Arquivo da tag: Capitalismo

The new astrology (Aeon)

By fetishising mathematical models, economists turned economics into a highly paid pseudoscience

04 April, 2016

Alan Jay Levinovitz is an assistant professor of philosophy and religion at James Madison University in Virginia. His most recent book is The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat (2015).Edited by Sam Haselby


What would make economics a better discipline?

Since the 2008 financial crisis, colleges and universities have faced increased pressure to identify essential disciplines, and cut the rest. In 2009, Washington State University announced it would eliminate the department of theatre and dance, the department of community and rural sociology, and the German major – the same year that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette ended its philosophy major. In 2012, Emory University in Atlanta did away with the visual arts department and its journalism programme. The cutbacks aren’t restricted to the humanities: in 2011, the state of Texas announced it would eliminate nearly half of its public undergraduate physics programmes. Even when there’s no downsizing, faculty salaries have been frozen and departmental budgets have shrunk.

But despite the funding crunch, it’s a bull market for academic economists. According to a 2015 sociological study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the median salary of economics teachers in 2012 increased to $103,000 – nearly $30,000 more than sociologists. For the top 10 per cent of economists, that figure jumps to $160,000, higher than the next most lucrative academic discipline – engineering. These figures, stress the study’s authors, do not include other sources of income such as consulting fees for banks and hedge funds, which, as many learned from the documentary Inside Job (2010), are often substantial. (Ben Bernanke, a former academic economist and ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve, earns $200,000-$400,000 for a single appearance.)

Unlike engineers and chemists, economists cannot point to concrete objects – cell phones, plastic – to justify the high valuation of their discipline. Nor, in the case of financial economics and macroeconomics, can they point to the predictive power of their theories. Hedge funds employ cutting-edge economists who command princely fees, but routinely underperform index funds. Eight years ago, Warren Buffet made a 10-year, $1 million bet that a portfolio of hedge funds would lose to the S&P 500, and it looks like he’s going to collect. In 1998, a fund that boasted two Nobel Laureates as advisors collapsed, nearly causing a global financial crisis.

The failure of the field to predict the 2008 crisis has also been well-documented. In 2003, for example, only five years before the Great Recession, the Nobel Laureate Robert E Lucas Jr told the American Economic Association that ‘macroeconomics […] has succeeded: its central problem of depression prevention has been solved’. Short-term predictions fair little better – in April 2014, for instance, a survey of 67 economists yielded 100 per cent consensus: interest rates would rise over the next six months. Instead, they fell. A lot.

Nonetheless, surveys indicate that economists see their discipline as ‘the most scientific of the social sciences’. What is the basis of this collective faith, shared by universities, presidents and billionaires? Shouldn’t successful and powerful people be the first to spot the exaggerated worth of a discipline, and the least likely to pay for it?

In the hypothetical worlds of rational markets, where much of economic theory is set, perhaps. But real-world history tells a different story, of mathematical models masquerading as science and a public eager to buy them, mistaking elegant equations for empirical accuracy.

As an extreme example, take the extraordinary success of Evangeline Adams, a turn-of-the-20th-century astrologer whose clients included the president of Prudential Insurance, two presidents of the New York Stock Exchange, the steel magnate Charles M Schwab, and the banker J P Morgan. To understand why titans of finance would consult Adams about the market, it is essential to recall that astrology used to be a technical discipline, requiring reams of astronomical data and mastery of specialised mathematical formulas. ‘An astrologer’ is, in fact, the Oxford English Dictionary’s second definition of ‘mathematician’. For centuries, mapping stars was the job of mathematicians, a job motivated and funded by the widespread belief that star-maps were good guides to earthly affairs. The best astrology required the best astronomy, and the best astronomy was done by mathematicians – exactly the kind of person whose authority might appeal to bankers and financiers.

In fact, when Adams was arrested in 1914 for violating a New York law against astrology, it was mathematics that eventually exonerated her. During the trial, her lawyer Clark L Jordan emphasised mathematics in order to distinguish his client’s practice from superstition, calling astrology ‘a mathematical or exact science’. Adams herself demonstrated this ‘scientific’ method by reading the astrological chart of the judge’s son. The judge was impressed: the plaintiff, he observed, went through a ‘mathematical process to get at her conclusions… I am satisfied that the element of fraud… is absent here.’

Romer compares debates among economists to those between 16th-century advocates of heliocentrism and geocentrism

The enchanting force of mathematics blinded the judge – and Adams’s prestigious clients – to the fact that astrology relies upon a highly unscientific premise, that the position of stars predicts personality traits and human affairs such as the economy. It is this enchanting force that explains the enduring popularity of financial astrology, even today. The historian Caley Horan at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology described to me how computing technology made financial astrology explode in the 1970s and ’80s. ‘Within the world of finance, there’s always a superstitious, quasi-spiritual trend to find meaning in markets,’ said Horan. ‘Technical analysts at big banks, they’re trying to find patterns in past market behaviour, so it’s not a leap for them to go to astrology.’ In 2000, USA Today quoted Robin Griffiths, the chief technical analyst at HSBC, the world’s third largest bank, saying that ‘most astrology stuff doesn’t check out, but some of it does’.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t with worshipping models of the stars, but rather with uncritical worship of the language used to model them, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in economics. The economist Paul Romer at New York University has recently begun calling attention to an issue he dubs ‘mathiness’ – first in the paper ‘Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth’ (2015) and then in a series of blog posts. Romer believes that macroeconomics, plagued by mathiness, is failing to progress as a true science should, and compares debates among economists to those between 16th-century advocates of heliocentrism and geocentrism. Mathematics, he acknowledges, can help economists to clarify their thinking and reasoning. But the ubiquity of mathematical theory in economics also has serious downsides: it creates a high barrier to entry for those who want to participate in the professional dialogue, and makes checking someone’s work excessively laborious. Worst of all, it imbues economic theory with unearned empirical authority.

‘I’ve come to the position that there should be a stronger bias against the use of math,’ Romer explained to me. ‘If somebody came and said: “Look, I have this Earth-changing insight about economics, but the only way I can express it is by making use of the quirks of the Latin language”, we’d say go to hell, unless they could convince us it was really essential. The burden of proof is on them.’

Right now, however, there is widespread bias in favour of using mathematics. The success of math-heavy disciplines such as physics and chemistry has granted mathematical formulas with decisive authoritative force. Lord Kelvin, the 19th-century mathematical physicist, expressed this quantitative obsession:

When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it… in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.

The trouble with Kelvin’s statement is that measurement and mathematics do not guarantee the status of science – they guarantee only the semblance of science. When the presumptions or conclusions of a scientific theory are absurd or simply false, the theory ought to be questioned and, eventually, rejected. The discipline of economics, however, is presently so blinkered by the talismanic authority of mathematics that theories go overvalued and unchecked.

Romer is not the first to elaborate the mathiness critique. In 1886, an article in Science accused economics of misusing the language of the physical sciences to conceal ‘emptiness behind a breastwork of mathematical formulas’. More recently, Deirdre N McCloskey’s The Rhetoric of Economics(1998) and Robert H Nelson’s Economics as Religion (2001) both argued that mathematics in economic theory serves, in McCloskey’s words, primarily to deliver the message ‘Look at how very scientific I am.’

After the Great Recession, the failure of economic science to protect our economy was once again impossible to ignore. In 2009, the Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman tried to explain it in The New York Times with a version of the mathiness diagnosis. ‘As I see it,’ he wrote, ‘the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.’ Krugman named economists’ ‘desire… to show off their mathematical prowess’ as the ‘central cause of the profession’s failure’.

The mathiness critique isn’t limited to macroeconomics. In 2014, the Stanford financial economist Paul Pfleiderer published the paper‘Chameleons: The Misuse of Theoretical Models in Finance and Economics’, which helped to inspire Romer’s understanding of mathiness. Pfleiderer called attention to the prevalence of ‘chameleons’ – economic models ‘with dubious connections to the real world’ that substitute ‘mathematical elegance’ for empirical accuracy. Like Romer, Pfleiderer wants economists to be transparent about this sleight of hand. ‘Modelling,’ he told me, ‘is now elevated to the point where things have validity just because you can come up with a model.’

The notion that an entire culture – not just a few eccentric financiers – could be bewitched by empty, extravagant theories might seem absurd. How could all those people, all that math, be mistaken? This was my own feeling as I began investigating mathiness and the shaky foundations of modern economic science. Yet, as a scholar of Chinese religion, it struck me that I’d seen this kind of mistake before, in ancient Chinese attitudes towards the astral sciences. Back then, governments invested incredible amounts of money in mathematical models of the stars. To evaluate those models, government officials had to rely on a small cadre of experts who actually understood the mathematics – experts riven by ideological differences, who couldn’t even agree on how to test their models. And, of course, despite collective faith that these models would improve the fate of the Chinese people, they did not.

Astral Science in Early Imperial China, a forthcoming book by the historian Daniel P Morgan, shows that in ancient China, as in the Western world, the most valuable type of mathematics was devoted to the realm of divinity – to the sky, in their case (and to the market, in ours). Just as astrology and mathematics were once synonymous in the West, the Chinese spoke of li, the science of calendrics, which early dictionaries also glossed as ‘calculation’, ‘numbers’ and ‘order’. Li models, like macroeconomic theories, were considered essential to good governance. In the classic Book of Documents, the legendary sage king Yao transfers the throne to his successor with mention of a single duty: ‘Yao said: “Oh thou, Shun! The li numbers of heaven rest in thy person.”’

China’s oldest mathematical text invokes astronomy and divine kingship in its very title – The Arithmetical Classic of the Gnomon of the Zhou. The title’s inclusion of ‘Zhou’ recalls the mythic Eden of the Western Zhou dynasty (1045–771 BCE), implying that paradise on Earth can be realised through proper calculation. The book’s introduction to the Pythagorean theorem asserts that ‘the methods used by Yu the Great in governing the world were derived from these numbers’. It was an unquestioned article of faith: the mathematical patterns that govern the stars also govern the world. Faith in a divine, invisible hand, made visible by mathematics. No wonder that a newly discovered text fragment from 200 BCE extolls the virtues of mathematics over the humanities. In it, a student asks his teacher whether he should spend more time learning speech or numbers. His teacher replies: ‘If my good sir cannot fathom both at once, then abandon speech and fathom numbers, [for] numbers can speak, [but] speech cannot number.’

Modern governments, universities and businesses underwrite the production of economic theory with huge amounts of capital. The same was true for li production in ancient China. The emperor – the ‘Son of Heaven’ – spent astronomical sums refining mathematical models of the stars. Take the armillary sphere, such as the two-metre cage of graduated bronze rings in Nanjing, made to represent the celestial sphere and used to visualise data in three-dimensions. As Morgan emphasises, the sphere was literally made of money. Bronze being the basis of the currency, governments were smelting cash by the metric ton to pour it into li. A divine, mathematical world-engine, built of cash, sanctifying the powers that be.

The enormous investment in li depended on a huge assumption: that good government, successful rituals and agricultural productivity all depended upon the accuracy of li. But there were, in fact, no practical advantages to the continued refinement of li models. The calendar rounded off decimal points such that the difference between two models, hotly contested in theory, didn’t matter to the final product. The work of selecting auspicious days for imperial ceremonies thus benefited only in appearance from mathematical rigour. And of course the comets, plagues and earthquakes that these ceremonies promised to avert kept on coming. Farmers, for their part, went about business as usual. Occasional governmental efforts to scientifically micromanage farm life in different climes using li ended in famine and mass migration.

Like many economic models today, li models were less important to practical affairs than their creators (and consumers) thought them to be. And, like today, only a few people could understand them. In 101 BCE, Emperor Wudi tasked high-level bureaucrats – including the Great Director of the Stars – with creating a new li that would glorify the beginning of his path to immortality. The bureaucrats refused the task because ‘they couldn’t do the math’, and recommended the emperor outsource it to experts.

The equivalent in economic theory might be to grant a model high points for success in predicting short-term markets, while failing to deduct for missing the Great Recession

The debates of these ancient li experts bear a striking resemblance to those of present-day economists. In 223 CE, a petition was submitted to the emperor asking him to approve tests of a new li model developed by the assistant director of the astronomical office, a man named Han Yi.

At the time of the petition, Han Yi’s model, and its competitor, the so-called Supernal Icon, had already been subjected to three years of ‘reference’, ‘comparison’ and ‘exchange’. Still, no one could agree which one was better. Nor, for that matter, was there any agreement on how they should be tested.

In the end, a live trial involving the prediction of eclipses and heliacal risings was used to settle the debate. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see this trial was seriously flawed. The helical rising (first visibility) of planets depends on non-mathematical factors such as eyesight and atmospheric conditions. That’s not to mention the scoring of the trial, which was modelled on archery competitions. Archers scored points for proximity to the bullseye, with no consideration for overall accuracy. The equivalent in economic theory might be to grant a model high points for success in predicting short-term markets, while failing to deduct for missing the Great Recession.

None of this is to say that li models were useless or inherently unscientific. For the most part, li experts were genuine mathematical virtuosos who valued the integrity of their discipline. Despite being based on inaccurate assumptions – that the Earth was at the centre of the cosmos – their models really did work to predict celestial motions. Imperfect though the live trial might have been, it indicates that superior predictive power was a theory’s most important virtue. All of this is consistent with real science, and Chinese astronomy progressed as a science, until it reached the limits imposed by its assumptions.

However, there was no science to the belief that accurate li would improve the outcome of rituals, agriculture or government policy. No science to the Hall of Light, a temple for the emperor built on the model of a magic square. There, by numeric ritual gesture, the Son of Heaven was thought to channel the invisible order of heaven for the prosperity of man. This was quasi-theology, the belief that heavenly patterns – mathematical patterns – could be used to model every event in the natural world, in politics, even the body. Macro- and microcosm were scaled reflections of one another, yin and yang in a unifying, salvific mathematical vision. The expensive gadgets, the personnel, the bureaucracy, the debates, the competition – all of this testified to the divinely authoritative power of mathematics. The result, then as now, was overvaluation of mathematical models based on unscientific exaggerations of their utility.

In ancient China it would have been unfair to blame li experts for the pseudoscientific exploitation of their theories. These men had no way to evaluate the scientific merits of assumptions and theories – ‘science’, in a formalised, post-Enlightenment sense, didn’t really exist. But today it is possible to distinguish, albeit roughly, science from pseudoscience, astronomy from astrology. Hypothetical theories, whether those of economists or conspiracists, aren’t inherently pseudoscientific. Conspiracy theories can be diverting – even instructive – flights of fancy. They become pseudoscience only when promoted from fiction to fact without sufficient evidence.

Romer believes that fellow economists know the truth about their discipline, but don’t want to admit it. ‘If you get people to lower their shield, they’ll tell you it’s a big game they’re playing,’ he told me. ‘They’ll say: “Paul, you may be right, but this makes us look really bad, and it’s going to make it hard for us to recruit young people.”’

Demanding more honesty seems reasonable, but it presumes that economists understand the tenuous relationship between mathematical models and scientific legitimacy. In fact, many assume the connection is obvious – just as in ancient China, the connection between li and the world was taken for granted. When reflecting in 1999 on what makes economics more scientific than the other social sciences, the Harvard economist Richard B Freeman explained that economics ‘attracts stronger students than [political science or sociology], and our courses are more mathematically demanding’. In Lives of the Laureates (2004), Robert E Lucas Jr writes rhapsodically about the importance of mathematics: ‘Economic theory is mathematical analysis. Everything else is just pictures and talk.’ Lucas’s veneration of mathematics leads him to adopt a method that can only be described as a subversion of empirical science:

The construction of theoretical models is our way to bring order to the way we think about the world, but the process necessarily involves ignoring some evidence or alternative theories – setting them aside. That can be hard to do – facts are facts – and sometimes my unconscious mind carries out the abstraction for me: I simply fail to see some of the data or some alternative theory.

Even for those who agree with Romer, conflict of interest still poses a problem. Why would skeptical astronomers question the emperor’s faith in their models? In a phone conversation, Daniel Hausman, a philosopher of economics at the University of Wisconsin, put it bluntly: ‘If you reject the power of theory, you demote economists from their thrones. They don’t want to become like sociologists.’

George F DeMartino, an economist and an ethicist at the University of Denver, frames the issue in economic terms. ‘The interest of the profession is in pursuing its analysis in a language that’s inaccessible to laypeople and even some economists,’ he explained to me. ‘What we’ve done is monopolise this kind of expertise, and we of all people know how that gives us power.’

Every economist I interviewed agreed that conflicts of interest were highly problematic for the scientific integrity of their field – but only tenured ones were willing to go on the record. ‘In economics and finance, if I’m trying to decide whether I’m going to write something favourable or unfavourable to bankers, well, if it’s favourable that might get me a dinner in Manhattan with movers and shakers,’ Pfleiderer said to me. ‘I’ve written articles that wouldn’t curry favour with bankers but I did that when I had tenure.’

When mathematical theory is the ultimate arbiter of truth, it becomes difficult to see the difference between science and pseudoscience

Then there’s the additional problem of sunk-cost bias. If you’ve invested in an armillary sphere, it’s painful to admit that it doesn’t perform as advertised. When confronted with their profession’s lack of predictive accuracy, some economists find it difficult to admit the truth. Easier, instead, to double down, like the economist John H Cochrane at the University of Chicago. The problem isn’t too much mathematics, he writes in response to Krugman’s 2009 post-Great-Recession mea culpa for the field, but rather ‘that we don’t have enough math’. Astrology doesn’t work, sure, but only because the armillary sphere isn’t big enough and the equations aren’t good enough.

If overhauling economics depended solely on economists, then mathiness, conflict of interest and sunk-cost bias could easily prove insurmountable. Fortunately, non-experts also participate in the market for economic theory. If people remain enchanted by PhDs and Nobel Prizes awarded for the production of complicated mathematical theories, those theories will remain valuable. If they become disenchanted, the value will drop.

Economists who rationalise their discipline’s value can be convincing, especially with prestige and mathiness on their side. But there’s no reason to keep believing them. The pejorative verb ‘rationalise’ itself warns of mathiness, reminding us that we often deceive each other by making prior convictions, biases and ideological positions look ‘rational’, a word that confuses truth with mathematical reasoning. To be rational is, simply, to think in ratios, like the ratios that govern the geometry of the stars. Yet when mathematical theory is the ultimate arbiter of truth, it becomes difficult to see the difference between science and pseudoscience. The result is people like the judge in Evangeline Adams’s trial, or the Son of Heaven in ancient China, who trust the mathematical exactitude of theories without considering their performance – that is, who confuse math with science, rationality with reality.

There is no longer any excuse for making the same mistake with economic theory. For more than a century, the public has been warned, and the way forward is clear. It’s time to stop wasting our money and recognise the high priests for what they really are: gifted social scientists who excel at producing mathematical explanations of economies, but who fail, like astrologers before them, at prophecy.


Assim a sociedade de consumo destrói a biodiversidade do planeta (El País)

Pesquisa correlaciona a extinção de espécies com a origem dos produtos do comércio global

Os orangotangos de Bornéu estão ameaçados pela produção de óleo de palma.

Os orangotangos de Bornéu estão ameaçados pela produção de óleo de palma.  JEFTA IMAGES / BARCROFT


5 JAN 2017 – 00:53 CET 

Os humanos começam a admitir que somos como um meteorito que vai provocar a nova megaextinção de espécies no planeta Terra. Mas ainda nos falta muita informação sobre o tamanho desse meteorito coletivo e o alcance da devastação que juntos causaremos. Sabemos, por exemplo, que a exploração maciça dos recursos naturais é um dos grandes fatores associados à devastação da biodiversidade, mas são necessários mais dados para conectar esse fenômeno com nosso consumo desmesurado.

Um estudo pioneiro, divulgado nesta quarta-feira, mostra a grande responsabilidade do comércio global na extinção maciça de espécies no mundo, traçando uma clara correlação entre a cesta de compras dos países mais consumidores e as selvagens pressões que massacram os tesouros naturais. O cafezinho que alguém toma nos EUA, por exemplo, está ligado ao desmatamentoda América Central – onde esse café é cultivado –, e esse é o habitat do acuado macaco-aranha, o mais ameaçado do planeta.

“Pelo menos um terço das ameaças à biodiversidade em todo o mundo estão vinculadas à produção para o comércio internacional”, dizem os autores do estudo publicado na Nature Ecology & Evolution. Em seu trabalho, eles mapearam locais do planeta onde há quase 7.000 espécies ameaçadas, estabelecendo sua conexão com a cadeia de consumo nos EUA, China e Japão. Desse modo, pode-se ver facilmente como os animais sob risco em determinados pontos do planeta sofrem com a demanda de bens por parte dos grandes consumidores.

Mapa dos lugares com espécies ameaçadas em relação com o consumo de bens nos EUA.

Mapa dos lugares com espécies ameaçadas em relação com o consumo de bens nos EUA.  NATURE

 Por exemplo, o lince e dúzias de outras espécies sofrem na península Ibérica pela pressão da produção agrícola que abastece os mercados europeus e norte-americanos. “É digno de menção o importante rastro dos EUA na biodiversidade do sul da Espanha e Portugal, ligado aos impactos sobre uma série de espécies ameaçadas de peixes e aves, já que esses países raramente são percebidos como pontos de ameaça”, afirmam os autores no estudo.

No Brasil, a principal ameaça está no sul, no planalto brasileiro, devido à agropecuária extensiva, e não na Amazônia

“O que este trabalho nos mostra é que os humanos estão assaltando o planeta”, resume David Nogués-Bravo, especialista em macroecologia da Universidade de Copenhague. Nogués-Bravo, que não participou do estudo, diz que os impactos humanos sobre a natureza podem ser representados como um redemoinho que engole a diversidade de seres vivos sobre a Terra. “Esse turbilhão é constituído por três nós: poder, comida e dinheiro. A capacidade da nossa espécie de sugar energia e recursos do planeta é quase ilimitada, e é o que está provocando a sexta extinção maciça na história da Terra”, denúncia o ecologista.

Para ele, tanto o enfoque como os resultados são muito pertinentes, porque põem em perspectiva as perdas de biodiversidade, principalmente em países tropicais em vias de desenvolvimento, e os fluxos de demanda que se originam nos países mais ricos e industrializados.

“O planeta inteiro se tornou uma fazenda, tudo está a serviço de fornecer cada vez mais bens”, critica Juan Carlos del Olmo, secretário-geral da organização conservacionista WWF na Espanha. “O maior vetor de destruição da biodiversidade é a produção de alimentos numa escala brutal”, aponta. Os autores do estudo relatam, por exemplo, sua surpresa ao comprovar que o principal foco de ameaça aos tesouros naturais do Brasil não está na Amazônia. “Apesar da grande atenção dedicada à selva amazônica, o rastro norte-americano no Brasil é maior no sul, no planalto brasileiro, onde há práticas agropecuárias extensivas”, ressalta o trabalho.

“Os humanos estão assaltando o planeta. A capacidade da nossa espécie de sugar energia e recursos no planeta é quase ilimitada”, resume Nogués-Bravo

“E o rastro ecológico não para de crescer”, acrescenta Del Olmo, “mas reduzir esse rastro não é fácil; não podemos fomentar um consumo responsável se depois vamos jogar fora 25% do que se produz”. Como alterar a influência negativa destes fluxos? “Com este enfoque, do rastro de cima para baixo, examinamos todas as espécies ameaçadas e a atividade econômica em conjunto, razão pela qual pode ser difícil estabelecer vínculos claros entre consumo, comércio e impacto”, admitiu ao EL PAÍS um dos autores do estudo, Keiichiro Kanemoto, da Universidade de Shinshu.

“Precisamos ver de onde importamos e onde estão as espécies ameaçadas. Nosso mapa pode ajudar as empresas a fazerem uma cuidadosa seleção dos seus insumos e assim aliviar os impactos sobre a biodiversidade”, diz Kanemoto. Segundo o pesquisador, se as empresas oferecerem informações em seus produtos sobre as ameaças a espécies nas cadeias de suprimento, os consumidores poderão escolher em seu cotidiano produtos favoráveis à biodiversidade.

Os morangos que afogam o lince

“Esperamos que as empresas comparem nossos mapas e seus lugares de aquisição e então reconsiderem suas cadeias de suprimento, e queremos trabalhar com elas para começar a tomar medidas reais”, afirma Kanemoto. Neste sentido, Del Olmo diz que o trabalho do WWF há bastante tempo vem se voltando para esse foco: fazer com que todos os participantes da cadeia conheçam o impacto sobre a biodiversidade, para que a indústria, os fornecedores e os consumidores evitem os bens que mais causam danos na sua origem. Em outras palavras, que todos estejam conscientes de que o café coloca em risco o macaco-arranha, assim como o óleo de palma (dendê) ameaça o orangotango na Indonésia.

O estudo de Kanemoto e seus colegas ressalta como é inesperada a aparição da Espanha como uma região com grandes problemas de biodiversidade por culpa do consumo fora das suas fronteiras. Apontam especificamente o lince, que reina no Parque Nacional e Natural de Doñana, no sul do país, e que chegou a ser o felino mais ameaçado da Terra, entre outros motivos pela perda de hábitat. “Do ponto de vista da biodiversidade, a Espanha é o Bornéu da Europa. Nas grandes espécies a briga está acontecendo, mas a biodiversidade pequena – anfíbios, aves e peixes – está desaparecendo a uma velocidade brutal”, lamenta Del Olmo.

O diretor do WWF na Espanha cita como exemplo os morangos: a água que dava de beber à marisma de Doñana é atualmente usada nos milhares de hectares de cultivo de morangos. Essa área responde por 60% do cultivo da fruta na Espanha, e metade da água usada vem de poços ilegais, que secam o entorno. “O uso brutal da água e do território, o impacto da agricultura para exportar produtos a todo o mundo, deixa os aquíferos secos. Não notamos, mas o impacto é impressionante”, explica Del Olmo. E acrescenta: “Por isso dizemos às grandes redes varejistas: não comprem de quem usa poços ilegais e está destruindo a biodiversidade. Premiem quem faz direito”.

You’re witnessing the death of neoliberalism – from within (The Guardian)

What does it look like when an ideology dies? As with most things, fiction can be the best guide. In Red Plenty, his magnificent novel-cum-history of the Soviet Union, Francis Spufford charts how the communist dream of building a better, fairer society fell apart.

Even while they censored their citizens’ very thoughts, the communists dreamed big. Spufford’s hero is Leonid Kantorovich, the only Soviet ever to win a Nobel prize for economics. Rattling along on the Moscow metro, he fantasises about what plenty will bring to his impoverished fellow commuters: “The women’s clothes all turning to quilted silk, the military uniforms melting into tailored grey and silver: and faces, faces the length of the car, relaxing, losing the worry lines and the hungry looks and all the assorted toothmarks of necessity.”

But reality makes swift work of such sandcastles. The numbers are increasingly disobedient. The beautiful plans can only be realised through cheating, and the draughtsmen know it better than any dissidents. This is one of Spufford’s crucial insights: that long before any public protests, the insiders led the way in murmuring their disquiet. Whisper by whisper, memo by memo, the regime is steadily undermined from within. Its final toppling lies decades beyond the novel’s close, yet can already be spotted.

When Red Plenty was published in 2010, it was clear the ideology underpinning contemporary capitalism was failing, but not that it was dying. Yet a similar process as that described in the novel appears to be happening now, in our crisis-hit capitalism. And it is the very technocrats in charge of the system who are slowly, reluctantly admitting that it is bust.

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF.

What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”.

The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism. Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition.

The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree. And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde with George Osborne.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde with George Osborne. ‘Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does.’ Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

Two things need to be borne in mind here. First, this study comes from the IMF’s research division – not from those staffers who fly into bankrupt countries, haggle over loan terms with cash-strapped governments and administer the fiscal waterboarding. Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does. Second, while the researchers go much further than fund watchers might have believed, they leave in some all-important get-out clauses. The authors even defend privatisation as leading to “more efficient provision of services” and less government spending – to which the only response must be to offer them a train ride across to Hinkley Point C.

Even so, this is a remarkable breach of the neoliberal consensus by the IMF. Inequality and the uselessness of much modern finance: such topics have become regular chew toys for economists and politicians, who prefer to treat them as aberrations from the norm. At last a major institution is going after not only the symptoms but the cause – and it is naming that cause as political. No wonder the study’s lead author says that this research wouldn’t even have been published by the fund five years ago.

From the 1980s the policymaking elite has waved away the notion that they were acting ideologically – merely doing “what works”. But you can only get away with that claim if what you’re doing is actually working. Since the crash, central bankers, politicians and TV correspondents have tried to reassure the public that this wheeze or those billions would do the trick and put the economy right again. They have riffled through every page in the textbook and beyond – bank bailouts, spending cuts, wage freezes, pumping billions into financial markets – and still growth remains anaemic.

And the longer the slump goes on, the more the public tumbles to the fact that not only has growth been feebler, but ordinary workers have enjoyed much less of its benefits. Last year the rich countries’ thinktank, the OECD, made a remarkable concession. It acknowledged that the share of UK economic growth enjoyed by workers is now at its lowest since the second world war. Even more remarkably, it said the same or worse applied to workers across the capitalist west.

Red Plenty ends with Nikita Khrushchev pacing outside his dacha, to where he has been forcibly retired. “Paradise,” he exclaims, “is a place where people want to end up, not a place they run from. What kind of socialism is that? What kind of shit is that, when you have to keep people in chains? What kind of social order? What kind of paradise?”

Economists don’t talk like novelists, more’s the pity, but what you’re witnessing amid all the graphs and technical language is the start of the long death of an ideology.

Coal Companies’ Secret Funding of Climate Science Denial Exposed (Eco Watch)

Elliott Negin, Union of Concerned Scientists | April 13, 2016 10:49 am

Peabody Energy—the nation’s largest investor-owned coal company—declared bankruptcy Wednesday. Among the many consequences: the company’s court-ordered disclosures are likely to yield hard evidence of Peabody’s direct links to climate science denial.

After all, that’s what we learned from the bankruptcy filings of two other major U.S. coalcompanies, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources. The companies’ lists of creditors accompanying their chapter 11 bankruptcy filings both cited known climate science deniers. So far, the bankruptcy cases have not revealed the details of these financial relationships. But there is now no doubt the coal companies contracted with these groups and individuals to either make a donation or pay for services.

Recent bankruptcy filings have revealed that Chris Horner, who regularly derides climate science on Fox News Channel, has financial ties to the coal industry.Recent bankruptcy filings have revealed that Chris Horner, who regularly derides climate science on Fox News Channel, has financial ties to the coal industry.

This new evidence is important at a time when coal and oil and gas companies are under increased scrutiny about their ongoing climate science disinformation campaigns. ExxonMobil, for example, currently faces state and possibly federal investigations into whether the discrepancies between what the company knew about climate science and what it told their shareholders and the public amounted to fraud.

Of course, there’s no shortage of historical evidence of the coal industry’s track record of deceiving the public about global warming. In 1991, for example, coal trade associations formed a short-lived front group called the Information Council on the Environment that ran a national public relations campaign downplaying the known risks of climate change. All through the 1990s, coal trade groups also were members of the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of companies and business groups that disputed the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and, later on, helped scuttle the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty. And, more recently, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity paid a lobbying firm to send forged letters to members of Congress from actual nonprofit groups, including the NAACP and the American Association of University Women, espousing fabricated opposition to a 2009 climate change bill.

But such coal company connections have been harder to pin down in the current era of so-called dark money. That’s what makes the latest disclosures so noteworthy: They indicate that coal industry disinformation campaigns have continued even as the scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels is driving climate change has only become stronger.

Revealing Creditor Lists

The creditor list for Alpha Natural Resources—which filed for bankruptcy last August—indicates that the company has been especially active in supporting the denier network. As first reported by The Intercept, Alpha—the fourth largest U.S. coal company—has financial ties with a half dozen denier organizations, some which have direct links to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries. The Koch-affiliated groups include Americans for Prosperity, the Institute for Energy Research and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a de facto Koch bank that disburses donations from anonymous, wealthy conservatives to groups that advocate rolling back public health, environmental and workplace protections.

