP to be completely reviewed so that a Plan B can be developed with the full involvement of the public and scrutiny by all elected councillors.’
RR’s comment: Finally, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of this white elephant road plan. What a disgrace, that millions upon millions of pounds have been blown by the Council on a plan that was never a good idea, and never likely to come to fruition.


Rail thoughts : I’m broadly supportive of this campaign, though not particularly of the ‘Norwich in 90’ component thereof! FAR more important than time-reductions on the timetable is improving the reliability of train services, and working to reduce or eliminate the weekend repair schedule which devastate weekend rail travel in our Region. Surveys show this again and again: people don’t mind much about 10 minutes on a timetable; what they mind about is hours of uncertainty or delay in real life.
As for the changes that the government are proposing to make to rail franchises: It is all very well to extend the franchise to 12 or 15 years, but what would be better would be to extend the franchise to permanency – while taking it back ‘in house’! I.e. Renationalise the railways. That is the only cure to a balkanized rail system which has resulted in obscenely vast private profits at public expense without any improvement in service level, let alone safety.
It is a crying shame that the dominance of neoliberalism in our political system means that the Green Party remains the only Party committed to the obvious, commonsensical, popular answer: renationalise our railways, for a joined-up, more affordable public transport system.

The depleted uranium MidEast megadeath  An important piece here on the vast crime of depleted uranium use by the UK/US forces in Iraq. I questioned Charles Clarke (then my MP) about this in the run-up to the criminal attack on Iraq in 2003. To my pleasant surprise, he insisted in reply that d.u. would not be used anywhere at all where it could harm civilians, in Iraq, and suggested to me that it was unlikely to be used at all by the British Armed Forces. To my unpleasant surprise since, these claims turned out to be entirely false.
Roddy’s article rightly speaks of Britain’s involvement in nothing less than nuclear war in the Mid-East. Our government committed what is (according to the Nuremberg tribunal) the supreme international crime, a war of aggression, in 2003, on the basis of the lie that Iraq had WMDs. But Britain and the U.S. did have WMDs, nuclear weapons – and they used them. Depleted uranium – i.e. in effect micro-nuclear-bombs, weapons that spread ultra-long-lasting nuclear death, wherever they are used – may well, as Roddy argues, kill hundreds of thousands or in the end maybe millions of people, in Iraq and the Region, and will contaminate it in a deadly fashion for tens and hundreds of millenia.
This is the sickening truth. And they did it in our names.

Meditation as an aid to mental health

I am giving a little talk (and a ‘practical’) as part of the upcoming UEA Wellbeing Week, under its ‘Mental Health & Philosophy’ rubric. The event will be at the Dean of Students’ Office Meeting Room (on campus) running from 10am-11am on Monday 15th November.

The title of the event is:

‘Meditation as an aid to mental health: A practical primer and some philosophical reflections’.