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Forget the green technology – the hot money is in guns

Naomi Klein, The Guardian
Far from saving us from catastrophe, the market is developing fortresses to shield the haves

Anyone tired of lousy news from the markets should talk to Douglas Lloyd, a director of Venture Business Research, which tracks trends in venture capitalism. “I expect investment activity in this sector to remain buoyant,” he said recently. Lloyd’s bouncy mood was inspired by the money that is gushing into private security and defence companies. He added: “I also see this as a more attractive sector, as many do, than clean energy.”

Got that? If you are looking for a sure bet in a new growth market, then sell solar and buy surveillance: forget wind, buy weapons.

This observation – coming from an executive who is trusted by such clients as Goldman Sachs and Marsh & McLennan – deserves particular attention in the run-up to the United Nations climate change conference, which takes place in Bali next week. There, world environment ministers are supposed to come up with the global pact that will replace the Kyoto agreement.

The Bush administration, still roadblocking firm caps on emissions, wants to let the market solve the crisis. “We’re on the threshold of dramatic technological breakthroughs,” the American president assured the world last January, adding: “We’ll leave it to the market to decide the mix of fuels that most effectively and efficiently meet this goal.”

The idea that capitalism can save us from climate catastrophe has powerful appeal. It gives politicians an excuse to subsidise corporations rather than to regulate them; and it neatly avoids a discussion about how the core market logic of endless growth landed us here in the first place.

The market, however, appears to have other ideas about how to meet the challenges of an increasingly disaster-prone world. According to Lloyd, the really big money – despite all the government incentives – is turning away from clean-energy technologies, and is banking instead on gadgets that promise to seal wealthy countries and individuals into hi-tech fortresses.
(30 November 2007)
Also posted at The Nation.

Eat, drink and be miserable: the true cost of our addiction to shopping

Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian
Today it seems politically unpalatable, but soon the state will have to turn to rationing to halt hyper-frantic consumerism

There’s a pamphlet scudding around my kitchen; it has accumulated coffee rings and fingerprints, but I keep rescuing it from the recycling bin with the good intention of signing up to a green tariff on electricity again. (I can’t quite understand why the deal I signed up to years ago ever ended.) A good intention that has a 50-50 chance of fulfilment.

According to all the research, there are a lot of people like me: full of good intentions, deeply concerned about climate change and yet ineffective at translating that into their behaviour. Why? A mixture of information overload, time poverty (a much overlooked aspect of environmental sustainability is how much time it requires) and utter confusion about what “doing one’s bit” entails. Plus the killer equation: what sacrifices is one prepared to tolerate when they are pathetically insignificant compared with Chinese power stations going up at the rate of two a week?

Is it enough to have halved family meat consumption, have foregone flights for several sun-starved years and arranged a life in which habits of cycling to work and walking to school are routine? No, it’s just scratching at the surface. If the developed world is to implement the 80% cuts in carbon emissions the UN demands as part of the talks beginning in Bali today, the lives of our children will have to be dramatically different from everything we are currently bringing them up to expect.

… there is a madness at the heart of [the consumerist] economic model with its terrible environmental costs. It’s best illustrated by a graph used by the US psychologist Tim Kasser at a Whitehall seminar last week. One line, representing personal income, has soared over the past 40 years; the other line marks those who describe themselves as “very happy”, and has remained the same. The gap between the two yawns ever wider. All this consumption is not necessary to our happiness.

Kasser’s graph has both hopeful and disturbing implications. On the hopeful side, this is good news: a low-consumption economy wouldn’t mean misery. But what’s disturbing is how we continue to shop when it doesn’t make us happier. He argues that our hyperconsumerism is a response to insecurity, a maladaptive type of coping mechanism. Over the past few decades, the sources of insecurity have multiplied:
(3 December 2007)

Clogged by plastic bags, Africa begins banning them

Sarah Simpson, The Christian Science Monitor
Several African countries have taken bold new measures to tackle the region’s severe waste-management problems.

…in a move more drastic than seen in most Western countries, several African nations are tackling the scourge by banning or restricting use of plastic bags.

The United Nations estimates that only 10 percent of rubbish in Africa makes it to dumps, with the rest left to rot in communities or burned in acrid bonfires.

As Africans increasingly live in cities, waste management has become a real development problem.

Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda have passed laws banning or restricting the use of a main culprit: the ordinary plastic grocery bag.

By the end of the year, Kenya is expected to follow suit.

More than 48 million plastic bags are produced in Kenya each year, according to the UN.

“We need to ban these flimsy plastic bags, which we only use once and dispose of, because all of them make their way into the environment,” says environmentalist Joseph Gondi of Kenya’s prominent Green Belt Movement, founded by 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. “You may collect them and say you are taking them to the dump site, but we do not have well managed landfill sites here in Kenya.”
(30 November 2007)