Other Alpha creditors include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which questions the legitimacy of climate models; the Heartland Institute, which is probably best known for its billboard likening climate scientists to the serial killer Ted Kaczynski; and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which convenes conferences for its state legislator members featuring speakers who distort climate science and disparage renewable energy. One of the speakers at a summer 2014 ALEC conference, for example, was Heartland Institute President Joe Bast, whose slide presentation falsely claimed: “There is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change” and “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change … is not a credible source of science or economics.”

The Alpha creditor list also includes at least two individuals with links to denier groups. Particularly noteworthy is Chris Horner, an attorney who is closely associated with a number of nonprofit denier groups, including ALEC, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute (E&E Legal), formerly the American Tradition Institute, and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, another Alpha creditor.

Arch Coal, the second largest U.S. coal company, listed ALEC and E&E Legal in its list of creditors when it filed for chapter 11 protection in January. Just last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company donated $10,000 to E&E Legal in 2014. E&E Legal’s executive director, Craig Richardson, told the Journal the contribution was for “general support.”

Chris Horner’s Coal Ties Disclosed

The exposure of Horner’s financial ties to coal companies is significant because he is a regular guest on Fox News Channel, which identifies him by his affiliation with CEI or E&E Legal but not by his connection to the coal industry.

Despite his lack of scientific expertise, Horner routinely critiques scientific findings, has called for spurious investigations of climate scientists affiliated with the IPCC and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and has harassed scientists by filing intrusive open records requests with the universities where they work. As legal counsel for the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic—which work in tandem—Horner has targeted a number of leading climate scientists, including James Hansenand Katharine Hayhoe. Perhaps his most notorious lawsuit was against the University of Virginia to obtain emails, draft research papers, handwritten notes and other documents related to the work of Michael Mann, lead author of the famous “hockey stick” study demonstrating the link between increased fossil fuel use and rising global temperatures. The Virginia Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the university and Mann, affirming the school’s right to protect the privacy of its researchers from overly broad open records requests.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Alpha paid Horner $18,600 before it declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic—an Alpha creditor—paid him $110,000 in 2014, $115,865 in 2013 and $60,449 in 2012, according to the clinic’s tax filings.

Besides Alpha and Arch Coal, Horner has ties to other coal companies. Last summer, he was a featured speaker at a private $7,500-a-person golf and fly-fishing retreat sponsored by Alpha, Arch Coal and four other coal companies: Alliance Resource Partners, Consol Energy, Drummond and United Coal. After the event—the 2015 annual Coal & Investment Leadership Forum—attendees received an email from the coal company CEOs praising Horner, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonpartisan political watchdog group that first reported the connection between Arch Coal and E&E Legal. “As the ‘war on coal’ continues,” the email stated, “I trust that the commitment we have made to support Chris Horner’s work will eventually create a greater awareness of the illegal tactics being employed to pass laws that are intended to destroy our industry.”

Given the recent spate of bankruptcies, the companies’ commitment to Horner likely will create a greater awareness of something quite different: that the coal industry—along with the likes of ExxonMobil and Koch Industries—is still funding denier groups to spread disinformation about climate science and delay government action. It is time we held these companies accountable.

Regulators Warn 5 Top Banks They Are Still Too Big to Fail (New York Times)


The Fed and the F.D.I.C. found that the plans of five banks were “not credible.”

  • Failed

  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Bank of America
  • Wells Fargo
  • Bank of New York Mellon
  • State Street
  • Mostly Satisfied

  • Citigroup
  • Split Decision

  • Goldman Sachs
  • Morgan Stanley

The five banks that received rejections have until Oct. 1 to fix their plans.

After those adjustments, if the Fed and the F.D.I.C. are still dissatisfied with the living wills, they may impose restrictions on the banks’ activities or require the banks to raise their capital levels, which in practice means using less borrowed money to finance their business.

And if, after two years, the regulators still find the plans deficient, they may require the banks to sell assets and businesses, with the aim of making them less complex and simpler to unwind in a bankruptcy.

Also on Wednesday, JPMorgan announced a decline in both profit and revenue for the first quarter. Other large banks will report quarterly results this week.

“Obviously we were disappointed,” Marianne Lake, chief financial officer of JPMorgan, said on Wednesday morning.

The results are a particular blow for JPMorgan because it often boasts about the strength of its operations and its ability to weather any crisis. Just last week, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive, bragged in his annual letterthat the bank “had enough loss-absorbing resources to bear all the losses,” under the Fed’s annual stress-test situations, of the 31 largest banks in the country.

But the Fed and F.D.I.C. said on Wednesday that JPMorgan appeared to be unprepared for a crisis in a number of areas. The regulators said, for instance, that the bank did not have adequate plans to move money from its operations overseas if something went wrong in the markets.

The letter also said that JPMorgan did not have a good plan to wind down its outstanding derivative contracts if other banks stopped trading with it.

Ms. Lake said “there’s going to be significant work to meet the expectations of regulators.” But she also expressed confidence that the bank could do so without significantly changing how it does business.

Investors appeared to agree that the verdicts from regulators did not endanger the banks’ current business models. Shares of all of the big banks rose on Wednesday.

Wells Fargo, which is generally considered the safest of the large banks, was the target of unexpected criticism from the Fed and F.D.I.C.

The agencies criticized Wells Fargo’s governance and legal structure, and faulted it for “material errors,” which, the regulators said, raised questions about whether the bank has a “robust process to ensure quality control and accuracy.”

In a statement, Wells Fargo said it was disappointed and added, “We understand the importance of these findings, and we will address them as we update our plan.”

The banking industry has complained that the process of submitting living wills is complex and hard to complete and it has suggested changes.

“A useful process reform might be to do living wills every two or three years, instead of annually,” said Tony Fratto, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a public relations firm that works with the banks. “The time required for banks to produce them and regulators to react to them is clearly too tight.”

But Martin J. Gruenberg, the chairman of the F.D.I.C., said on Wednesday that regulators were “committed to carrying out the statutory mandate that systemically important financial institutions demonstrate a clear path to an orderly failure under bankruptcy at no cost to taxpayers.”

“Today’s action is a significant step toward achieving that goal,” he added.

The Stark Realities of Baked-In Catastrophes (Collapse of Industrial Civilization)

02 Apr 2016


In a civilization gone mad with delusions of grandeur, we’re left with tatters of human sociability held together by rancid mythologies.

Despite human fossil fuel burning recently reported to be “flat”, CO2 levels have been on a tear for the last six months, reaching new worrying levels which have some wondering whether permafrost melt may be contributing to the unusually high spike if no decline happens soon. The giant holes in Siberia serve as an ominous sign. Considering that the current El Niño is contributing only 10% to what we are now seeing, runaway global warming may be accelerating worldwide. But don’t worry, Warren Buffett says climate change is no more of a problem than the Y2K bug and will be profitable through increased premiums and inflation.

Ever dire studies continue to reaffirm worst case scenarios, making clear to anyone paying attention that Earth in the next century will be unrecognizable from its current state. Basic planetary geography and atmospheric conditions will be altered through warming oceans and rising sea levels which are now increasing faster than at any time in the past 2800 years. On average, sea levels were between 50 and 82 feet higher the last time CO2 levels were at 400ppm. Glaciologist Jason Box expects ice melt from the West Antarctic to become the biggest contributor to sea level rise in the coming decades due to a feedback loop not in the climate models. CO2 levels have been increasing around 3ppm per year, a twentyfold increase since pre-industrial times when the highest recorded increase was 0.15 ppm per year. We’ve long since passed the tipping point of melting Arctic summer sea ice; 300-350 ppm of CO2 was the threshold for many parts of the climate. These changes are irreversible on a timescale of human civilizations. Even if all human industrial activity magically ceased today, the footprint man has already left will be felt for eons.

In our warming world, the hydrologic cycle is changing and creating extreme weather; crop-destroying droughts and floods are becoming more frequent. The Jet Stream is transforming into something different, becoming wavier with higher ridges and troughs prone to stagnating in the same region. As global temperatures rise over time, hotter air will be trapped under these layers of high pressure from a mangled Jet Stream, cooking everything to death. Rising winter temperatures are beginning to destroy the “winter chill” needed for many fruit and nut trees to properly blossom and produce maximally. Climate change is also disrupting flower pollination and pushing fish toward North/South poles, robbing poorer countries at Equator of crucial food resources. In a new study, marine scientists are surprised to find a disturbing trend in the increasing numbers of a specific type of phytoplankton, coccolithophores, which have been “typically more abundant during Earth’s warm interglacial and high CO2 periods.”


Homo sapiens have only been on the planet for the equivalent of a few seconds in geologic time but have managed to overwhelm and foul up all of earth’s natural processes and interdependencies, leaving a distinct layer in the sedimentary record. There is nothing modern humans do that is truly sustainable. Here are a few glaring examples:

No amount of reafforestation or growing of new trees will ultimately off-set continuing CO2 emissions due to environmental constraints on plant growth and the large amounts of remaining fossil fuel reserves,” Mackey says. “Unfortunately there is no option but to cut fossil fuel emissions deeply as about a third of the CO2 stays in the atmosphere for 2 to 20 millennia.


Relying on machines for answers to the existential problems of a species run amok with planet-destroying tools and weaponry is rather ironic and tragic. We’re locked-up inside a complexity trap of our own making. The human propensity for tool-building coupled with our discovery of fossil fuels has created a set of living arrangements in which we are now enslaved to those machines and tools. The globalized capitalist economy externalizes its destruction and atrocities, keeping the masses in a state of ignorance and denial. Our corporate overlords are not conscientious citizens, but mindless organizations whose sole purpose is to grow profits no matter the external damage done to society and the environment. Between the economic oil hitmen who ensure that profits flow smoothly and GOP politicians who openly espouse their science illiteracy, a hospitable climate for future humans seems remote. Hopeful delusions have given way to the stark reality of our predicament as scholars like Noam Chomsky who originally started his career fighting for a modicum of social justice have now set the bar at just the chance of human survival. Despite the best efforts of scientists, environmentalists, and activists, the wealthy countries most able to do something won’t “get it” until famine, disease, and war come to their country. All is being left for the almighty ‘free market’ to sort out at the same time that climate change, a conflict multiplier, ramps up.


The sixth mass extinction gathers steam and climate inertia works to catch up to the catastrophic ecological collapse already baked-in. All the while, modern man engages in the spectacle of tribal politics(building walls, exuding military strength, recapturing past glories of their nation) and presidential candidates discuss the size of their penis.

For those who come to understand modern man’s predicament, it can either be the ultimate mind fuck or an epiphany that helps a person appreciate the fragility of life, the urgency of living in the here and now, and the grand cosmic joke of a global, hi-tech civilization that arose from the burning of ancient fossil remains only to have those fumes become a deadly curse, extinguishing any trace of our lofty accomplishments…

The fossil record, Plotnick points out, is much more durable than any human record.

As humanity has evolved, our methods of recording information have become ever more ephemeral,” he said. “Clay tablets last longer than books. And who today can read an 8-inch floppy?” he shrugged. “If we put everything on electronic media, will those records exist in a million years? The fossils will.
– Link

Upcoming UN Climate Summit can’t overlook China’s support of global coal power (Science Daily)

October 27, 2015
Princeton University
When global leaders converge on Paris on Nov. 30 for the 2015 United Nations climate change conference, they should create guidelines and incentives for developing nations to cooperate with one another on lower-carbon energy projects, according to a new report. Failure to do so could contribute to an unchecked expansion of coal energy in developing counties, which has already accelerated in recent years with the help of Chinese firms going global.

When global leaders converge on Paris on Nov. 30 for the 2015 United Nations climate change conference, their goal will be to deliver an agreement that, for the first time, seeks to safeguard the Earth’s climate by having all nations that are significant sources of carbon dioxide rein in their emissions.

A threat to that plan might be the unchecked growth of coal-intensive energy in the world’s developing nations — a dangerous trend recently accelerated by the expansion of Chinese firms seeking business internationally, according to researchers from Princeton University, Tongji University in Shanghai and the University of California-Irvine.

The Paris conference is the 21st annual meeting to revisit and strengthen the international environmental treaty known as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Created at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, commonly known as the “Earth Summit,” the treaty sets goals and procedures for signatory nations to contain and reduce carbon emissions.

However, the researchers write in the journal Nature Climate Change that any agreement reached in Paris also should be expanded to provide guidelines and incentives — already under discussion for industrialized countries — for developing nations to cooperate with one another on lower-carbon energy projects. Failure to do this, the authors write, could allow further “dirty” energy cooperation between developing nations and complicate the United Nations’ goal to keep the global average temperature within 2 degrees Celsius of what it was around 1750 at the dawn of the Industrial Age.

“After years of effort to construct a truly global climate agreement, negotiators are on course to accept a system with incoherent rules for developed and developing countries in terms of investing in low-carbon energy outside their borders. We think that may be harmful in the long run,” said lead author Phil Hannam, a doctoral candidate in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The paper, which includes the first tally of Chinese involvement in power plants around the world, includes co-authors Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton; Zhenliang Liao, an associate professor of environmental science and engineering at Tongji University; and Steven Davis, an assistant professor of earth system science at UC-Irvine.

Carbon emissions continue to rise from energy production as developing nations such as India, Brazil and South Africa fuel their rapid industrialization, the researchers report. At the same time, developing nations such as China have the capital and technology to support other burgeoning economies. But the lack of international attention — and UN incentives — for developing nations to support each other’s energy needs in a low-carbon way has helped keep coal power a popular choice, according to the authors.

Chinese firms — which often have financial or policy backing from China’s state banks — have poured coal-power equipment into other Asian countries, partly as a result of China’s slowing domestic power-market growth. The situation could get worse as China pledges to reduce domestic carbon emissions, according to the paper. The researchers found that of the total power capacities in Asian countries other than China that have involvement from Chinese firms, 68 percent in operation, 77 percent under construction and 76 percent in planning burn coal. This level of involvement in coal exceeds the global trend, Hannam said.

“While China has tightened its belt on coal power domestically, that’s pushing Chinese firms to help build coal plants in other countries, so much so that China’s firms are disproportionately focused in coal-intensive energy abroad relative to other nations,” Hannam said. “Instead, if the UNFCCC integrated low-carbon cooperation between developing countries in the climate agreement, China could lead the way for countries to make pledges for low-carbon investment globally, just as they pledge domestic emissions cuts.”

The loopholes of ‘climate finance’

“Climate finance,” which Hannam and his co-authors focus on, is an important tool for guiding clean-energy development internationally. In an effort to keep global emissions low, a nation’s government — usually in concert with private money — will support low-carbon development in other nations. Richer industrialized nations with a long history of emissions have committed to mobilizing climate finance to the tune of US$100 billion per year by 2020. Some of this funding will flow through the Green Climate Fund established in 2010 to support low-carbon investment in the developing world.

Developing nations — generally with China at the helm — have entered into numerous parallel arrangements to support energy-sector growth in other developing nations. China has established the South-South Cooperation Fund for supporting low-carbon investment.

Several other energy-financing agreements, however, are not only outside the UN’s purview, they often benefit from vastly more funding than the Green Climate Fund or the South-South fund and have no explicit low-carbon directive, the authors reported.

The New Development Bank headquartered in Shanghai and formed by China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa to support infrastructure projects in developing countries boasts a starting capital of $100 billion. Some $50 billion in capital is already behind the China-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and another $40 billion supports China’s Silk Road Fund — both entities are intended to accelerate development in China’s less prosperous neighbors.

Efforts to encourage countries to support low-carbon development is complicated by the fact that there are no universally accepted standards for climate finance, Hannam said. Even the Green Climate Fund may permit financing for coal power.

“This highlights the need for both developed and developing countries to agree to common definitions of what qualifies as climate finance,” Hannam said. “Then the UNFCCC can look across the multiple emerging institutions and provide incentives for all power-sector finance — regardless of country of origin — to shift from coal to lower-carbon sources.”

The issues the authors discuss have already been broached in diplomatic circles, said Oppenheimer, who will be attending the Paris conference in part to promote the ideas laid out in the perspective piece. The United States recently persuaded China to reconsider its carbon-intensive power investments abroad, he said. While American support is crucial, climate finance is a complicated international balancing act that is influenced by many nations’ pursuit of economic gain and influence, Oppenheimer said.

“If the United States stays focused and makes this a priority within its international climate approach, then there’s a fair chance other governments will likewise support such an effort,” Oppenheimer said. “However, there is clearly more to international energy finance than just the United States and China. Japan, for instance, also finances coal power internationally and has a lot at stake politically in China’s Asia-focused institutions. It’s not simple.”

Gilbert Metcalf, a professor of economics at Tufts University and former deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy at the U.S. Department of Treasury, agreed that developing nations also must be brought into the fold. The norm has been for industrialized nations to foot the bill for low-carbon investment in poorer nations. The recent initiatives by China and other developing nations have somewhat upset that dynamic, but countries with small economies might still hesitate to commit themselves to investment standards long applied only to rich countries, said Metcalf, who was not involved in the research but is familiar with it.

Nonetheless, Metcalf said, the paper in Nature Climate Change is significant for taking a proactive approach to dealing with the climate-finance issue, as well as for detailing the energy-sector investments for an emerging financial force such as China.

“Providing some systematic measurement of climate finance is extremely valuable, especially with regard to climate finance from China and other developing countries. As China’s recent announcement to provide climate finance outside of the Green Climate Fund indicates, developing country finance will be an important part of the climate finance architecture,” he said.

“The massive external coal investment highlighted in [this paper] makes clear that South-South investment is not necessarily green investment,” he said. “It also makes clear that incentives built into the Paris agreement — or post-Paris negotiations — to green South-South investment will be extremely valuable to support global efforts to decarbonize.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Phillip M. Hannam, Zhenliang Liao, Steven J. Davis, Michael Oppenheimer. Developing country finance in a post-2020 global climate agreementNature Climate Change, 2015; 5 (11): 983 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2731

Petróleo, gás e mineração ameaçam quase um terço dos Patrimônios Naturais Mundiais (WWF)

01 Outubro 2015

Londres – 1º de outubro de 2015 – Quase um terço de todos os locais pertencentes à lista de Patrimônio Mundial Natural está ameaçado pela exploração de petróleo, gás e mineração. A informação foi divulgada no novo relatório “Protegendo um Excepcional Valor Natural”, produzido pelo WWF, Aviva Investors and Investec Asset Management, e que ressalta ainda o risco para os investidores que trabalham ou possuem a intenção de trabalhar com empresas que atuam com extração nesses lugares ou próximos a eles.

Patrimônios Mundiais Naturais (ou World Heritage Site, em inglês) são lugares de enorme valor natural, como o Grand Canyon, a Grande Barreira de Corais e a Reserva Selous Game, na Tanzânia. Cobrindo menos de 1% do planeta, eles contêm um enorme valor natural, como paisagens singulares e alguns dos animais mais raros da Terra, como gorilas da montanha, elefantes africanos, leopardos da neve, baleias e tartarugas marinhas.

De acordo com o relatório, os pontos de Patrimônio Mundial Natural estão em risco mais elevado do que jamais se pensou até então.

As ameaças estão relacionadas às operações em atividade ou à entrada de empresas para concessão de exploração de minérios, petróleo ou gás, e podem causar danos irreparáveis aos locais à biodiversidade, além de prejudicar as comunidades que tiram dali sua subsistência. No mundo todo, a maior ameaça está na África, onde o risco atinge 61% desses locais.

No relatório, os investidores estão sendo alertados dos riscos que correm ao apoiarem essas empresas – tanto riscos financeiros quanto de reputação. Em resumo, neste caso, há muito risco envolvido para um retorno que não é o suficiente.

O documento convida potenciais financiadores e apoiadores a:

•    Buscar informações se as empresas em que estão investindo, ou considerando investir, possuem concessões ou operações dentro de lugares considerados Patrimônios Mundiais Naturais;

•    Abordar diretamente companhias que trabalham nesses locais ou próximos a eles e as encorajar a mudar seus planos;

•    Considerar retirar o investimento nessas companhias se não forem tomadas medidas para sair desses lugares, e ainda divulgar o fim do apoio e as razões para isso.

O desenvolvimento alternativo e sustentável dos Patrimônios Naturais Mundiais é uma proposta muito melhor para resguardar tanto o futuro dos recursos naturais quanto o das comunidades locais, nacionais e globais. A preservação desses locais e de seus ecossistemas pode fornecer, a longo prazo, benefícios significativos, visto que:

•    93% dos Patrimônios Mundiais Naturais promovem o turismo e a recreação;
•    91% deles geram empregos;
•    84% deles contribuem para a educação.

O WWF convoca investidores a usar as evidências desse relatório para abordar as companhias de extração e encorajá-las a adotar compromissos significativos de “não atuação” e “não impacto” nos Patrimônios Mundiais Naturais, além de divulgar de forma proativa as operações em atividade (existentes, ou em vias de existir), dentro ou nas proximidades de Patrimônios Mundiais Naturais.

De acordo com o diretor-executivo do WWF do Reino Unido, David Nussbaum: “nós estamos indo aos confins da Terra em busca de mais recursos – incluindo minérios, petróleo e gás, que estão cada vez mais caros e difíceis de serem extraídos. Com isso, alguns dos lugares mais preciosos do mundo estão ameaçados por atividades industriais destrutivas que põem em perigo os valores pelos quais eles foram agraciados com o maior nível de reconhecimento do planeta”, comenta.

“Proteger esses locais únicos não é somente importante do ponto de vista ambiental, é crucial para o sustento e o futuro da população que depende deles. Os investidores têm uma oportunidade única assim como uma responsabilidade de administrar seu capital e desenhar nosso futuro”, completa Nussbaum.

Naomi Klein’s Radical Guide to the Anthropocene (The New Republic)


OCTOBER 1, 2015

In the author’s new documentary, the climate crisis is tied to our rotten economic system.


Last year, Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything laid bare the capitalist economic system’s dependence on environmental devastation. We can’t fight climate change until we properly understand capitalism’s culpability, she argued. And with her characteristic brand of activist-oriented problem solving, Klein suggested we could seize this moment of climate crisis to revamp our addled global economy. A documentary of the same name, directed by Klein’s husband Avi Lewis, was conceived as a parallel project to Klein’s book and had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. It trumpets the same battle cry: that fighting global warming effectively means overturning capitalism. As politicians keep bickering over absurdly modest measures like cap-and-trade programs and scientists continue to announce startling figures of shrinking glaciers, Lewis and Klein’s message feels as urgent as ever.

Klein is really good at making radical arguments like this one terrifically accessible. This Changes Everything is the third book in Klein’s anti-globalization trilogy, following 1999’s No Logo, which criticized brand-oriented consumer culture, and 2007’s The Shock Doctrine, which chronicled how corporations take advantage of disasters to implement free-market policies designed to enrich a small elite. The film This Changes Everything marks the second time that Klein and Lewis have collaborated on a documentary. Eleven years ago, the pair made The Take, a movie that followed a group of autoworkers in Argentina who took over their factory and turned it into a cooperative. Lewis and Klein’s new film is similar in its aim to promote grassroots anti-capitalist action.

“A book can’t help you from feeling isolated and alone. A film, I think, can,” said Klein when I caught up with her and Lewis in Toronto to talk about the documentary. This Friday, it will be released in select theaters in New York, and will roll out in Los Angeles and Canada soon afterward. In the film, Klein’s thesis—that the climate crisis is inextricably tied to our rotten economic system—is woven together with portraits of activists fighting against mining and energy projects everywhere from Canada to Greece to South India. Like the book, the film succeeds in making a rigorous argument intelligible to a wide audience. By mixing essayistic filmmaking with vérité documentary techniques that showcase the stories of regular people turned activists, This Changes Everything also communicates an emotional urgency perhaps best suited to the cinematic medium. The documentary connects the past and the present, historicizing the activist battle against new coal plants and oil wells.

Klein traces the ideological infrastructure our current petrochemical economy is founded on back to the Enlightenment period. “It’s a moment in history where you have the Scientific Revolution and you also have the colonial project overlapping temporarily. The idea of infinite growth begins and there’s the birth of the machine,” she said. “These are all happening in the very same century.” She thinks drawing attention to when and where these concepts came from is intrinsic to developing alternatives to them. “Calling it human nature erases that it comes from a place. There are other ideas and other ways of relating to the world.”

From the indigenous tribes affected by Tar Sands development in Alberta to the South Indian villagers protesting a proposed coal plant, the documentary shows communities that practice non-capitalist ways of relating to nature. They’re all suspicious of the narrow post-Enlightenment idea of progress that fossil-fuel development promises. They don’t see the industrial extraction of resources as a necessary pit-stop on the way to an advanced society, but are rather see polluting resources like water which sustain human life as backward.

Klein uses these communities as examples of alternative ways of relating to the environment. She refutes the idea that we are doomed because it’s human nature to live in an environmentally destructive manner. A tendency to generalize “human impact” is embedded in terms like the anthropocene, Klein noted, which is the scientific designation for our era—it refers to the epoch in which human activity from industrial farming to resource extraction has irreversibly changed the planet. Basically, you can read our impact in the rocks of Earth itself. “It being ‘the age of man’ diagnoses the problem as being something essential in humans and glosses over the fact it’s not all humans,” Klein said, noting an essay on the subject by Andreas Malm from Jacobin magazine. “[Malm] makes the argument that it’s only a very small subset of humans that came up with the idea of burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale, and it’s still a minority of humans who do so.” For example, the average American consumes 500 times more energy than the average person living in a country like Ethiopia or Afghanistan. And even within the U.S., there are inequalities.

Environmental issues are inextricable from issues of economic and racial justice. “Being in New York the week after Sandy, there were powerful and disturbing flashbacks to being in New Orleans a week after Katrina happened,” said Lewis. For them, they said, the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this year connected the racial justice movement and the climate movement for many. “I think that because Black Lives Matter has united that conversation in the U.S., and then having the Katrina anniversary, for a lot of people it was a bit of an ‘oh yeah’ moment,” Klein said. “If you have a system in which black lives are treated as if they don’t matter, when you layer climate change on top of that then you see the issue on the mass scale.”

Environmental issues are inextricable from issues of economic and racial justice.

While Lewis and Klein’s documentary doesn’t focus on Hurricane Katrina or the intersection of American racial justice and climate change in particular, it does outline how the current economic system values some lives more than others. Klein’s narration returns over and over again to the idea of “sacrifice zones”: A resource economy depends on certain areas being disproportionately ravaged by extraction and processing—these places and the people in them are seen as worth sacrificing for some nebulous concept of the greater good. Populations in sacrifice zones have often been disproportionately poor and people of color, but in the film, we see that as the zones keep expanding middle-class white people from Montana to Greece are realizing they’re new targets of exploitation.

The emotional core of the film comes from individuals battling against being seen as disposable. Though as filmmakers Lewis and Klein unpack troubling realities, their film is cautiously optimistic, and focuses on the power and potential of these grassroots movements. We need a new system, in their view.

While the film concentrates its attention on citizen-driven actions, Klein also spearheaded the policy-focused Leap Manifesto, which was just released in mid-September in advance of the Canadian election, which takes place on October 19. “It’s basically a roadmap for Canada to get off fossil fuels,” explained Klein. Its signatories include public figures like environmentalist David Suzuki and folk-rock icon Neil Young.

Though Lewis and Klein are hopeful, they’re also realistic. Talking to them about the most recent price shocks—which happened since they wrapped shooting, and which have caused the price of oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to fall to historic lows—Lewis notes that “it is not affecting oil company profits as much as you might think it is.” He continued. “There are projects that have been suspended, but there’s thousands of barrels of new capacity that’s going ahead in Alberta each day. It’s not expanding as fast as they want it to, but it’s still expanding.”

Still, Klein explained the price shock is an opportunity. “Here is a pause in the frenetic energy. That kind of money makes it really hard to think. It’s hard to think with oil at $100 a barrel,” she said. “But now we have a moment where we can look in the mirror, and ask is this the best way to run the economy?” Her answer? No.

Aproveitamento de recursos hídricos poderá gerar renda para indígenas (Agência Senado)

Da Redação | 28/09/2015, 09h39 – ATUALIZADO EM 28/09/2015, 17h07

Proposta que altera a Constituição Federal para assegurar aos indígenas participação nos resultados do aproveitamento de recursos hídricos em suas terras (PEC 76/2011) está na pauta da reunião de quarta-feira (30) da Comissão de Constituição, Justiça e Cidadania (CCJ).

Hoje já são reconhecidos aos índios os direitos de posse permanente das terras que ocupam e de usufruto exclusivo das riquezas do solo, dos rios e dos lagos nelas existentes. Quanto à participação na exploração dos recursos, a Constituição garante apenas o direito a resultados obtidos com as riquezas minerais.

O autor da PEC, senador Blairo Maggi (PR-MT), explica que, no caso da implantação de hidrelétricas em terras indígenas, por exemplo, “não há garantia explícita da participação dos índios nos resultados de tal exploração”.

Ele acrescenta que essa lacuna tem gerado divergências na interpretação da norma constitucional e insegurança jurídica para as comunidades. Para o parlamentar, se a Constituição concede aos índios usufruto exclusivo das riquezas dos rios e dos lagos existentes em suas terras, é justo que haja compensação caso sejam privados do livre acesso a essas águas.

O relator, senador Valdir Raupp (PMDB-RO), apoia a proposta e questiona: “se as comunidades têm direito à participação no resultado da lavra mineral, por que também não teriam esse direito em relação ao aproveitamento dos recursos hídricos? Ambas as atividades podem impactar fortemente as comunidades”, observa.

A PEC 76/2011 prevê, para o aproveitamento dos recursos hídricos, a mesma exigência constitucional já estabelecida para exploração de riquezas minerais em terras indígenas, ou seja, autorização do Congresso Nacional, ouvidas as comunidades afetadas.

Após análise na CCJ, a PEC segue para dois turnos de votação em Plenário.

Outros projetos

A pauta da reunião inclui outros 33 projetos, entre eles, proposta de emenda à Constituição (PEC 62/2015), da senadora Gleisi Hoffmann (PT-PR), que acaba com a vinculação automática entre vencimentos mensais recebidos por agentes públicos, como parlamentares e ministros dos tribunais superiores. O fim do chamado “efeito cascata” no reajuste dessas remunerações recebeu relatório favorável do senador Randolfe Rodrigues (PSOL-AP).

Agência Senado

Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago (Inside Climate News)

Top executives were warned of possible catastrophe from greenhouse effect, then led efforts to block solutions.

By Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer

Sep 16, 2015

Exxon Experiment

Exxon’s Richard Werthamer (right) and Edward Garvey (left) are aboard the company’s Esso Atlantic tanker working on a project to measure the carbon dioxide levels in the ocean and atmosphere. The project ran from 1979 to 1982. (Credit: Richard Werthamer)

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.

It was July 1977 when Exxon’s leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.

A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon’s Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles.  Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed,” Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk.

His presentations reflected uncertainty running through scientific circles about the details of climate change, such as the role the oceans played in absorbing emissions. Still, Black estimated quick action was needed. “Present thinking,” he wrote in the 1978 summary, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.

Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.

This untold chapter in Exxon’s history, when one of the world’s largest energy companies worked to understand the damage caused by fossil fuels, stems from an eight-month investigation by InsideClimate News. ICN’s reporters interviewed former Exxon employees, scientists, and federal officials, and consulted hundreds of pages of internal Exxon documents, many of them written between 1977 and 1986, during the heyday of Exxon’s innovative climate research program. ICN combed through thousands of documents from archives including those held at the University of Texas-Austin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The documents record budget requests, research priorities, and debates over findings, and reveal the arc of Exxon’s internal attitudes and work on climate and how much attention the results received.

Of particular significance was a project launched in August 1979, when the company outfitted a supertanker with custom-made instruments. The project’s mission was to sample carbon dioxide in the air and ocean along a route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf.

In 1980, Exxon assembled a team of climate modelers who investigated fundamental questions about the climate’s sensitivity to the buildup  of carbon dioxide in the air. Working with university scientists and the U.S. Department of Energy, Exxon strove to be on the cutting edge of inquiry into what was then called the greenhouse effect.

Exxon’s early determination to understand rising carbon dioxide levels grew out of a corporate culture of farsightedness, former employees said. They described a company that continuously examined risks to its bottom line, including environmental factors. In the 1970s, Exxon modeled its research division after Bell Labs, staffing it with highly accomplished scientists and engineers.

