Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.
We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.
We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.
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New World Notes
by Ken Dowst, WWUH
West Hartford, CT
The question arose in my mind – what's the discrepancy now between carbon output per capita in developed countries and undeveloped countries? Would twice the carbon allotment be an aggressive goal, or would it allow gas-guzzling nations to keep the pedal to the metal? I attempted to drill down on this number, pun intended. At first, I could only find charts that ordered countries by their overall carbon footprint. They made a big deal over how China has surpassed the US. But what does that mean, when you look at the population of China compared to the US? To look at carbon output without calculating it per person seemed like nonsense.
Once again, Wikipedia galloped to my rescue. My website now sports a handy Wikimedia button, in case you want to support their annual fundraiser, as I did this week. For me, they've made research into a treasure hunt where one clue leads to another. And I find secrets no expert would reveal. Viva la passionate amateurs!
There I found a link that listed countries by annual carbon emissions per capita. And the winner is... Qatar with a whopping 56 metric tons a year per person. That makes United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain seem almost girlish with their 30-ton figures. Next come Aruba, Trinidad and Tobago, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in the low to mid-twenties. What are they doing, smoking their emissions? Or is it because of the jets and cruise ships schlepping tourists around?
After these eight minuscule countries comes the US with 19 metric tons per. This 2007 rate is the same as in 1990 when the Wikipedia chart begins. But the DataBlog of the UK Guardian, with the subtitle "Facts are Sacred," has a post by Adam Vaughan that agrees that per capita statistics are the only way to go. By his data (view pdf), which goes back to 1950, the US spiked up to 22 in 1978, and has been declining ever since. Despite our government killing the electric car, blocking mass transit funding, and forcing an emissions-hogging military on us, it seems that we, the people, are trying. According to BusinessGreen and British analyst Maplecroft, Australia has now surpassed the US in per capita emissions at 20.5 and is not trying – at least not the government; I don't assume their people have any more control over their government than we do.
The US is followed closely by Canada, the Falkland Islands, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Most developed countries hover around 10, but France, Malta, Portugal, and Hungary have dropped below 6. South Africa is neck-to-neck with Italy at 7, which surprised me. South Africa's emissions are certainly not from an Italian quality of life. Is it from oil production? China is 96th out of 210 countries with 4.6 tons per person. Adam Vaughan's chart shows that China's trajectory reached the world average of 4.2 in 2004. A note on Wikipedia points out that these statistics don't account for export manufacturing, which is a third of China's emissions, or for countries who avoid emissions by importing, no names mentioned but we know who we are.
Twice the 4.2 global average would be 8.4 tons, and twice that again would be 16.8. The US is at 19.8, or three tons more than four times the global average. If the 2050 goal for developed countries were 8.4 tons per capita, or twice the allotment for developing countries, it would require us to cut our emissions by 57% – which is more than the 40% goal called for by the climate summit. Most European countries would be already in this ballpark, with 8.4 as a workable goal. If "developing" countries set their goal at 4.2, China would need to make trade-offs between emissions for dirty manufacturing vs. quality of life. 43% of countries, or 91, are at less than half of average emissions, 2 tons or less. If the 25 countries over 8.4 were to cut their emissions by 2% per year, it would make a far bigger impact than paying money to impoverished nations. The US would need to drop by .4 tons per capita per year. The only developing country that would need to curb emissions would be South Africa. Does this have anything to do with their righteous indignation over the leaked memo?
But when we return, we're going to look at why this analysis doesn't tell the whole story either. We'll check out some other global statistics that indicate who really owes the climate debt and how we could get them to pay, guaranteeing that the money gets in the right hands. We'll also present an incentive plan for people in the US to cut their emissions, not by 40% or 57%, but by 80% by the year 2050. And it would start by making us honest. First, however, we're going to break for some poems about less complicated things. This is "Almost a Conversation" by Mary Oliver, and "The Seven of Pentacles" by Marge Piercy. The music is Alpha Yaya Diallo with Bambara Blues.
But according to Evo Morales, Naomi Klein, Vendana Shiva, and Desmond Tutu – some of the people I most admire in the world - you and I are high-rolling capitalists who just plunked down billions to save our beloved banks. I'm certainly feeling wealthy since we did that. I went right out and bought a new gas-guzzling clothesline, since I wore out the old one trying not to use the dryer. In retribution for our decadent lifestyles, flaunting our cushy carbon emissions during our 2-hr commutes, we owe a climate debt. Tack it right on to the 13 trillion our credit card limit has been raised to. Of course, our credit's not good at certain establishments: healthcare, education, or social security. But I'm sure there's enough to pay off some African nations if there's oil greasing the skids.
But Evo, Naomi, Vendana, and Desmond, may I ask one little question…how will this help us reduce our carbon footprint? I don't mean to argue – I just need someone to explain the connection to me. Our average personal debt is already 15 months gross income, and the national debt was twice our net assets before the handouts, I mean bailouts. Should we be paying more in taxes, those who still have a job or a house, I mean? Should we have greater austerity in our social programs, if that's possible? Or should we just shoot ourselves, going out with one last big bang of carbon emissions?
Debt and taxes are the two biggest threats to sovereignty, which effects both developed and developing countries. Wikipedia has another handy reference - the list of external debt per capita. This includes both public and private or corporate debt owed to anyone outside the country. Did you know that every lad and lassie born in Ireland owes $450,000, and each Iceland papoose $360 grand? They're both at 1000% of GDP. Brit babes and Swiss maids owe half this, with $175k each. Belgian whelps are close behind at $125k. The infants of Norway, Denmark, Austria, and Hong Kong all owe a cool $100k. Swedish, French, and German toddlers are toting a heavier load in their diapers than the US, although this was back in June when our debt was mere $42,000 each and 95% of GDP. But Monaco takes the debt cake with $540,000 per and 1800% of GDP. At the opposite end of the spectrum, China owes less than $300 per person and 5% of GDP.
