Tag Archives: climate change

how Wall Street is about to monetise nature, or why Glasgow COP26 was a roaring success for the one percent – Whitney Webb pulls back the curtain on GFANZ

[T]he United Nations has been transformed since we last met here in Davos. The Organization has undergone a complete overhaul that I have described as a ‘quiet revolution.” . . . A fundamental shift has occurred. The United Nations once dealt only with governments. By now we know that peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving governments, international organizations, the business community and civil society. . . . The business of the United Nations involves the businesses of the world.”

— UN Secretary General Kofi Annan speaking to the World Economic Forum in 1998

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Anyone who has read John Perkins bestselling mea culpa “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” is already familiar with the modus operandi of global vulture capitalism. Employed by an engineering consultancy firm, Perkins tells us that his actual job was to persuade the leaders of poor countries to take on enormous loans for prestigious development projects from global financial institutions including the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs).

Once saddled with debts – and the word ‘saddled’ aptly characterises what it means to be heavily indebted – the countries would then be compelled to acquiesce to US pressure on a whole host of issues including, centrally, the adoption of neoliberal policies which require the privatisation of state assets and a vast transfer of wealth to enrich a handful of Western financial elites.

As Perkins tells us right at the top of the preface to his book:

Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools included fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.

I should know; I was an EHM.

Of course, what Perkins describes is old school neo-imperialism. This was how late-twentieth century imperialists captured foreign nations and controlled them without too much need of direct military intervention or “boots on the ground” because mechanisms of financialisation are sufficient means for the usurpation of governments and exploitation of resources. However, as the world moves forward and new opportunities for exploitation recede, methods of plunder and ways of disguising it are swiftly being upgraded. These days when everything is going ‘green’, neo-imperialism is no exception:

Today, MDBs are used as “instruments of power” that utilize debt to force developing nations to implement policies that benefit foreign interests rather than their own national interests. If GFANZ gets its way [see below], the MDBs of tomorrow will be used to essentially eliminate national sovereignty, privatize the “natural assets” (e.g., ecosystems, ecological processes) of the developing world, and force increasingly technocratic policies designed by global governance institutions and think tanks on ever more disenfranchised populations.

The warning above is taken from a recent article by independent journalist Whitney Webb entitled “UN-Backed Banker Alliance Announces ‘Green’ Plan to Transform the Global Financial System”.

GFANZ, short for the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, as Webb explains, is an “industry-led and UN-convened” initiative. It was launched last April by John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate; Janet Yellen, US Secretary of the Treasury; Mark Carney, former chair of the Bank of England and now UN Special Envoy for Climate Action; who co-chairs the GFANZ alliance with US billionaire and former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.

According to their blurb (follow the link above):

GFANZ will work to mobilise the trillions of dollars necessary to build a global zero emissions economy and deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement. GFANZ will provide a forum for strategic coordination among the leadership of finance institutions from across the finance sector to accelerate the transition to a net zero economy.

Whitney Webb then follows the money:

GFANZ is composed of several “subsector alliances,” including the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative (NZAM), the Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance (NZAOA), and the Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA). Together, they command a formidable part of global private banking and finance interests, with the NZBA alone currently representing 43 percent of all global banking assets. However, the “largest financial players” who dominate GFANZ include the CEOs of BlackRock, Citi, Bank of America, Banco Santander, and HSBC, as well as David Schwimmer, CEO of the London Stock Exchange Group and Nili Gilbert, chair of the Investment Committee of the David Rockefeller Fund.

Notably, another Rockefeller-connected entity, the Rockefeller Foundation, recently played a pivotal role in the creation of Natural Asset Corporations (NACs) in September. These NACs seek to create a new asset class that would put the natural world, as well as the ecological processes that underpin all life, up for sale under the guise of “protecting” them.