In written responses to questions about the history of its research, ExxonMobil spokesman Richard D. Keil said that “from the time that climate change first emerged as a topic for scientific study and analysis in the late 1970s, ExxonMobil has committed itself to scientific, fact-based analysis of this important issue.”

“At all times,” he said, “the opinions and conclusions of our scientists and researchers on this topic have been solidly within the mainstream of the consensus scientific opinion of the day and our work has been guided by an overarching principle to follow where the science leads. The risk of climate change is real and warrants action.”

At the outset of its climate investigations almost four decades ago, many Exxon executives, middle managers and scientists armed themselves with a sense of urgency and mission.

One manager at Exxon Research, Harold N. Weinberg, shared his “grandiose thoughts” about Exxon’s potential role in climate research in a March 1978 internal company memorandum that read: “This may be the kind of opportunity that we are looking for to have Exxon technology, management and leadership resources put into the context of a project aimed at benefitting mankind.”

His sentiment was echoed by Henry Shaw, the scientist leading the company’s nascent carbon dioxide research effort.

“Exxon must develop a credible scientific team that can critically evaluate the information generated on the subject and be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation,” Shaw wrote to his boss Edward E. David, the executive director of Exxon Research and Engineering in 1978. “This team must be recognized for its excellence in the scientific community, the government, and internally by Exxon management.”

Irreversible and Catastrophic

Exxon budgeted more than $1 million over three years for the tanker project to measure how quickly the oceans were taking in CO2. It was a small fraction of Exxon Research’s annual $300 million budget, but the question the scientists tackled was one of the biggest uncertainties in climate science: how quickly could the deep oceans absorb atmospheric CO2? If Exxon could pinpoint the answer, it would know how long it had before CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere could force a transition away from fossil fuels.

Exxon also hired scientists and mathematicians to develop better climate models and publish research results in peer-reviewed journals. By 1982, the company’s own scientists, collaborating with outside researchers, created rigorous climate models – computer programs that simulate the workings of the climate to assess the impact of emissions on global temperatures. They confirmed an emerging scientific consensus that warming could be even worse than Black had warned five years earlier.

Esso Atlantic

Between 1979 and 1982, Exxon researchers sampled carbon dioxide levels aboard the company’s Esso Atlantic tanker (shown here).

Exxon’s research laid the groundwork for a 1982 corporate primer on carbon dioxide and climate change prepared by its environmental affairs office. Marked “not to be distributed externally,” it contained information that “has been given wide circulation to Exxon management.” In it, the company recognized, despite the many lingering unknowns, that heading off global warming “would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.”

Unless that happened, “there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered,” the primer said, citing independent experts. “Once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible.”

The Certainty of Uncertainty

Like others in the scientific community, Exxon researchers acknowledged the uncertainties surrounding many aspects of climate science, especially in the area of forecasting models. But they saw those uncertainties as questions they wanted to address, not an excuse to dismiss what was increasingly understood.

“Models are controversial,” Roger Cohen, head of theoretical sciences at Exxon Corporate Research Laboratories, and his colleague, Richard Werthamer, senior technology advisor at Exxon Corporation, wrote in a May 1980 status report on Exxon’s climate modeling program. “Therefore, there are research opportunities for us.”

When Exxon’s researchers confirmed information the company might find troubling, they did not sweep it under the rug.

“Over the past several years a clear scientific consensus has emerged,” Cohen wrote in September 1982, reporting on Exxon’s own analysis of climate models. It was that a doubling of the carbon dioxide blanket in the atmosphere would produce average global warming of 3 degrees Celsius, plus or minus 1.5 degrees C (equal to 5 degrees Fahrenheit plus or minus 1.7 degrees F).

“There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate,” he wrote, “including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.”

He warned that publication of the company’s conclusions might attract media attention because of the “connection between Exxon’s major business and the role of fossil fuel combustion in contributing to the increase of atmospheric CO2.”

Nevertheless, he recommended publication.

Our “ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature,” Cohen wrote. “Indeed, to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon’s public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.”

Exxon followed his advice. Between 1983 and 1984, its researchers published their results in at least three peer-reviewed papers in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences and an American Geophysical Union monograph.

David, the head of Exxon Research, told a global warming conference financed by Exxon in October 1982 that “few people doubt that the world has entered an energy transition away from dependence upon fossil fuels and toward some mix of renewable resources that will not pose problems of COaccumulation.” The only question, he said, was how fast this would happen.

But the challenge did not daunt him. “I’m generally upbeat about the chances of coming through this most adventurous of all human experiments with the ecosystem,” David said.

Exxon considered itself unique among corporations for its carbon dioxide and climate research.  The company boasted in a January 1981 report, “Scoping Study on CO2,” that no other company appeared to be conducting similar in-house research into carbon dioxide, and it swiftly gained a reputation among outsiders for genuine expertise.

“We are very pleased with Exxon’s research intentions related to the CO2 question. This represents very responsible action, which we hope will serve as a model for research contributions from the corporate sector,” said David Slade, manager of the federal government’s carbon dioxide research program at the Energy Department, in a May 1979 letter to Shaw. “This is truly a national and international service.”

Business Imperatives

In the early 1980s Exxon researchers often repeated that unbiased science would give it legitimacy in helping shape climate-related laws that would affect its profitability.

Still, corporate executives remained cautious about what they told Exxon’s shareholders about global warming and the role petroleum played in causing it, a review of federal filings shows. The company did not elaborate on the carbon problem in annual reports filed with securities regulators during the height of its CO2 research.

Nor did it mention in those filings that concern over CO2 was beginning to influence business decisions it was facing.

Throughout the 1980s, the company was worried about developing an enormous gas field off the coast of Indonesia because of the vast amount of CO2 the unusual reservoir would release.

Exxon was also concerned about reports that synthetic oil made from coal, tar sands and oil shales could significantly boost CO2 emissions. The company was banking on synfuels to meet growing demand for energy in the future, in a world it believed was running out of conventional oil.

In the mid-1980s, after an unexpected oil glut caused prices to collapse, Exxon cut its staff deeply to save money, including many working on climate. But the climate change problem remained, and it was becoming a more prominent part of the political landscape.

“Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate,” declared the headline of a June 1988 New York Times article describing the Congressional testimony of NASA’s James Hansen, a leading climate expert. Hansen’s statements compelled Sen. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.) to declare during the hearing that “Congress must begin to consider how we are going to slow or halt that warming trend.”

With alarm bells suddenly ringing, Exxon started financing efforts to amplify doubt about the state of climate science.

Exxon helped to found and lead the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of some of the world’s largest companies seeking to halt government efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions. Exxon used the American Petroleum Institute, right-wing think tanks, campaign contributions and its own lobbying to push a narrative that climate science was too uncertain to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions.

As the international community moved in 1997 to take a first step in curbing emissions with the Kyoto Protocol, Exxon’s chairman and CEO Lee Raymond argued to stop it.

“Let’s agree there’s a lot we really don’t know about how climate will change in the 21st century and beyond,” Raymond said in his speech before the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing in October 1997.

“We need to understand the issue better, and fortunately, we have time,” he said. “It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.”

Over the years, several Exxon scientists who had confirmed the climate consensus during its early research, including Cohen and David, took Raymond’s side, publishing views that ran contrary to the scientific mainstream.

Paying the Price

Exxon’s about-face on climate change earned the scorn of the scientific establishment it had once courted.

In 2006, the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s science academy, sent a harsh letter to Exxon accusing it of being “inaccurate and misleading” on the question of climate uncertainty. Bob Ward, the Academy’s senior manager for policy communication, demanded that Exxon stop giving money to dozens of organizations he said were actively distorting the science.

In 2008, under mounting pressure from activist shareholders, the company announced it would end support for some prominent groups such as those Ward had identified.

Still, the millions of dollars Exxon had spent since the 1990s on climate change deniers had long surpassed what it had once invested in its path-breaking climate science aboard the Esso Atlantic.

“They spent so much money and they were the only company that did this kind of research as far as I know,” Edward Garvey, who was a key researcher on Exxon’s oil tanker project, said in a recent interview with InsideClimate News and Frontline. “That was an opportunity not just to get a place at the table, but to lead, in many respects, some of the discussion. And the fact that they chose not to do that into the future is a sad point.”

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who has been a frequent target of climate deniers, said that inaction, just like actions, have consequences. When he recently spoke to InsideClimate News, he was unaware of this chapter in Exxon’s history.

“All it would’ve taken is for one prominent fossil fuel CEO to know this was about more than just shareholder profits, and a question about our legacy,” he said. “But now because of the cost of inaction—what I call the ‘procrastination penalty’—we face a far more uphill battle.”

Part II, coming on September 17, will further examine Exxon’s early climate research.

ICN staff members Zahra Hirji, Paul Horn, Naveena Sadasivam, Sabrina Shankman and Alexander Wood also contributed to this report.

Animal spirits (The Economist)

Releasing animals into the wild is in vogue—with unwelcome consequences

Sep 12th 2015  | SHANGHAI

The Huangpu: hardly loach heaven

EVERY Saturday morning hundreds of devotees gather by Shanghai’s Huangpu river to liberate fish. Over three hours some 2,000 loach are tipped into the murky waters to the sound of chants.

This is fang sheng, or “animal release”, an East Asian Buddhist ritual in which captive creatures are freed. The point is to demonstrate compassion and earn merit. The practice is ancient, though along with everything else, it was condemned as so much superstition under Mao Zedong. Today fang sheng is making a comeback, especially among the young and well-off. Officials estimate around 200m fish, snakes, turtles, birds and even ants are released each year—though no one really has a clue.

Fang sheng associations can rake in around 1m yuan ($157,000) in annual donations. For some monks it has become a racket. The greatest price, however, is paid by the animals themselves and the ecosystems from which they come and into which they go.

A vast and mainly illegal wildlife trade caters to the demand for animals. Figures are hard to come by, but one paper estimated that in Hong Kong two markets sold over 630,000 birds a year, most destined for fang sheng. Many animals—perhaps half of all the birds—die during capture or transit from stress, disease or mishandling.

Nor does using reared or exotic species help. They create havoc in local ecosystems. Zhou Zhuocheng, chairman of China’s main body on aquatic ecology, cites the case of the mosquito fish from North America, a popular fish for fang sheng. It feeds on the eggs of the native Japanese rice fish, causing the latter to disappear completely in some areas. To add to the grimness, many animals, once released, are hoovered up and sold again to fresh devotees. Animals that do not survive the trauma are often sold as food.

Wang Tianbao, a 26-year-old programmer and evangelical Buddhist, admits that paying for animals that have only recently been released is “a waste of money”. Yet still he is prepared to spend oodles on fang sheng, through whose associations he can disseminate Buddhist information and reach new followers. He says he first practised fang sheng as a student, releasing two turtles that cost him 98 yuan, his food budget for three weeks. Today he spends 5,000-7,000 yuan, or about 5% of his annual salary. There may just be better ways to earn merit.

King Coal, Long Besieged, Is Deposed by the Market (New York Times)

A miner at a coal processing facility near Gilbert, W.Va. This year the number of coal miners in the United States dropped more than 10 percent, to just over 80,000 workers.Credit Robert Galbraith/Reuters 

In April 2005, President George W. Bush hailed “clean coal” as a key to “greater energy independence,” pledging $2 billion in research funds that promised a new golden age for America’s most abundant energy resource.

But a decade later, the United States coal industry is reeling as never before in its history, the victim of new environmental regulations, intensifying attacks by activists, collapsing coal prices, and — above all — the rise of cheap alternative fuels, especially natural gas.

This week President Obama slammed the industry with tougher-than-expected rules from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting power plant carbon emissions, which will accelerate an already huge shift from coal to natural gas and other alternatives.

“Clean coal” remains an expensive and thus far impractical pipe dream. Coal is the world’s biggest source of carbon emissions by far and the leading culprit in global warming. Coal advocates like Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky senator and Republican majority leader, have accused the president of an out-and-out “war on coal.”

But it’s collapsing prices and heavy debt loads that are driving the industry into bankruptcy. Alpha Natural Resources, the nation’s fourth-largest coal producer after it doubled down on coal four years ago in acquiring Massey Coal for $7.1 billion, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday. It follows Walter Energy, which filed last month; Patriot Coal, which sought court protection in May; and numerous smaller mining companies.

The demise of the two biggest surviving publicly traded coal companies — Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, the nation’s two largest producers — may just be a matter of time, based on their recent stock performance. Peabody shares, which traded at more than $16 less than a year ago, hit 99 cents this week, and Arch shares have fallen to $1 from more than $33, making them among the biggest losers this year in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

“This has been a storm gathering for a very long time,” said Jeff Goodell, author of the 2006 book “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future.” “When I wrote my book, coal looked indomitable. But below the surface you could see all these issues coming at them. You can only hold off the larger forces of progress and science for so long. The bottom line is that it’s a 19th-century fuel very badly suited for the 21st century. There’s no way you can wash or scrub coal to make that essential fact go away.”

Market forces have accomplished in just a few years what environmentalists and social advocates have struggled for decades to achieve. Coal prices have plunged about 70 percent in the last four years. This year the number of underground and surface coal miners in the United States dropped more than 10 percent, to just over 80,000 workers. There are now more than twice as many workers in the fast-growing solar power industry than there are coal miners.

Mountaintop removal, the poster child for environmental destruction, has all but ground to a halt as coal companies continue to close mines, lay off workers and slash capital spending on expensive new mining operations. Meantime, natural gas production has soared and electric utilities have built up gas-fired generation to replace aging coal-fired power plants.

“It’s kind of the ultimate irony that market forces, and not the administration or environmentalists, have displaced coal,” said Jorge Beristain, head of Americas metals and mining equity research for Deutsche Bank. “It’s human ingenuity that found a cheaper, cleaner way to skin the cat, which is by producing natural gas from fracking. They’re both fossil fuels, of course, but burning natural gas puts out a lot less carbon than coal.”

Burning coal produces nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as does natural gas, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.

Anthony Young, a mining analyst at the Macquarie Group, agreed. “There have been a lot of protests and animosity towards the coal industry, but lo and behold, it was the natural gas industry that has stopped many of the worst mining practices,” he said. “There are concerns about fracking, but it’s way better than cutting down mountains.”

Environmentalists are starting to notice that financial arguments may prove more effective than moral or social ones at persuading major investors to shun coal. Stanford University, which announced last May that it would divest itself of direct investments in coal producers, looks at least as much like a shrewd investor as an environmental steward, given the subsequent plunge in coal prices and coal company stock prices, and other big investors have taken notice.

In June, Norway’s government pension fund — considered the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with $890 billion in assets, much of it generated from oil revenue — said it would divest itself of coal holdings. A spokeswoman for the fund said this was a financial decision, not a political one, with the goal of “building financial wealth for future generations.”

“I think you’re seeing a generational shift where the activists are getting more market-savvy,” said Mr. Beristain of Deutsche Bank. “They’re targeting Wall Street and the analysts. It’s becoming part of the environmental agenda to kneecap the coal sector at the source of its cash.”

Carbon Tracker, a London-based think tank, is among those trying to use financial data to affect climate change. “We try to stay out of the political discussion,” said Luke Sussams, a senior researcher and co-author of “The US Coal Crash,” a report arguing that coal faces a long-term, and not just cyclical, decline. “We look at it purely from a risk versus return perspective,” he said. “Our stance is: It’s a bad investment.”

Environmentalists still have their work cut out for them. The coal industry may be in dire straits, but it’s not going to vanish overnight. In 2013 the United States produced 985 million tons of coal, although it was the first time in 20 years that production fell below one billion tons. The United States consumed 924 million tons, 93 percent of it accounted for by the electric power industry, according to government statistics. In 2011, the United States consumed 1.1 billion tons.

“It’s premature to say the industry is dead,” said Mr. Young, the Macquarie analyst. He estimated the industry needs to shrink by about 25 percent to meet current demand, and more if electric utilities accelerate the shift to natural gas. But as coal companies “go through bankruptcy, their assets aren’t going to shut down. Mismanagement will be addressed, and their balance sheets will be restructured, but viable assets will re-emerge and be profitable.”

But it seems safe to say that the coal industry will never wield the enormous economic and political clout that it had even 10 years ago. “In the aftermath of the Bush-Cheney administration, there was this resurgence of the idea that coal was the American rock,” Mr. Goodell said. “America’s industrial strength was built on burning coal. No politician wanted to mess with coal.”

But with the shrinking of the industry, coal interests “are losing their clout, and they’re not going to get it back,” Mr. Goodell said. “It’s becoming clear where the future is going. The politically smart thing is to jump on the renewables bandwagon.”

Correction: August 10, 2015
The Common Sense column on Friday, about the declining fortunes of the coal industry, misstated the number of years ago that the coal company Alpha Natural Resources acquired a rival, Massey Energy. It was four years ago, not two.

Climate change seen as greatest threat by global population (The Guardian)

Environment damage followed by worldwide economic instability and Isis in list of concerns, according to survey by Pew Research Center

Climate change

Climate change was the highest concern in almost half of all countries polled, with the issue particularly feared in Latin America and Africa. Photograph: Daniel Reinhardt/EPA

Climate change is what the world’s population perceives as the top global threat, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, with countries in Latin America and Africa particularly concerned about the issue.

It is followed by global economic instability and the Islamic State militant group.

The survey, conducted in 40 countries and taking in the views of more than 45,000 respondents, attempts to measure perceptions of global threats. In 19 of the 40 countries polled, climate change was found to be the issue of highest concern.

A median average of 61% of Latin Americans said they were very concerned about climate change, the highest share of any region. In Brazil and Peru, 75% of respondents said they were very concerned about the issue. Burkina Faso had the highest share of any country, with 79% expressing the highest level of concern.

Isis was viewed as the biggest threat for people in Lebanon with 84% saying they were very concerned – understandable given the region’s close proximity to the group’s activities. However, Isis was also viewed as the top threat a lot further away in the US (68%), Australia (69%) and the UK (66%).

Global economic instability is another major worry. It was found to be the top concern in a number of countries, including Venezuela – which has been undergoing a severe financial crisis – as well as Senegal and Tanzania. It was also found to be the second biggest concern in half of all those surveyed.

Pew found that major worries about Iran’s nuclear programme were limited to a few nations, with the US, Spain and Israel (the only country to cite Iran as the highest threat) the most concerned.

Tensions between Russia and its neighbours, and territorial disputes between China and surrounding countries, “remain regional concerns”, said Pew – 62% of respondents in Ukraine and 44% in Poland said they were very concerned about tensions with Moscow. However, 44% of US respondents were also very concerned about this issue, closely followed by France (41%), the UK (41%) and Germany (40%).

Cyber-attacks are also viewed as a considerable threat in the US, with 59% of Americans saying they were very concerned. The survey was conducted after the hack and leak of Sony Pictures emails, which the US government blamed on North Korea. In South Korea, cyber-attacks were the second highest concern (55%) after Isis (75%).

The report focuses on those who say they are “very concerned” about each issue and surveyed respondents from March 25 to May 27, 2015.

Climate change: world’s wealthiest understand, but only half see it as threat (The Guardian)

In every South American country, along with Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco, concern over climate change is above 90%

Waves break into anti-tsunami barriers

A typhoon breaks near the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan is one of the few rich states whose population is as concerned about climate change as poorer countries. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/REUTERS

People living in the world’s wealthiest nations generally understand what climate change is but in many countries just half perceive it to be a threat, new research has found.

The analysis of perceptions in 119 countries found living standards and relative wealth are “poor predictors” of whether someone considers climate change to be a severe risk.

While more than 75% of people in Australia, the US, UK and most of the rest of Europe were aware of climate change, far fewer considered it to be detrimental to themselves or their families.

In Australia – recently cited as being a world leader in climate science denialism – as well as the US, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, climate change was perceived to be a threat by just over half of those polled.

In Russia, despite widespread understanding of climate change, less than 50% of people thought it was a risk to them.

The risks of climate change are more widely believed by people in France and Spain, but the greatest concern about its impacts are held elsewhere.

In every South American country, concern over climate change is above the 90% mark, with this level of worry shared by Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco. Japan is one of the few highly advanced economies in the world to have a population as concerned about the risks of climate change.

The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, found different factors drove awareness and risk perceptions of climate change. Education levels and understanding the human influence upon the climate was the greatest factor in Europe, while perception of changing temperatures is the key influence in many African and Asian countries.

Authors of the paper, who come from a selection of US universities, say the results show “the need to develop tailored climate communication strategies for individual nations. The results suggest that improving basic education, climate literacy, and public understanding of the local dimensions of climate change are vital to public engagement and support for climate action.”

The paper analysed the results of Gallup polls taken in 119 countries, where respondents were asked how much they know about climate change and whether they consider it a threat to them.

Dr Debbie Hopkins, an expert at the social understandings of climate change at the University of Otago, said many people still see climate change as a remote issue.

“People can be aware of it but they see it as a distant risk and don’t engage with it much,” she said. “This disjunction can negate the feeling that we need to act on climate change.

“In many developed countries we have confidence in our adaptive capacity. We think we can adapt and cope, and in many ways we can do so more than developing economies.

“We also talk about global averages and that’s a difficult term for many people because two degrees doesn’t seem like a lot. That risk seems diminished whereas if you’re living somewhere with extreme variability and extreme weather events, two degrees can seem like a lot.”

Hopkins said accurate media reporting of climate change and more engaged conversations with people on the issue at a local level would help illustrate the threat posed by changes such as rising sea levels and increased heat waves.

Climate change is already having its biggest impact upon the world’s most vulnerable, according to the UN, which voiced concern last year that rising temperatures will fuel conflict, war and migration.

The number of natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 was around three times higher than in the 1980s, the UN said.

Da crise emergirá o pós-capitalismo? (Outras Palavras)


Jornalista britânico que cobriu levantes pós-2011 em todo o mundo aposta: sistema não suportará sociedade conectada em rede que ajudou a criar


Entrevista a Jonathan Derbyshire, em Prospect | Tradução: Gabriela Leite Inês Castilho | Imagem: Banksy

Ao cobrir, para a TV britânica, a fase mais recente da crise na Grécia, o jornalista Paul Mason alcançou quase-onipresença em seu país: Mason falando com Alexis Tsipras e outros membros do Syriza; Mason em mangas de camisa diante da câmera, diante do banco central da Grécia; Mason desviando de bombas em outro confronto entre anarquistas e a polícia — isso forma parte da iconografia da crise grega para muitos britânicos.

Agora, enquanto a Grécia e o resto da Europa recuperam seu fôlego, Mason retornou para a Inglaterra para lançar seu novo livro: “Post-Capitalism: a guide to our future” [“Pós-capitalismo: um guia para nosso futuro”]. Não é um trabalho de reportagem, mas uma ampla análise histórica e econômica. Inspirada pela análise de Marx sore relações sociais capitalistas, ela vai, no entanto, além disso — de uma maneira que, reconhece o autor, talvez não agrade alguns de seus amigos na extrema esquerda. O livro é uma análise do “neoliberalismo” — o capitalismo altamente financeirizado que dominou a maior parte do mundo desenvolvido nos últimos 30 anos — e, ao mesmo tempo, uma tentativa de imaginar o que poderia substituí-lo.

“Pós-Capitalismo: Um Guia para Nosso Futuro”, de Paul Mason, foi publicado por Allen Lane.

O capitalismo, escreve Mason, é um sistema altamente adaptativo: “Nos grandes momentos de encruzilhada, ele se transforma e muda, em resposta ao perigo”. Seu instinto mais básico de sobrevivência, ele argumenta, “é impulsionar mudanças tecnológicas”. Mas o autor acredita que as tecnologias de informação que o capitalismo desenvolveu nos últimos vinte anos ou mais não são, apesar das aparências, compatíveis com o capitalismo — não em sua forma presente, e talvez nem em qualquer outra forma. “Quando o capitalismo não puder mais se adaptar à mudança tecnológica, o pós-capitalismo irá se tornar necessário”.

Mason não está sozinho ao acreditar que a humanidade está à beira de uma profunda revolução tecnológica, é claro. Ouve-se isso de outras vozes: que falam, por exemplo, sobre a “Segunda Era da Máquina” e a promessa (assim como a ameaça) de máquinas inteligentes e da “internet das coisas”. O que torna singular a análise de Mason é, no entanto, a maneira pela qual ele funde um balanço das mutações tecnológicas do que costumava ser chamado de “capitalismo tardio” com uma tentativa de identificar o que Engels chamou, no final do século XIX, de a “parteira da sociedade”, a classe capaz de liderar a transformação social. Segundo o livro, não será a velha classe trabalhadora, como Marx e Engels pensaram, mas o que Mason chama de “rede”. Ao colocar em contato permanente milhões de pessoas, Mason escreve, “o capitalismo da informação criou um novo agente de mudança na história: o ser humano bem formado e conectado”.

Encontrei-me com Mason em Londres e comecei a entrevista pedindo a ele:

Paul Mason: para ele, "indivíduos em rede"  são um novo sujeito histórico, que substituíram a velha classe trabalhadora do marxismo, e se converteram no que Engels chamava de "parteiros da história"

Descreva, por favor, o modelo “neoliberal”, que segundo você chegou a um ponto de ruptura

O neoliberalismo é tanto uma ideologia quanto um modelo econômico. O capitalismo precisa ser compreendido em seu conjunto em cada fase de sua existência. Vivemos o que podemos chamar de capitalismo neoliberal. Este sistema que funciona com um núcleo que opera de acordo com valores neoliberais e uma periferia que não opera. Argumento que o neoliberalismo, como sistema funcional, está em crise porque sua mola central — o amplo consumo financeirizado, combinado com baixo crescimento dos salários — é uma máquina para produzir bolhas e seu estouro. No livro, sustento que uma eventual saída para o sistema (rumar para um info-capitalismo bem sucedido) pode ser viável em certas circunstâncias, mas esta transição é improvável.

Lado a lado com o que você identifica como as características negativas do neoliberalismo (financeirização excessiva e desestabilizadora), também há a revolução tecnológica.

O neoliberalismo foi a forma econômica na qual ocorreram os avanços mais dramáticos da técnica humana sobre a natureza. Em segundo lugar, foi o período no qual países como China e Índia desenvolveram-se de modo surpreendente, um fenômeno que ainda precisa ser compreendido em sua totalidade. Argumento, porém, que esta forma econômica não é mais capaz de conter os níveis do dinamismo tecnológico que conseguiu liberar. Não acredito que o próprio neoliberalismo, eu seus próprios valores neoliberais, seja o condutor da mudança tecnológica. A economista Mariana Mazzicato prova esse ponto: não são apenas o Vale do Silício, o empreendedorismo e o dinheiro dos fundos de hedge que produzem o iPhone — é a Nasa, são as grandes universidades como Stamford.

O que estamos vendo hoje é que a rapidez da inovação não está sendo combinada com implementação de políticas ou evolução de modelos de negócios. Isso impõe uma questão: até que ponto o poder de transformação destas novas tecnologias resultará numa terceira revolução industrial? Eu não vejo isso acontecer sob paradigma neoliberal.

Mas, como você mesmo aponta, a nova tecnologia também foi possibilitadora do neoliberalismo, por ter aprimorado a capacidade de explorar o que é chamado algumas vezes de “capital humano”.

A era Keynesiana produziu a última geração de indivíduos hierarquizados, coletivizados. Eu fui produzido por ela e sei que este mundo acabou. Uma das virtudes de se ter 55 anos é ter visto o novo mundo nascer. Hoje, como Foucault afirma, somos empreendedores do self. A internet permitiu que as massas fossem parte do laboratório social do self. Ela nos permite fazê-lo de uma maneira que nem começamos a entender. Ela criou um novo sujeito humano.

A divergência entre eu e os apoiadores do neoliberalismo é em torno de uma questão: o sujeito humano vai transcender o sistema atual, romper com ele e reformar a sociedade humana? Todas as visões de transformação social têm, a partir de agora, de enxergar o que eu chamo de “indivíduo em rede”. Acredito que as revoltas que narrei em meu livro anterior, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere (“Por que está começando em todo lugar”, em tradução livre), são revoltas destas pessoas. Se elas são um novo sujeito histórico, que substitui a velha classe trabalhadora do marxismo, essa é uma grande coisa. É uma grande novidade que devemos buscar compreender.

Você lamenta o mundo que perdemos? O mundo keynesiano de coletividades e solidariedades? Poucas partes de seu livro têm tom de elegia. A nota dominante é mais de excitação com as possibilidades econômicas e políticas que as novas tecnologias e novos modos de subjetividade humana oferecem.

Eu lamento, sim. Escrevi em meu primeiro livro, Live Working or Die Fighting (Viva trabalhando ou morra lutando”, em tradução livre), que o que estamos lamentando, e o que ficou para trás, foi uma anomalia na história do movimento dos trabalhadores. Foi um movimento de trabalhadores socialmente estável, que construiu um caminho de coexistência pacífica com o capital. O que fiz foi cavar na história e descobrir que a indisciplinada história do trabalho foi a de pessoas que foram, elas mesmas e de sua própria maneira, empreendedoras de si mesmas. E tiveram um nível de quase total oposição ao mundo que viveram, coisa que a geração do meu pai, a da era keynesiana, não teve.

De que tradições você está falando, especificamente?

Anarquismo na comuna de Paris. Anarco-sindicalismo nos EUA — os Wobblies. O que o comunismo acrescentou a essas histórias foi a coletividade. Mas se você esquecer as histórias oficiais marxistas sobre a Comuna ou os Wobblies, descobrirá que é uma história de indivíduos rebeldes. Quando comecei a mergulhar nessa história, percebi que a era Keynesiana, apesar do nosso luto, foi uma anomalia.

Também foi uma anomalia na história do capitalismo, não? Não é essa uma das mensagens do livro de Thomas Pikkety, O Capital no Século XXI?

É uma anomalia na história do capitalismo. Também é uma anomalia da história da classe trabalhadora.

Vamos nos voltar ao aspecto econômico de sua argumentação no livro. Sua afirmação é que o capitalismo não consegue “capturar o ‘valor’ gerado pela nova tecnologia.” Você pode desenvolver isso um pouco?

Assim que soubemos que estávamos em uma economia da informação, ficou óbvio que a categoria das coisas chamadas pelos economistas de “externalidades” seriam importantes. O teorista do capital cognitivo, Yann Moulier-Boutang, coloca desta maneira (e eu concordo): toda a questão do capitalismo do século XXI é saber quem captura as externalidades. Devem ser as empresas, que vão ter posse delas e utilizá-las, como faz o Google? A externalidade positiva para o Google é que ele pode ver o que estamos buscando, mas nós não conseguimos ver o que nós mesmo estamos. Então ele pode, agora, construir um modelo de negócio monopolizado, com base nos segredos revelados por sua mineração de dados.

Você quer dizer que, sob os atuais arranjos, o capitalismo só pode capturar o valor gerado pelas novas tecnologias por meio do monopólio? Google, Apple e outros estão ganhando muito dinheiro com isso.

Eles estão ganhando dinheiro. Criaram um monopólio da informação. E, especialmente no que diz respeito aos bens de informação, têm conseguido suprimir o mecanismo de formação de preços. Ele iria, em condições naturais, reduzir o preço da informação que estão vendendo a zero. Eu digo no livro que a declaração da missão da Apple deveria ser, na verdade: “Existimos para prevenir a abundância de música!” Ou, do Google: “Existimos para prevenir a abundância do autoconhecimento das pessoas sobre o que elas fazem na internet”.

Existem dois problemas com isso. Primeiro, é lógico sugerir que nenhum desse monopólios pode sobreviver. Certamente, seu valor de mercado não reflete sua capacidade para continuar monopolizando o que fazem. Segundo: portanto, você não pode ter a completa utilização da informação. A próxima questão é: Existe um meio termo? Haverá algum espaço, que possamos explorar, entre o monopólio e a liberdade? Acredito realmente que sim. Não estou dizendo que tudo deve ser de graça. Estou dizendo que deve haver múltiplos modelos de negócio entre o monopólio e a liberdade.

Você não está dizendo, então, que os mercados vão desaparecer em um futuro pós-capitalista? Afinal, mercados e capitalismo não são a mesma coisa. Mercados são apenas mecanismos para alocar recursos.

