Cashing In On The Environment

by Benjie Oliveros

Although the environment gradually became an international concern since the early 70s, the Earth Summit 20 years ago signaled that the world is already alarmed over the state of the environment. This was followed by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, in which countries committed to reduce their greenhouse gases emissions by five percent as against 1990 levels. Since then, this concern for and discourse on the environment has been the flavor of the last two decades. So much so that it has evolved a language of its own: sustainable development, which actually was coined earlier in 1987 by the Brundtland commission, greenhouse gasses, global warming, emission reduction and trading, carbon footprint, clean development mechanisms, COP or Conference of Parties, REDD or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, mitigation and adaptation strategies, and now “Greening” the economy.

This concern is not without basis. The extent of the degradation of the environment ­ – deforestation, pollution of the air, water systems, and land, fish kills, reduction in biodiversity – and its effects – flashfloods, extreme weather conditions, climate change, landslides, worsening hunger and poverty – are alarmingly very real today. It is no longer a point for discourse but a critical concern for action. It is already staring us in the face.

Consequently, funding for efforts to address concerns for the environment has poured in and a lot of civil society organizations, community organizations, development agencies and even governments have cashed in on this. Sadly, after more than two decades, the world has not made a dent in addressing environmental issues. At most, what are tangible are micro, community-level efforts. While these efforts are laudable, the amount and rate of destruction and degradation of the environment being done at a larger scale by governments and big corporations render micro, community efforts futile.

Moreover, the market-based mechanisms that are being allowed in lieu of actual emission reduction – such as carbon trading, clean development mechanisms, REDD, among others – not only allow the biggest emitter countries and corporations to elude accountability but also give them the license to continue doing the same. Likewise, mining and logging companies are able to operate freely for as long as they do token measures such as tree planting activities and abide by certain requirements such as environmental compliance certificates, securing ‘informed consent,’ and paying more taxes to both the local and national governments.

It is an understatement to say that despite the lengthy, flowery discourse, the numerous conferences and agreements, and funding being poured into efforts at addressing the critical state of the environment, it sill fails to hit the nail on the head.

This is because all the initiatives and efforts being done do not address the real cause of the continuing destruction of the environment: the over-extraction, over-consumption of the world’s natural resources for the production of a plethora of capital. This extractive system called capitalism regards the environment and its natural resources solely from the perspective of capital and profits. And this new concept being introduced – the greening of the economy through the valuation of so-called natural capital and ecological services – would only make it worse. It would result in putting a price on and therefore, facilitating the trade in natural resources. It would also make initiatives to address environmental issues as profit-making ventures.

Given the critical and still worsening state of the environment, the time to act is now. But we could not rely on governments and corporations, it is the people who should act to effect a radical change in the prevailing system.(

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