Friday, May 26, 2006

Malthus and crisis point

Someone asked me a question about globalization and the ecosystem of globalization -- I argue that globalization as a new stage of capitalism (or an "epochal shift" in the terms of William Robinson et. al.) leads to a new ecosystem, in contrast to the ecological narrative of the "end of nature". How does such a viewpoint fit with the Malthusian idea of carrying capacity and crisis point? (For a bit more on population and environment, see this little paper: Human population and ecology)

Here was my response:

Re: Malthus and carrying capacity and crisis -- I think that Malthus is a political story and not a scientific one. Or hypothetical but simplistic, because the factors that contribute to carrying capacity are complex and political in the sense that carrying capacity has to do w/ historical/cultural factors and technology (which is political in the sense of what gets researched and deployed). So "crisis point" is not fixed but "depends."

One might argue that we are already at an ecological crisis point, having already exceeded carrying capacity as indicated by mortality from poverty-related causes (curable diseases, starvation, exposure, etc.) But this would be the carrying capacity of globalization-as-a-stage given the current advance of technology. Some other form of social organization might (I would hope) raise the carrying capacity, assuming some more rationale understanding of affluence, and accompanied by an intense research and development program of renewable energy sources.

I think the tendency in globalization is towards more artificial or managed environments that will continue to provide the conditions for the economy to stumble along. It won't be a particularly "wild" or "natural" environment (except maybe for areas reserved as private parks or ecotourist havens). There may be localized ecological crises, that even spill over their local boundaries, but they will be absorbed in the same way that localized economic crises are absorbed at the global level.

However, I don't think that globalization is the only choice available, in big historical terms, so hope springs eternal. Environmental questions quickly slip from the realm of science into the realm of politics.

Climate change is something else, and if the worst case scenarios, or close-to-worst case scenarios happen, all bets are off.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

More on emissions markets

Here are some links to more info on the carbon emissions markets (I lifted news and commentary ones from the Gristmill post and comments).


Emissions-Trading Profits in Europe Plunge as Data Questioned (Bloomberg report)

EU gives green light to pollution hike (Times of London)

Data Leaks Shake Up Carbon Trade (New York Times)


EU carbon-trading market hullabaloo from Gristmill, the Grist online magazine blog

Emissions impossible from the Guardian

Question marks over EU CO2 trading scheme from EurActiv, includes a number of links for additional background info.

Background: These articles came out within the past two years, but include good analysis

Marketing and making carbon dumps: Commodification, calculation and counterfactuals in climate change mitigation A very good analysis by Larry Lohmann of The Corner House, appeared in Science as culture, September, 2005.

Climate fraud and carbon colonialism: The new trade in greenhouse gases by Heidi Bachram, appeared in Capitalism nature socialism December, 2004.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Speculative capital and the environment, plus carbon markets

Here is a link to a draft of a paper I presented at the 2006 Global Studies Association here in Chicago. The paper is titled "Speculative capital and the ecosystem of globalization". It will undergo a significant re-write before I am done with it.

Related to this, the New York Times carried an article in Tuesday's paper (5/16/06) called "Data leaks shake up carbon trade" by Heather Timmons (I'm not sure how long that link will be good). It has been one year since the Kyoto protocol went into effect for the 163 signatory countries, and several European countries started leaking out their emissions numbers ahead of the May 15 release date. The initial numbers from France, Sweden and a few other countries were significantly below their allotted permits, meaning that those permits would be available for sale on the carbon market. This drove down the price of carbon permits from about 30 euros per metric ton of CO2 to a low of 9.40 Euros in a matter of days. But on May 15, prices doubled from the day's low to the day's high. (If you are curious about the carbon markets, check out the European Climate Exchange website, which has historical prices, and a good news section.)

It looks like European countries exaggerated their current emissions levels, used to create and allocate the permits. By exaggerating the baseline of pollution used to measure Kyoto reductions, national government's were cutting their local industries some slack. With a high baseline, industry has had to do little or nothing to meet reduction guidelines. Or maybe industries provided faulty numbers: "Governments have been cheated by the big industries, which gave them the wrong assumptions for their emissions," charged Stephen Singer of the World Wildlife Fund. Or possibly industry was on their way to reducing emissions anyway, through cleaner technology, and the Kyoto targets weren't set low enough.

The extreme volatility in the market has upset some traders as well, who taken by surprise by early release of data and data leaks.

The charge that baselines were faulty reinforces the idea that the Kyoto Protocol terms are a joke: open to fraud and deceit, and shooting for targets that will do little to reduce emissions or global warming. "So far, the permit market appears to have done more for the balance sheets of power companies than for pollution control," per the NYT article, since companies were granted the inflated number of permits, which they can turn around and sell on the open market. And the markets themselves, including the brokers, which make money as long as trading is taking place.