É natural — e está acontecendo — que a natureza social da informação leve a formas de atividade de não-mercado. A Wikipédia é uma forma de atividade não mercantil — é um buraco de 3 milhões de dólares no mundo da propaganda.

Você escreve, em certo ponto, que os membros “mais perspicazes” da elite global já são lúcidos a ponto de abordar algumas das questões com as quais você lida no livro — por exemplo, a desigualdade, seu impacto sobre o crescimento, a “estagnação secular” e o papel da negociação coletiva na garantia de salários maiores. O antigo secretário do Tesouro dos EUA, Larry Summers, escreveu vastamente sobre todos estes três problemas, oferecendo diagnósticos não tão diferentes dos seus.

Há pessoas na elite global que se permitiram entender o que estamos passando. Uma das coisas que compreendem é que a desigualdade vai ser desfuncional. Não apenas não querem ser linchados em suas camas, mas também entendem que o dinamismo das economias capitalistas só será retomado se houver um aumento dos salários. Também compreenderam a chamada questão do limite de juro zero — a ideia de que, em uma economia onde as taxas de juros reais estão constantemente zeradas, será constantemente necessário adotar políticas monetárias não-ortodoxas. Políticas monetária não-ortodoxas são arenosas. Qualquer um que entendeu a crítica de Keynes nos anos 1920 e começo dos 1930 vai entender o problema da “viscosidade”. Nos anos trinta, os salários eram pegajosos — eles não iriam cair o suficiente. Agora, é a política monetária que é pegajosa. O problema é: de onde o novo dinamismo da economia virá? Larry Summers entende isso. E pessoas nos mercados de títulos também.

O passo final é que eles olham aos choques exógenos e isso os aterroriza. Isso me aterroriza também. As pessoas no poder, nos ministérios da Fazenda, não vão se autorizar a quantificar a gravidade dos choques que estão a caminho. Se 60% dos títulos emitidos pelos Tesouros nacionais tornarem-se insolventes devido aos custos relacionados com o envelhecimento das populações, algo que as agências de risco consideram provável; se a imigração acontecer na escala que se espera; se tivermos nove bilhões de pessoas clamando para entrar no mundo desenvolvido…

Se o neoliberalismo fosse um sistema funcional, como era nos idos de 2001, e não tivesse deixado esta condição, você provavelmente poderia dizer: “Droga, as coisas vão ficar realmente difíceis, mas provavelmente será possível resolver.” Mas esse capitalismo eclerosado, estagnado e fibrilado sob o qual vivemos desde 2008, não tem chance alguma de sobreviver às tormentas. E mesmo que eu esteja errado sobre a transição que vejo e desejo, seus defensores teriam de aparecer e dizer o que um info-capitalismo dinâmico, o que uma terceira revolução industrial poderia ser.

Mas me parece que Summers ou alguém como o economista Robert Gordon teriam que aceitar a parte de diagnóstico de sua análise…

Certo. Mas a razão pela qual não atravessei o caminho até o território do Robert Gordon é que lá está a produtividade potencial. Sua visão da produtividade potencial inerente à tecnologia da informação transbordando para o mundo real … Acho que é maior do que ele aceita ser.

Por que você pensa que ele subestima isso?

É porque pessoas como Gordon não estão preparadas para entrar nesse mundo inferior, entre valor de uso e valor de troca, que as externalidades representam. Não acho que lendo meu livro a maioria das pessoas aceitarão que a transição, potencialmente, se dá em direção ao  mundo não-mercantil, centralizado na informação, de baixa intensidade de trabalho, pós-capitalista. Mas se pensam que estamos indo em direção a uma forma de info-capitalismo com uma terceira revolução industrial, eles precisam contar para nós qual é a síntese de alto-valor. Que cara terá essa era eduardiana da terceira revolução industrial?

Haverá sinais desse futuro na chamada economia do compartilhamento? Em empreendimentos como Airbnb e Uber?

Meu palpite é que eles são o AltaVista da economia de partilha. O teórico social francês André Gorz explorou isso. Disse que é perfeitamente possível imaginar o capitalismo colonizando as relações interpessoais. O Uber é isso – a questão não são os motoristas de taxi, mas as pessoas darem carona umas às outras. Gorz prevê que nos tornaríamos provedores mútuos de microsserviços. Mas disse: “Essa não pode ser uma economia de alto-valor”. Esse é o problema. Você não pode construir um negócio garimpando a reserva da capacidade automobilística de todos, sua capacidade para fazer massagem Reiki, a meia hora sobressalente de cada eletricista. Você pode fazê-lo, e a economia da partilha é a maneira perfeita para fazê-lo, mas isso simplesmente não resulta na era eduardiana, na Belle Epoque. A Belle Epoque será o sequenciamento de genes e a possibilidade de gastar metade do dia jogando squash.

A maioria dos marxistas detestará esta hipótese. Significa dizer, contra Marx, que a humanidade se liberta por si própria, que as pessoas podem descobrir, dentro do capitalismo, recursos mentais para imaginar um novo futuro e ir direto a ele de um modo que, de 1844 em diante, Marx pensou ser impossível.

Você toma emprestada a ideia de “ciclo longo” do economista soviético Nikolai Kondratieff. Ele argumentava que a história do capitalismo pode ser entendida como uma sucessão de ciclos, cada um deles com uma ascensão turbinada por inovação tecnológica com duração de aproximadamente 25 anos, seguida de uma queda com aproximadamente a mesma duração e que geralmente acaba numa depressão. Esses longos ciclos são muito mais longos que os ciclos de negócio identificados com a economia convencional. Por que você considera proveitosa a abordagem de Kondratieff?

Penso que necessitamos de teorias maiores que os ciclos de negócio e menores que a destruição completa do sistema. Quando você aplica a teoria de Kondratieff ao período pós 1945, percebe o sistema funcionando perfeitamente até 1973. E então ele desmorona. O neoliberalismo vem junto e resolve o problema destruindo o poder de barganha do trabalho. Olhar para as coisas através das lentes de Kondratieff força você a colocar a questão: será o neoliberalismo a forma bem sucedida do novo capitalismo ou o fim da linha que prolongou o ciclo por tempo demais? Escolho a segunda alternativa.

Em que parte do ciclo nos encontramos agora?

Estamos bem no fim de um quarto longo ciclo muito prolongado. Estamos na fase de depressão do quarto longo ciclo, que coincidiu com a ascensão tecnológica do quinto. De modo que acredito que os longos ciclos podem sobrepor-se. Penso que estamos numa posição incomum, do ponto de vista histórico. Claramente, a revolução da informação está ai e as bases de um tipo de capitalismo completamente novo podem estar emergindo. O que aconteceu é que as velhas relações sociais da metade passada da onda anterior não irão adiante. Não há Keynes, apenas o reminiscente do velho. Se você olha para Mark Zuckerberg, do Facebook, ou Jeff Bezos, da Amazon, verá que são pessoas agnósticas sobre o futuro de todo o sistema. Eles veem apenas o futuro de sua própria corporação.

Meu uso de Kondratieff é para tentar responder a pergunta sobre onde estamos. As outras periodicidades – o ciclo de negócio de dez anos e a época, de 500 anos – não são suficientes. Não há uma cadeira de Estudos Pós Capitalistas na Universidade de Wolverhampton! Eles estão na infância.

Você mencionou André Gorz. No livro, você cita um trecho em que ele diz, em 1980, que a classe trabalhadora está morta. Se estava certo, quem será o agente de mudança social?

O fato terrível e desafiante pode ser que, se o capitalismo tem um início, um meio e um fim, então o movimento dos trabalhadores também. Em outras palavras, o declínio da luta trabalhista organizada, com base no trabalho manual, especializado, branco e masculino, parece-me partedo que está acontecendo ao capitalismo. Sou alguém que veio deste background e viveu mergulhado nele. Mas argumento que o sujeito histórico que trará o pós-capitalismo já existe e é o indivíduo em rede. A noção de Antonio Negri de “fábrica social” era arrogante nos anos 1970s, porque era muito cedo. Mas me parece ser justa agora – todos nós participamos na criação de marcas, no estabelecimento de escolhas de consumo, estamos alimentando o capitalismo financeiro por meio do nosso uso das finanças. Por isso, consigo comprar a ideia de que existe uma fábrica social. Se quiser desligá-la, deve fazer como William Benbow sugeriu na década de 1820, parando a “grande festa”. Agora, duvido que isso vá acontecer. Portanto, a maneira menos utópica de fazer isso é lutando pelos interesses dos indivíduos em rede, para que eles não tenham suas informações roubadas, arbitrariamente acessadas pelo Estado, para seus estilos de vida poderem florescer, para que eles tenham escolhas.

São tantos os levantes que cobri – Turquia e Brasil são bons exemplos. São assalariados em rede que não aguentam os níveis de corrupção e intromissão em suas vidas – o islamismo na Turquia, corrupção no Brasil. Que tipo de revolução é essa? Há uma discussão entre aqueles que se envolveram com meu livro: se este é o agente, é “por si” ou “em si”, como diria Marx. Seriam essas pessoas capazes de adquirir um nível espontâneo de entendimento da situação que os levasse a tomar algumas das medidas políticas insinuadas neste livro como um caminho a seguir? Neste momento eles ainda não chegaram lá, claramente. O que são é muito hábeis em construir seu espaço pessoal. Podemos zombar disso, por ser em pequena escala. Mas, ao construir um espaço que é simultaneamente econômico e pessoal, penso que esta geração está fazendo algo muito significativo.

Será que os impregno com a mesma inevitabilidade e teleologia com que o marxismo impregnou a classe trabalhadora? Não. No livro, gasto muito tempo desmontando a compreensão marxista de classe trabalhadora. Sempre senti, como alguém que tem essa bagagem, que o kit de ferramentas que o marxismo tinha para descrever a classe trabalhadora era dos menos convincentes – sobretudo para a própria classe trabalhadora.

A certa altura, você altura escreve que o marxismo é uma grande “teoria da história”, porm se equivoca como “teoria da crise”. O que quer dizer com isso?

Quero dizer que é uma grande teoria para analisar a sociedade de classes. Por exemplo, durante a revolução do Egito em 2011, tendo lido O 18 Brumário de Luis Bonaparte, de Marx, eu poderia dizer aos radicais egípcios que, quando o caos se instalasse, as mesmas pessoas que estavam ao lado deles dariam as boas vindas à ditadura. É provável que o capitalismo evocasse algo novo, capaz de impor ordem. O que impôs desordem foi a Irmandade Muçulmana. Ver as mesmas pessoas que tinham apoiado a revolução chamando o general Sisi para derrubar a Irmandade faz sentido, se você leu O 18 Brumário.

Eu perguntei a Alexis Tsipras antes de o Syriza ser eleito: “Quais seriam as ameaças para um governo de esquerda, se você conquistasse o poder?” Contei a ele: “Você se lembra que [Salvador] Allende nomeou [Augusto] Pinochet [no Chile]? Allende nomeou o general para deter um golpe militar. Nós rimos. A questão, você poderia argumentar, é que o governo da Grécia está sendo colonizado pelas mesmas forças que ele imaginou estar ali para combater. Neste momento, a elite empresarial está pensando: “Apenas Tsipras pode governar a Grécia.” Eles prefeririam que ele governasse a Grécia sem a extrema esquerda do próprio partido. Sempre encontro capitalistas gregos que me dizem: “Se Tsipras nos escutasse, a Grécia seria um grande país.”

O marxismo força você a fazer perguntas que não são feitas pelos jornalistas mainstream. Neste momento, a questão mais importante para os gregos é: o que está acontecendo com as massas? As massas não estão derrotadas. Elas não acreditam que Tsipras é Luis Bonaparte. Muitos fazem objeção ao que ele fez, mas não acreditam que ele seja uma força da reação. Eles acreditam no que está dizendo – que está fazendo algo contra a própria vontade e que irá compensar isso com um ataque à oligarquia. Esperam que esse ataque à oligarquia aconteça. Minha observação é de que houve uma grande radicalização, na Grécia. Quando o verão terminar, veremos uma renovação real tanto das lutas de base como do radicalismo do governo.

O foco naquilo que as pessoas estão dizendo nos pubs é algo que interessa muito a dois tipos de pessoas: às forças da polícia secreta e aos marxistas! Eu gasto o maior tempo possível ouvindo as pessoas.

Qual é o desafio jornalístico para ventilar esse tipo de questão? Trabalhar para uma rede de TV como o Channel Four impõe certamente certas restrições ao modo como você opera.

Um bom jornalista de assuntos sociais, que é o que penso ser, irá, na Grécia por exemplo, conversar com primeiros-ministros, ministros de Estado, mas irá também atrás dos estivadores, dos anarquistas. Ainda por cima, você tem somente dois minutos e trinta segundos. Essa é a razão por que gastei os últimos seis meses buscando recursos e realizando um grande documentário que virá a público, espero, no final deste ano, e que conta a história do Syriza desde as bases, a partir das ruas. Queria fazer isso porque no meu trabalho diário nunca poderia contar essa história. É simplesmente impossível.

E sobre a acusação, frequentemente dirigida a você (e feita várias vezes, durante os últimos meses na Grécia) de que, ao operar dessa forma, você excede os limites da propriedade jornalística ou da isenção?

Penso que todos estão errados! A realidade é que o mundo é governado por uma elite dedicada a reforçar, de modo às vezes completamente aberto, a desigualdade e tudo o que a acompanha. Na Grécia, a “austeridade” é uma forma de coerção. Fico feliz de dizer isso porque essa é a minha análise da realidade. Muita gente no Financial Times ou no Wall Street Journal não compartilha dessa minha visão. Mas estou muito feliz, e meus patrões estão permanentemente felizes com o modo como pratico o jornalismo. As pessoas que não gostam devem simplesmente acostumar-se a ele.

Com ideias como as que estão neste livro, a razão de divulgar uma ideia radical é que você não espera que Andy Burnham ou Tim Farron, [dirigentes do Partido Trabalhista britânico] irão telefonar e dizer, “gosto disso, Paul. Vamos incluir na política do partido.” A questão é ser um pouco do contra. Há pensamento único demais. Meu desejo com esse livro é fazer como num workshop de teatro – levar as pessoas a uma experiência fora do corpo, a ficar largadas no chão, na piscina das próprias lágrimas. Então, quando elas voltarem à segurança do grupo, talvez possam fazer alguma coisa mais honesta.

The Way Humans Get Electricity Is About to Change Forever (Bloomberg)

These six shifts will transform markets over the next 25 years

The renewable-energy boom is here. Trillions of dollars will be invested over the next 25 years, driving some of the most profound changes yet in how humans get their electricity. That’s according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets to 2040.

Here are six massive shifts coming soon to power markets near you:

1. Solar Prices Keep Crashing

The price of solar power will continue to fall, until it becomes the cheapest form of power in a rapidly expanding number of national markets. By 2026, utility-scale solar will be competitive for the majority of the world, according to BNEF. The lifetime cost of a photovoltaic solar-power plant will drop by almost half over the next 25 years, even as the prices of fossil fuels creep higher.

Solar power will eventually get so cheap that it will outcompete new fossil-fuel plants and even start to supplant some existing coal and gas plants, potentially stranding billions in fossil-fuel infrastructure. The industrial age was built on coal. The next 25 years will be the end of its dominance.

2. Solar Billions Become Solar Trillions

With solar power so cheap, investments will surge. Expect $3.7 trillion in solar investments between now and 2040, according to BNEF. Solar alone will account for more than a third of new power capacity worldwide. Here’s how that looks on a chart, with solar appropriately dressed in yellow and fossil fuels in pernicious gray:

Electricity capacity additions, in gigawatts
Source: BNEF

3. The Revolution Will Be Decentralized 

The biggest solar revolution will take place on rooftops. High electricity prices and cheap residential battery storage will make small-scale rooftop solar ever more attractive, driving a 17-fold increase in installations. By 2040, rooftop solar will be cheaper than electricity from the grid in every major economy, and almost 13 percent of electricity worldwide will be generated from small-scale solar systems.

$2.2 Trillion Goes to Rooftops by 2040

Rooftop (small-scale) solar in yellow. Renewables account for about two-thirds of investment over the next 25 years.

4. Global Demand Slows

Yes, the world is inundated with mobile phones, flat screen TVs, and air conditioners. But growth in demand for electricity is slowing. The reason: efficiency. To cram huge amounts of processing power into pocket-sized gadgets, engineers have had to focus on how to keep those gadgets from overheating. That’s meant huge advances in energy efficiency. Switching to an LED light bulb, for example, can reduce electricity consumption by more than 80 percent.

So even as people rise from poverty to middle class faster than ever, BNEF predicts that global electricity consumption will remain relatively flat. In the next 25 years, global demand will grow about 1.8 percent a year, compared with 3 percent a year from 1990 to 2012. In wealthy OECD countries, power demand will actually decline.

This watercolor chart compares economic growth to energy efficiency. Each color represents a country or region. As economies get richer, growth requires less power.

The Beauty of Efficiency

Source: BNEF

5. Natural Gas Burns Briefly

Natural gas won’t become the oft-idealized “bridge fuel” that transitions the world from coal to renewable energy, according to BNEF. The U.S. fracking boom will help bring global prices down some, but few countries outside the U.S. will replace coal plants with natural gas. Instead, developing countries will often opt for some combination of coal, gas, and renewables.

Even in the fracking-rich U.S., wind power will be cheaper than building new gas plants by 2023, and utility-scale solar will be cheaper than gas by 2036.

Fossil fuels aren’t going to suddenly disappear. They’ll retain a 44 percent share of total electricity generation in 2040 (down from two thirds today), much of which will come from legacy plants that are cheaper to run than shut down. Developing countries will be responsible for 99 percent of new coal plants and 86 percent of new gas-fired plants between now and 2040, according to BNEF. Coal is clearly on its way out, but in developing countries that need to add capacity quickly, coal-power additions will be roughly equivalent to utility-scale solar.

Source: BNEF

6. The Climate Is Still Screwed

The shift to renewables is happening shockingly fast, but not fast enough to prevent perilous levels of global warming.

About $8 trillion, or two thirds of the world’s spending on new power capacity over the next 25 years, will go toward renewables. Still, without additional policy action by governments, global carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector will continue to rise until 2029 and will remain 13 percent higher than today’s pollution levels in 2040.

That’s not enough to prevent the surface of the Earth from heating more than 2 degrees Celsius, according to BNEF. That’s considered the point-of-no-return for some worst consequences of climate change.

CO2 emissions from the power sector don’t peak until 2029
Source: BNEF

China’s Communist-Capitalist Ecological Apocalypse (Truthout)

Sunday, 21 June 2015 00:00 By Richard Smith, Truthout | News Analysis 

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask in Beijing, Jan. 17, 2012. Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. (Photo: Gilles Sabrie/The New York Times)

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask in Beijing, January 17, 2012. Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. (Photo: Gilles Sabrie/The New York Times)

This article seeks to explain why China’s environmental crisis is so horrific, so much worse than “normal” capitalism most everywhere else, and why the government is incapable of suppressing pollution even from its own industries. I begin with an overview of the current state of China’s environment: its polluted air, waters, farmland and the proximate causes, including overproduction, overdevelopment, profligate resource consumption, uncontrolled dumping and venting of pollutants. I then discuss the political-economic drivers and enablers of this destruction, the dynamics and contradictions of China’s hybrid economy, noting how market reforms have compounded the irrationalities of the old bureaucratic collectivist system with the irrationalities of capitalism resulting in a diabolically ruinous “miracle” economy. I conclude with a précis of the emergency steps the country will have to take to take to brake the drive to socio-ecological collapse, with dire implications for us all.

The first time Li Gengxuan saw the dump trucks from the nearby factory pull into his village, he could not believe his eyes. Stopping between the cornfields and the primary school playground, the workers dumped buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground. Then they turned around and drove right back through the gates of their factory compound without a word.

In March 2008, Li and other farmers in Gaolong, a village in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River, told a Washington Post reporter that workers from the nearby Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Company had been dumping this industrial waste in fields around their village every day for nine months. The liquid, silicon tetrachloride, was the byproduct of polysilicon production and it is a highly toxic substance. When exposed to humid air, silicon tetrachloride turns into acids and poisonous hydrogen chloride gas, which can make people dizzy and cause breathing difficulties.

Ren Bingyan, a professor of material sciences at Hebei Industrial University, contacted by the Post, told the paper that “the land where you dump or bury it will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in its place … It is … poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it.”

When the dumping began, crops wilted from the white dust, which sometimes rose in clouds several feet off the ground and spread over the fields as the liquid dried. Village farmers began to faint and became ill. And at night, villagers said “the factory’s chimneys released a loud whoosh of acrid air that stung their eyes and made it hard to breath.”

“It’s poison air. Sometimes it gets so bad you can’t sit outside. You have to close all the doors and windows,” said Qiao Shi Peng, 28, a truck driver who worried about the health of his 1-year-old.

China’s rise has come at a horrific social and environmental cost.

Reckless dumping of industrial waste is everywhere in China. But what caught the attention of The Washington Post was that the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Company was a “green energy” company producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world. Indeed, it was a major supplier to Suntech Power Holdings, then the world’s leading producer of solar panels, and Suntech’s founder, Shi Zhengrong, topped the Hunrun list of the richest people in China in 2008. (1)

Silicon tetrachloride is an unavoidable byproduct of polysilicon production. But reckless pollution of farm villages is not unavoidable. Today, China is the only country in the world where such criminal behavior and cynical disregard for the health and lives of farmers and workers has become standard practice on a national scale by governments at every level, even as the government’s own environmental agencies decry such behavior and struggle, mostly in vain, to stop it. As one Chinese researcher told the Post, “If this happened in the United States, you’d be arrested.” But in China environmental regulations are regularly flouted by state-owned and private industries with the connivance of government officials at all levels while protesting farmers, workers and environmental activists are arrested, jailed, beaten or worse, and their lawyers with them.

Polysilicon production produces about four tons of silicon tetrachloride liquid waste for every ton of polysilicon produced. In Germany, where Siemens produces solar panels, pollution recovery technology is installed to process the silicon tetrachloride waste and render it harmless. But such environmental protection technology is expensive. In 2008, the cost to produce polysilicon safely was about $84,500 a ton in Germany and would not have cost much less in China. Chinese companies have been producing it for $21,000 to $56,000 a ton, saving millions of dollars a month, by just dumping the toxic waste in rural areas on helpless village communities.

Gaolong village is a mirror to China. It illustrates how the marriage of capitalism and Stalinist bureaucratic collectivism has created a diabolically destructive hybrid economic system, a rogue economy that is ravaging China’s environment, ruining the health of Chinese people, rendering more and more of the country unlivable, driving the country to ecological collapse and threatening to bring the whole planet down with it. (2)

I. China Self-Destructs

For more than three decades, China’s “miracle” economy has been the envy of the world or at least the envy of capitalist economists for whom wealth creation is the highest purpose of human life. Since 1979, China’s GDP has grown by an average of just under 10 percent per year. Never, the World Bank tells us, has a nation industrialized and modernized so quickly or lifted so many millions out of poverty in such a short time. From a backward, stagnant, largely agrarian socialism-in-poverty, Deng Xiaoping brought in foreign investors, introduced market incentives, set up export bases, turned China into the light-industrial workshop of the world and renovated China’s huge state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

“Fast fashion” is speeding the disposal of the planet.

Three and a half decades of surging economic growth lifted China from the world’s 10th largest economy in 1979 to No. 1 by 2014. What’s more, after decades of export-based growth, China’s 12th Five-Year Plan 2011-2015 sought to refocus the economy on internal market demand to realize Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation and turning China into a mass consumer society on the model of the United States. As China sailed right through the global near-collapse of 2008 to 2009, hardly missing a beat, while Western capitalist economies have struggled to keep from falling back into recession, even the Thatcherite Economist magazine had to concede that China’s state capitalism may be in certain respects superior to capitalist democracies and is perhaps even the wave of the future.

But China’s rise has come at a horrific social and environmental cost. It’s difficult to grasp the demonic violence and wanton recklessness of China’s profit-driven assault on nature and on the Chinese themselves. Ten years ago, in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine in March 2005, Pan Yue, China’s eloquent, young vice-minister of China’s State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) told the magazine, “the Chinese miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.” Pan Yue added:

We are using too many raw materials to sustain [our] growth … Our raw materials are scarce, we don’t have enough land, and our population is constantly growing. Currently there [are] 1.3 billion people living in China, that’s twice as many as 50 years ago. In 2020 there will be 1.5 billion … but desert areas are expanding at the same time; habitable and usable land has been halved over the past 50 years … Acid rain is falling on one third of Chinese territory, half of the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless, while one fourth of our citizens do not have access to clean drinking water. One third of the urban population is breathing polluted air, and less than 20 percent of the trash in cities is treated and processed in an environmentally sustainable manner … Because air and water are polluted, we are losing between 8 and 15 percent of our gross domestic product. And that doesn’t include the costs for health … In Beijing alone, 70 to 80 percent of all deadly cancer cases are related to the environment.

And criticizing Western economists who reassure us that more growth is the key to repairing the environmental damage done from growth, Pan said:

And there is yet another mistake … It’s the assumption that economic growth will give us the financial resources to cope with the crises surrounding the environment, raw materials, and population growth. [But] there won’t be enough money, and we are simply running out of time. Developed countries with a per capita gross national product of $8,000 to $10,000 can afford that, but we cannot. Before we reach $4,000 per person, different crises in all shapes and forms will hit us. Economically we won’t be strong enough to overcome them. (3)

Pan Yue’s searing honesty got him sidelined but if anything, he understated the speed, ferocity and scale of China’s ecological destruction, a destruction that extends far beyond China itself.

A. Consuming the Planet to Support Unsustainable Growth

As China’s growth took off in the 1980s and 1990s, the industrial boom rapidly depleted the country’s resources, especially lumber, oil and minerals, forcing Beijing to turn outward to feed its voracious engines of growth. The manic and thirsty industrialization boom in China’s northern industrial cities drained China’s northern fresh aquifers leaving some 600 cities, including Beijing, facing dire water shortages while severely polluting most remaining reserves. Profit-hungry loggers cut down most of what was left of China’s forests, recklessly denuding mountains and precipitating such extensive flooding and loss of life in 2009 that the government banned domestic logging. Chinese loggers then turned to plundering Siberia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even New Guinea and parts of Africa. China had little oil to begin with so industrialization and automobilization quickly turned China from a modest oil exporter into a net importer in 1993 and the world’s leading oil importer by 2013. China’s iron ore, copper and other critical industrial mineral reserves have also been rapidly drawn down, forcing the country to import growing quantities of minerals.

The government has squandered astounding quantities of resources building entire industries China does not need.

In result, today, with 20 percent of the world’s population, China is now by far the world’s largest consumer of marketed primary industrial raw materials (cement, metal ores, industrial minerals, fossil fuels and biomass). China consumes more than 32 percent of the world’s total of these resources, nearly four times as much as the United States, the second largest consumer. China consumes just over half the world’s coal and a third of the world’s oil. China is the leading producer and consumer of steel with 46 percent of world output and now relies on imports for 77 percent of its iron ore. (4) China has become the world’s largest consumer of lumber and forest products, leveling forests from Siberia to Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Congo and Madagascar. Greenpeace concluded that on current trends “future generations will be living on a planet without ancient forests.” (5)

Of course, China has the world’s largest population and is industrializing from a comparatively low level just three decades ago so it’s hardly surprising that it would consume lots of resources to build infrastructure and modernize. But the fact is, most of these resources have been squandered on a stupendous scale, and for all the waste and pollution, most Chinese have gotten surprisingly little out of it all.

The Disposables Revolution and “The Great Acceleration” of Global Consumption

For a start, look at the export bases that have powered China’s rise. When China launched its “reform and opening” (gaige kaifang) in the early 1980s and invited foreign investors to set up joint-ventures and special economic zones, China’s combination of ultra cheap labor plus few-to-no environmental restrictions attracted many of the world’s dirtiest and least sustainable industries. Steel, coke, aluminum, cement, chemicals and petrochemicals, metal plating, leather tanning, plastics, paints and finishes, synthetic fibers and textile production, fabric dyeing, paper production, along with auto battery and electronics recycling – most of the toxic and smokestack industries facing increasingly tough environmental restrictions at home in the United States and Europe, relocated to China after 1980. (6) Seventy percent of the world’s e-waste is dumped in China.

On top of this, China’s masses of low-paid migrant workers were a magnet for the world’s most labor-intensive manufacturing and assembly industries. By the 1990s, China had more than 104 million manufacturing workers, about twice as many as the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, combined. And they worked eight- to 16-hour days, often seven days a week, for an average of $0.57 per hour in 2002, by one estimate, less than the handloom operators earned in the early Industrial Revolution in England. This “China Price” set the global floor for high-volume, light-industrial manufacturing from the 1980s. (7)

The price collapse spurred the biggest boom in global consumption in history and this in turn accelerated global resource plunder on an unprecedented scale. The sudden availability of such a huge pool of ultra-cheap workers also spurred a minor industrial revolution enabling producers to annihilate most of the remaining categories of durable goods and replace them with cheaper, disposable substitutes. With the disposables revolution, local tailors and alteration shops, shoe repair shops, appliance repair shops, TV repairmen and the like all but vanished in the West as it became cheaper to toss these items and replace them than repair them.

The Chinese Communist Party promoted the car craze to bolster status-seeking middle-class political support.

Take clothes: “Fast fashion,” (also known as “trashion fashion”) from H&M, Target, Zara and others, now rules the women’s apparel market with clothes so cheap it’s often not worth the cost of dry cleaning them. As Elizabeth Kline relates in her recent book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, “seasonal shopping patterns have given way to continuous consumption.” Zara delivers new lines twice a week to its stores. H&M and Forever 21 stock new styles every day. In Kline’s words: “Buying so much clothing and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable.” To say the least.

The US cotton crop requires the application of 22 billion pounds of toxic pesticides every year. Most fiber is dyed or bleached, and treated in toxic chemical baths to make it brighter, softer, more fade resistant, waterproof or less prone to wrinkles. Upholstery fabrics and children’s pajamas are treated with ghastly chemicals to make them stain resistant or fireproof. These toxic baths consume immense quantities of chemicals and water, and it goes without saying that in China, the chemicals are routinely just dumped in rivers and lakes, untreated, just like that silicon tetrachloride poured out on Li Gengxuan’s cornfield. Then after all the chemical treatments, the fabrics have to be dried under heat lamps. These processes consume enormous quantities of energy.

The textile industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and it’s growing exponentially. In 1950, when there were about 2.5 billion people on earth, they consumed around 10 million tons of fabric for all uses. Today, we are 7 billion, but we consume more than 70 million tons of fabric annually, nearly three times as much per person as we consumed in the 1950s. Producing 70 million tons of fabric consumes astounding quantities of resources including more than 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of fresh water, every year. Synthetic fibers like polyester and such (now 60 percent of the market) are the worst: They consume between 10 and 25 times as much energy to produce as natural fibers. In short, “fast fashion” is speeding the disposal of the planet. (8)

And what’s true for China’s garment industry is true for most of the rest of China’s export industries. From cheap, disposable shoes and clothes, toys, tools, housewares, Christmas junk and flimsy plastic appliances to meticulously made and expensive but nevertheless designed-to-be-obsolesced iPhones and 60-inch flat-screen TVs, most of the world’s light-industrial goods are made in China and they are, for the most part, deliberately designed to be unrepairable and mostly unrecyclable. After their short life, they all end up piled on the world’s ever-growing garbage mountains, sent back to China in containers filled with e-trash to be “recycled” by children melting the plastic off motherboards over open fires, or left floating around the world’s oceans in giant plastic gyres over vast stretches of oceans, hundreds of feet deep. (9)

Scenes of Planetary Destruction From the 12th Five-Year Plan

When we turn to China’s domestic economy, the waste is breathtaking. As China’s economy opened to the West and China’s exports began returning billions of dollars in foreign exchange, Beijing launched wave after wave of gargantuan development projects: dams, airports, rail systems, roads, subways, sewerage systems, new industries, new housing, new cities, new ports and more. China’s supercharged government planners have been showcasing China’s engineering prowess and economic might by building the world’s biggest dams, the tallest skyscrapers, biggest airports, longest and highest bridges, longest rail and road networks and longest tunnels.