Continuing:

Details of GFANZ’s plan to deploy trillions of member investments into emerging markets and developing countries was published in the alliance’s inaugural “Progress Report,” the release of which was timed to coincide with the COP26 conference. The report details the alliance’s “near-term work plan and ambitions,” which the alliance succinctly summarizes as a “program of work to transform the financial system.” […]

In addition to the creation of “corporatist” “country platforms” that focus on specific areas and/or issues in the developing world, GFANZ aims to also further “corporatize” multilateral development banks (MDBs) and development finance institutions (DFIs) in order to better fulfill the investment goals of alliance members. Per the alliance, this is described as increasing “MDB-private sector collaboration.” The GFANZ report notes that “MDBs play a critical role in helping to grow investment flows” in the developing world. MDBs, like the World Bank, have long been criticized for accomplishing this task by trapping developing nations in debt and then using that debt to force those nations to deregulate markets (specifically financial markets), privatize state assets and implement unpopular austerity policies. The GFANZ report makes it clear that the alliance now seeks to use these same, controversial tactics of MDBs by forcing even greater deregulation on developing countries to facilitate “green” investments from alliance members.

The quote by Kofi Annan is also taken from Whitney Webb’s excellent article (which I firmly encourage you to read in full). It represents the final piece that completes the picture of the new neo-imperialist jigsaw. As she writes:

With the UN now essentially a vehicle for the promotion of stakeholder capitalism, it is only fitting that it would “convene” and support the efforts of a group like GFANZ to extend that stakeholder capitalist model to other institutions involved in global governance, specifically global financial governance. Allowing GFANZ members, that is, many of the largest private banks and financial institutions in the world, to fuse with MDBs, remake the “global financial governance system,” and gain increased control over political decisions in the emerging world is a banker’s dream come true. To get this far, all they have needed to do was to convince enough of the world’s population that such shifts are necessary due to the perceived urgency of climate change and the need to rapidly decarbonize the economy. Yet, if put into practice, what will result is hardly a “greener” world but a world dominated by a small financial and technocratic elite who are free to profit and pillage from both “natural capital” and “human capital.”

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article published on her official Unlimited Hangout website on November 5th.

On November 19th, Whitney Webb was interviewed by RJ Eskow on his show The Zero Hour where they discussed the issues raised in the article:

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Extracts from the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address, entitled “Markets for a Better World”, delivered on January 31, 1998 at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland. https://www.un.org/press/en/1998/19980130.SGSM6448.html

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Filed under analysis & opinion, neo-liberalism

James Lovelock should be applauded

James Lovelock, the scientist most famous for the Gaia hypothesis*, once wrote an article published by The Independent and entitled “The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years”. He wrote:

My Gaia theory sees the Earth behaving as if it were alive, and clearly anything alive can enjoy good health, or suffer disease. Gaia has made me a planetary physician and I take my profession seriously, and now I, too, have to bring bad news.

The climate centres around the world, which are the equivalent of the pathology lab of a hospital, have reported the Earth’s physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth’s family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilisation are in grave danger.1

These stark warnings were issued more than twelve years ago, with Lovelock going on in the same article to predict that “as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics”, the consequences being of such severity that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”

So it comes as comfort, at least to some of us, to hear that Lovelock now views our immediate prospects as somewhat less catastrophic. Especially so, as the reasons he gives for changing his mind are entirely sound and scientifically objective ones. Here is what Lovelock said to Ian Johnston of msnbc in a recent telephone interview:

“The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened.”

“The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now.”

“The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising – carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that,” he added.

Does this mean Lovelock has become the latest ‘climate denier’? Johnston put the question to him, and Lovelock replied:

“It depends what you mean by a skeptic. I’m not a denier.”2

Click here to read the full msnbc article.

Which is precisely right, and the correct position for any responsible scientist to take when presented with a disparity between their theoretical predictions and the available data. The average global temperature has indeed been more or less stable since over a decade, and this is in flat contradiction to the projections of the climate modellers, as well as to Lovelock’s own previously (in his own words) alarmist forecasts. It is right too, that Lovelock points the finger of blame for much of the hysteria to Al Gore’s staggeringly overrated and misleading documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Unfortunately, the line between what is science and what is speculation can often become blurred in the public mind; a situation made far worse thanks to so much junk reported by scientifically illiterate journalists. So when the public are told that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and that combined with this, the human population is putting more and more ‘carbon’ into the atmosphere, then two and two makes four, right? Well, no actually – the real question being the more subtle one of “climate sensitivity”.

