Greedy green land grabbers
By Ron Arnold
On Sunday, February 28, 2010, armed troops evicted villagers in Uganda's Mubende district, to make way for a tree plantation. The troops were acting on behalf of a British forestry company that claims it fights global warming. The trees will supposedly absorb carbon dioxide, so that carbon-credits can be sold to transnational polluters, to stave off "dangerous manmade climate change and disruption."
Long-time villagers in thriving communities were beaten by gun-toting soldiers who burned homes, destroyed crops and butchered livestock. Eight-year-old Friday Mukamperezida was sick in bed at home and was burned to death, while his mother was out getting medicine for the boy. Olivia Mukamperezida, the mother, was on her errand when she ran into friends who frantically told her to get home fast. When she got there, the house was sputtering to ashes. "I just cried," she told a reporter. She buried her son's bones, but isn't sure if the grave is still there, now that the forest company planted its trees.
These are among the charges contained in a civil suit filed by 1,489 Mubende claimants in the High Court of Uganda at Nakawa. A report by the British group Oxfam corroborates the claims. The New York Times and other media outlets reported the story.
New Forests Company, the London-based carbon credit seller, denies the claims and says the settlers living in its leased land in the Namwasa and Luwunga Forest Reserves were illegally trespassing transients, who left in a "peaceful" and "voluntary" manner. In 2005, the government of Uganda had granted NFC a 50-year license to grow pine and eucalyptus forests – non-native, water-hungry, invasive species – in three districts of one of the world's poorest nations, which desperately needs the fees and taxes.
NFC has attracted investment from international banks and private equity funds since 2008. The European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU's financing institution, has loaned NFC five million Euros ($6.5 million) to expand one of its Ugandan plantations. Oxfam assessed NFC with puzzlement:
"It has economic power, professional expertise, and close political support. It has a hands-on chief executive with local knowledge and ethical credentials. The company and its investors have clear environmental and social standards they commit to uphold, and corporate social responsibility and accountability principles are embedded at the heart of its operations.
"Given all this, how is it possible that thousands of people in affected communities have alleged that land clearances, which have taken place to make way for NFC's operations in Uganda, have been accompanied by distress and violence, and have left many in a state of poverty?"
NFC posted its response to Oxfam, arguing that the encroachers are "illegally occupying land leased to an independent third party, NFC." It relies upon an "extensive and exhaustive government-driven authentication process," which it says confirmed that only 31 families on the Namwasa Reserve, and none in the Luwunga reserve, had legal rights to remain on the land. It insists that it is respecting the rights of these families and that dealing with "illegal" settlers is solely at the discretion of the NFC, which regards the thousands of others who were living on the land as "illegal encroachers" who do not have a legitimate claim to compensation.
The evictions were legal, within the letter of the law, NFC maintains. However, the villagers had won a temporary injunction in 2009, ordering the evictions stopped, though they were given a deadline to vacate company premises under police surveillance. The deadline was February 28, 2010, and NFC enforced it immediately. The horrifying events of that day became part of court filings seeking compensation.
New Forests operates projects in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda, where its combined deals total around 222,000 acres. In its defense, it said it runs education, health and income-generating programs with local communities. In Uganda, it says, it has built school rooms, health clinics, wells and latrines, and runs literacy programs, while out-sourcing some tasks to local businesses.
I asked my young Ugandan friend, Steven Lyasi, to see what he could find out locally. He sent a mountain of news clips showing that New Forests Company enjoys an excellent reputation with the national government, in media and environmental circles, and is backed by deep-pocket investors, including the World Bank. It wants to tap an emerging multibillion-dollar market trading carbon-credits under the Kyoto Protocol and its successors. Some of Al Gore's millions came from that Enron-like paper "market." The company says it could earn up to $1.8 million a year.
The Uganda government issued a rebuttal of the Oxfam report, Clarification by Govt of Uganda Regarding the Case Study by OXFAM.
All this is legal, but is it right? Absolutely not, says a growing body of professionals who blame corrupt climate science, avaricious profit seekers, and a soul-less, pitiless bureaucratic machine.
British geographer David Harvey calls the process "accumulation by dispossession," the result of a Kyoto Protocol program called the "Clean Development Mechanism." The CDM provides for emissions reduction projects that generate "Certified Emission Reduction" units (CERs), which may be marketed in government-approved emission trading schemes – based on the increasingly dubious assumption that CO2 causes runaway global warming. The CDM legalizes the purchase of CERS by industrialized countries and allows companies to invest in emission reduction projects that are cheapest globally.
But they are cheapest only for the investors and their operations. For the people who live on the land they covet, the price is everything they own and possess. In the private sector this would be called a Ponzi scheme. In government circles it's called saving the planet. The new critics call it "Green Grabbing."
This hideous new imperialism has become a global ignominy that thankfully is now being tracked by professionals, who evaluated it last year in the British peer-reviewed Journal of Peasant Studies.
A special issue, "Green Grabbing: A new appropriation of nature?" revealed some of the forces behind green land grabs like those in Uganda. "Things green have become big business." They require "the construction and perpetuation of a sense of crisis," the analysts explain. "There would be no carbon-trading without the science-policy discourses that have discerned global warming."
As the New York Times reported, "Development experts say there is a dark side to some ostensibly ‘green' market initiatives: the appropriation of resources for biofuels production, carbon offsets, ecotourism and so on can have devastating consequences for local people."
Melissa Leach, director of Britain's Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability Center, is one of the three authors of the special issue. She wrote "Green grabbing: the dark side of a green economy," posted by the Green Economy Coalition. "We are seeing a new kind of colonization," said Leach. "Small farms and villages that have thrived alongside nature are being replaced by a landscape of grabbed concessions, while people, if they have any rights at all, are being reduced to laborers in ecosystems in which they no longer have any stake." Or any rights to justice or due process.
She points out how this vulture environmentalism is victimizing developing countries: "Green grabbing involves novel forms of valuation, commodification and markets for pieces and aspects of nature, and an extraordinary new range of actors and alliances. Pension funds and venture capitalists, commodity traders and consultants, GIS service providers and business entrepreneurs, ecotourism companies and the military, green activists and anxious consumers, among others, find once-unlikely common interests."
Green grabbing is simple greed – rabid, self-righteous green greed. Where's the justice in that, and why is it immune to the rigid regulation that governments force upon industry and common stock traders? What happened to the environmental credo of making industries pay for all the costs they impose on others?
And yes, Leach said even the military. In Guatemala, she noted, the government has authorized turning the Maya Biosphere Reserve into a "Maya-themed vacationland," which, she wrote, "will generate ecotourism profits, while conveniently assisting the government's war on drugs and counter-insurgency. In the process, people are being violently excluded."
I have been to Tikal, where Guatemalan soldiers stopped our expedition bus at the entrance gate, to interrogate each visitor – and sell us little US$10.00 English-language tourist guides, which everyone was prudent enough to purchase.
So not all green grabbing is about "global warming control" – just enough to highlight the perfidy of the whole concept. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels climbed steadily for the past 17 years, but planetary temperatures did not budge. That is sending carbon traders into full panic mode. Billions in paper climate credit fortunes stand to evaporate like Enron stock shares, if the CO2-temperature disconnect continues.
So we get panicky movies, like the current flop "Greedy Lying Bastards," diverting attention from inconvenient facts and attacking climate change "deniers." Well, who are the real greedy lying bastards?
I nominate the Greedy Green Land Grabbers.
Examiner columnist Ron Arnold is executive VP of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Portions of this article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner and are used by permission.