Since the 1980s, China has built enough new housing to re-house the entire population.

Since Deng Xiaoping launched his “Four Modernizations of agriculture, defense, science and technology” and reform and opening up, the country has been in perpetual Great Leap Forward mode: Five-Year plans have set annual industrial growth rates of 8 percent and promoted successive sets of “pillar” industries – autos, electronics, petrochemicals, clean energy and so on. In the current 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the State Council calls for development of “seven strategic emerging industries” including 1) energy efficient and environmental technologies like “clean coal,” 2) next generation IT and cloud computing and the “Internet of Things,” 3) biotechnology, 4) high-tech manufacturing of vehicles and aircraft, expanding high-speed rail service to 45,000 kilometers, expanding motor expressways to 83,000 kilometers, 5) new-generation nuclear power, more solar and wind energy systems, 6) new materials including development of rare earths, special glass and ceramics, high-performance fiber and composite materials, 7) new-energy vehicles: motor batteries, drive motors, electronic controls, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, low-emissions vehicles. (10)

No doubt, the Chinese have benefited from new housing, infrastructure, schools, hospitals and so on. But the government has also squandered astounding quantities of resources building entire industries China does not need, building useless vanity projects, superfluous housing, redundant infrastructure and more. From the start this investment boom has been characterized by uncontrolled overproduction and out-of-control pollution.

Scene 1: The “Car Craze” China and Planet Earth Did Not Need

The 12th Five-Year Plan calls for “enhancing China’s independent capacity to manufacture automobiles, domesticating production of all key parts,” for “large-scale commercialization” of energy efficient and hybrid vehicles, for “building … world-famous brands and core competencies” and so on. Hybrid or not, this is an industry the Chinese do not need. Up to 1979, China produced around 160,000 motor vehicles per year with trucks and buses accounting for 90 percent of the output. People got around on bicycles, buses and trains. In 1990, China had just 5.5 million cars, trucks and buses on the road. By 2013, China became the world’s largest auto assembler cranking out 18.7 million cars and light vehicles, more than twice the number produced in the United States in that year. By 2013, China had 240 million cars on its roads, almost as many as in the United States, and China could have an estimated 390-532 million cars on the road by 2050. The question is, why does China need anything like such a huge auto industry? The lead headline of Bloomberg News for April 9, 2014, citing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, was “Cars become the biggest driver of greenhouse-gas increases.” What’s wrong with this picture?

China surpassed the US in 2007 to become the world’s leading carbon dioxide emitter.

The automobilization of China has brought three profound changes. First, it has dramatically lengthened the time it takes to get anywhere in China’s gridlocked cities (average speed on Beijing’s ring roads is 9 miles per hour) and created epic, world-historic traffic jams on highways feeding into Beijing and other cities. One jam-up near Beijing in 2010 stretched over 100 kilometers and lasted for two weeks. Secondly, it has added a dense new layer of smog on top of the already thick layers of smog from coal combustion smothering China’s cities. And thirdly, it has paved over much-needed farmland and wetlands and wasted enormous resources China, and the world, does not have to waste. This did not have to happen.

The Communist Party promoted joint-venture auto production as a “pillar” industry in the 1990s for two reasons: First, once the government embarked on its market-reform strategy, abandoning lifetime employment, it needed to push growth to generate private- and state-sector jobs, like capitalist governments everywhere. Speaking in November 2013, Prime Minister Li Keqiang stressed that:

Employment is the biggest thing for well-being. The government must not slacken on this for one moment … For us, stable growth is mainly for the sake of maintaining employment.

Auto manufacture and related industries now account for one out of every eight urban jobs in China excluding road building, another big employer.

Secondly, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) promoted the car craze to bolster status-seeking middle-class political support. In the 1980s, the CCP supported a modest consumerism. But after the Tiananmen uprising in the spring of 1989, the government opted for expansive consumerism to placate the middle classes. Hence the car craze, followed by the airline craze, the shopping mall craze, the high-speed train craze, the foreign tourism craze, and so on. It is no small irony that just as the CCP was ramping up auto production and banning bicycles from public roads in the 1990s, European countries were moving in the opposite direction – barring cars from many central city streets, promoting bicycles and car sharing, and expanding public transit. China didn’t begin expanding its urban subways in earnest until the late 2000s, after two decades of automobilization had gridlocked its cities and dramatically increased air pollution.

Scene 2: The Roads Not Taken

As China was racing to surpass the US as the world’s largest car market, the Communist Party decided that China should also “catch up and overtake” the US interstate highway system as well. So by 2010 China built 53,000 miles of intercity expressways, exceeding the US interstate highway system’s 47,000 miles. But this program, built at huge cost and by tearing through cities and paving over thousands of square miles of valuable farms, wetlands and so on, is yet another ill-conceived boondoggle because except for a few highways near major cities like Beijing or Shenzhen, China’s expressways are often little used. In places, farmers dry their crops on empty super highways. McClatchy’s Beijing bureau chief Tom Lasseter writes under this picture:

Do you see any cars along this road? One often hears about the traffic jams in the big cities of China. But here’s the flip side of the coin: In rural towns and cities in China, local officials like to build big showcase projects, displaying grandiosity but little utility. I was in the city of Fengzhen in Inner Mongolia yesterday. By Chinese standards, it is a small place, maybe 200,000 people. So imagine my surprise as we leave the downtown to come across this eight-lane highway going past a mammoth new City Hall. Nary a car on it. A passerby could keel over with a stroke on that highway and not risk getting run over for many hours. The city is already in hot water for building a power plant that Beijing says is unneeded. Across China, there are plenty of largely empty hotels, brand new empty highways, modern airports that lose money for lack of traffic, etc. What happens is that unelected local officials, not particularly responsive to local needs, find that pharaonic projects give their municipalities a luster that can attract investment, which is their path to promotion within the one-party system. So for every eight-lane road you see like this, there is a happy bureaucrat pondering a bright career ahead. (11)

How much cement has been poured, how much iron rebar has been forged, and how much coal has been burned to produce the energy to pave over so much of China – for no useful purpose whatsoever?

Scene 3: Half-Empty Trains and Subways

And how much steel, aluminum, copper, cement and electricity have been consumed to build China’s huge national network of high-speed trains? The 12th Five-Year Plan budgeted hundreds of billions of dollars to build more than 16,000 miles of high-speed rails by 2020. By 2013, China had already built more high-speed trains than the rest of the world combined. But this too is more make-work and prestige project than modernizing necessity. High-speed trains are hugely expensive to build and operate and consume more than twice as much electricity to run as regular trains, so tickets can cost 10 times the price of regular train tickets in China. Since few Chinese people can afford such prices, the trains often run at half capacity or less. Chinese transportation experts say the government is throwing money away on bullet trains, money that could be better spent on regular railroads, especially cargo lines, and developing mass transit in and around cities. (12) New York University economist Nouriel Roubini told Reuters in 2011:

“I was recently in Shanghai and I took their high-speed train to Hangzhou,” he said, referring to the new Maglev line that has cut traveling time between the two cities to less than an hour from four hours previously.

“The brand new high-speed train is half-empty and the brand new station is three-quarters empty. Parallel to that train line, there is also a new highway that looked three-quarters empty. Next to the train station is also the new local airport of Shanghai and you can fly to Hangzhou,” he said.

“There is no rationale for a country at that level of economic development to have not just duplication but triplication of those infrastructure projects.” (13)

Duplication, triplication, overconstruction and waste is everywhere in China, even with subways. Twenty-two cities already have subway systems and money was budgeted in 2012 to build subways in another 16 by the end of 2018. Wang Mengshu, a subway engineer from the Chinese Academy of Engineering who helped design China’s first subway in Beijing in 1965, says these are completely unnecessary, too expensive, again more prestige projects than public service: “Second-, third-, fourth-tier cities … those cities don’t need to build subways. Even if they can afford to build them, they can’t afford to run them. But a lot of places think that if they have a subway, then they are a big city.” (14)

Scene 4: China as “Major Aerospace and Air-Travel Power”

The 12th Five-Year Plan grandiosely calls for a push to make China a “major aerospace and air-travel power.” Plans call for nearly a hundred new airports, thousands of new airliners, thousands of helicopters, business jets and small aircraft of all varieties. Boeing estimates Chinese carriers will need more than 5,260 new airliners – worth $670 billion – by 2031. (15) Great for Boeing. But not only did China not “need” this industry, it’s just suicidal for developing countries like China to repeat the same environmental mistakes as the West did.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that aviation is currently responsible for about 3.5 percent of anthropogenic climate change and says that if present trends continue this share will grow to between 5 percent and 15 percent by 2050 while the absolute contribution of aviation generated emissions will soar. Aviation is already the fastest growing source of global carbon dioxide emissions and if it continues to grow at its current rate it will overwhelm all the cuts engineers have managed to make elsewhere. (16) There are not currently nor are there on the horizon any practical alternatives to kerosene-based fuels for commercial jet aircraft. This is why after surveying the literature on potentials for greenhouse gas mitigation in other forms of transportation, environmental journalist George Monbiot concludes that while some forms of transport can be rendered a bit greener, there’s virtually nothing we can do with aviation with present or foreseeable technologies:

There is, in other words, no technofix. The growth in aviation and the need to address climate change cannot be reconciled. Given that [efficiency gains tend to be canceled out by growth] a 90 percent cut in emissions requires not only that growth stops, but that most of the planes which are flying today are grounded. I recognize that this will not be a popular message. But it is hard to see how a different conclusion could be extracted from the available evidence. (17)

In a world where climate scientists tell us we need to cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent by 2050, global aviation emissions are on course to double by 2030. It will be suicidal to let this happen. Absent some technical miracle, the only way to suppress aviation emissions is to suppress the numbers of people jetting around the planet, not add hundreds of millions of Chinese to this jet set. Coming to grips with this reality may not be popular in China or the United States, but the alternative is not going to be popular either.

Scene 5: Construction Frenzies, Ghost Cities and the Mother of All Real Estate Bubbles

Yet none of the above compares with the resources squandered on the construction boom of recent decades. China’s construction juggernaut has been gobbling up China’s best peri-urban farmland, expelling tens of millions of farmers and urban residents and consuming staggering quantities of resources to build unneeded housing, shopping malls, industrial parks, office buildings, power plants and infrastructure in a country already bursting with overpopulated, polluted megacities. (18) Millions of urban residents were cleared out of Beijing and Shanghai, which were completely rebuilt with thousands of skyscrapers, apartment blocks, highways and shopping malls. (19) Cities and provinces compete to build cloud-piercing skyscrapers even if they have no prospective tenants for them.

In one village, 80 percent of the population is said to have died from pollution-induced cancers since 1991.

By 2020, 12 of the planet’s 20 tallest towers are expected to be in provincial cities like Shenyang, Wuhan and Suzhou. The office vacancy rate in Shenyang is nearly 30 percent, yet three more towers, all bigger than the Chrysler Building in New York City, are under construction, and another 12 are on the drawing boards. Beijing’s premier architectural atrocity, the Rem Koolhaas-designed CCTV tower – dubbed “Big Underpants” by the locals – sits nearly empty since it was built in 2008. Cities compete to build ersatz Wall Street “financial centers” as in Beijing (abandoned) and Tianjin (abandoned and unfinished). Stunningly lavish offices for cadres are built everywhere. China’s coast has multiple redundant ports, some nearly empty, but more are planned.

Since the 1980s, China has built enough new housing to re-house the entire population but the construction boom has become a self-sustaining, perpetual engine of construction for the sake of construction – supply with no demand. And there are not just miles of empty apartment blocks but entire “ghost cities” complete with office towers, hospitals, schools, futuristic airports, museums, universities, libraries, theaters, sports fields, and miles and miles of apartment towers and subdivisions of McMansions – but almost no people. (20) Twenty-one percent of China’s urban residents, the wealthy and middle classes, own two urban apartments, some own three or four – all bought for speculation, not to live in, not vacation homes. More than 22.4 percent of urban apartments and houses remained vacant in 2014.  (21) By one estimate, more than 64 million surplus apartments had been built in China, enough to house almost half the population of the United States, yet millions more are under construction. (22) Economists have warned that what China is really building is the biggest real estate bubble in history. CBS interviewed Wang Shi, CEO of China Vanke, China’s biggest homebuilder (which makes him the world’s biggest homebuilder), who told CBS’s Lesley Stahl that this can’t last, “this is a bubble, for sure.” When it bursts, “it will be a disaster, a disaster.” (23)

Scene 6: Tofu Construction

Construction is breathtakingly fast in China but it can also be breathtakingly sloppy, dangerous and destined to a short life span. That’s because China’s local building department regulators, like food safety and environment regulators, are subordinate to local officials who partner with and profit off the very construction companies the regulators are nominally supposed to regulate. In result, safety is often subordinated to speed and cost, with predictable results. The Chinese call it doufazha, “tofu” construction. Bridges collapse regularly. Between July 2011 and August 2012, eight major bridges collapsed. An Australian reporter counted four collapsed bridges in just nine days in July 2012. (24) High-speed railway bridges collapse. Buildings collapse. Some just topple over. Millions of peasants have been cleared off the land and dumped into “new towns” around cities where the shoddy new housing is already crumbing as the displaced farmers move in. In 2010, China’s Ministry of Housing admitted the low quality of construction and warned that “China’s newly-built houses can only last for 20 or 30 years.” (25) Have the Chinese invented disposable housing?

Officials call for tougher regulations but most Chinese blame corruption. Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing, says bid rigging is the norm and there are no checks or balances on the procurement process. “We do have relevant laws regarding the bidding process, but there is a lack of enforcement. The bidding process is only a show.” A college student, Zeo Niu, interviewed by National Public Radio after a major bridge collapse in 2012, knew the system well. Her uncle runs a construction company in central China. She said using substandard material while charging for high-quality goods is routine. What really upsets her, she said, “is that so many projects collapse, people just become overwhelmed. ‘I will never remember those victims’ names in this accident, and people won’t remember it,’ Niu said. ‘It will all be buried by another accident.'” (26)

“Twenty More Years of Roaring Growth”?

In The Wall Street Journal of August 20, 2014, Justin Yifu Lin, an economist and close adviser to senior leaders in Beijing, stated that he’s confident China can sustain its recent 8 percent per year growth rate for the foreseeable future. He predicts “20 years of roaring growth” for China. Really? Where does Yifu think the resources are going to come from for this scale of consumption? As it happens, in 2011, the Earth Policy Institute at Columbia University calculated that if China keeps growing by around 8 percent per year, Chinese average per capita consumption will reach the current US level by around 2035. But to provide the natural resources for China’s 1.3 billion to consume on a per capita basis like the United States’ 330 million consume today, the Chinese – roughly 20 percent of the world’s population – will consume as much oil as the entire world consumes today. It would also consume more than 60 percent of other critical resources.

Production Consumption* Commodity Unit Consumption Latest Year Projected Consumption 2035
U.S. China China World
Grain Million Tons 338 424 1,505 2,191
Meat Million Tons 37 73 166 270
Oil Million Barrels per Day 19 9 85 86
Coal Million Tons of Oil Equivalent 525 1,714 2,335 3,731
Steel Million Tons 102 453 456 1,329
Fertilizer Million Tons 20 49 91 214
Paper Million Tons 74 97 331 394

*Projected Chinese consumption in 2035 is calculated assuming per-capita consumption will be equal to the current US level, based on projected GDP growth of 8 percent annually. Latest year figures for grain, oil, coal, fertilizer and paper are from 2008. Latest year figures for meat and steel are from 2010. Source: Earth Policy Institute, 2011

How can this happen? What would the rest of the world live on? Already, as resource analyst Michael Klare reviews in his latest book, The Race for What’s Left (2012), around the world existing reserves of oil, minerals and other resources “are being depleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not-too-distant future.”

B. Airpocalypse Now

Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze since the 1990s have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. Scientists have compared north China’s toxic smog to a “nuclear winter” and the smog is also sharply reducing crop yields. Lung cancer is now the leading cause of death in Beijing and nationally pollution-induced lung disease is taking the lives of more than 1.2 million people a year. With 20 percent of the world’s population, China now burns as much coal as the rest of the world put together. Twenty of the world’s 30 smoggiest cities are in China.

As domestic food grows increasingly unsafe, alarmed middle-class Chinese strip supermarkets of imported food.

Ironically, China is also a “green technology” leader, the world’s largest producer of both windmills and solar panels. Yet in China these account for barely 1 percent of electricity generation. Coal presently supplies 69 percent of China’s total energy consumption; oil accounts for 18 percent; hydroelectric, 6 percent; natural gas, 4 percent; nuclear, less than 1 percent; and other renewables including solar and wind, 1 percent. (27)China currently burns 4 billion tons of coal a year; the US burns less than 1 billion; the European Union, about 0.6 billion. China has marginally reduced the carbon intensity of production in recent years by installing newer, more efficient power plants but these gains have been outstripped by relentless building of more power plants. To make matters worse, even when power plants are fitted with scrubbers to reduce pollution, operators often don’t turn on the scrubbers because these cut into their profits.

While government plans call for reducing coal’s share of the energy mix from 69 percent to 55 percent by 2040, it projects that China’s absolute coal consumption will still rise by more than 50 percent in the same period in line with China’s projected economic growth of around 7.7 percent per year. The World Health Organization considers air pollution above 25 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter (PM2.5) to be unsafe. China’s current national average is 75 micrograms but particulate levels in many cities average in the hundreds.

In the winter of 2013, China suffered from the worst air pollution in its history as half of the country, nearly the whole of northern and eastern China, was smothered in dense smog for weeks at a time. Smog alerts were called in 104 cities in 20 of China’s 30 provinces as schools and airports closed in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. In January, PM2.5 levels in Beijing reached 900 micrograms per cubic meter. As Beijing was choking in smog in the winter of 2013, Deutsche Bank analysts gloomily concluded that even if China’s economy slowed to 5 percent growth per year from it’s current 7.6 percent rate, coal consumption would still nearly double and China’s smog could increase by as much as 70 percent by 2030. (28)

China’s leaders thus face an intractable dilemma. They can’t keep growing the economy without consuming ever more coal, oil and gas. Yet the more fossil fuels they burn, the more uninhabitable China’s cities become, the more Chinese people flee the country, and the faster China’s emissions are driving global warming.

Cooking the Planet to Produce Junk No One Needs

China surpassed the United States in 2007 to become the world’s leading carbon dioxide emitter. By 2013, China’s emissions were already nearly double those of the US. The US Energy Information Administration calculates that even if China grows at only 5.7 percent per year, 2 percent less than its current rate and about half the average rate it grew over the past decade, its carbon dioxide emissions would still soar to almost 15 billion tons by 2040, almost triple that of the US. (29) By 2013, China’s per capita emissions surpassed those of Europe. With just 20 percent of the world’s population, China already accounts for almost 30 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Coal-to-Gas Bases Will Doom the Climate

Under pressure to reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions but still maintain economic growth, the government has begun talking about putting a cap on coal emissions. But this cap would be pegged to expected growth and demand, so coal use is likely to continue rising for years. (30) Yet the most worrisome threat to reducing emissions comes from the government’s newest plan to “clean up its cities” by building dozens of huge “coal-gasification bases” in Shanxi, the Ordos Basin, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and other remote areas. These plants will burn coal directly to generate electricity in situ and convert coal to liquid fuels like “syngas” (like natural gas but from coal), which will then be transported to the cities to be burned in power plants, factories and cars.

These huge bases, some encompassing areas larger than the states of Delaware and Connecticut, will be the largest fossil fuel development projects in the world. And far from reducing coal use, scientists say, these complexes consume so much coal-fired energy to produce the syngas and other chemicals that they generate almost twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as if the coal were just directly burned in power plants. (31) Furthermore, water-intensive coal extraction in the new coal bases in northern and western provinces threatens to seriously aggravate China’s already severe water crisis in these regions. (32) And as if all this weren’t enough, the government has also declared its intention to develop “fracking” wherever possible in China. (33)

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that if we’re to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, humanity cannot add more than 880 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere before 2050. Collectively, we’ve already used up more than half of that “carbon budget” leaving us a remaining budget of just 349 billion gigatons. If China produces just 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, its current rate, with no growth whatsoever, it will still consume the entire carbon budget for the whole of humanity by itself by 2050.

C. Undrinkable Water, Poisoned Soils, Toxic Food

If the air is bad, the water is far worse. In a few decades of breakneck industrialization, the Chinese have managed to severely and irreversibly pollute most of the nation’s fresh water supplies with dire implications for public health. China’s fresh water sources are contaminated by pesticides, industrial chemicals, heavy metals and myriad other toxics. China’s largest rivers resemble vast open cesspools and for much of their length the banks are strewn with every imaginable kind of trash, and numberless outlet pipes spewing multiple toxics, dead fish, dead pigs and pigswill. Gushing pollutants turn long stretches of rivers bright red or purple or milky white or inky black. Sewage is routinely dumped mostly untreated in the nation’s rivers, the same rivers many cities take their drinking water from, imperiling the health of hundreds of millions. The government has built wastewater treatment facilities all over the country but most remain unused. (34)

These days China’s state sector has all the superficial trappings of a market economy.

China’s rivers suffer huge spills of all kinds of toxic chemicals – benzene, xanthogenate, analine – every year. In north China, the Yellow River “is a catastrophe” and the 300-odd rivers that drain the North China Plain “are open sewers if they are not completely dry” in the words of Ma Jun, China’s leading authority on the country’s water crisis. (35) According to a government report, the Yangtze River, the world’s third longest, is seriously and irreversibly polluted. Long stretches are said to be in “critical condition,” in places, too dangerous even to touch. Aquatic life has all but collapsed. Pollution and shipping wiped out China’s legendary Yangtze Baiji dolphin while even common carp “are gasping for survival.” (36) The 500-mile-long reservoir filling up behind the huge Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze qualifies as the world’s biggest cesspool. In some areas groundwater is being irreversibly polluted as textile dyeing mills and other factories, looking to avoid fines for dumping their effluents into rivers, instead drill and pump them into the earth. Some “use high-pressure pumps to discharge huge volumes of their wastewater directly underground.” According to one scientist, “deliberate, malicious waste discharge by factories has already become endemic.” (37)

The China Geological Survey reported in 2013 that 90 percent of the country’s groundwater is polluted, and 60 percent of it is “severely” polluted. A survey of 11 cities across China in 2012 indicated that 64 percent of water sources were severely polluted and 33 percent moderately polluted. Only 3 percent of sources could be graded as clean. (38) It’s difficult to overstate the dire implications of these practices: In China, groundwater is not only tapped for drinking water throughout rural China as well as in many cities, but over much of the country, especially the parched northern plains, this is the main source of water for farming.

Mass Production of “Cancer Villages”

China’s rivers have received many major toxic industrial chemical spills over the years. In September 2004, Jim Yardley of The New York Times reported on the situation in the Huai River basin, upstream from Shanghai, after a huge chemical spill created an 82-mile-long band of water that killed nearly every living thing and was too polluted even to touch. And the Huai, Yardley pointed out, was supposed to have been a government “success story.” (39) In April 2014, a major leak of benzene poisoned the drinking water for millions in Gansu Province.

Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, the government promoted the development of market-oriented “township and village industries” to promote growth and employment. These industries, the darlings of the World Bank and Western market-enthusiast academics, became notorious polluters. Foreign-invested special economic zone industries are also major polluters. (40) In the 1990s and 2000s, in response to growing anti-pollution protests in the cities, the government pushed dirty industries out of the cities and into the countryside and rural towns. This brilliant move resulted in horrific contamination of whole rural regions and the mass production of “cancer villages” where extraordinary numbers of inhabitants are dying from intestinal, liver and other cancers caused by ingesting toxic water and food.

Nongovernmental organizations count at least 459 villages spread across every province except far-western Qinghai and Tibet. In one village, 80 percent of the population is said to have died from pollution-induced cancers since 1991. (41) There are villages where almost every child is lead-poisoned. (42) Dumping of toxic chemicals and heavy metals extends even to remote corners of China. In neo-tropical Yunnan Province, investigators have found “rampant chromium dumping” polluting rice paddies and drinking water.

The Damage Done

The problem with water pollution, unlike air pollution, is that it doesn’t disappear once the dumping stops. Heavy metals and other contaminants don’t easily break down or wash away. They can be very long-lived and can’t really be “cleaned up.” (43) Once groundwater is polluted, there’s just no possible remediation. This means that extensive areas of China’s farmland, especially in the north, are effectively doomed. (44) This is taking a huge toll on the health of Chinese people as well as non-human life forms and poses a mortal threat to the entire society. Elizabeth Economy, author of The Rivers Run Black (2007), writes that “Less well documented [than air pollution] but potentially even more devastating is the health impact of China’s polluted water. Today, fully 190 million Chinese are sick from drinking contaminated water. All along China’s major rivers, villages report skyrocketing rates of diarrheal diseases, cancer, tumors, leukemia, and stunted growth.” (45)

The Bad Earth and Toxic Foods

China’s farmlands are extensively polluted with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, sewage sludge and innumerable industrial toxics. Much of this comes from polluted irrigation water. In places, even industrial wastewater has been used to irrigate farms when local wells have dried up or are themselves too polluted to use. In December 2013, the Ministry of Land and Resources reported that 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres – roughly the area of Belgium) of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops on and researchers said that “as much as 70 percent” of China’s farmland could be contaminated to some degree. (46) In April 2014, the government reported that almost 20 percent of the country’s arable land, 10 percent of its woodlands and 10 percent of its grassland soils were seriously polluted with heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, zinc and nickel plus inorganic compounds including DDT. The survey, carried out between 2006 and 2010, but suppressed for four years as a state secret out of fear of public outrage, summed up the nation’s farmland situation as “grim”(yanjun). (47)

Shocking as this is for a nation that must try to feed 20 percent of the world’s population on 7 percent of the world’s arable land, environmentalists suspect the published figures understate the true extent of soil contamination. (48) In November 2014, the government conceded that 40 percent of the nation’s farmland is degraded from acidification, pollution and erosion, and the government “is growing increasingly concerned about its food supply after years of rapid industrialization resulted in widespread pollution of waterways and farmland.” (49)

Life in the Communist Party is not so different from life in the mafia.

In May 2013, the Food and Drug Administration of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, reported that 40 percent of the rice tested at restaurants that spring was contaminated with cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal than can cause bone disease, cancer and other illnesses. Since extensive national testing has not yet been done for this or other contaminants, there is concern that such pollution is widespread. Fish (and fishermen) have also been found to have high levels of cadmium, mercury and lead. (50)

To add further insult to consumers, deliberate food adulteration, contamination and fakery is rife in China. In 2008, public anger erupted after the government reported that tens of thousands of children were at risk of kidney stones and other organ damage from milk powder mixed with melamine, a chemical used to deceive protein tests. At least six infants died from illnesses linked to the tainted powder, which sickened more than 300,000 children.

Despite repeated government crackdowns, food contamination is severe and growing in China. As domestic food grows increasingly unsafe, alarmed middle-class Chinese strip supermarkets of imported food and Chinese tourists clear out the shelves of baby formula from New Zealand to Holland to pack and take home in their suitcases. Public alarm is also driving up food imports, which in turn is driving up world food prices. (51) For the first time in its history, China now imports more grain than it produces. This is bad news not only for China’s basic food security but also for natural resources around the world as China’s demand for soybeans, corn, wheat and other grains is leveling forests from Africa to the Amazon.

What’s Going on Here?

Why is it that the same government that has lifted the living standards of more people – millions – faster than any other nation in history, that has built the world’s largest high-speed rail network, the largest airports, longest bridges, skyscrapers by the hundreds and whole cities practically overnight, can’t guarantee safe drinking water or food or medicines or breathable air to its citizens? Why can’t it enforce its own environmental regulations, or its own building codes? Why can’t it stop its own local governments from squandering money building unneeded housing, airports and rail lines? Why is it that the same ruthless police state that so proficiently crushes dissent and censors the internet can’t stop producers, even state-owned companies, from making lead-paint-coated toys, poisoned milk and baby formula, and toxic meat and dumplings, and can’t suppress corruption in its own officials? The answer to all these questions is to be found in the nature, contradictions and tendencies of China’s hybrid bureaucratic collectivist-capitalist economic system.

II. A Political Economy

China’s rulers preside over the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, a powerhouse of international trade whose state-owned conglomerates count among the largest companies in the world. They profit immensely from their state-owned enterprises’ (SOEs) market returns. But they’re not capitalists, at least not with respect to the state-owned economy. Communist Party members don’t own individual SOEs or shares in state companies like private investors. They collectively own the state, which owns most of the economy. They’re bureaucratic collectivists who run a largely state-planned economy that also produces extensively for the market. But producing for the market is not the same thing as capitalism. (52)

Three of the top 10 2014 Fortune Global 500 corporations are Chinese. But they’re not owned by Chinese capitalists. They’re owned by the Chinese government. James McGregor notes, “Of the sixty-nine companies from mainland China in the Fortune Global 500 in 2012, only seven were not SOEs … [and all of these seven] companies have received significant government assistance and most count government entities among their shareholders.” Thirty-five years after the introduction of market reforms, China’s government still owns and controls the commanding heights of the economy: banking, large-scale mining and manufacturing, heavy industry, metallurgy, shipping, energy generation, petroleum and petrochemicals, heavy construction and equipment, atomic energy, aerospace, telecommunications, vehicles (often in partnership with Western companies), aircraft manufacture, airlines, railways, biotechnology, military production and more. Plus all the land and natural resources: There is no private property in China.

“Families benefited from their control of state companies, amassing private wealth as they embraced the market economy.”

In key industries SOEs own and control between 75 and 100 percent of assets including 96.2 percent of telecom, 91.6 percent of power generation, 76.6 percent of petroleum and petrochemicals, 76.2 percent of airlines, 74 percent of autos, and so on. China’s banks are 100 percent state-owned (though there are some private equity firms). (53) In the words of James McGregor, “SOEs monopolize or dominate all significant sectors of the economy and control the entire financial system. Party leaders deploy the SOEs to build and bolster the economy – and undergird the Party’s monopoly political control. The private sector provides a lubricant for growth and the opportunity for people to become rich as long as they support the Party.” (54) SOEs together with local government-owned urban collective and township and village industries currently account for 50 percent of China’s current non-farm GDP. Foreign-invested joint ventures account for about 30 percent of non-farm GDP (though Chinese partners of larger joint ventures, like auto assembly, are mostly SOEs). China’s indigenous private sector accounts for about 20 percent of non-farm GDP. (55)

SOEs resemble capitalist corporations but they’re not driven by the same motor of market competition; they don’t face the same incentives and penalties as capitalist firms, at least not to the same extent, and they’re not run like capitalist companies. (56) These days China’s state sector has all the superficial trappings of a market economy: corporations, CEOs, IPOs, stock markets and so on. The Ministry of Petroleum is now called China National Petroleum Corporation. Baoshan Iron and Steel now calls itself Baosteel Group Corp. and so on. But SOEs aren’t “corporations.”

Dozens of Chinese SOEs have held IPO listings on the New York Stock Exchange and China’s own toy stock markets in Shenzhen and Shanghai. But the government won’t allow its companies to be bought and sold. It will only permit a minority of shares, not more than 25 percent, and only non-voting shares at that, to be traded on the market. As one expert put it “the Chinese government is the only shareholder that counts.” (57) Lots of SOEs produce some or most of their output for the market. State Grid produces power for, besides China (where it has a monopoly), Singapore and Australia, and is developing facilities in the Philippines and Portugal. But State Grid does not answer to shareholders or boards. China’s SOEs are not run by boards of directors and elected CEOs. They don’t have boards of directors. And their CEOs and senior management are all appointed by the Communist Party. All Chinese state “corporations” have Communist Party secretaries who without exception outrank the enterprise CEOs. (58)

To be sure, China has a vast capitalist market economy side-by-side with the state sector. Thousands of real, foreign corporations operate in China today: Apple, Toyota, Audi, GM, Samsung, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, even the Avon lady. And China has plenty of homegrown entrepreneurs and privately owned businesses. China is said to have more than a million US-dollar millionaires and at least 89 billionaires. The private sector includes sizeable companies like Baidu (the internet search giant that dominates the China market since Google left), Tencent (instant messaging), Jack Ma’s Alibaba, real estate developers like Dalian Wanda Group and China Vanka, food processors like Wahaha Corp., insurance companies, and others. But these are not the core of the economy. China’s biggest private company by valuation, Alibaba, doesn’t produce anything at all; like eBay it just connects sellers with buyers. Most of China’s private businesses are small, on average less than half the size of SOEs, and the vast majority are even smaller. They include thousands of small coal mines, thousands of local construction companies, some small steel mills, textile and garment industries, shoemakers, retail shops and supermarkets, restaurants, self-employed truckers, family businesses and the like.

