A market-based solution for a market-caused problem

Lock up your daughters. This might be the next good piece of advice for mothers and fathers of the so-called developing world, as they face the “market solution” to the worldwide problem of disappearing forests. For the industrialized countries of the northern hemisphere, those which invented and continue to advance the phenomenon of manmade global warming, the carbon offset scheme known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a win-win. In return for cash payments to ostensibly preserve the carbon-absorbing quality of the global south’s remaining forests, corporations increasingly doing business as governments purchase the legal right to keep right on pumping pollutants into the sky.

Unfortunately for the indigenous people living in and around these forests, REDD represents the opportunity to relive the experiences of sisters and brothers elsewhere who have already learned what it means to be guilty of living anywhere near something that can be bought and sold. Unfortunately also for you and me, because these threatened life ways are undoubtedly the last ones successfully practicing sustainable life on planet Earth.

In case you missed it, the latest in an ongoing series of sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Cancún, Mexico from November 29 to December 10. True to the form of UNFCC gatherings since the 1997 session in Japan produced the Kyoto Protocol - a treaty signed and ratified by nearly all the world’s governments, agreeing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - delegates from the over 190 “parties” significantly squared off as “developed” versus “developing” countries.

Among developed nations REDD, first introduced in 2000 by the United States (which remains virtually alone in not ratifying Kyoto) was all the rage in Cancun, a market solution to a market problem; i.e. the loss of profits that are likely to occur as a result of global meltdown. Or more optimistically I suppose, the mouth-watering prospect of being allowed to continue to produce the majority of greenhouse gases while simultaneously cashing in on a whole new and extremely lucrative market: trading in carbon offsets. The wonderfully natural function trees fulfill by reducing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere is now being sized up as just another billable service.

But just as with the Black Hills in what is now western South Dakota , there are the party poopers. Not so much among governmental leaders in South America, Africa, Indonesia , and other places where large, biologically diverse forests still stand. After all, those market-worshipping newcomers to the high plains of yesteryear could always manage to kidnap some poor resident who’d succumb to the right mixture of bribery, threats, or drunkenness long enough to sell that which he knew couldn’t be sold anyway.

Without doubt, many so-called leaders of the so-called Third World can be counted on to support REDD. It’s the commoners who cause all the trouble.

In Cancun, Indigenous Environmental Network executive director Tom Goldtooth (Dine’ and Mdewakanton Dakota), had his United Nations-issued entrance credentials yanked on December 8, the day after informally voicing in public his protest of the REDD model. Other opponents of the cash-for-trees program were also banned from official negotiations while still more were physically removed from the area.

In an interview the next day, Goldtooth gave his witness. “There’s (sic) institutions, there’s financiers, the governments of the North—they’re all invested in a carbon market scheme. And here in Cancún, the United Nations climate meeting is selling the sky to the highest bidder, using indigenous peoples’ forests to soak up their pollution instead of reducing emissions at its (sic) source.”

“Instead of reducing emissions at their source?” Now, now. If there’s one concept of the environmental justice movement that’s consistently underreported (other than environmental justice itself) it’s the notion that alternatives exist. Especially when those alternatives conflict with culturally embedded economic assumptions (or prospects for a killing). Nevertheless, for the intellectually daring, here are some observations paraphrased from the Indigenous Environmental Network’s (ienearth.org) Four Principles of Climate Justice:

“(The) production-consumption regime pursues profits without limit, separating human beings from nature. It establishes a mindset that seeks to dominate nature, turning everything into a commodity: the land, water, air (carbon), forests, agriculture, flora and fauna, biodiversity, genes and even indigenous traditional knowledge. The world must forge a new economic system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings."

“Climate justice calls upon governments, corporations and the peoples of the world to restore, reevaluate and strengthen the knowledge, wisdom and ancestral practices of Indigenous Peoples, affirmed in our experiences and the proposal for “Living in a Good Way”, recognizing Mother Earth as a living being with which we have an indivisible, interdependent, complementary and spiritual relationship.”

In this country non-Natives have always laughed at Indians for saying corny things like “Mother Earth.” Nowadays they’re tossing Indians for talking about new economic systems. Indians don’t say these things because they’ve been reading Marx. They just have fresh memories. And unlike some, realistic plans for the future.


Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, is a collegiate sports administrator and coach. His history degree is from the University of New Mexico . Reach him at davewheelock (all one word) @ yahoo.com. Mr. Wheelock's views do not necessarily represent those of Socorro News, but frequently do. This article originally published in the Mountain Mail and is republished here with the permission of the author. Copyright 2011, Dave Wheelock; all rights reserved.