Saturday, May 4, 2013
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
During the 2009 UN conference on environment in Copenhagen I got upset seeing environmentalists from rich countries announcing that because the rich countries were the ones most to blame, they should and would assume the responsibility and pay for protecting the environment… which sounded just like global leftwing politicking, and effectively negated the poor the right to participate as human and equals in confronting something which from all perspectives would be a challenge to the human race.
In that respect it seems to me that the Yasuní-ITT proposal, because of its immense importance, should never have been presented as a government to government proposal, or one extended only to groups with environmental concerns, but should have been tabled as a proposal from the Ecuadorian citizens to all other indigenous people of the earth, meaning us, 1all other citizens. If the possible ecological damages of exploiting the oil in Yasuní-ITT are as serious as we are told, we cannot afford that the fight against these gets sequestered by other interests, agendas, or green Taliban.
Also, because the world needs oil and if not extracted in Yasuní-ITT it will do so elsewhere it would be good to have a study of the marginal environmental costs of exploiting oil in many different places. This would also be extremely important information if we later would like to replicate Yasuní-ITT.
The proposal was presented as having to select between a ferociously irresponsible oil extraction and a marvelous conservation of a habitat, and the truth is never that clear. It would be very important to know the cost and the significance of exploiting the oil in Yasuní-ITT in the most environmentally friendly way possible, so to also give the world the chance of accepting something that might sound more reasonable, or at least of knowing that this possibility has been analyzed. Since in Europe, the European taxman, by means of the taxes on its consumption derives more income from it than the country that gives up that resource for ever, it would seem quite reasonable that the European citizen could ask that at least a part of those taxes should go to help extract the oil in the best way possible. (Where is the oil company that specializes in green oil exploitation?)
But, more than anything, since no one likes to pay taxes to its own government much less would they like to pay a sort of an environmental tax to other governments, much less if these are rich in oil resources… the proposal should include that all funds, up to the last cent, should be given directly to the citizens of Ecuador… or in equal parts in cash, o through conditional cash transfer programs… for instance to all Ecuadorian children that go to school.
And I say this because as a Venezuelan I know very well that too much oil money in the hands of a government is bad… not only because it gets wasted, but mostly because, one way or another, involuntary or on purpose, that money ends up subjugating the citizens.
Translated from El Universal
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
I went to the presentation of an environmental study at the World Bank, this time about the Amazon of Brazil. Again and though it certainly seemed a serious scientific effort to look into the future of climate change in economic terms, I failed to understand how it could connect with the citizens.
The study’s basic “connection” fault is that it looks into a too distant future, and therefore necessitates concepts like present value and discount rates. Though technically correct, it opens up discussions and creates doubts that are not much helpful when trying to create the urgent unity of purpose that is needed.
Over a relative short period millions of people around the world were able to quit smoking, something that is addictive and that gives many much short term pleasure but that also poses serious health risks… mostly in the days after tomorrow. If we could recreate those conditions with respect to climate change we stand a better chance to achieve the results we need.
Having thought about these issues for a long time, with respect to the Amazon of Brazil, and on whose survival the world depends so much for its breathing, I would like to see the following happen.
* The government of Brazil presents a project of what it would cost to keep the Amazon intact or even better off in an environmental sense, for the next five years, “Keep the Amazon smoke-free for 5 years”. The project should include not only the direct costs but also the opportunity costs of not going forward with any exploitation of the Amazon that could have been envisioned for the next five year period.
* Of that project the Brazilian government would state how much it is willing to shoulder and how much it expects the rest of the world to help out with.
* Brazil would then submit the proposal to the World Bank for an analysis of reasonability and an opinion of how the rest-of-the-world costs could be distributed. When sharing out the burdens we need to remember that the poorest of the poor possess equally the human right of being allowed to share the human-race responsibilities.
* The World Bank should also present a proposal on how the project could be monitored so as to ascertain that if the resources are given it will live up to its promises.
* After that Governments, NGOs and hopefully also the individual citizens could dedicate themselves to market a concrete “Keep the Amazon smoke-free for 5 years” with a clearly identified cost, and which hopefully at the end of year 4 would lead to the preparation of the “Keep the Amazon smoke-free the next 5 years”.