It is acknowledged by all scientists on both sides of the global warming debate that our human emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere couldn’t possibly produce the kinds of apocalypse which Lovelock and others have been predicting, unless, that is, its initial warming effect is then significantly amplified by, most significantly, the more powerful greenhouse gas, water vapour, driven up into the atmosphere thanks to already increased surface temperatures. An increase in water vapour being one of a number of positive feedback loops that acting together might force global temperatures to dangerous levels. So Lovelock then, isn’t suddenly saying that carbon dioxide doesn’t warm the atmosphere, since no-one denies this fact, but that other mechanisms, as yet not fully understood, must be ameliorating its effect up to now. And this is demonstrably the case.

To begin to grasp the real complexities involved in this whole debate about global warming, you need to understand some physics; however, and more importantly, to more simply comprehend why there still is any debate at all, you must understand more deeply what it means to be a scientist.

Science, that great bastion of hard truth, rests precariously upon the unlikely underpinning of skepticism and doubt. These seemingly unsteady foundations are precisely what give it strength. Even established scientific theories, ones that have been tested over and over almost to destruction, nevertheless remain under threat of being uprooted and superceded by some novel alternative, if any turns up that fits the available facts more completely, and, hopefully, more elegantly too.

A few weeks ago there were reports that physicists had measured neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, which is in direct violation of Einstein’s wonderful Theory of Relativity. These reports weren’t immediately dismissed as impossible. Quite the contrary. Physicists held their breath and waited for confirmation, though it turned out that the announcement had been premature. The measurements were incorrect, not Einstein.

The layman is inclined to think that all physicists must have breathed a long, satisfied sigh of relief. Not at all. Winkling out discrepancies and uncovering strange anomalies is actually what gets physicists and other scientists most excited. Why? Because if it had turned out instead that Einstein was wrong, then his error would automatically open up fresh possibilities. In the ensuing search for a deeper truth, there would have been tremendous prizes waiting for any aspiring physicists to be first to detect, and then account for, whatever it was that Einstein didn’t know and had never imagined. Rewards not merely glittering like Nobel Prizes, but the satisfaction of having sudden understanding that no human being ever had before, not to mention a slim chance of gaining instant immortality; your place in posterity secured next to Einstein himself, Newton, Galileo and the other giants. These are the kinds of dreams all scientists have.

Science became, and remains, the intellectual powerhouse chugging away in the background and quietly driving the progress of our civilisation – without science, there simply would be no world we could call modern. Yet this extraordinary achievement is due to science’s inherently self-correcting and entirely open-ended inquiry into the true nature of our universe. Unlike earlier systems of thought, systems that set artificial limits on what might be discovered, science alone freed itself from the shackles of infallible orthodoxy. Instead, scientists put their faith in scrupulous measurements and observations, unbiased experimentation and reasoned argument based wholly upon empirical facts. If this approach is stifled, then science itself withers away.

In making his latest statements, James Lovelock has redrawn the proper line between where the science ends and the speculation begins, putting theory back in its rightful place, behind, and not ahead, of the empirical data, and it is for this reason that I say he should be applauded. Lovelock has also shown that he is courageous enough to change his mind, and that he has the necessary integrity to sacrifice a little of his own reputation for the sake of truth. One might hope that following Lovelock, the debate about global warming could move on and regain its focus on the scientific facts. However, in contrast to a decade ago, Lovelock’s reappraisal has so far received little attention. This is in part because the debate, and especially the public debate, has been steadily steered in another way too.