At least 198 countries owe from millions to billions to trillions. According to economist Susan George, the global south pays the north $200 billion a year. That could buy a lot of solar ovens. To whom is the money owed? In my research on Third World debt, I remember learning that it was related to the price of oil. When oil went up, the sheiks and robber barons made more money than they could find takers for. And so they created a third world money market with white elephant projects – foisting development loans on countries for things they didn't need or want.
In Liberia, after they'd agreed to a land concession for a rubber plantation, Firestone forced them to accept a loan. They refused, on the grounds that they didn't need it and it was bad business to owe money to a leaseholder. Firestone threatened US military intervention if they didn't take it, which wasn't an idle threat. And so take it they did. Loans from other sources to Charles Taylor's regime paid for the weapons and drugs that made children into killers. Altogether, Liberia ended up with 1.2 billion of debt for one of the 15 poorest countries on the planet. Decades later, through international pressure and activism, they won a buy-out of the debt for 3 cents on the dollar.
But two debtors held out, waited for the dust to settle, and then sued in British court. Called vulture funds, these give vultures a bad name by preying on the living. They buy up loans to countries eligible for absolution. After the loans are forgiven, they swoop in and declare that their loans weren't settled. For 6 million in loans, the British court awarded a 20 million settlement. This is equal to their whole education budget and 1.5X their health budget. Jubilee USA has gotten the Stop Vulture Funds Act into the Senate. You can help get it passed by sending a message to your Congress member from Jubilee's website.
Global Witness published a 2006 report called Heavy Mittal, (view pdf) which looked at Mittal Steel's exploitation of Liberia. Like Firestone, it's a revealing case study of the global dominance of transnational corporations. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations while only 49 are countries. While people don't have a say in their country's debt, and may not have been born yet when it was acquired, they're still held liable for it. Executives and Board members of a corporation, however, can't be sued for their company's debt. Once they've transferred the profits into private pockets, the corporation can declare bankruptcy and dissolve. But even that may not be necessary. In a practice called liability-sheltering, a parent company can allows their subsidiary to go bankrupt without affecting them, skipping town and skipping country on their creditors, so to speak.
David Bayer in Peru sent me an article called Beware the Psychopath, My Son by Clinton Callahan. Extracted from two articles: Twilight of the Psychopaths, by Dr. Kevin Barrett (view pdf), and The Trick of the Psychopath's Trade by Silvia Cattori (view pdf), it talks about why psychopaths have come to dominate all branches of government. It defines a psychopath as a person without a conscience. But corporations are, by definition, psychopaths - profitmaking machines without a soul. Like ninjas, they can wreak havoc, swipe the goods, and then vaporize at will. No matter what violence a company perpetrates to people or the environment, there's no culpability. Even if a case wins, it's appealed, and reappealed, until the company's changed hands and the players have switched places. The money has gone into off-shore tax havens, of which 72 now exist around the world. Not only do these avoid taxes, but no one knows the money's there. Countries are full of liabilities, otherwise known as people. But corporations are full of pockets, into which money goes, never to return. Lakshmi Mittal, the CEO, spent 60 million on his daughter's wedding – three times Liberia's vulture debt and more than twice their education and health budget combined.
Why are we holding countries liable for the climate debt instead of corporations? A country's GDP is seen as a reflection of its wealth, but it's really a measure of its population's vulnerability. It indicates the high cost of housing, of healthcare, of taxation, of monthly bills for necessities. We're all temps in today's economy, fearful of losing the jobs we hate but can't live without. And now, as our schools close and we're counting how many paychecks we are away from being homeless, we're supposed to pay guilt-money for these drive-through junk food lives, spilling ketchup on our laps before the next interview, the next client call, the next time we have to sell ourselves as a perky prostitute for the business world?
I would like Vandana Shiva to read Barbara Ehrenreich's books Bait and Switch and Nickel and Dimed. Then she can explain to me how a person who isn't lazy and isn't greedy can make an ethical living in the US. If there's one thing that Barbara brings into sharp relief, it's the trap in which American workers are caught. Those saying we owe a climate debt cite the billions conjured out of thin air to save the banks. Let's be clear. The money that saved the banks didn't come out of thin air. It came from the houses that held the hard-earned savings of families. It came from the pension funds that vanished into 401K's. It came from bankrupting city budgets.
So here's my solution to climate change:
For Third Paradigm, this has been Tereza Coraggio. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for sound production, and to Mike Scirocco for all things internet. Mike also has put a visitor map on the contact page. Over the last couple weeks, we've been visited by Israel, Portugal, Germany, Seychelles, and Baku, Azerbaijan. Thanks to Barbara Ehrenreich for an invigorating interview, that ranged from supply chain ethics to theodicy to American Unapparelled. You can hear the interview at the end of this show.
We go out with a song called The Price of Petrol by Seize the Day.
In this fun and lively conversation, Tereza tells Barbara that Bright-Sided is a balm to her snarky soul. Tereza proposes a support group called Kranky Misanthropes Anonymous, but Barbara has a better group started - the Negateers. They discuss magical thinking in religion and business, 'tit for tat' in cancer fundraising, how the office has been outsourced to the home, and the danger of shooting the messenger. Tereza relates two stories of being fired for not being a "can-do girl," and asks whether all middle-managers have now become "can-do girls" in this musical chairs jobless market.
Thank you for listening.