Friends, if we are not able to keep the Amazon from smoking during just the next 5 years with the aid of will, nicotine patches, chewing-gum or whatever it takes, how can we argument that we will be able to help it quit its addiction altogether?
The Amazon's smoking...talk about the mother of all dangerous second hand smokes!
Photo: Michael T Coe, The Woods Hole Research Center.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
For years I have been arguing that I do not need some scientist to confirm to me what I have so often seen with my own eyes, namely that there is something awfully bad happening out there as a likely result of the way we treat our little pied-à-terre to which we are all indigenous.
I have a 157 HEER (human energy efficiency ratio)… what´s yours?
Monday, December 28, 2009
And so what are we citizens to do. As I see we need first to treat the climate change threat as being a challenge to the whole human race and which means that all humans beings, all indigenous to this our planet, have the right and the obligation to share in its solution. In other words, climate change must become a global citizen’s issue.
This above has implications, the first having to recognize that even though the average carbon emission varies dramatically between humans in rich and developed countries from those in poor and developing ones, the marginal damage per each new emission is the same whoever produces it.
One of the worst things we saw happening in Copenhagen was how the climate change threat was utilized to argue for global social justice, not that there is anything wrong with global social justice, but that certainly obscures the urgent objective at hand. Any transfer of climate change fighting resources from the rich to the poor, which of course must occur, should be strictly based on these resources have a greater green impact there. It is not a question of having the poor and developing countries to be able to consume their fair share of cars, but more that of creating alternatives to cars, like extensive railroad systems.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
But, hold it there… before you get too enthusiastic about it, let me inform you that I am absolutely no expert on it.
What has NASA to say?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
To put all that money in one sack and then let all the agendas compete for it will not produce good, transparent and sustainable results, and unfortunately it would seem like that in Copenhagen there are too many interested in fishing and being fished in muddled ponds.
Friday, December 4, 2009
If climate change and global warming constitutes the real threat to humanity experts tell us they do, then absolutely all the humans have exactly the same obligation and exactly the same right to help out, and this includes the poorest and the weakest, since they do not belong anything less to the human race than the strong and wealthy.
That poorer and development countries might have less resources and might be confronting greater challenges than richer and developed countries and should therefore be helped that is correct, but to infer from that, as some do, that these countries have less responsibilities, is not only an insult to their citizens, but also carry perhaps the implicit message that the challenges posed from the threats are not really that great.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Also, as a direct consequence of these mindboggling low gas prices, plus the fact that preferential foreign exchange rates is given for the import of cars, a small country of 27 million of inhabitants and a yearly GDP per capita of only around US$5.000 in 2006, placed way over one million new cars on the roads during the last three years.
The new cars don’t find where to circulate in order to spew out their carbon emissions and therefore, from a transport, an environmental and a social justice perspective there cannot be any doubt that, in Venezuela , we are in the hands of a truly cruel 21st Century Asocial government.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Does Professor Hans-Werner Sinn really want to know how to” induce resource owners to leave more carbon underground”? I´ll tell him. Use the oil-curse route. Pay them humongous prices for their barrels of oil and see that all those funds go to a petro-autocrat like hugo chávez, and that will mess it up so much that it renders them incapable of extracting it.
No, sadly, the horrible truth we need to face is that the world loves too much its carbon driven economy to abandon it and so our best chance of saving us from the suicidal path we are on lies in new discoveries.... discoveries of what? I have not the faintest idea but let´s try to buy us some time to discover it, perhaps with some carbon taxes, but meanwhile let us not waste very scarce resources on what can only be described as green placebos.
By the way (again) is it not ironic that those from the land of Martin Luther and which most fought against the indulgences offered by the catholic church are now the ones most eagerly promoting the emission indulgences sold by the green church.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
If a subsidy is given to a second best solution then that subsidy is first not as efficient as it could be but worse still, it may by capturing some benefits impair on the viability of the best solution.
Let me try to explain it as easy as possible
Suppose we have an environmental project that carries with it a total of 10 green points of possible environmental improvement and that, one approach, the best, could catch 7 of these points for 7 dollars of investment while, the second approach, the second best, can only catch 5 points and requires a 6 dollar investment.