“Get Rich and You’ll Get Audited”

The Communist Party keeps its domestic capitalists on a short leash. Successful entrepreneurs soon find they need a state “partner,” or the government sets up its own competitors to suppress them, or they suffer forced buyouts. Those who cross the Party disappear and their property is seized, and worse. (59) Those whose names appear on Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest citizens or the Hong Kong Hunrun Rich List sometimes vanish without a trace. Chinese people call these the “pig-killing lists.” Middle-class Chinese speculate on apartments and suburban villas but the land they sit on is state-owned. Indeed, even title to the apartments and villas they’ve bought is never really secure because these can easily be seized by the state on a whim, with no recourse.

It’s been estimated that in the last three decades more than 60 million Chinese farmers and urban residents have been summarily evicted from their homes and farms to make way for government development projects of all sorts across the country. More than a million and a half farmers and townsfolk were evicted to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. Several million residents of Beijing were evicted to shabby satellite towns while their ancient Beijing homes, some dating back to the Ming dynasty, were leveled to make way for shopping malls, apartment towers and Olympic sports stadiums. (60) In such a system, arbitrary political power and generalized insecurity condition every aspect of life, even within the ruling Party itself – especially within the ruling Party.

A. Beijing’s Game of Thrones

China’s ruling class is the nomenklatura, the upper ranks of the 86-million-member Chinese Communist Party. Since the victory of the revolution in 1949, China has been run by the party-army-bureaucratic aristocracy, the leaders of which reside behind the walls of the Zhongnanhai complex adjacent to the Forbidden City. (61) In the 1950s, they nationalized the economy, divided up government administrative and economic management posts among themselves and centralized all surplus extraction. Today, this state-owned economy is run by their children and will soon be run by their grandchildren.

Since Mao’s death in 1976, the inner circle of the ruling “red families” have been headed up by the so-called “Eight Immortals”: Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun (the CCP’s leading economic planner), Wang Zhen, Li Xiannian (PRC president), Peng Zhen (NPC Congress chair), Song Renqiong (party personnel chief), Yang Shangkun (PRC president), and Bo Yibo (vice premier and last of the eight to die at 98 in 2007). (62)As the elders retired and died off they entrusted the reins of power to their children, the “princeling” (taizi dang) sons and daughters of the first generation of communist rulers. Since the bad old days when Mao and his Gang of Four dispatched their rivals to rot in dungeons, or shot Lin Biao’s plane out of the sky to prevent his escape to Moscow, the Communist Party has made every effort to present a public façade of leadership unity and discipline and portray its internal workings as “regularized” with “collective leadership,” “10-year rotations” of “presidents” and “prime ministers,” “mandatory retirement of senior officials at 65” and so on. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A study released in February 2015 declared that living in China’s cities is “as deadly as smoking.”

Today, as in Mao’s day, CCP internal political machinations resemble nothing so much as The Godfather or “Game of Thrones.” And how could it be otherwise? In the absence of the rule of law, without elections to choose government representatives, without inner-party democracy, without constitutional procedures to regularize succession to office, without an independent judiciary, justice department, attorney generals and police to systematically prosecute and punish corrupt politicians, in such a system, no one owns their office, position or job on the basis of merit, professional qualification, fixed-year terms or enforceable contracts. Every cadre’s personal and political security depends, above all, on the strength of his/her guanxi: his connections and relationships with networks of allies, their patrons above, their supporters below and especially to families, clans and factions.

From the days of Mao’s purges of “capitalist roaders” Lin Biao, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, to Deng Xiaoping’s own purge of the Maoist Gang of Four, to Jiang Zemin’s purge of “counterrevolutionaries” Zhao Ziyang, Bao Tong et al. in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising, to current President Xi Jinping’s show trials of  “corrupt” rival Bo Xilai (son of Bo Yibo) and his persecution of powerful opponents in the oil faction and secret police led by Zhou Yongkang, the Chinese Communist Party’s internal political dramas differ little from the treacherous, fratricidal power struggles of the Corleones, Barzinis and Straccis of The Godfather or the bloody feudal wars of the Starks, Tullys and Boltons for supremacy in Westeros. As in “Game of Thrones,” China’s communists are embroiled in nonstop faction building, never-ending intrigue and infighting, and treacherous factional struggles while the paramount leader du jour‘s claim to the red throne in Zhongnanhai is never completely secure. (63)

President Xi Jinping came into office in 2012 on a campaign vowing to “swat tigers and flies alike.” Xi had been brought in to replace the disgraced Shanghai Mayor Chen Liangyu on the strength of his anticorruption campaigns in Zhejian Province where he once told an anti-graft conference: “Rein in your spouses, children, relatives and friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain.” (64) But Xi is just as corrupt as all the rest, and just as thuggish.

Xi once remarked that as a young man he liked to watch The Godfather. Yu Jie, an exiled author of numerous critical books on China, titled his latest book, Godfather of China Xi Jinping (still awaiting publication as of March 2015). Yu told The New York Times that the film was Xi’s political study guide: “The Communist Party is China’s biggest mafia, and the party boss Xi Jinping is the godfather of China.” As if to confirm Yu’s thesis, when he tried to publish the book in Hong Kong, one publisher was arrested in Shenzhen and disappeared. A second prospective publisher received a threatening phone call from Beijing telling him that the book “absolutely cannot be published” and if he publishes it, “your personal safety and the safety of your family cannot be guaranteed” so he immediately dropped the project.

Life in the Communist Party is not so different from life in the mafia: It’s a constant, treacherous and highly dangerous nonstop factional struggle between crime family-based groupings in struggle with one another over top offices and treasure. The key to safety is building unshakable vertical and horizontal networks of support and protection – of guanxi. And the key to solidifying those networks is sharing the loot from corruption. As political scientist Minxin Pei put it: “If your patrons do not protect you, you’re toast … Corruption is the glue that keeps the party stuck together.” (65)

B. Grabbing the Brass Ring: Gangster Capitalism and the Necessity of Corruption

China’s economy mirrors its politics. China’s communist party-state has grown immensely wealthy over the past three decades from rivers of income flowing in from huge state monopolies like Sinopec (China Petroleum), State Grid, Bank of China, China Telecom, from taxing export foreign exchange earnings, and more. But the question is, how is this loot shared out among the ruling class of China, the “gang” of 86 million Communist Party members? In capitalist economies, this is entirely formalized and regularized. One’s wealth is based on property, cash in the bank, stock ownership and such – all secured by the rule of law, enforceable contracts, an impersonal state, independent judiciary and the police. But China has none of this. Cadres don’t privately own SOEs; they don’t own shares in SOEs.

Yet we know from multiple sources including trials of corrupt officials, revelations about secret offshore bank accounts, records of foreign property purchases, and especially from recent headline exposés in The New York Times and Bloomberg News on the wealth of China’s leading “princelings” including former and current heads of state, that China’s Communist Party cadres have gotten gloriously rich by way of market reforms. (66) The New York Times calculated that former Premier Wen Jiabao was worth at least $2.7 billion when he retired in 2012, all secreted under the names of close relatives. (67) As Xi Jinping climbed the party ranks, his extended family got rich in minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment. Today, his family is worth at least $376 million, again, with virtually all of it listed in the names of his close relatives rather than his own.

Markets and the Mother of All Moral Hazards

When Deng Xiaoping rejected Maoism and told the Chinese that now it was OK, even  “glorious to get rich,” he faced an immediate problem: To get marketization rolling, he urged the cadres to promote private businesses and joint-ventures with foreign investors, to “jump into the sea of commerce” as he said in his famous “southern tour” of Shenzhen in 1992. Deng’s market reforms thus presented the personally penniless but functionally all-powerful CCP cadres with the mother of all moral hazards. China’s reintroduction of capitalism presented the cadres with a once-in-an-epoch opportunity to grab the brass ring, to get rich, really rich, and fast. The party-state owned all land, resources and industries, and controlled the banks and pension funds, foreign trade and currency exchange, courts, police and everything else. The problem was that the only ways to profit from this were all illegal: bribery, smuggling, influence peddling, embezzling money from state industries, profiting from guandao (reselling state-owned raw materials and commodities on the free market at huge markups), asset stripping, currency manipulation, money laundering and so on.

Risky, but how could they resist? Far from resisting, they led the way in what exiled economist He Qinglian called “the marketization of power.” (68) Besides, since there was no independent judicial system, it was left to the party officials to police themselves. The very people who stood to gain the most from the coming market boom were supposed to refrain from self-dealing. Even so, the breadth and brazenness of corruption grew slowly at first. Looking back to the 1980s, Bao Tong, a senior party official arrested and imprisoned as a “counterrevolutionary” during the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown told Bloomberg News in December 2013: “A bottle of Moutai, two cartons of Chunghwa cigarettes – corruption was no more than that at the beginning…. Now an enterprise worth 10 billion yuan can be purchased with 1 billion. This would have been appalling to people back then.” (69)

“It Doesn’t Matter Who Owns the Money; It Only Matters Who Gets to Use It”

Today, the buffet of benefits available to the upper ranks includes extravagant state-provided housing, posh offices, fleets of limousines, access to state-owned vacation villas, travel and plenty of pocket change to spend on fine French wines, Rolexes, Louis Vuitton handbags and the rest. At the top, princelings are often heads of giant conglomerates, which themselves own dozens or even hundreds of individual SOEs. Presumably this gives them access to multiple income streams and ample opportunities to plunder the government’s ever-growing treasure. Princeling Bo Xilai didn’t send his son Guagua to Harrow, Oxford and Harvard, and buy him Porsches, Ferraris and fancy apartments in Oxford and Cambridge, Massachusetts, on his official salary.

Even China’s leaders complain that China’s “governments at all levels” had turned the state’s banks into “ATMs for officials and official businessmen.” (70) As one SOE boss put it: “It doesn’t matter who owns the money; it only matters who gets to use it.” (71) As individuals, they loot according to their rank, positions and guanxi. And of course, who gets to use exactly what is shrouded in secrecy. Financial Times Beijing bureau chief Richard McGregor quotes a businessman jailed on corruption charges who said: “Every official has three lives. Their public life, their private life, and their secret life.” (72)

In the boom years of the 1990s and 2000s in China’s ruling class, taking their cue from New York banksters who were becoming their partners and backers, corruption flourished on a previously unimagined scale. They siphoned huge sums from state banks, SOEs and ministries. They looted pension funds and state charities. They’ve profited from illegal arms sales and smuggling. They made vast fortunes in real estate evicting millions of farmers and selling their land to developers. They made more fortunes taking cuts from listing Chinese companies on the New York Stock Exchange. In all this, the “princeling” children and grandchildren of the “Eight Immortals” have led the way.

“The anticorruption push is more of a Stalinist purge than a genuine attempt to clean up the government.”

In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun and the other aging revolutionary generation leaders entrusted their children to run the new market-oriented state conglomerates like CITIC, China Poly Group (arms, African oil, etc.). Deng’s daughter Deng Rong and her brother Deng Zhifang were among the first to go into real estate in the 1990s. As Bloomberg reported in its investigative report on the 103 children and grandchildren of the Eight Immortals, “Families benefited from their control of state companies, amassing private wealth as they embraced the market economy. Forty-three of the 103 ran their own business or became executives in private firms … The third generation – grandchildren of the Eight Immortals and their spouses, many of whom are in their 30s and 40s – have parlayed family connections and overseas education into jobs in the private sector.” Others took over state-sector conglomerates and SOEs.

Twenty-six of the heirs of just these eight revolutionary leaders ran or held top positions in big SOEs: “Three children alone – General Wang’s son, Wang Jun, Deng’s son-in-law, He Ping; and Chen Yuan, the son of Mao’s economic tsar – headed or still run state-owned companies with combined assets of about $1.6 trillion in 2011. (73) Deng’s son-in-law Wu Jianchang got himself appointed head of numerous metals companies and then became, conveniently, minister of metallurgy. Deng’s grandson Zhuo Su got himself appointed head of a company that bought into an Australian iron ore business. Wang Jun, the revolutionary general’s son, set up a huge conglomerate, Poly Group, with Deng Xiaoping’s son-in-law He Ping, another general. Chen Yun installed his son Chen Yuan as head of the giant state-owned China Development Bank with assets of more than $1 trillion. His sister, Chen Xiaodan, worked at Morgan Stanley in New York, set up her own private equity firm, and worked with her father’s China Development Bank to support Chinese firms investing abroad in Europe and elsewhere.

Wang Zhi, General Wang’s third son, “borrowed” 300,000 yuan from his employer, the Ministry of Electronics, to set up his own company building personal computers, eventually partnering with Bill Gates to develop a Chinese version of Windows software. As Yang Dali of the University of Chicago put it, “The entire country was in business – the Party, the military, the courts, the prosecutor’s office, the police…. Insiders could get rich very quickly.” And “[w]hen the top is corrupt, this is how it will be all the way down,” said Dai Qing, China’s leading environmental activist who herself grew up in the Zhongnanhai compound with the princelings after being adopted by a famous general. (74) Bloomberg reports that, when he was lying in a hospital bed in 1990, hardline Maoist Gen. Wang Zhen (1908-1993) told a visitor that he felt betrayed by his own children. Decades after he had risked his life fighting for an egalitarian utopia, his children were only interested in getting rich: “Turtle eggs,” he said to the visiting well-wisher, using a slang term for bastards. “I don’t recognize them as my sons.” (75)

Getting the Loot Out of China

International banking connections also have been key to the princelings’ strategy of getting their loot out of China. Over the years, it has been estimated that princelings and other high cadres, cronies and capitalists have funneled $1-4 trillion in unreported assets out of the country since 2000. Credit Suisse, PricewaterhouseCoopers and UBS – Western banks with notorious experience in sheltering US and other tax evaders – set up secret companies and accounts for at least 21,000 Chinese in Caribbean tax havens including for Wen Yunsong, Wen Jiabao’s son. High cadres, their relatives and other rich guys fly suitcases of money to North America, Australia, Caribbean havens and other friendly destinations. (76)

In February 2014, it was reported that more than 45,000 (!) Chinese millionaireshad queued up in Vancouver, British Columbia, to get investor residence visas in return for five-year, interest-free loans to the Canadian government. In the US, 80 percent of the government’s EB-5 investor program visas are going to wealthy ex-mainland Chinese; in Australia, it’s nine out of 10. At least 18 of the Eight Immortals’ descendants own or run entities registered in the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Liberia and other secret offshore tax havens. (77) Bo Yibo’s wife Gu Kailai, convicted in 2012 of murdering her British business partner, controlled a web of businesses from Beijing to the Caribbean worth at least $126 million and stashed many of her assets with her sister in places like the British Virgin Islands, according to Bloomberg. (78) So it goes.

C. Implications, Tendencies, Consequences

This structural arrangement of bureaucratic/gangster capitalist power and property has given China’s economy a radically different pattern and trajectory of economic development from normal capitalism anywhere in the West. We can specify at least the following broad systemic tendencies in this hybrid economic system:

1. Priority to the state-owned economy: Shocked and riveted by the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and especially the communist debacle in the USSR, Deng Xiaoping and his successors have been determined to avoid such a fate by maintaining state control over the commanding heights of the economy, avoiding substantial privatization and limiting the internal market, as noted above. That’s why the maximand of China’s SOEs is not profit maximization. Their maximand is the security, wealth and power of the Chinese Communist Party and that’s not the same thing. The Bank of China, China Development Bank, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and other huge state banks sit at the apex of China’s economy and count among the Global Fortune 500 largest companies. But unlike Citibank or HSBC, their job isn’t to make money. Their job is to lose money – or more precisely, to disburse it.

It’s often said that in the transition to capitalism China’s market reformers “abandoned central planning.” That’s an exaggeration. They reduced the scope of indicative planning but they did not abandon planning the state sector; they monetized it. Instead of issuing physical output targets à la Stalin and Mao, they direct most of the state economy by writing checks: by ordering state banks to disburse funds to support the production goals of the state plans (though they still set physical targets for some items – kilometers of rails, kilometers of roads, tons of wheat and cotton etc., as noted above). In the 1990s, the government leased out, sold off or closed down thousands of small unprofitable SOEs producing consumer goods including wood and leather products, furniture, building materials, garments, food products and the like. Dispensing with these, the government concentrated on restructuring, modernizing, expanding and diversifying the state’s SOEs. (79)

The government also expanded the state sector by establishing entirely new industries: consumer appliances, solar and wind power, biotech, high-speed trains, passenger aircraft, IT and others. But instead of assigning production targets for quantities of Geely cars, Suntech solar panels or China National Railways (CNR) high-speed trains, they allocate funds via state banks to support state-owned industries like CNR and to establish and support state-private joint ventures like Suntech and Geely. Since the 1990s, China’s SOEs, and the entire state industrial sector, have grown enormously. Whereas in the 1970s, China’s SOEs counted for almost nothing in the world economy, today, China’s “national champions” Sinopec, China National Petroleum and State Grid Corporation rank among the 10 largest companies by revenue in the 2014 Fortune 500.

Prioritizing the state sector means that the government often finds it rational to subvert its own market reforms to protect state interests: So when the head of a major state-owned conglomerate was removed for embracing market economics too enthusiastically, a Beijing University expert on China’s state-enterprises commented: “There’s a system in place, not just one person. The party’s appointee draws his position from patronage … and the task is to engage with state leaders and safeguard government assets, not to maximize profits.” (80) This is why the government enforces SOE monopolies regardless of efficiency, why it limits Western investor ownership share in joint ventures, why it bars Western firms from investing in key industries, and why it directs its huge sovereign wealth fund mainly to invest in the resource extraction industries China needs to fuel its national economic development even though global resource prices and resource industry profits have both been falling since 2008. (81) This is all in the collective interest of China’s state-based ruling class.

Yet at the same time, individually, princelings and well-placed cadres are simultaneously conniving, like the gangsters they are, to privatize pieces of the state-owned economy and to sell them at huge discounts to themselves, their relatives and partners, usually via private investment banks that have their real owners concealed behind multiple layers of paper and shell companies. Cadres also funnel money out of SOE profits to buy businesses and properties in the West. SOE overseas companies open still other opportunities to privately pocket profits earned overseas before they’re sent back to China. It can’t be ruled out that such trends could eventually lead to a broad selloff of state assets à la Poland. But for the present, the party seems determined to protect the state-owned economy rather than let it collapse and be sold off and privatized.

2. Hypergrowth drivers: incentives without penalties: China’s SOEs, as we noted, don’t live or die on the basis of their performance in the market. Lots of SOEs are inefficient but because many are also monopolies, they can still be gold mines. (82) As one official observed, “the overall economy has been so good that even pretty stupid SOEs could do well without much effort.” (83) Broke, indebted, inefficient or not, so long as their SOEs are in-plan, and especially if they’ve been designated “key” or “strategic” or “pillar” industries like coal, oil, autos, aerospace, biotech, high-speed rail or some other priority, SOE managers could assume that they would never be forced out of business regardless of their economic performance and generally speaking they have not been.

In result, SOE managers have had the best of both worlds: They have every incentive to borrow and spend, especially on capital construction (including those palatial offices to run the operations), but they face little or no threat of discipline for excess or failure. Given the profit-sharing arrangement between the center and the SOEs, for SOE bosses, it’s capitalism when the SOE is making money but socialism when it needs a government bailout. This is the main driver of “blind growth” across the economy and this can be expected to continue.

3. Hypergrowth drivers: job creation: In capitalist economies, neither individual companies nor governments are obliged to create jobs, though in extreme circumstances like the Great Depression, governments have set up jobs programs to keep the peace. But in China, in the old Maoist bureaucratic collectivist system, the government was the only employer, so it had to employ everyone because there was nowhere else to find work. In Mao’s day, successive generations of workers were simply assigned to work units (danwei) with the result that China’s industries and government offices were often abundantly overstaffed. But with the turn to the market, the government abolished guaranteed employment in the mid-1990s and SOEs laid off some 50 million superfluous workers in the 1990s to make their industries more efficient.

By then however, many excessed workers could find jobs in the new parallel market economy while others were forced into retirement on subsistence pensions. The destruction of millions of state jobs with state benefits provoked widespread protests and unrest in the late 1990s and early 2000s. To contain this unrest, and also to keep up with China’s relentless population growth, the government has been forced to spend heavily on wave after wave of WPA-like, make-work capital construction projects across the country since the 1990s, even if much of what got built was unneeded, as noted above. Given the special threat that extensive unemployment poses to a nominally workers state, this pattern of make-work overproduction and overdevelopment can be expected to continue.

4. Collective property weakens efforts to reduce pollution: Collective ownership means that even with its police-state dictatorship, the center can’t always enforce its will against lower-level officials because those local, country, provincial, ministerial officials, SOE bosses and so on are more partners with Beijing in their joint ownership of the national economy than strictly subordinates. They all have their own guanxi networks to defend their turf and promote their own interests in contravention of central initiatives when it suits their purposes. This is why central efforts to restrain pollution tend to be subverted or defeated by local officials whose overriding concern is to keep the economic engines running regardless of the smog.

China has comprehensive environmental legislation on the books. It has its own Environmental Protection Agency equivalent, the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). It has a State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) and other regulatory agencies. But the evidence everywhere is that regulation is largely a failure. (84) Here and there SEPA has managed to enforce some cleanups and shutdowns of some conspicuous polluters, usually smaller operations. But more often than not, SEPA regulators are powerless against polluters because environmental protection officers are subordinate to and even paid by local officials who profit from and generate jobs in the same polluting industries SEPA wants to suppress. (85)

In her documentary Under the Dome, Chai Jing asks Ding Yan, the director of the government’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) Vehicular Pollution Research Institute, about why his agency doesn’t force China’s vehicle manufacturers to stop selling trucks with fake National Standard 4 emission stickers certifying that the vehicles meet the highest emissions standards when in fact they only meet the lowest National Standard 1. “If you (the MEP) assert you have legal authority, no one can deny that, so why not just execute the law?” Ding told her that regardless of the law, his agency had no real power to enforce it: “Nowadays, I don’t dare open my mouth out of fear that [the polluters] will see that I have no teeth” (at 48:19).

Since the highly personalized and politicized state can’t rely on the rule of law, independent courts and police to enforce its environmental regulations, the government has to resort to “campaigns” to enforce environmental compliance. But this approach is hopelessly ineffectual. Beijing issues big directives, sends inspectors around and fines the polluting companies. But as often as not local government partners just pay the fines, or block regulators from shutting down the polluters, or let the regulators shut them down but then let the companies reopen under a new name. If all else fails, there’s always bribery. MEP officials are regularly bribed to let polluters continue operations. (86)

A year after Xi Jinping launched his “war on pollution,” the official press describes Beijing as “all but unlivable.” A study released in February 2015 declared that living in China’s cities is “as deadly as smoking.” (87) The government’s ambitious plans to improve water quality and safety have likewise failed. The 12th Five-Year Plan goal of “completely solving rural drinking water issues” by the end of 2015 “will not be met, and some villages are going backward because of scarcity and pollution.” Urban water safety has not improved and even bottled water is often contaminated. (88)

Moreover, the center itself is conflicted about enforcing its own pollution regulations because the central government, as much as local governments, needs to maximize growth to meet its plan targets and maintain employment to keep the peace. So while it talks about cracking down on pollution, more often than not Beijing also has to prioritize job creation over environmental protection. (89) Therefore, so long as there is no real separation of powers, these trends can be expected to continue and China’s pollution problems will remain essentially unsolvable.

5. Bureaucratic particularism and competition drive redundancy and overinvestment: SOE bosses, and local, provincial and ministerial officials may not face market competition in the same way and to the same extent as capitalist firms, but they face intense bureaucratic competition for access to resources and appropriations from the center. This particularistic intra-ruling class struggle over access to state funds also shapes the broad pattern of China’s economic development, powering tendencies to redundancy, duplication, irrational investment and waste throughout the economy. Thus, in his book on China’s growing airline industry, James Fallows writes:

Foreign reports often present these projects as carefully coordinated expressions of China’s larger ambitions for a modern transportation system and to an extent they are. But there is also bitter bureaucratic and commercial rivalries between the airline and railroad interests within China, each seizing on any opportunity to argue that it reflected the wiser and more farsighted use of the country’s resources. (90)

In China’s hybrid economic system, generally speaking, officials can only profit from their own units – their localities, ministries and SOEs. Cadres can’t buy shares in SOEs anywhere in the economy like in capitalism. No cadre in Sichuan can invest in and profit off of state-owned industries in Shanghai or Shenzhen. So if Sichuan officials wanted to profit from Premier Wen Jaibao’s call at the launching of the 12th Five-Year Plan, to “enhance China’s automobile manufacturing capability,” their only way to do was to build auto plants in their own province. And that’s what happens. That’s why China has more than 130 auto plants, thousands of power plants (one for every three square kilometers in Jiangsu province), roads and bridges to nowhere, more than 30 airlines, near-empty airports everywhere, more than 800 shipyards, redundant ports, redundant “world financial centers,” redundant shopping malls and ghost cites, with all the waste those entail. These tendencies are, again, built into the bureaucratic collectivist nature of this economic system and will continue as long as this system is in effect.

6. Rampant, ineradicable corruption: Anticorruption campaigns have been a feature of CCP inner-party struggles since long before the founding of the People’s Republic. They reached their apogee of hysteria in Mao Zedong’s terror campaign of the “cultural revolution” against “capitalist roaders” in his own party. These days the party brags that it disciplines tens of thousands of corrupt officials every year. Prominent party and state figures tried and punished in recent years include Beijing Mayor Liu Zhihua who received a suspended death sentence in 2009 for bribery. Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu got 18 years in 2008 for corruption. Zheng Xiaoyu, head of China’s SFDA, was executed in 2007 for taking bribes to approve an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths. Rixin Kang, former head of China’s nuclear power agency, was sent to prison for life in 2011; Cheng Tonghai, former head of Sinopec, got a suspended death sentence in 2009. Li Peiying, the head of Beijing’s Capital Airport, was executed in August 2009. Railway minister Liu Zhijun was given a suspended death sentence in 2013. Bo Xilai, the first member of the Party’s Politburo to be arrested since the end of the Mao era, was given a suspended death sentence in 2013. In January 2015, 70 SOE bosses were nabbed in one sweep, 16 generals in another.

Yet for all the campaigns, arrests and executions, corruption only grows worse every year. And why would it not? Opportunities for getting rich quick have grown as fast as the economy. And despite all the lurid press reports, the chances of getting caught are miniscule and for most corruption cases the consequences are not nearly as dire as the headlines imply, especially for the most elite, the biggest gangsters. (91)Geremie Barmé of the Australian National University says that in his research, for all the drama, most of the offspring of China’s revolutionary founders, the so-called “second red generation,” whose ranks include Xi Jinping and Bo Xilai, had largely escaped serious punishment: “In the murky corridors of Communist power, an impressive number of party gentry progeny, or the offspring of the Mao-era nomenklatura, have been implicated in corrupt practices … But word has it that, like the well-connected elites of other climes, they’ve enjoyed a ‘soft landing’: being discretely relocated, shunted into delicate retirement or quietly ‘redeployed.'” (92)Bo Xilai’s confinement is thought to be not too harsh, and not include orange suits.

Guanxi rules. Xi Jinping’s “war on corruption” is swatting competing tigers like Zhou Yangkang’s clique but has conspicuously failed to swat blatantly corrupt tigers right under his nose, starting with his own sister, brother-in-law, niece and their private sector partners, all of whom have made fortunes trading influence for lucrative state-private deals. Instead, Xi is just pushing them to cash out of their hundreds of millions of dollars in politically vulnerable investments. (93) Novelist Murong Xuecun writes in The New York Times that “the anticorruption push is more of a Stalinist purge than a genuine attempt to clean up the government.” Xi, he says, has mainly targeted specific party factions while those groups that support and pledge loyalty to Xi appear untouched. He notes that in Xi’s former fiefs in Fujian and Zhejian provinces, “as best I can tell not one official above the deputy provincial level has been arrested on suspicion of corruption. Recently the question was raised on the internet: Why have no ‘big tigers’ been found in Fujian and Zhejiang? The message was almost immediately deleted.” (94)

Without the rule of law, an independent judiciary, courts and police to prosecute and punish corrupt cadres, Xi Jinping’s only option is to try to terrorize the cadres by sending down “discipline inspection teams” to punish local transgressors and jail some blatant offenders. The Chinese call it “killing the chickens to scare the monkeys.” But after the terror passes and the teams return to Beijing, it’s back to business as usual. So after wrapping up the second round of two-month inspections in 10 provinces launched in July 2014, Wang Qishan, head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) warned officials, “Don’t go back on your old ways when our backs are turned … we will come back and catch you off guard.” (95)

But really, what can the poor CCDI do? The Chinese Communist Party is a cesspool of corruption from top to bottom. The CCDI can’t arrest the entire party. Xi needs these officials to run his economy and administration, but most are well enough connected to avoid his terrorists. Xi can’t trust the police to systematically enforce anticorruption measures because the police themselves are notoriously corrupt. Even his corruption investigators can’t be trusted (1,575 corruption investigators were themselves busted in 2014). By October, Wang was complaining that the cadres were not taking him seriously: “We have stepped up the anti-graft campaign but some party cadres are still undeterred. Some have become even more corrupt.” Wang “vowed to ramp up inspections of the lower tiers of government.” (96) Good luck on that, Mr. Wang.

Pursued with too much vigor, Xi’s anticorruption campaign against senior officials risks not only unsettling elite stability, but also destroying what’s left of the party’s credibility. As a retired princeling military officer said about the most recent campaign against graft and profiteering in the army: “You can’t do it too much, otherwise the party comes out too black, and the leaders won’t like it.” (97) Of course, self-limiting anticorruption campaigns only guarantee that corruption will continue to grow. Moreover, the anti-graft drive is also hurting economic growth as cadres sit on their hands, fearing to do any work that might bring complication, and companies pull back from spending on luxury goods, feasting, champagne and cars – the spending by the 1% that drives so much growth in China, as in the West.

What’s worse is that with the spectacle of China’s political leadership by “communist” princelings-turned-billionaires, corruption rots the whole society from the top down. Whereas in the 1980s, millions of China’s youth were idealistic passionate protesters for democracy, today many of China’s millennial generation have lost all hope for change, been seduced by capitalism and consumerism, become cynical and indifferent toward politics, human rights and the environment, and are insouciant toward CCP lies and repression. Others are just giving up and emigrating.

III. Braking the Drive to Collapse

It goes without saying that the Chinese have every right to modernize, industrialize and improve their material standard of living. But the problem is that capitalism can’t sustainably provide this for the Chinese, the Americans or anyone anymore. As many Chinese say today, “Who cares if we have the world’s highest GDP if we can’t live here?” The Chinese don’t need a higher standard of living based on endless consumerism. They need a better mode of life: clean, unpolluted air, water and soil; safe and nutritious food; comprehensive public health care; safe, quality housing; a public transportation system centered on urban bicycles and public transit instead of cars and ring roads; and more.

