Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Earth, the cooperative

Even if there is still confusion over the path the world is taking on environmental pollution, there is consensus at least on the following. The developed countries are doing the most polluting, the developing countries are suffering the most from this contamination, and, in the world today, there does not seem to be enough environmental space to allow the undeveloped world to catch up to the developed world.

The above statements should be enough to fuel a spirit of cooperation within this cooperative we call the Earth, and of which, like it or not, we are all indigenous.

Unfortunately, little or nothing has been done as of this date to correct the imbalance.

Some years ago we saw (or we imagined) small points of light when a series of environmental limitations were imposed through the Kyoto Protocol. There was talk of a market of “compliance with environmental standards bonds” which contemplated the possibility of transferring environmental funds from the developed world to the rest of the world.

A tree captures carbon. And thus hypothetically, a polluter in New York should plant a tree in his/her city in order to avoid a fine. However, to plant a tree in New York would be very costly, so the polluter in New York could also utilize the option of asking a Venezuelan investor to plant this tree in Venezuela instead. The investor and the polluter would then share the net cost savings. This is the essence of the idea.

There are obvious difficulties with this proposal. The assurance that the tree is actually planted in Venezuela, and that it grows and captures carbon and does not later become burning firewood, are just some of the technical challenges that need to be resolved. However, we know that if the demand for these bonds is high enough, we can be certain that the creativity of technicians would be sufficiently stimulated.

There have been some initial successes with these bonds. But to tell the truth, the main buyers have been well-intentioned institutions, and today it is difficult to envision how this market could become self-sufficient in terms of volume, without assistance. Particularly when we see how there has been a relaxing of will or an increase of laziness in terms of applying Kyoto standards—unless …

Today we are conscious of the very high taxes on gasoline and other petroleum derivatives in many parts of the world. In Europe, at a price of 26 dollars per barrel of oil, these taxes amount to more than 400% of the oil’s value. In 1998, when oil was 10 dollars a barrel, taxes amounted to over 700%.

These taxes, categorized as “environmental” since they reduce the demand for oil, have a direct negative impact on an oil-producing country such as Venezuela. However, what really bugs us is that the majority of these taxes are not at all used for environmental purposes and even when they are, adding insult to injury, it is only as a subsidy for other energy sources, furthering the discrimination of oil.

I challenge all of our rich fellow cooperative members in the developed world to set aside at least 10% of taxes collected on oil for the purchase of true Environmental Bonds.

From Voice and Noise, BookSurge 2006, and El Universal, Caracas, December 2002