If then for any reason, such as undue lobbying, it is decided to go ahead with the second best approach then 6 dollars would have been invested in order to capture 5 points, not too bad.
But let us suppose both approaches were only able to capture the same type of seven points and three points could not technically be captured by any approach, then we are left with only 2 points to catch at a 7 dollar cost… meaning that these 2 green points will never be captured.
Should that be of concern to us? You bet! Besides the differences in environmental efficiency of what is out there is mindboggling. Solar voltaic panels and hybrid cars should perhaps even be prohibited as they represent truly expensive green placebos.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Although I come from an oil country, since it is always harder to bailout from a financial crisis than from a climate change crisis, I agree.
But these green market signals would be more effective were we capable of reducing some of the competing signals, for instance those present in one of the most important drivers of world capital namely the minimum capital requirements for the banks as defined by Basel.
Currently for a bank to make a 100 dollar loan to a corporation the banks currently need to have an equity that ranges from a minimum of 1.6 dollars to 12 dollars, a whooping 7.5 times the minimum, which depends on the risk assessments produced by the credit rating agencies.
Since bank equity is scarce, and expensive, especially now, this means that besides what the market would normally be charging for assuming a high perceived risk, the regulators have imposed an additional de-facto tax on risk. This would be great if “default risk of a corporation” was all that mattered. But what about the default risk of our planet? What if most investments in projects destined to fight the risk of climate change presented more risk than projects that increased the risk of climate change?
What if the securitized finance of car purchase financing gets an AAA rating while the project to install a solar panel only achieves a rate below BB-? Is it logical then that the financing of a solar panel needs 7.5 times more bank equity? I don’t think so!
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Not that the World Bank is not important, as a standard setter, but, out there, in the real world, if we are talking about mobilizing financial resources there are other institutions much more important, like the Basel Committee, the global bank regulator.
The Basel Committee decided that the one and only role for our banks was not to default and to such effect it set up a system of minimum capital requirements for banks based on credit risks, and empowered the credit rating agencies as the risk surveyors of the world.
Not a good idea! The credit rating agencies rated securities backed with lousily awarded mortgages as AAA, which signifies a zero risk, and then more than two trillions of world capitals, something like 20 World Banks, invested in those securities, only since 2004.
And here we are now facing a deep global financial crisis that is going to bring more misery to millions if not billions of people around the globe.
Can you imagine if those minimum capital requirements for banks had been based on the risk of climate change? Without any doubt we could still be immersed in a crisis, though surely not as severe, but our planet would surely have been placed on a more sustainable path.
And so I ask. What are you doing in Washington? Do you not know your way to Basel?
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I recently told a prominent-save-the-Amazon person that they should, at 7 am each and every morning, put a matchstick to one hectare of pristine Amazon jungle and transmit this on the web and then perhaps the world could easier understand that it needs urgently to create some huge world forest reserves. These reserves could be managed and cared for by hundreds of thousand forest-guard families and who could all be helped to partially improve their lives receiving a small monthly salary from the whole world, financed perhaps through the levy of a special forestry tax of one cent per litre of petrol.
In 2004 while an Executive Director at the World Bank we were asked at the Board to approve a loan to Brazil for “Environmental Sustainability” and I told my colleagues that what we really should be approving was how much each one of all the world countries would have to chip in to help repay that loan, since obviously keeping our most important lung clean could not only be Brazil’s responsibility.
Does burning 365 hectares per year sound awful? Well the same report indicates that only in Indonesia 1.87m of hectares have been lost every year since 2000. Now having said that… please be careful with the matches though.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Our problems on planet earth are just too serious to allow us from not spelling out some uncomfortable truths. In this respect, with the Financial Times’ “Carbon markets create a muddle”, April 26, and the investigations that preceded it, and hopefully those that will follow, it is performing a tremendous service to all of us who believe that the climate change threat is for real and therefore require that the actions to combat it should also be for real. The current carbon market where we sell indulgencies for some fairly undefined sins in order to use the proceeds for some even less defined good deeds (after paying the brokers) will just not cut it, much less so if we leave it in the hands of blind believers or of a hypocritical environmental clergy.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
It is about the what-to-do that I have more problems, as there seems to be a growing divergence between the seriousness of the warnings and the banality of some of the solutions offered. If it really is so serious then should that not warrant more serious responses than aspirins? If it really is so serious then sure we must beware more of those who are peddling green magical potions, just to make a buck.