We all need to live better by consuming less and consuming rationally, fairly and sustainably. Given the planet’s desperate shape today, the only way humanity is going to survive this century is if developed countries and developing countries contract and converge their resource consumption and pollution around a sustainable global average that will permit the world’s peoples to live in tolerable conditions while reserving resources for future generations and other life forms. (98)

As China Goes, So Goes the World

Climate scientists tell us that, given all the failed promises to date, the backpedaling and soaring carbon dioxide emissions, we now face a “climate emergency.” On present trends we’re on course to a 4 to 6-degree Celsius warming before the end of this century: If we don’t radically suppress fossil fuel burning over the next few decades to keep the warming below the 2-degree Celsius threshold, planetary heating will accelerate beyond any human power to stop it and global ecological collapse will be unavoidable. To have a chance of staying below 2 degrees, the industrialized nations and China must cut carbon emissions by 40 to 70 percent globally by 2050 as compared to 2010, which would require cuts on the order of 6 to 10 percent per year. (99) China would have to cut its industrial emissions by 30 to 90 percent as compared to 2010, the variance depending upon expected growth rates and other assumptions. (100)

The only way China could suppress its greenhouse gas emissions by anything like that amount would be to impose a drastic across-the-board economic contraction, including radical retrenchments and shutdowns of most of the industries that have been built up in the last three decades of market mania. I’m sure this sounds extreme, if not completely crazy. But I don’t see what other conclusion we can draw from the science. On the positive side, as I surveyed above, since so much of China’s resource waste and pollution is just completely unnecessary and harmful, what sounds like extreme austerity could prove just the opposite: liberating, a move to that “better mode of life.” Such an emergency plan would have to include at least the following elements:

  • Shut down all but critically essential coal-fired power plants needed as a temporary measure to keep the lights and heat on and essential public services in operation until renewable replacements can be brought on line. Abandon the coal gasification projects and phase out oil- and gas-powered fuel plants as quickly as possible. Force a rapid transition of energy generation to renewable wind, water and solar energy sources but with the goal of producing much less electricity overall, closer to what China produced in the early 1980s before the market-driven industrialization boom. The US and other developed countries should be obliged to provide extensive technical and material assistance to facilitate this transition.
  • Shut down most of the auto industry. This industry is just a total waste of resources and is the second-biggest contributor to global warming. Most public transportation will have to shift back to bicycles, buses, trains and subways – basically a modernized and expanded version of what the Chinese had in the early 1980s before the auto craze. But the air will be cleaner, transportation will be faster, people will be healthier and immense resources will be conserved.
  • Shut down most of the coastal export industries. Most of China’s coastal export industries are geared to producing unsustainable, disposable products, as noted above. There is just no way to have a sustainable economy in China or anywhere if we don’t abolish the throwaway repetitive-consumption industries in China and around the world.
  • Retrench or close down aviation, shipping, and other redundant and unsustainable transportation industries. Abandon the “aviation superpower” boondoggle. Abandon further expansion of the high-speed train network. China has already built more planes, trains and subways than it needs by any rational accounting of needs. Same with the shipbuilding industry, most of which is geared to container and bulk carrier shipping. This industry needs to be drastically reduced as China’s imports and exports decline with industrial contraction.
  • Shut down most of the construction industry. Even with China’s huge population, the country is massively overbuilt and littered with useless, superfluous buildings, housing, highways, bridges, airports and so on. Some of this can be repurposed. Some should be demolished and the lands returned to farmlands, wetlands, parks or other beneficial use.
  • Abandon the urbanization drive and actively promote re-ruralization.Urban life has its advantages but urban residents consume several times the energy and natural resources and generate several times as much pollution as rural farm families. Besides, most of the tens of millions of Chinese who were relocated to the cities in the last three decades did not go voluntarily; they were forced off their farms by land-grabbing, profiteering local officials. Those ex-farmers who wish to return to the land should be permitted to do so. There is no law of nature that says farm families must be impoverished. In today’s world, family farmers with adequate land and decent technology, who can market their own produce so they don’t get ripped off by middlemen, and who are not under the thumb of banks, landlords or state-landlords, can do very well. (101) China’s farmers are poor because the state has been squeezing them to subsidize industrialization. The best way to raise rural living standards is to give them security in their farms and pay them fair prices for their produce.
  • Abandon the imperial plunder and Han colonization of the West.Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia are not ethnically Chinese. If the Chinese government abandons its market-based development strategy it would have no “need” to plunder the natural resources of the West; those peoples can be left in peace to develop at their own pace and in accordance with their ecological limits. And after wrecking so much of their environment, the Chinese owe them some help.
  • Launch an emergency national plan for environmental remediation and restoration of public health. Chinese environmental and health experts have called for a comprehensive integrated plan to address the nation’s environmental and public health issues. (102) Experts say it could take generations to restore China’s farmlands, rivers and lakes to tolerable biological health though, as noted above, in places this may be impossible. A significant share of the costs of this remediation should also be borne by the Western nations whose companies callously contributed to this pollution by offshoring their dirtiest industries to China.
  • Launch a national public works jobs program. If China is going to have to shut down so much of its industrial economy to brake the drive to ecological collapse, then it is going to have to find or create new jobs for all those displaced workers. In Guangdong Province alone, there are something like 40 million manufacturing workers, most of them dedicated to producing the sorts of needless products described above. Forty million unemployed workers would be a big problem. And that’s just Guangdong. But unbreathable air, undrinkable water, unsafe food, polluted farmland, epidemic cancer, rising temperatures and rising seas along coastal China are bigger problems. So there’s just no way around this very inconvenient truth. Making bad stuff has to stop; stopping it will unemploy vast numbers of workers, and other, non-destructive, low-carbon jobs have to be found or created for them. Fortunately, in China, there is no shortage of other socially and environmentally useful work to do: environmental remediation, reforestation, transitioning to organic farming, transitioning to renewable energy, rebuilding and expanding public social services, rebuilding the social safety net, especially for China’s aging population, and much else.

Pan Yue was certainly prescient: The Chinese miracle has come to an end because the environment can no longer keep pace. The question is, can the Chinese find a way to grab hold of the brakes and wrench this locomotive of destruction to a halt before it hurls the country off the cliff?

Revolution or Collapse?

One thing is certain: This locomotive is not going to be stopped so long as the Communist Party has its grip on the controls. The Chinese Communist Party is locked in a death spiral. It can’t rein in corruption because the party is built on corruption, thrives on corruption and can’t police itself. It can’t rein in ravenous resource consumption and suicidal pollution because, given its dependence on the market to generate new jobs, it has to prioritize growth over the environment like capitalist governments everywhere.

It can’t even discipline its own subordinate officials to enforce and obey the government’s environmental, food and drug safety, building codes and similar laws because in this system subordinate officials aren’t necessarily subordinate and can often mobilize their family and guanxi-based backers to defend their interests and thwart Beijing. So long as this basic structural class/property arrangement remains in effect, no top-down “war on pollution” or “war on corruption” is going to change this system or brake China’s trajectory to ecological collapse. Given the foregoing, I just don’t see how China’s spiral to collapse can be reversed short of social revolution.

China’s Communist Party seems all-powerful and unassailable. But it’s not. It’s frightened, desperate and disintegrating. It faces unprecedented threats: near daily industrial strikes; militant and often violent protests over land grabs, chemical plants, incinerators, power plants and the like; “terrorist” attacks from Xinjiang; and even worse, subversive thought that just can’t be stopped by the Great Firewall. Chai Jing’s Under the Dome had 300 million downloads before the government took it down off the web after a week and a half. Who knows what spark will light the next social explosion?

Resistance is growing as pollution and public health worsen, as it becomes harder to sustain that 8 percent growth rate to stave off unrest, as Xi Jinping’s war on corruption only serves to publicize the unregenerate character of the entire Communist Party and underscore its incapacity to solve any of China’s huge problems. Since Xi took over in 2012, he’s been determined to save China’s Communist Party from the fate of its Soviet cousin. Xi ridiculed Mikhail Gorbachev’s “weakness” and cast himself as the tough-guy Godfather, cracking down on the press, the internet and social media, religious groups, democrats, nongovernmental organizations, Western joint-venture partners and “Western ideas.” But this repression just reveals his weakness, not his strength.

The more he harasses, fines and drives Western joint-venture partners out of China, the less access he will have to their technology and the less competitive his SOEs will become. The more tightly he polices culture and censors the internet, the faster China’s intellectuals, scientists, professionals and college graduates will pack up and move to Australia. Nothing demonstrates this weakness and lack of self-confidence more than the Party’s very public disintegration: The government bitterly complains that large numbers of “ready-to-flee, naked officials” (so-called because they’ve sent their families and money to Los Angeles or Vancouver) are scheming to follow them. Surveys show that half of China’s rich (most of whom are Communist Party members) have either left the country or are planning to do so as soon as they can. (103)

China has to be the first nation in history in which significant numbers of its own triumphant ruling class are abandoning their own success story en masse. Today, Xi Jinping faces subversion and resistance everywhere he looks, yet he can’t even count on his comrades. To add to his headaches, Godfather Xi now faces an in-your-face democracy movement in Hong Kong that refuses to die. From workers’ strikes to environmental protests to Occupy Central for Love and Peace, these struggles and movements are fragmented, inchoate and unorganized, so far, but they all share a common demand: bottom-up democracy. Therein lies China’s best hope.


1. Ariana Enjung Cha, “Solar energy firms leave waste behind in China,” The Washington Post, 9 March 2008. All quotations are from this article.

2. There’s no better illustration of this government-industry collusion and pollution’s catastrophic impact on the health of China’s people than journalist Chai Jing’s sensational new documentary on China’s smog Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog (Wumai diaocha: qiongding zhixia) which went online in late February and is being rightly hailed as China’s Silent Spring

3. “The Chinese miracle will end soon,” Der Spiegel 7 March 2005:,1515,345694.html.

4. Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi, By All Means Necessary, Oxford 2014, chapters 3 and 4.

5. Craig Simons, The Devouring Dragon, New York, 2013, p. 9 and chapters 7 and 8.

6. Joseph Kahn and Mark Landler, “China grabs west’s smoke-spewing factories,” The New York Times, 21 December 2007. William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs, The People’s Republic of Chemicals (Los Angeles: Vireo 2014).

7. Alexandra Harney, The China Price, New York, 2008, pp. 8-9.

8.Overdressed, New York, 2013, pp. 3, 124-125. Energy consumption: FAO, cited in “Fabric and your carbon footprint, O Ecotextiles, 10 March 2013, at

9. Niu Yue, “China No 1 dumper of plastic into ocean,” China Daily, February 19, 2015.

10.State Council Decision on Accelerating the Development of Strategic Emerging Industries, October 2010 at
State Council 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) on Development of Strategic Emerging Industries, July 2012 at
MOF and NDRC Interim Measures for the Administration of Special Funds for Strategic Emerging Industries, December 2012 at

11. Tom Lasseter, “Empty highways,” McClatchy News, August 24, 2006, 11:33PM at

12. Professor Zhao Jian of Beijing Jiaotong University says, “It is unwise to continue building high-speed rail lines while the current high-speed network has a hard time getting enough passengers and is operating at a loss … The country has built more than 10,000 kilometers of high-speed rail lines and most lines are losing money because of inadequate demand.” Some lines run at only 30 percent of capacity he said, and even the busiest, such as the train from Beijing to Shanghai, “will run a loss for a long time … The rush to build high-speed rail networks indicates that the old investment-driven growth model has hardly changed.” Sun Wenjing, “Government throwing money away on bullet trains, expert says,” Caixin, 10 July 2014 at

13. Kevin Lim, “‘Meaningful probability’ of a China hard landing: Roubini,” Reuters, 13 June 2011.

14. Wang is quoted in Tania Branigan, “Riding Beijing’s subway end to end: 88km of queues and crushes on 20p ticket,” The Guardian, 10 September, 2014 at

15. James Fallows, China Airborne, New York, 2012, pp. 28-29. David Barboza, “Airports in China hew to an unswerving flight path,” The New York Times, 3 April 2013. Bloomberg News, “China plan seeks to bolster airports, locally-produced airplanes,” 21 January 2013 at

16. IPCC, Aviation and the Global Atmosphere: A Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge UK 1999, at George Monbiot, Heat, Cambridge UK 2007, p. 174.

17. Monbiot, Heat, p. 182 and sources cited therein.

18. In the decade from 2000 China’s cities expanded by over 80 percent. A national land survey found that 130,000 square kilometers of farmland, equal to half the area of Germany, was paved over in the urbanization frenzy between 1996 and 2009 – and it hasn’t slowed since. Mandy Zuo, “Stop concreting over prime farmland, China’s big cities told,” South China Morning Post, 9 November, 2014. Cui Zheng, “Scientists issue warning over development of coastal wetlands,” Caixin, 25 November 2014.

19. See Jasper Becker, City of Heavenly Tranquility, Oxford 2008, chapters 17 and 18.

20. See Darmon Richter, “Welcome to Ordos: the world’s largest ‘ghost city’ [China],” The Bohemian Blog, 13 February 2014 at:

21. “Housing oversupply causing major crisis for Chinese economy, NTD.TV, 16 May 2014 at Eg. George Steinmetz, “Let a hundred McMansions bloom,” The New York Times Magazine, 21 September 2014. Neil Gough, “A muddy tract now, but by 2020, China’s answer to Wall Street,” The New York Times, 3 April, 2014.

22. Lillian Liu, “A question of time, FinanceAsia, 8 September 2010 at Vincent Fernando, CFA, “There are now enough vacant properties in China to house over half of America,” Business Insider, 8 September 2010 at Robin Banerji and Patrick Jackson, “China’s ghost towns and phantom malls,” BBC News Online, 13 August 2012 at Yifei Chen, “Chasing ghosts: where is China’s next wave of empty ‘new towns’?” South China Morning Post, February 13, 2015.

23. “China’s real estate bubble,” CBS 60 Minutes, 11 August 2013 at Gus Lubin, “Satellite pictures of the empty Chinese cities where home prices are crashing,” Business Insider, 10 December 2011, 1:48PM at David Barboza, “Chinese city has many buildings but few people,” The New York Times, 9 October 2010.

24. Zarathustra, “China’s crumbing infrastructure model,” Macrobusiness, 28 July 2012 at 9:49AM at Street Examiner reporter/blogger Russ Winter posted several photos of collapsed bridges in his “Yes, China is truly different” Winter Economic and Market Watch, 28 August 2012 at

25. Lu Chen, op. cit. After the collapse of an apartment in Fenhua, Zhejian Province in April 2014, officials warned of a “coming wave of such accidents as the ‘fast food’ buildings built in the 1980s and 1990s enter their 30s and 20s.” Building safety experts warned people not to purchase apartments in certain localities known to be particularly risky. Most “won’t last 50 years, or in some cases about 25 years,” and they present constant safety hazards. Zheng Fengtian, “Weak buildings threaten life,” China Daily, 11-14 April 2014.

26. Frank Langfitt, “Chinese blame failing bridges on corruption,” National Public Radio, 29 August 2012 at

27. US E.I.A., China, updated 4 February 2014 at

28. Lily Kuo, “China’s nightmare scenario: by 2025 air quality could be much much worse,” posted 12 March 2013 on Quartz at Wang Yue, “China unlikely to reduce coal use in the next decade,”, 10 February 2014 at US EIA, China, 4 February 2014, op cit.

29. Zeke Hausfather, “Global carbon dioxide emissions: increases dwarf US reductions,” Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, 2 July 2013 at

30. Chris Buckley, “China’s plan to limit coal use could spur consumption for years,” The New York Times, 25 July 2014. As Xi Jinping and Barack Obama concluded their “historic” accord in November 2014 to cut both country’s carbon dioxide emissions and Xi promised to reduce China’s reliance on coal for power generation and boost renewables, the news that China’s coal consumption actually fell by 2.5 percent in 2014, the first decline in a century, gave cause for optimism. Combined with the fact that China continues to lead the world in annual additions of wind and solar power, many hoped that China’s coal consumption was finally peaking. But as Andrew Revkin points out, while China’s coal production and imports declined in 2014, half of China’s coal is used outside the power sector, in heavy industry, which use has fallen as the overall economy has slowed in recent years. Coal consumption in the power sector continues its relentless climb: In 2014, China’s newly added coal power capacity exceeded new solar energy by 17 times, new wind energy by four times, even new hydro power by more than three times. In just this one year, China added more new coal-fired power plants than Britain’s entire fleet. These new plants will be pumping out greenhouse gases for many decades to come and in fact, most of China’s coal-fired power plants are less than 15 years old so could they could still be running half a century from now. In short, for all the promises, coal is still king in China. Moreover, the economic slowdown is also likely to be short-lived as the government is furiously pumping money into the economy to revive growth. Andrew Revkin, “A look behind the headlines on China’s coal trends,” Dot Earth, The New York Times, 18 February 2015: 6:00 PM at

31. William J. Kelly, “China’s plan to clean up air in cities will doom the climate, scientists say,” InsideClimate News, 13 February 2014 at

32.Reuters, “China’s coal expansion may spark water crisis, warns Greenpeace,” The Guardian, 15 August 2012. See also the accompanying documentary photos by Lu Guang: “China’s mega coal power bases exacerbate water crisis – in pictures,” The Guardian, August 21, 2012 at

33. See Sophie Beach, “China’s fracking boom and the fate of the planet” in China Digital Times 19 September 2014 at

34. Investigators have found that only a third of China’s wastewater treatment plants are operating. Cui Zheng, “Seas of sewage,” CaixinOnline, 12 October 2012 at

35. Ma Jun, China’s Water Crisis, Norwalk 2004, p. vii.

36. Sun Xiaohua, “Pollution takes heavy toll on Yangtze,” China Daily, 16 April 2007.  Shai, Oster, “It may be too late for China to save the Yangtze goddess,” The Wall Street Journal, 6 December 2006.

37. Xu Nan, “Poisoned groundwater sparks media storm in China,” China Dialogue, February 2, 2013 at

38. Cecilia Torajada and Asit K. Biswas, “The problem of water management,” China Daily, March 5, 2013. Gong Jing and Liu Hongqiao, “Half of China’s urban drinking water fails to meet standards,” China Dialogue, June 6, 2013 at

39. Ten years previously, a pollution tide had killed fish and sickened thousands of people. By 2001, the government claimed to have shut down polluters and declared the cleanup a success. But the Huai is now a symbol of the failure of environmental regulation in China. After spending more than $8 billion over a decade to clean up the Huai basin, the State Environmental Protection Administration concluded in 2004 that “some areas were more polluted than before.” Jim Yardley, “Rivers run black, and Chinese die of cancer,” The New York Times, 12 September 2004. An Baijie, “Polluted river flows with carcinogens,” China Daily, 8 August 2013 (on pollution of the Huaihe in Anhui Province by manganese, nitrates and other carcinogens from local factories).

40. Dr. Linda Greer (NRDC), “Top clothing brands linked to water pollution scandal in China,” China Dialogue, 9 October 2012 at (Armani, Calvin Klein, Marks and Spencer, Zara and others.)

41. Xue Haitao and Liku Hongqiao, “Sip of death plagues cancerous river villages,” CaixinOnline, 9 October 2013 at Yu Dawei et al., “The poisoning of the Nanpan river basin,” CaixinOnline, 1 September 2011 at  Sophie Beach “Shangba, China’s village of death,” posted 3 December 2007 on Mary Ann Toy, “Waiting for death in fetid cancer villages,” Sidney Morning Herald, 26 May 2007. Jim Yardley, “Rivers run black, and Chinese die of cancer,” The New York Times 12 September 2004. Staff, “South China river polluted by thallium, cadmium,” China Daily, 6 July 2013. Elizabeth Economy, The River Runs Black.

42. Michael Wines, “Smelter in China poisons more than 1,300 children” The New York Times, 21 August 2009. Staff, “Anhui battery factory poisons 200 children,” Caixin slide show, 6 January 2011 at

43. Luna Lin, “China’s water pollution will be more difficult to fix than its dirty air,” China Dialogue, 17 February 2014 at Zhang Chun, “China ‘lacks experience’ to clean up its polluted soil,” China Dialogue, 14 April 2014 at

44. Matt Currell, “Losing lifeblood in north China,” China Dialogue, September 17, 2010 at

45. Economy, “The great leap backwards,” Foreign Affairs, September-October 2007.

46.Reuters in Beijing, “China says more than 3m hectares of land too polluted to farm,” South China Morning Post, 30 December 2013.

47. Ministry of Environmental Protection, Huanjing baohu bu he guotu ziyuan bu fabu quanguo turang wuran zhuangkuang diaocha gongbao (Environmental Protection Ministry and Land and Natural Resources Ministry release countrywide soil contamination condition survey bulletin), 17 April 2014 at

48. See Sam Geal and Elizabeth Hilton, “Culture of secrecy behind China’s pollution crisis,” and Angel Hsu and Andrew Moffat, ” China’s soil pollution crisis still buried in mystery,” both in Pollution and Health in China: Confronting the Human Crisis, special issue of China Dialogue, 9 September 2014 at

49.Xinhua, “More than 40 percent of China’s arable land degraded,” China Daily, 5 November 2014.

50. Liu Hongqiao, “The polluted legacy of China’s largest rice-growing province,” China Dialogue, 30 May 2014 at Zheng Yesheng and Qian Yihong, Shendu Youhuan  –  Dangdai Zhongguo de Kechixu Fazahan Wenti (Grave Concerns: Problems of Sustainable Development for China) (Beijing: China Publishing House 1998), pp. 8-10.

51. John Dearing, “China’s polluted soil and water will drive up world food prices,” China Dialogue, 3 March 2015 at

52. For example, antebellum southern planters produced cotton, tobacco, sugar and indigo entirely for market, indeed for the world market. But they did so with slave labor. This hybrid capitalist-slave mode of production was obviously radically different than production for a market based on free labor in the North and it had broad implications for productivity, economic development, and more. It gave their economy an entirely different character, dynamic and trajectory, and it had profound economic, social, political and psychological consequences, many of which we still deal with today.

53. James McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: the Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism (Westport: Prospecta Press: 2012), p. 4-5, 16-19 (quote from p. 57) and the sources cited therein, including the head of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC).

54.No Ancient Wisdom, p. 2

55. Andrew Szamosszegi and Cole Kyle, “An Analysis of State-owned Enterprises and State Capitalism in China,” October 26, 2011. US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), pp. 21-22 at state control of the banking sector, see Carl E. Walter and Fraser J.T. Howie, Red Capitalism: The Fragile Foundations of China’s Extraordinary Rise (Singapore: Wiley & Sons, 2012), pp. 31-33 and passim. Also: Henry Sanderson and Michael Forsythe, China’s Superbank (Singapore: Wiley & Sons, 2013). Barry Naughton, The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth (Cambridge: MIT 2007), pp. 190, 299-304, 325.

56. Thus with respect to the banking sector, Szamosszegi and Cole write that: “The state banking sector dominates the landscape in China and tends to favor SOEs at the expense of private sector firms. Second, SOEs are in general an important instrument of government policy. The government uses SOEs to facilitate structural change in the Chinese economy, to acquire technology from foreign firms, and to secure raw material sources from beyond China’s borders. For example, in 2009, the government turned to its SOEs and state‐owned banks to provide stimulus to the domestic economy. Third, the CCP and SASAC maintain important influence over the executives of SOEs. These executives face two sets of incentives. On the one hand, the entities they control are supposed to be profitable, and SOE executives are now rewarded based on financial performance. On the other hand, the appointments of top executives to SOE management and their future career paths upon leaving the SOE are determined by the Central Organization Department of the CCP. Thus, SOE executives have an incentive to follow the government’s policy guidance. Recent examples, as well as financial disclosure documents, indicate that if maximizing shareholder value conflicts with state goals, SOEs and their wholly owned subsidiaries are likely to pursue the goals of the state.” “An Analysis of State-owned Enterprises” op.cit. p. 3.

57. McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, p. 59.

58. Walter and Howie, Red Capitalism, p. 24, 187.

59. Ben Blanchard, “Chinese billionaire mining tycoon Liu Han is executed over his links to a ‘mafia-style’ gang,” Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 2015. Most accounts say that his real crime was his link to the Zhou Yongkang clique.

60. Becker, City of Heavenly Tranquility, pp. 287-289.

61. Sydney University’s Kerry Brown says the number of “high-level cadres” (gaoji ganbu) who run the ministries, the state conglomerates and the administration, all concentrated in Beijing, total no more than 2,562, which means, he says, that China is effectively “run by group of people that is smaller than most villages in Europe.” The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China, New York 2014, pp. 20-21.

62. Richard McGregor, The Party, New York 2010. Carl E. Walter and Fraser J.T. Howie, Red Capitalism, Singapore 2012, pp. 22-25 and passim.

63. Eg. Shi Jiangtao, “Struggle for supremacy by party factions now on display,” South China Morning Post, 13 October 2012. Matthew Robertson, “China’s ‘hatchet man’ set to be purged in party struggle,” Epoch Times, 30 May-3 June 2014 (reporting a rumored threat to Xi Jinping’s life by the Bo Xilai faction). Teddy Ng, “Rising star Li Yuanchao forges ties with all political factions in China, South China Morning Post,1 October 2012.

64. Quoted in Bloomberg News, “Xi Jinping millionaire relations reveal fortunes of elite,” 29 June 2012.

65. Quoted in David Barboza, “The Corruptibles,” The New York Times, 3 September 2009. See also again, Robertson, “China’s ‘Hatchet Man’ set to be purged … ” in op cit.

66. Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, incoming Premier Xi Jinping, and other wealthy princelings were profiled in Bloomberg News and The New York Times, in 2012 and 2013 – which got both papers shut down in China and their reporters denied visa renewals in 2013. See “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility” and links to related stories in Bloomberg News, 26 December 2012 at Also again Richard McGregor, The Party and Kerry Brown, The New Emperors.

67. David Barboza, “Billions in hidden riches for family of Chinese leader,” The New York Times, 25 October, 2012.

68.Zhongguode xianjing (China’s Pitfalls) (Hong Kong: Mingjing chubanshe, 1997)

69. “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility,” op cit. p. 11.

70. Ex-Premier Zhu Rongji, quoted in Richard McGregor, The Party, p. 45.

71. Quoted in Walter and Howie, Red Capitalism, p. 23. In October 2014, one high-level cadre in the energy ministry caught up in Xi Jinping’s anticorruption sweep, had stashed away 200 million yuan (HK$252 million) in banknotes in one of his apartments. The pile of banknotes weighed more than 2.3 tons.

72. Quoted in Richard McGregor, The Party, pp. 140-41.

73. “Heirs of Mao’s comrades rise as new capitalist nobility,” Bloomberg News, 26 December 2012 p. 3 at Further citations below are from articles in this collection.

74. Yang Dali and Dai Qing were quoted in Bloomberg News, “Heirs” op cit. pp. 5,6 and 10.

75.Bloomberg News, “Heirs,” pp. 1,5.

76. Chinese fly cash to North America, by the suitcase,” The Wall Street Journal, 2 January 2013. Shen Ming, “Chinese military officers secretly moving money offshore,” Epoch Times, 28 June 2012. Benjamin Robertson, “US1.25 trillion moved out of mainland China illegally in 10 years, says report,” South China Morning Press, 16 December 2014.

77. James Ball and Guardian US Interactive Team, “China’s princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven,” The Guardian, 21 January 2014, reporting on the findings of a two-year reporting effort by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Bloomberg News, “Heirs” p. 6.

78. “China murder suspect’s sisters ran $126 million empire,” Bloomberg News, 13 April 2012.

79. On SOE restructuring and growth of the planned economy, see Peter Nolan, Transforming China: Globalization, Transition and Development, London 2004, chapter 5.

80. James T. Areddy and Laurie Burkitt, “Shake-up at China firm shows reach of graft crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal, 23 April 2014.

81. So for example, with respect to China’s investment in mines in Zambia, Professor Ching Kwan Lee quotes a Chinese mining executive who says “We don’t need to maximize profit, but we need to make some profit. The state won’t support us if we make losses year after year.” Lee adds, “between profit optimization and profit maximization lies the space for achieving other types of return – political influence and access to raw materials.”  “The spectre of global China,” New Left Review 2/89, September-October 2014, p. 36.

82. Thus James McGregor writes: “Despite their chronically imprudent lending habits, SOE banks are kept afloat – and reap huge profits to boot – through government-set interest rates. With a ceiling on the interest rates for deposits and a floor on lending rates, China’s banks have enjoyed a comfortable spread of about three percentage points, which guarantees profits.” No Ancient Wisdom, p. 65.

83. Long Youngtu, China’s chief negotiator at the WTO, quoted in James McGregor, No Ancient Wisdom, p. 5 (my italics).

84. Liu Jianqiang, “China’s environment ministry an “utter disappointment,” China Dialogue, March 7, 2013 at  Tang Hao, “China’s food scares show the system is bust,” China Dialogue, 31 August 2012, at

85. See Brian Tilt, The Struggle for Sustainability in Rural China, New York 2010, chapter 6. Han Wei, “Officials failing to stop textile factories dumping waste in Qiantang River,” China Dialogue, 1 August 2013 at

86. Liu Qin, “China’s environment ministry launches anti-graft reforms,” China Dialogue, 11 March, 2015.

87. John McGarrity, “One year on after “war” declared on pollution, Beijing air scarcely improves,” China Dialogue, 2 February 2015. Xu Nan, “China’s noxious air ‘as deadly as smoking: study,” China Dialogue, 4 February 2015 at

88. Lu Hongqiao, “China set to miss safe rural drinking water targets,” China Dialogue, March 5, 2015 at Huang Hao, “Village water supplies in China hit by scarcity and contamination,” China Dialogue, March 5, 2014 at Abigail Barnes, “China’s bottled water: the next health crisis? China Dialogue, July 22, 2014 at

89. Judith Shapiro writes that “There are competing and conflicting emphases on growth, government legitimacy, clean development, and stability, creating a confusing policy-making landscape in which actors sometimes work at cross purposes or with uncertain lines of responsibility … Economic realities and concerns about unemployment and social unrest often push the government away from environmentally friendly action. The Ministry of Environmental Protection is hardly in a position to close the enormous state-run iron and steel plants in the great north-eastern rust belt, where unemployment is exceedingly high and shutdowns would mean even more job losses.” Shapiro, China’s Environmental Challenges, Cambridge UK 2012, pp. 69-70.

90.China Airborne, p. 99.

91. China’s Communist Party currently counts around more than 85 million members. Last year, the government reported that more than 71,000 cadres were “investigated for violating Party regulations.” Of these only 23,000 “received Party or administrative penalities,” mostly censures, and comparatively few were actually sent to prison or are executed. Pretty good odds. “Disciplinary watchdogs seek to fight factionalism within the Party,” People’s Daily, 12 January 2015 at

92. Barmé is quoted in Andrew Jacobs, “In China’s antigraft campaign, small victories and bigger doubts,” The New York Times, 16 January 2015.

93. Michael Forsythe, “As China’s leader fights graft, his relatives shed assets,” The New York Times, 17 June 2014.

94. “China’s selective crackdown,” 17 January 2015.

95. Alice Yan, “Don’t go back on your old ways when our backs are turned, CCDI warns cadres,” South China Morning Post, 5 November 2014.

96. Andrea Chen, “Some cadres shrugging off anticorruption campaign, graft-buster warns,” South China Morning Post, 25 October 2014.

97. Jane Perlez, “Corruption in military poses a test for China,” The New York Times, 14 November 2012.

98. On this see my “Capitalism and the destruction of life on earth: six theses on saving the humans” Real-world Economics Review, July 2013 at and my “Climate crisis, the deindustrialization imperative, and the jobs vs. environment dilemma” in Truthout, 17 November, 2014 at

99. IPCC, Climate Change 2014: IPCC Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report (November 2014) at James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, New York 2009.

100. Ecofys, WWF Report 2015, It’s Time to peak: why China’s corporate sector needs to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets,” (WWF, February 2015) p. 11 at

101. Eg. Chrystia Freeland, “The triumph of the family farm,” The Atlantic, 13 June 2012. Also: “Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-centered food systems,” n.a., Farm Aid, 2013 at Alan Bjerga, “Organic lets family farms prosper in industrial-agriculture era,” Bloomberg News, 28 June 2012 at

102. Eg. He Guangwei, “China faces long battle to clean up its polluted soil,” He Guangwei, “The victims of China’s soil pollution crisis, Chu Han, “The human cost of living in the ‘mercury capital’ of China [Guizhou province],” Angel Hu and Andrew Moffet, “China’s soil pollution crisis still buried in mystery,” all in Pollution and Health in China: Confronting the Human Crisis, special issue of China Dialogue, September 9, 2014 (in Chinese with some English summaries) at

103. “Almost half of wealthy Chinese want to leave, study shows,” The Wall Street Journal, 5 September 2014. Benjamin Carlson, “As war on corruption mounts, China’s rich flee to America, Global Post, 9 February 2014. John Kennedy, “China has at least 1.18 million ready-to-flee ‘naked officials,’ anticorruption rant reveals,” South China Morning Post, 27 February 27, 2013 at

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

Sabesp considera fim do Cantareira e corre contra o tempo (Exame)

JC, 5201, 22 de junho de 2015

A crise da água em São Paulo ainda não acabou

Depois que a seca do ano passado deixou São Paulo à beira de um racionamento severo de água, as chuvas do final do verão deram à Sabesp – a grande culpada pela crise, segundo autoridades municipais – uma segunda chance para aumentar investimentos em infraestrutura.

