Thursday, January 27, 2022

COP26 and Green Gaslighting


“Gaslighting” means “the action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity”. Green gaslighting goes beyond greenwashing, which constitutes the use of ecological themes as a marketing tool to cover up the ecological harm of profit-making activities. Gaslighting does more than deceive the public, it also disempowers and undermines the potential to identify the root causes of climate change and ways to address them.

COP26 will probably go down in history as the conference of the “net zero pledges”. There were many of them: from India’s desire to be carbon neutral by 2070, China’s by 2060, to the EU’s goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by the year 2030, to US commitments to cut emissions by 50 percent by the same year.

But these are all illusory climate action measures. “Net zero emissions” does not actually mean bringing emissions down to zero. Rather it refers to a set of policies that aim to compensate continued emissions with projects that absorb carbon elsewhere. These policies are supposed to help remove the extra emissions from the atmosphere through measures like tree planting, enhanced forest protection (i.e. preventing deforestation), and costly carbon capture and storage technologies.

The problem is that evaluating compliance with “net zero” goals is extremely difficult, and so is proving the full efficacy of these “carbon offsetting” measures. For example, over the past 20 years of discussions about carbon offsets, no solid solution has been found to the problem of verifying in a transparent manner how emissions reductions are achieved.

Furthermore, offsetting projects can have negative social consequences for vulnerable communities. The push for forest expansion, for example, could result in the mass displacement of peasants and indigenous communities from their ancestral lands and into peri-urban slums where devastating poverty awaits them.

Corporations are already eyeing land in developing countries for lucrative “carbon credit” projects. In a report entitled “Nature and Net Zero” by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and management consulting firm McKinsey & Co, published in January 2021, the “economic feasibility” of land around the world was mapped to establish its “carbon abatement potential”. The report assigns different value to different types of lands and estimated costs of realising “natural climate solutions” (i.e. carbon offset) projects on them.

“High feasibility” lands are considered those which are “low cost” – that is, real or potential agricultural rent from them is low and therefore, they would be more likely to be converted to forests, for example. But while the WEF and McKinsey & Co may consider such areas “cheap land”, for small-scale farmers, pastoralists and Indigenous communities, they are ancestral lands that often have significant cultural, religious and communal value.

Needless to say, the report does not mention the potential social and human cost of displacement and the economic and physical violence acquiring such land is likely to lead to. “Carbon credit accounting” standards that are being set up currently require that a forested area be at least 25 million hectares (roughly the area of the US state of Vermont) to qualify for carbon credits. One can only imagine what a reforestation effort trying to meet this standard would look like and the amount of forced displacement it would take to achieve it.

The report also does not address the fact that eviction of small-scale farmers from their “cheap land” might actually result in local food crises, given that a significant portion of the world’s population is fed by small farms. In fact, Oxfam and others have warned that the drive for and monetisation of reforestation may lead to worsening global hunger.

The WEF and McKinsey report, however, does make clear the potential for profit from “natural solutions” that can be monetised as “carbon credits” and “sold” to polluters. Governments and corporations have already jumped at the opportunity. Leading the way on carbon offsets through forest conservation is the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) coalition, which in November announced that it has met a target of $1bn in commitments to support forest-linked carbon offsetting projects.

Because governments and corporations know that they would never do what is necessary to rein in climate change, they have come up with a few terms to placate the masses: “climate resilience”, “climate adaptation” and “climate mitigation”. All of these refer to our supposed ability to respond to and deal with the effects of climate change and are based on the premise that humanity can actually pull through a climate catastrophe with minimal consequences while maintaining the global economic status quo. No more than buzzwords that drive investment and profit. Unsurprisingly, they were prominently used at COP26, where one of the outcomes was the announcement of various financial pledges for “nature-based solutions for climate resilience”.

These terms also feature in reports by economists praising the monetary value of nature and calling for investment in it. For example, a 2020 report funded in part by National Geographic, found that the economic benefits of conserving 30 percent of the earth’s land and oceans outweigh “the costs by at least 5-to-1”.

The report frames nature’s value as a lucrative asset – “a single underexploited type of asset”, which provides $125 trillion worth of benefits to humanity. Its preservation can prevent economic losses from climate change by building “resilience” and generating profits in the form of booming tourism sectors, growing agricultural and forestry outputs, and regenerated fish stocks, among others. As one of the report’s co-authors concludes, it is time “to finance nature”.

All of a sudden, proposed new real estate, airport, roadway, and shipping developments that increase the anthropogenic impacts on climate and ecological breakdown – are being spun as “green” investments – or climate “impact investments”. All they have to do is claim to “provide climate solutions”, “mitigate” climate change impacts or provide “sustainable living” and voilà… New swish developments are given the “green” light.

One example is Royalmount, a $7bn real estate project under construction in the Canadian city of Montreal, which promises “experiential attractions, retail, office space and accommodations… firmly rooted in nature, rejuvenation and sustainability-minded strategies”. It claims that it will be “carbon neutral”, will reduce energy consumption by 34 percent and plant 450,000 trees, shrubs and perennials.

That pretty landscaping is not the same thing as paying attention to ecology, that the project’s “impact” on Montreal’s residents, already struggling with high rents, will not be a positive one and that “nature” will certainly be better off without this new development are facts carefully obscured by “green investment” proponents. Climate “impact investing” that is meant to “build climate resilience” is no different from investing in traditional asset classes, as there is no way to guarantee that the sought-after “impact” helps nature or local communities. And just like the “net zero emissions” slogan, it is simply a deception meant to make people believe that those most responsible for the climate crisis – rich countries, venture capitalists, and multinational corporations – are in fact the most ecologically-minded.

COP26 illustrated the extent to which these deceptions have captured the global discourse on climate changes.

We need to stop centring attention on the false “solutions” the wealthy and powerful are offering and refocus on the plight of the ordinary people who are already suffering from the climate crisis: the urban poor, peasants and pastoralists as well as Indigenous people. Their needs and struggles need to be central to a genuine ecological response that couples emissions reductions with degrowth, living wages and dignified working conditions, eliminate the use of fossil fuels, and reorganises the global economy away from neocolonial land grabs, resource abuse and underpaid labour and towards social justice. Anything short of this is smoke and mirrors. The people will not be fooled.

Abridged and adapted from here

Green gaslighting: Another face of climate denialism | Climate Crisis | Al Jazeera

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