A carbon-solution neutral agency is what we lack the most because, if it really is so serious then presumably we cannot afford to waste even one dollar on solutions that are not effective.
In the Financial Times, January 19, Philip Stephens, in “Business must bend with the winds of climate change” wrote about how a reputable company such as Marks and Spencer, surely run by capable and creative professionals are now doing their part against global warning… recycling unsold food into energy! The world is coming to an end… unless you drive a hybrid!
I am not that much against it but, if it really is so serious, should we then be going down that route of selling climate-change indulgences trading carbon emission rights?
I am not that much against it but, if it really is so serious, can we afford to excuse the developing world from doing its part just because it cannot afford it? Are we not better off enlisting the help of the developing world, now, in an early phase? If some should have the right to make a buck on protecting the environment perhaps it is the poor developing countries and so that they can then afford to pay a part of the costs, since the responsibilities for the environment should and needs always belong to all humanity, not only to the rich part of it.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Dear Friends and Colleagues
Today we approved a US$505 million Programmatic Reform Loan for Environmental Sustainability to Brazil. Frankly, how could it be otherwise, when in fact we should be on our knees thanking a country like Brazil that with so many other problems commits to repaying 100% of principal plus interest of an environmental-sustainability loan that will benefit the whole world and all of us.
Honestly, I do believe the World Bank should occupy a stronger leadership in these matters from the very beginning, advocating for the cooperation of the rest of the world. If silly windmill projects can have access to carbon credits, the Brazilian environmental program should too.
For instance, if 20% of a loan like this were to be repaid by some international-support mechanism, this would not only motivate the Brazilian government to sell environmental protection locally, but it would also be a clear sign that in these matters, Brazil does not stand alone. Of course any external assistance would have to come with the clear understanding that it does not impose additional conditions on the country, as this is the best and perhaps only way to guarantee true sustainability and ownership of such programs.
This morning we had a two-hour discussion about the Development Committee agenda. Frankly, however, the issue of how the world can help in crucial global matters, as in the case of the Amazon—where the need of avoiding the very negative externalities of large deforestation have to compete with so many other urgent local needs, as well as with the rising opportunity costs of not exploiting the forests—should be a foremost issue. If it already is there—for instance hidden in a global taxation initiative—I very much welcome it but, if not, we should strive to put it there.
Last year at least 25,000 hectares were deforested in the Amazon. At a low carbon value of US$20 per hectare/year, this would indicate a value of about US$50 million a year if the program were successful at stopping deforestation. Add ten years of stopped deforestation, and the value of this would be—in approximate Kyoto terms—about US$500 million a year for the rest of the world. If this is so, how come we can spend so much time and money on expensive initiatives such as the Extractive Industry Review, and not come up with something more reasonable for the Amazon, than to have the Brazilians pay for it, 100%?
Published in Voice and Noise, BookSurge 2006 and there is also an article that touches upon the same theme and that I published in Spanish in Venezuela early 2004
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
Currently, some of the car makers are being criticized for not doing enough developing environmental friendly hybrid vehicles. But, before they commit large amounts to that effect they should perhaps look at other alternatives… such as an “as-good-as-it-gets forest mining carbon sink”.
The Web site of a car maker announces that their best-selling hybrid vehicle costs around 4.000 dollars more than the comparably equipped standard version. In compensation the hybrid will, by giving 14 miles more per gallon of gas and if driven 20.000 miles per year, save the owner over ten years about 3.000 gallons of gas, and thereby save the environment from having about 7.3 tons of carbon converted into CO2. The technology used in these hybrids is quite creative as it harnesses in a battery some of the energy obtained when braking and thereafter uses it as efficiently as possible.