Com o início da estação seca, há uma corrida contra o tempo para desviar rios e conectar sistemas antes que os já prejudicados reservatórios de água fiquem baixos novamente.

A corrida contra o tempo ressalta a situação precária da maior metrópole da América do Sul após duas décadas sem nenhum grande projeto hídrico.

Os reservatórios ainda não se recuperaram da seca do ano passado e os meteorologistas estão prevendo meses mais quentes à frente por causa do fenômeno climático El Niño.

“A infraestrutura não foi a prioridade da Sabesp nos últimos anos. Eles não adotaram medidas para evitar a crise”, disse Pedro Caetano Mancuso, diretor do Centro de Referência em Segurança da Água da Universidade de São Paulo.

“Embora a Sabesp esteja disposta a fazer a lição de casa agora, a questão é se ela será concluída ou não a tempo de evitar um problema ainda maior”.

A Sabesp – empresa sob controle estatal -,disse que foi a severidade da seca do ano passado, e não a falta de investimentos em infraestrutura, a causa da crise.

“Nós estávamos preparados para uma seca tão ruim ou pior que a de 1953”, quando a Sabesp enfrentou uma crise similar, disse o presidente Jerson Kelman a vereadores, em uma audiência no dia 13 de maio.

“O que aconteceu em 2014 foi que tivemos metade do volume de chuva daquele ano. Para isso, nós não estávamos preparados”.


Em um relatório, em 10 de junho, a Câmara de Vereadores de São Paulo culpou a Sabesp pela crise que cortou o abastecimento em alguns bairros, dizendo que a seca já era previsível.

“Se a Sabesp tivesse investido os dividendos distribuídos na Bolsa de Nova York em obras para modernizar os sistemas que abastecem a capital e na manutenção da rede, não estaríamos enfrentando o racionamento travestido de redução de pressão”, disse Laércio Benko, vereador que liderou a comissão criada para investigar a escassez no abastecimento de água em São Paulo.

O maior dos projetos de infraestrutura que a Sabesp necessita neste ano para garantir o fornecimento de água potável está atrasado.

O projeto para conectar o Rio Pequeno ao reservatório da Billings, originalmente programado para ser concluído em maio, não será terminado até agosto devido a atrasos nas licenças ambientais e de uso da terra, disse a assessoria de imprensa da Sabesp em uma resposta a perguntas por e-mail. Se concluído neste ano, o pacote de cinco obras de emergência em que a Sabesp está investindo seria suficiente para evitar o racionamento, segundo a empresa.

Reservatório principal

Sem os projetos, e se as chuvas ficarem no nível do ano passado ou abaixo dele, a Sabesp projeta que seu reservatório principal – conhecido como Cantareira – poderá secar até agosto, segundo projeções internas obtidas pela Bloomberg News.

No pior cenário previsto pela empresa, poderá haver cortes no abastecimento de água na maior parte da área metropolitana de São Paulo cinco dias por semana, segundo o documento, que foi preparado como parte de um plano de contingência para São Paulo.

A Sabesp disse no e-mail que as chuvas, até agora, têm sido positivas. Para acelerar os investimentos de emergência agora, a Sabesp está cortando gastos e aumentando os preços da água. A empresa reduzirá os gastos com coleta e tratamento de esgoto pela metade neste ano, disseram executivos em uma teleconferência com investidores em abril. O aumento de tarifa reflete o “estresse financeiro” da Sabesp, disse o diretor financeiro Rui Affonso na conferência.

Queda das ações

As ações da Sabesp caíram 4,8 por cento na segunda-feira, pior desempenho das negociações em São Paulo, depois que a Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo (Fiesp) afirmou ter entrado com uma liminar para impedir o aumento de tarifa.

“A seca do ano passado será totalmente sentida nos resultados deste ano”, disse Alexandre Montes, analista de ações da Lopes Filho Associados Consultores de Investimentos, em entrevista por telefone, do Rio. “Mesmo se a seca diminuir agora, e mesmo se tudo sair bem, os resultados da Sabesp vão cair”.

(Revista Exame)

Investimento em mudanças climáticas já é realidade para as empresas (Envolverdes)

Juliana Guarexick

85% declararam que o Brasil deveria adotar posições mais ambiciosas frente a outros países –

Pesquisa realizada pelo Instituto Datafolha com 100 empresas listadas entre as mil maiores do Brasil mostra que as mudanças climáticas já fazem parte da agenda de investimentos da iniciativa privada e que uma ação mais firme do governo para lidar com o desafio seria bem-vinda. Impressionantes 82% das empresas entrevistadas já estão adotando ações de mitigação ou adaptação às mudanças climáticas e 71% acham que políticas públicas relacionadas ao assunto beneficiariam a economia. O levantamento, encomendado pelo Observatório do Clima e pelo Greenpeace, teve como objetivo conhecer as ações adotadas pelas maiores empresas brasileiras sobre mudanças climáticas.

Os números mostram que os empresários vêem as medidas de mitigação e adaptação como algo positivo para os negócios, redundando em impactos financeiros positivos para 73% deles. A pesquisa também mostra que não há uma bala mágica para resolver o problema – as iniciativas em curso citadas foram bastante variadas e vão desde soluções para reduzir o consumo de água e energia (40%) a ações para mitigar poluentes (23%) e campanhas de educação e conscientização (12%). Entre os que estão focando na questão energética, 15% já estão utilizando energias renováveis.

“Dentro do tema ‘mudanças climáticas’, a preocupação com energia mostrou-se relevante”, destaca Carlos Rittl, secretário-executivo do Observatório do Clima. “Na pesquisa, ela aparece tanto quando falamos dos planos das empresas como quando perguntamos ao empresário o que ele acha que o governo deve fazer”, completa.

Perguntados sobre ações que o governo pode adotar para lidar com as mudanças climáticas que favorecem a inovação, os investimentos de longo prazo e retornos financeiros para as empresas, os entrevistados citaram 28 iniciativas. Entre as mais mencionadas estão a adesão à energia limpa, como solar e eólica (18%), investimentos em novas tecnologias para diminuir poluentes (12%), o incentivo tributário à preservação ambiental (12%) e ações de conservação do meio ambiente (12%). Quando questionados sobre as ações que o governo pode adotar em relação às mudanças que podem trazer retornos financeiros para o país, a energia renovável aparece com 20% de menções, atrás apenas dos investimentos em tecnologia (32%).

Para 71% dos entrevistados, as ações do governo em relação às mudanças climáticas beneficiariam a economia. Tanto que 85% declararam que o Brasil deveria adotar posições mais ambiciosas frente a outros países para lidar com as mudanças climáticas. A realidade, no entanto, não condiz com essa percepção: para 46% dos entrevistados, as iniciativas governamentais em relação ao tema são ruins ou péssimas. Para apenas 4% elas são boas ou ótimas. As opiniões dos empresários espelham as da população brasileira, avaliadas numa pesquisa anterior do Datafolha: para 48% dos entrevistados, o governo faz muito pouco contra a mudança climática.

A nova pesquisa identificou também que o tema gera algum temor: dois terços da amostra (66%) acham que os impactos das mudanças climáticas sobre a economia serão muito negativos. As principais preocupações são com a produção (queda na produtividade, diminuição no volume de vendas etc.), com o fornecimento de matérias-primas (aumento nos custos, redução da oferta) e com a produção de energia. Juntos, esses itens foram citados por 78% dos entrevistados. “O empresário já percebeu que as mudanças do clima afetam os negócios. Se eles enfrentarem o problema, pode haver impacto positivo. Se não fizerem nada, as mudanças climáticas poderão prejudicar sua atividade”, sintetiza Ricardo Baitelo, coordenador de Clima e Energia do Greenpeace Brasil.

A pesquisa foi realizada entre 17 de março e 23 de abril de 2015 por meio de entrevistas telefônicas com os cargos executivos responsáveis pelas áreas de planejamento e/ou investimentos de cem empresas que integram a lista das mil maiores corporações que atuam no Brasil segundo o ranking do Valor Econômico. Três quartos da amostra ouvida eram de nível de diretoria. O levantamento contemplou organizações dos mais variados setores econômicos: comércio varejista, alimentos, agropecuária, metalurgia e mineração, química e petroquímica, eletroeletrônica, construção e engenharia, comércio atacadista, água e saneamento, veículos e peças, transporte e logística, plásticos e borracha, papel e celulose, mecânica, energia elétrica, TI e telecom, têxtil e vestuário, petróleo e gás, açúcar e álcool, materiais de construção, fumo, educação e ensino. (#Envolverde)

The People vs. Shell (Truthout)

Tuesday, 09 June 2015 00:00 By Emily Johnston

Scientists told us in January that we can't drill any Arctic oil if we want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Shell just kept coming. (Photo: Emily Johnston)

Scientists told us in January that we can’t drill any Arctic oil if we want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Shell just kept coming. (Photo: Emily Johnston)

This week, if all goes well, I will probably commit a crime.

I don’t say this lightly, not at all: My mother is 88 years old, and though I expect her to live a good while longer, every day is a gift at 88, and I would always regret time I couldn’t spend with her if I were to go to prison. I also have a dog I’m deeply attached to, not to mention a whole life: not just loved ones (who could visit), but runs and walks and open windows; trees and birds; darkness and quiet and solitude; good coffee and homemade bread; dinners and poetry readings and the pleasure of building things with my hands.

I may not go to prison, of course – I fervently hope I won’t – but I know, too, that I may. I’m willing to take the chance, because the alternative is to let disaster unfold – for countless people, for other animals and for whole ecosystems. Given the scope of the threat, and given that we live in the country that is most responsible for it, sitting on the sidelines does not feel to me like a moral possibility.

Apart from walking my very mannerly and older dog off-leash around the neighborhood, I’m about as law-abiding as a person can reasonably be. But my respect for the laws of physics, in truth, has turned into a terror; I know that we have to heed them now to avoid disaster. If you’ve been following the science, you know what I mean; we are right at the edge of several tipping points, any one of which may bring harrowing, unmitigated disaster. Together they are unthinkable. If we keep on precisely as we are for even a few more years, we will likely have lost the chance to avoid a terrible future.

For years, I have used earnest, legal methods. They were inadequate to the task. Far better people than I am have used them for decades, to better, but still inadequate, effect.

Scientists told us in January that we can’t drill any Arctic oil if we want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Shell just kept coming.

Governments have failed us; the fossil fuel industry’s money and influence had too much weight. Scientists have done their best, but they are exceedingly cautious in their predictions, and only in the last few years have most of them accepted the hair-on-fire urgency of climate change. If ordinary people don’t force attention to this matter by making it very clear we’re willing to risk our own lives and liberty, we will all have failed the most important test humanity has ever been given.

So we have to change the world – now – or lose it.

What terrible act will I commit? I will continue to help plan, and, with any luck, execute a blockade of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs as they attempt to leave Seattle. Along with many other people – some of them risking their careers, some of them in their 80s, most of them utterly new to something like this – I will paddle my small self in a 40-lb. plastic kayak in front of a 46,000-ton industrial monster to stop its progress. I don’t really believe we’ll be able to keep the rigs here forever, of course, but neither is it merely symbolic: By making a difference in the length of Shell’s (already brief) drilling season, we may buy a little time for the powers that be to shut this catastrophic project down; they have many reasons to do so. Alternatively, by making it clear that the company is exceedingly unwelcome in Seattle, we can deprive it of its desired, and bargain-priced, berthing option – which could make a material difference to its decision to proceed. Money is a language Shell understands; the only one, it seems.

Why pick on this one project, when we’re all still dependent on fossil fuels? In truth, we’ll have to pick on a lot of bad projects, but this one may be the worst. To say we can’t object to it if we ever drive or heat our homes is like saying we can’t object to someone going 120 mph on a 30 mph street if we’ve ever gone 45. The second is a genuine concern; the first is notably likelier to lead to tragedy, and soon. My family lives on that street; so does yours.

Scientists told us in January that we can’t drill any Arctic oil if we want even a 50 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Shell just kept coming.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management told us in February that drilling in the Arctic has a 75 percent chance of a major spill within the first 15 years (and “hundreds” of smaller spills). Again, Shell just kept coming – despite the fact that a former US Coast Guard Commandant has indicated that, in the case of a big spill, “we’d have nothing” for cleanup capacity in the pristine but harsh Arctic environment and despite the fact that the Chukchi Sea has been called the “nursery of the planet” for whales, seabirds and polar bears.

Shell has also ignored permit requirements from the city of Seattle; mooring requirements in our state Constitution; problems in April with pollution-control equipment (that the company then tried to hide); and a spill record for one of its rigs that’s 2 to 3 times higher than the industry “norm.” It just kept coming.

It’s no secret why the company is so intransigent: Shell has invested several billion dollars in its Arctic campaign, engaging in a climate strategy called “narcissistic, paranoid, and psychopathic” by the UK’s former top climate envoy. This is a classic sunk-cost fallacy, but eventually, even Shell will understand that it’s throwing good money after bad; every other player has given up the US Arctic as too risky and too expensive.

It’s also no secret that this is standard operating procedure for Shell. Perhaps the best example of Shell’s idea of stewardship is its behavior in the Niger Delta, a haven of biodiversity and treasured wetlands that has been utterly devastated by Shell’s drilling operations. In 1995, the company supported the Nigerian military government in its sham trial and execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, and after extracting many tens of billions of dollars in profit from the region over 50 years, Shell has left its waters so polluted with carcinogens that some drinking wells exceed World Health Organization standards for benzene by 900 times. In the three years since the UN Environment Program report on necessary cleanup, Shell has undertaken “almost no meaningful action” on its recommendations.

The future begins when people cease to accept the “inevitability” of a terrible reality, and rise up against it.

Shell wants us to believe that it has learned from the fiascos of its 2012 Arctic foray; these recent examples make it clear that it has not. It’s shown nothing but contempt for the human lives and ecologies of the places where it drills; nothing but contempt for local laws; and nothing but contempt for the overwhelming catastrophe of climate change, which its own scientists have indicated will inevitably result from any scenario in which Arctic drilling is economically rational (for the company only, needless to say: Your costs and mine will not be covered).

Being inside the “safety zone” of the rig is a crime – even if we’re paddling outside of the zone, and the rig starts coming at us. (No “safety zone” has been established around the Maldives, the Philippines, or the rest of us. No crime has yet been codified for destroying the livability of the planet.)

Let me be clear: I am not an especially brave person, and I’m deeply attached to my loved ones and my daily life. I have lost sleep over this. But climate change scares me far more than prison does. It scares most people that much, I think, but they don’t let themselves think about it.

If we value our lives – if we value any lives, it’s time to think about it.

I may be foolish to announce my intentions here – risking my ability to do what I intend to do, perhaps, and certainly abandoning all chance of pretending I didn’t know it was against the law – but it feels important to be completely clear and open about this: I am willing to risk criminal charges in order to help stop a monstrous project that threatens everything we hold dear. I do not believe that because we live in the modern world (and are thus in some measure culpable), we are forced to accept the devastation of everything, without question, outrage or action. I do not accept the lies of industry or the blandishments of politicians.

I do believe that there is another way and that we can find the imagination, the intelligence and the courage to follow it.

This week or next, that belief will be the star that guides me on the water: My friends and I will put aside our normal lives for a while, and use our bodies and our kayaks to express our commitment to this beautiful world: The buck stops here. The future begins when people cease to accept the “inevitability” of a terrible reality, and rise up against it.

Is 40 lbs. vs. 46,000 tons doomed to fail? Not even close. It’s not about plastic or steel. Sitting there staring up at the monstrous rig – maybe through the night, maybe cold, and stiff and hungry – all of us will sit with the knowledge that we’re one group among countless others taking shape around the world, filled with this passion and resolve.

Love doesn’t make us invincible, of course. But I wouldn’t bet against us, if I were Shell.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Hardly the soft sciences (The Hindu)


June 10, 2015

The social sciences and humanities will be critical in helping us understand what the sciences will become in the future

DISMANTLING THE OLD:“There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in India’s university leadership.” Picture shows graduation day in the University of Hyderabad.— PHOTO: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

DISMANTLING THE OLD:“There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in India’s university leadership.” Picture shows graduation day in the University of Hyderabad.— PHOTO: MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Common sense has defeated the social sciences and humanities in India. As the rush for college seats begin, parents worry if there are any viable options outside of medicine, engineering, management or studying abroad. What good would a B.A. in history or sociology do other than a roll-of-the-dice chance at the civil services? As a historian, I have often faced blunt questions: what can a job prospect possibly be if you spend three/four years learning the causes of Mughal decline or the Permanent Settlement of 1793? This ably describes why most people see the social sciences, with the exception of economics, as a losing proposition. But has the tide begun to turn?

One of the most significant bursts of funding in the social sciences and the humanities occurred during the Cold War years. The United States, keen as it was then to establish spheres of influence, invested heavily to learn about how societies understood themselves and which ideology appealed to what individual. The money ran into hundreds of millions of dollars with the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York pulling funds from deep pockets. The Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies were other key players who helped sponsor innumerable workshops, conferences and academic seminars. These efforts resulted not only in a vast number of publications, but helped develop many enduring concepts which arguably continue to explain the world we live in. Scores of scholars, research communities and university departments, in being caught up in strategic concerns, ended up harnessing the social sciences and humanities to understand how nations and societies dealt with authority, ideologies, politics and power. Hardly the ‘soft sciences’!

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, funding for the Area Studies expectedly dried up. On the other hand, academic explorations under the rubrics of nation-making, democracy, globalisation and multiculturalism could hardly wield the previous heft.

In a study published in Research Trends (2013), Gali Halevi and Judit Bar-Ilanit point out that globally the financing for humanities sharply fell between 2009 and 2012. In part, while the 2008 financial crisis could be blamed for the sudden yanking of the proverbial rug, the loss in the lustre of the social sciences had already begun by the mid-1990s following the steady commercialisation of education. Unsurprisingly, student debt and education loans fell harder on those in the social sciences, arts and humanities than they did on those pursuing vocational skills such as engineering. At heart, however, this big turn against the ‘soft sciences’ was what Bill Reading described, in his classic The University in Ruins (1996), as the sustained attempt to transform the university from previously serving as an “ideological arm of the nation-state” to instead now being redesigned as a “consumer oriented corporation”. By morphing the citizen-student into a consumer-student (weighed in by debt), the actual rout of the social sciences was announced.

Reduced funding

It is amidst the aftershocks of this change in the meaning of education that we should make sense of Ella Delany’s startling report in The New York Times (December, 2013) in which she catalogues a growing disquiet against the humanities and social sciences. In 2012, a task force convened by Governor Rick Scott of Florida recommended that students majoring in liberal arts and social science subjects be made to pay higher tuition fees as they were in “nonstrategic disciplines”. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013 “reprioritised” 103 million Australian dollars from research in the humanities into medical research. In Britain, Robin Jackson, chief executive of the British Academy for the humanities and social sciences, in 2011 announced that direct government funding for humanities had been withdrawn and was to be replaced by tuition fees “backed up by government loans”.

Is this total defeat? Ironically, just as the social sciences and the humanities are being written off in many countries, there have emerged vigorous calls for resituating its importance. Notably, climate change research and global environmental change programmes the world over are stridently advocating for what they term as the urgent need for “integrated analyses”. It is imperative, they argue, that the natural sciences be drawn into productive dialogues with the social sciences in order to explore critical themes such as global sustainability and green development.

One of the most significant international science initiatives in recent times called the Future Earth has, in fact, in their ‘Strategic Research Agenda’ (2014) urged for initiating a new generation in interdisciplinary and integrated research which can grapple with the realities of a warming planet. The initiative, however, is not entirely novel. For decades now, interdisciplinary efforts such as science studies, environmental history and full-fledged post graduate programmes under the rubric of science-technology-environment-medicine (STEM) have successfully broken down the hard divides between the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. These interdisciplinary initiatives have also compellingly revealed that the natural sciences are ideologically driven and are often oriented by political practice. In effect, the social sciences and humanities will be critical to help us understand what the sciences will become in the future. Significantly, given that an entirely new script for economic behaviour is being drafted in the context of climate change, these conversations have acquired pressing strategic consequences for the developing world.

The Indian scenario

The university system in India is, unfortunately, ill-prepared to take up these challenges. In part, it has put all its research and teaching eggs on the vice-chancellor system for administering higher education. The vice-chancellorship, as an organisational logic, is an ailing legacy and remains a bad marriage between the Mughal Jagirdari system and the rigidity of the British colonial bureaucracy. The higher you go up the administrative ladder, there is less transparency, accountability and intellectual oxygen.

There is an urgent need to initiate a generational change in our university leadership, with fresh blood and new ideas brought in with rigorous metrics to judge the performance and contributions at the very top of the administrative chain. If the social sciences and the humanities in India are to be cutting edge by providing knowledge for the future, then the old has to be entirely dismantled.

(Rohan D’Souza is associate professor at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University.)

The natural sciences should be drawn into dialogues with the social sciences to explore critical themes such as global sustainability

Explosive intervention by Pope Francis set to transform climate change debate (The Guardian)

The most anticipated papal letter for decades will be published in five languages on Thursday. It will call for an end to the ‘tyrannical’ exploitation of nature by mankind. Could it lead to a step-change in the battle against global warming?

Pope Francis on a visit to the Philippines in January.

Pope Francis on a visit to the Philippines in January. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis will call for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality in a letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on Thursday.

In an unprecedented encyclical on the subject of the environment, the pontiff is expected to argue that humanity’s exploitation of the planet’s resources has crossed the Earth’s natural boundaries, and that the world faces ruin without a revolution in hearts and minds. The much-anticipated message, which will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops, will be published online in five languages on Thursday and is expected to be the most radical statement yet from the outspoken pontiff.

However, it is certain to anger sections of Republican opinion in America by endorsing the warnings of climate scientists and admonishing rich elites, say cardinals and scientists who have advised the Vatican.

The Ghanaian cardinal, Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a close ally of the pope, will launch the encyclical. He has said it will address the root causes of poverty and the threats facing nature, or “creation”.

In a recent speech widely regarded as a curtain-raiser to the encyclical, Turkson said: “Much of the world remains in poverty, despite abundant resources, while a privileged global elite controls the bulk of the world’s wealth and consumes the bulk of its resources.”

The Argentinian pontiff is expected to repeat calls for a change in attitudes to poverty and nature. “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it,” he told a meeting of social movements last year. “I think a question that we are not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature? Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”

The encyclical will go much further than strictly environmental concerns, say Vatican insiders. “Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that the environment is not only an economic or political issue, but is an anthropological and ethical matter,” said another of the pope’s advisers, Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Peru.

“It will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health,” Barreto Jimeno told the Catholic News Service.

He was echoed by Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who coordinates the Vatican’s inner council of cardinals and is thought to reflect the pope’s political thinking . “The ideology surrounding environmental issues is too tied to a capitalism that doesn’t want to stop ruining the environment because they don’t want to give up their profits,” Rodríguez Maradiaga said.

The rare encyclical, called “Laudato Sii”, or “Praised Be”, has been timed to have maximum public impact ahead of the pope’s meeting with Barack Obama and his address to the US Congress and the UN general assembly in September.

It is also intended to improve the prospect of a strong new UN global agreement to cut climate emissions. By adding a moral dimension to the well-rehearsed scientific arguments, Francis hopes to raise the ambition of countries above their own self-interest to secure a strong deal in a crucial climate summit in Paris in November.

“Pope Francis is personally committed to this [climate] issue like no other pope before him. The encyclical will have a major impact. It will speak to the moral imperative of addressing climate change in a timely fashion in order to protect the most vulnerable,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, in Bonn this week for negotiations.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, is increasingly seen as the voice of the global south and a catalyst for change in global bodies. In September, he will seek to add impetus and moral authority to UN negotiations in New York to adopt new development goals and lay out a 15-year global plan to tackle hunger, extreme poverty and health. He will address the UN general assembly on 23 September as countries finalise their commitments.

However, Francis’s radicalism is attracting resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate.

Earlier this year Stephen Moore, a Catholic economist, called the pope a “complete disaster”, saying he was part of “a radical green movement that is at its core anti-Christian, anti-people and anti-progress”.

Moore was backed this month by scientists and engineers from the powerful evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, who have written an open letter to Francis. “Today many prominent voices call humanity a scourge on our planet, saying that man is the problem, not the solution. Such attitudes too often contaminate their assessment of man’s effects on nature,” it says.

But the encyclical will be well received in developing countries, where most Catholics live. “Francis has always put the poor at the centre of everything he has said. The developing countries will hear their voice in the encyclical,” said Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at the Catholic development agency, Cafod. “I expect it to challenge the way we think. The message that we cannot just treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation will be a message that many will not want to hear.”

The pope is “aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society,” said Carmelite Father Eduardo Agosta Scarel, a climate scientist who teaches at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires.

Earlier popes, including Benedict XVI and John Paul II, addressed environmental issues and “creation”, but neither mentioned climate change or devoted an entire encyclical to the links between poverty, economics and ecological destruction. Francis’s only previous encyclical concerned the nature of religious faith.

The pontiff, who is playing an increasing role on the world stage, will visit Cuba ahead of travelling to the US. He was cited by Obama as having helped to thaw relations between the two countries, and last week met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and the threat to minority Christians in the Middle East.

The pope chose Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, as his namesake at the start of his papacy in 2011, saying the saint’s values reflected his own.

Opinion: Pope Francis’s anticapitalist revolution launches on Thursday (Market Watch)

Published: June 16, 2015 10:16 a.m. ET

June 18 treatise from Pope Francis will get the ball rolling on an anticapitalist revolution

Reuters. Pope Francis hugs children during a meeting at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

Mark your calendar: June 18. That’s launch day for Pope Francis’s historic anticapitalist revolution, a multitargeted global revolution against out-of-control free-market capitalism driven by consumerism, against destruction of the planet’s environment, climate and natural resources for personal profits and against the greediest science deniers.

Translated bluntly, stripped of all the euphemisms and his charm, that will be the loud-and-clear message of Pope Francis’ historic encyclical coming on June 18. Pope Francis has a grand mission here on Earth, and he gives no quarter, hammering home a very simple message with no wiggle room for compromise of his principles: ‘If we destroy God’s Creation, it will destroy us,” our human civilization here on Planet Earth.

Yes, he’s blunt, tough, he is a revolutionary. And on June 18 Pope Francis’s call-to-arms will be broadcast loud, clear and worldwide. Not just to 1.2 billion Catholics, but heard by seven billion humans all across the planet. And, yes, many will oppose him, be enraged to hear the message, because it is a call-to-arms, like Paul Revere’s ride, inspiring billions to join a people’s revolution.

The fact is the pontiff is already building an army of billions, in the same spirit as Gandhi, King and Marx. These are revolutionary times. Deny it all you want, but the global zeitgeist has thrust the pope in front of a global movement, focusing, inspiring, leading billions. Future historians will call Pope Francis the “Great 21st Century Revolutionary.”

Yes, our upbeat, ever-smiling Pope Francis. As a former boxer, he loves a good match. And he’s going to get one. He is encouraging rebellion against super-rich capitalists, against fossil-fuel power-players, conservative politicians and the 67 billionaires who already own more than half the assets of the planet.

That’s the biggest reason Pope Francis is scaring the hell out of the GOP, Big Oil, the Koch Empire, Massey Coal, every other fossil-fuel billionaire and more than a hundred million climate-denying capitalists and conservatives. Their biggest fear: They’re deeply afraid the pope has started the ball rolling and they can’t stop it.

They had hoped the pope would just go away. But he is not going away. And after June 18 his power will only accelerate, as his revolutionary encyclical will challenge everything on the GOP’s free-market capitalist agenda, exposing every one of the anti-environment, antipoor, antiscience, obstructionist policies in the conservative agenda.

Just watch the conservative media explode with intense anger after June 18, screaming bloody murder, viciously attacking the pope on moral, scientific, economic and political grounds, anything. But most of all, remember, under all their anger, the pope’s opponents really are living in fear of what’s coming next. What’s dead ahead.

Here are eight of the pope’s key warning punches edited in the Catholic Climate Covenant, from his “Apostolic Exhortation,” and in London’s Guardian and other news sources, warnings on the dangerous acceleration of global-warming risks to our civilization and the environment, along with our responsibility to “safeguard Creation, for we are the custodians of Creation. If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.”

For Pope Francis, there’s no room for compromise, and his enemies know it. Listen for his warnings to be expanded in his encyclical on June 18:

1. Capitalism is threatening the survival of human civilization

A “threat to peace arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources. Monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”

2. Capitalism is destroying nonrenewable resources for personal gain

“Genesis tells us that God created man and woman entrusting them with the task of filling the earth and subduing it, which does not mean exploiting it, but nurturing and protecting it, caring for it through their work.”

3. Capitalism has lost its ethical code, has no moral compass

“We are experiencing a moment of crisis; we see it in the environment, but mostly we see it in man. The human being is at stake: here is the urgency of human ecology! And the danger is serious because the cause of the problem is not superficial, but profound: it’s not just a matter of economics, but of ethics.”

4. Capitalists worship the golden calf of a money god

“We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money” … Francis warns that “trickle-down economics is a failed theory” … the “invisible hand” of capitalism cannot be trusted … “excessive consumerism is killing our culture, values and ethics” … and “the conservative ideal of individualism is undermining the common good.”

5. Capitalists pursuit of personal wealth destroys the common good

Without a moral code, “it is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands. Greed is the motivation … An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.” Instead, the pope calls for a “radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation.”

6. Capitalism has no respect for Earth’s natural environment

“This task entrusted to us by God the Creator requires us to grasp the rhythm and logic of Creation. But we are often driven by pride of domination, of possessions, manipulation, of exploitation; we do not care for Creation, we do not respect it.”

7. Capitalists only see the working class as consumers and machine tools

“Nurturing and cherishing Creation is a command God gives not only at the beginning of history, but to each of us. It is part of his plan; it means causing the world to grow responsibly, transforming it so that it may be a garden, a habitable place for everyone.” Everyone.

8. Capitalism is killing our planet, our civilization and the people

Pope Francis warns that capitalism is the “root cause” of all the world’s problems: “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” as environmental damage does trickle down most on the world’s poor.

Pope Francis’ historic anti-capitalism revolution is divinely inspired

Imagine Pope Francis addressing a hostile GOP controlled joint session of the U.S. Congress in September. There’s no chance of changing the minds of those hard-right politicians, all heavily dependent on fossil-fuel special-interest donations. But he’s clearly laying the groundwork for a global revolution, and his enemies know it.

And watch the ripple effect, how his historic “Climate Change Encyclical” adds fuel to the revolution after Pope Francis addresses the UN General Assembly … how the revolution picks up steam after the UN’s Paris Climate Change Conference announces a new international treaty approved by the leaders of America, China and two hundred nations worldwide … how the revolution kicks into high-gear after the pope’s message has been translated into more than a thousand languages … and broadcast to seven billion worldwide, billions who are already directly experiencing the climate change “evils that tear man from the land of his birth.”

Bottom line: Given the global reach of his encyclical, Pope Francis’ revolution will accelerate. So the GOP’s 169 climate deniers, Big Oil, the Koch Empire and all hard-right conservatives better be prepared for a powerful backlash to their resistance.

Pope Francis’s 2015 war cry is to lead a global anticapitalist revolution, a revolution leading billions to take back their planet from a fossil-fuel industry that’s lost its moral compass to the “golden calf” and is destroying its own civilization on Planet Earth.