The Financialization of Nature Is a New Battle Based on Old Tricks
By Rich Bindell
Last week, in a small conference room in Washington, D.C., connected by video link to attendees in New York, Italy and elsewhere, members of several consumer and environmental advocacy groups held a roundtable discussion on a growing global trend that pits people and corporations against each other in a battle over public resources. The topic is one that you’ll probably be hearing more about in the near future, especially with Rio+20 in June, which will focus on the so-called “green economy.” If you really think about it, you’ve most likely seen evidence of it already: the financialization of nature.
The Institute for Policy Studies hosted several groups with sponsors including Corporate Accountability International, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth-U.S., Heinrich Boell Foundation, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and Public Citizen, many of whom have been working to protect public resources for years. The mood of folks around the room was one of concern, but it was reassuring to see the unification of experienced advocates.
With climate change now a harsh reality, it’s already having a profound impact on the availability of the natural resources from which all human beings benefit. Along with the challenge of meeting the needs of a growing global population with potentially fewer resources is the threat of losing control over those resources to private interests.
Multi-national corporations have been positioning themselves to strategically cast monetary value onto shared natural resources for years. But this time, they are putting a new spin on old tricks. Where private investors once collaborated with governments and international agencies to create new markets for things like food and energy, they are now focused on doing so for water, land, carbon, species, habitats and biodiversity—so called “ecosystem services."
Brace yourselves, and prepare to defend your public resources against major financial institutions as they seek to take advantage of the scarcity of such resources by profiting from them in new markets. This commodification of things that we often take for granted—resources that sustain life—is taking place throughout the world, and major investors have already gotten started on convincing the public that it’s acceptable to put a market price on resources that currently exist in the public domain. Just take a look at the bottled water industry for a great example.
Savvy marketers are calling it a “green economy,” but it’s more like a greenwashed economy. It embodies the soul of an industry that would displace citizens from their trailer park village in Pennsylvania in order to access a withdrawal facility so Aqua America can provide oil and gas companies with water for fracking. It falsely empowers big polluters to buy and sell credits offering the “right” to pollute our water and air, but it’s really just an incentive to continue business as usual.
It also serves up the horrific reminder, as UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque said, that even in the U.S., “the richest economy in the world, there are still people lacking access to safe, affordable water and sanitation.” From communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley (see the first video) who have to purchase bottled water because their wells are contaminated to Lowndes County, Alabama where residents face jail time if they can’t afford to buy new sanitation systems.
As we prepare to fight against the financialization of nature, we face combatants who are armed with extensive supplies of money and power. But communities have power too. We have the power of information sharing, voting, and uniting to protect what we recognize as shared resources for all human beings. As we ramp up our new Common Resources program, you will see how the financialization of nature is a topic that connects all of our issue areas together.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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