You may indeed be wondering why I am still talking about global warming and never use the updated term of “climate change”. The reason is precision. Global temperature is something that is measured, and then directly compared against earlier records. Records go back about a century and a half, but we can also use proxies such as tree-rings and ice-cores to extrapolate the data backwards to much earlier periods. So if the science is done carefully we can make an accurate determination of whether or not the earth is warming, and if so, whether the rate of that warming is exceptional.

“Climate change” on the other hand is not something that is meaningfully quantifiable. It is a vague ad hoc notion that lumps together storms, droughts, floods and every other kind of change in weather patterns you might imagine. For instance, and sticking with the issue of surface temperature, globally that temperature may either rise or fall, and both results are indicative of “climate change”. So only if global temperature were to remain perfectly static – something entirely contrary to what we already know about climate from past measurements – might we begin to talk of “climate stability”. Now read this:

“Scientists believe it’s all a question of balance. As the Earth struggles for climate stability, the weather begins to get extreme and weird.”

This is my own transcription of part of the narrative linking sections in a recent episode of BBC flagship science programme Horizon.3 It was a programme that introduced the public to the latest ‘theory’: not of global warming but “global weirding”.

Now quite aside from the emptiness of meaning in the quoted narrative, it is interesting to note that the language employed here actually owes much to Lovelock and his original Gaia hypothesis. “A question of balance.” “As Earth struggles for climate stability.” The Earth conceived as a single living organism. Lovelock himself doesn’t appear on the programme, and it would be nice to think that he will be keener to avoid any association with concepts as flaky as “global weirding”. After all, he hardly wants to start apologising all over again ten years down the line.

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* One of the early tests Lovelock ran on his Gaia hypothesis, a computer simulation he called “Daisyworld”, demonstrated how biological feedback mechanisms might actually help to regulate the surface temperature of a planet. Working with Andrew Watson, he and Lovelock together constructed a model for an initially grey world planted with the seeds of just two species, black and white daisies. A world in orbit around an ever brightening sun. They then ran the model to see what would happen. As the sun got hotter, it triggered first the growth of the black daisies, since these are the better absorbers of radiant heat, and which therefore amplified the warming effect, until soon the temperature on the planet was hot enough for white daisies too, and the growth of the more reflective white daisies, had the effect of gradually cancelling out the warming of their black competitors. All of this was expected, but what Lovelock and Watson also discovered is that in this Daisyworld, the surface temperature stabilises once it reaches a level that is comfortable for both species. This was obviously an extremely simplistic model, and so Lovelock later tried simulations with greater numbers of species, such as foxes and rabbits. He then found that his addition of more species had markedly improved the temperature regulation of his virtual world. These results strengthened his conviction that the Earth’s life support system may be similarly regulated by biological feedback mechanisms.

1 From an article entitled “The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years”, written by James Lovelock, published in The Independent on January 16, 2006. http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/james-lovelock-the-earth-is-about-to-catch-a-morbid-fever-that-may-last-as-long-as-100000-years-523161.html

2 From an article entitled “’Gaia’ scientist James Lovelock: I was ‘alarmist’ about climate change”, written by Ian Johnston published by msnbc.com on April 23, 2012. http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/23/11144098-gaia-scientist-james-lovelock-i-was-alarmist-about-climate-change

3 Horizon: Global Weirding was first broadcast on BBC2 on March 27, 2012 at 9:00pm. It is scheduled to be repeated on BBC1 on Wednesday May 16, 2012 at 2:15am.

The programme was somewhat of a mish-mash of information and speculation, interesting in parts but incoherent overall, and managing to somehow even incorporate archive footage of the D-Day landing. With dramatic editing together of storms, lightning strikes, and Dutch sewerage systems, the sense of menace was also heightened by use of an unnecessarily distracting and overly portentous soundtrack. As Tom Sutcliffe’s review in the Independent says: “To ease your mind, the producers accompanied the film with an almost unbroken soundtrack of the kind of apocalyptic techno music that science fiction films use to tell you Something Really Bad Is Coming.” http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/last-nights-viewing–the-syndicate-bbc1-horizon-global-weirding-bbc2-7593387.html

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Filed under analysis & opinion, did you see?, global warming