If we assume no new-technology surprises, for instance battery problems down the line, this environmental conscientious investment proposal seems reasonable for the individual US motorist in the US at current $2.20 per gallon of gas, and indeed splendid one in Europe with their over $7 per gallon… although there it clearly has more to do with saving the taxes on gas, than with the cost of the gas saved. Nonetheless in terms of the environment, the results are not that impressive and the world could do much better in terms of the social and environmental impact.
For instance there is Tanzania, an extremely poor country, with a per capita income of about 300 dollars per year, with not enough prospects to get it out of its predicaments and where much of its land is slowly but surely turning into desert, at a pace of more than 300.000 ha per year. Although there are some major mining companies operating in Tanzania and that we hope are doing their extraction in the right way, their environment is also suffering at the hands of about one million unofficial freelance miners that roam the country trying desperately to make a living.
By putting together the reasons for the hybrids and the needs of Tanzania one could then think of setting up cooperatives for these miners and turn them into reforesters, and having the whole project financed by buyers of cars. Is it feasible and sustainable? Absolutely!
If our car buyer, instead of buying a hybrid, saved four thousand dollars by buying a standard car and then would pay just 2.000 dollars to a cooperative, this amount could, after reasonable promotional and administration costs, cover the initial reforestation of about 5 ha and the carbon thereby captured would be at least 200 tons, 27 times more than the hybrid-car savings. Yes we all know that a ton of carbon saved by not converting a stable sink like petrol that has been there for millions of years is much better than a ton saved in an unstable forest that can burn or rot, but never 27 times better.
As the reforested area captures its carbon throughout the years it could also be maintained with the income obtained from selling emission-savings certificates based on the Kyoto protocol. If forest captures 4 ton CO2 per year and ha, and the value of an emission saving certificate per ton were to be $10, then there would be a yearly income for the cooperative of 40 dollars per ha during 10 years.
We do not wish to demean the efforts of any car company that invests in the research of more energy efficient cars but that does not necessarily mean it needs to sell their hybrid cars before they’re as-good-as-they can get. At this moment of scarce resources and urgent environmental needs perhaps we would all be better of if the car industry offered their consumers, in lieu of hybrid cars, the possibility to drive away in standard cars that carry on their windows bright emblems, certifying each one of them as proud financiers of 5 ha of reforestation in Tanzania, all observable live through the Web site of The First Forest Mining Cooperative of Tanzania.
Published in OGEL Vol 3 Issue 2 June 2005
From the initial results that have been privately circulated, the study has identified some new threats never even thought of before but that could become insurmountable hurdles. The first is whether the friction produced by the wind will in itself increase global warming. Second, as the windmills are located in windy areas and therefore not equally distributed over the world, there is the possibility that the world could turn some degrees over its axle, a bit like the effect of the recent mega earthquake that produced the tsunami. The final threat identified is that the windmills, by acting like some big sails, could accelerate the rotation of our planet. Luckily this final concern has already been eliminated as the calculations showed that this effect was to be neutralized by less wind impacting mountains and other places. Nonetheless, by just posing the argument it has also opened problems of a legal nature. For example, neighboring countries might complain that the windmills are literarily taking the wind out of their sails. The final problem identified but that lies outside the scope of the current study is related to what will happen to the ecology of previously windy area when the winds are gone.
As this year we celebrate Cervantes’ Don Quixote we cannot but reflect on how the modern windmills are fighting a quixotic war on their own.
P.S. Early one morning in 2004 I met with some World Bank staff who wanted to tell me about the details of an alternative-energy project—windmills. Coming from an oil-producing country, in jest I improvised the above have-you-heard-the news-about-windmills story, and to my delight, some fell for it. Later for April Fool’s Day I sent it out to some of my knowledgeable friends. To my surprise instead of laughter, many of the answers were of a yes-this-needs-to-be-better-researched nature. Could it really be that my joke contains some truths?
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Of course we will suffer the environment chasers that only look to exploit the global warming problem to benefit their own small causes, immorally, and also as Samuelson correctly states the politicians practicing their self-serving hypocrisy, also immorally, but if we don’t know that this is all a question of being able to make a correct moral choice about how to handle the upcoming crash of trains between the scarcity of energy and the environment, then we are de-facto making the wrong moral choice that could open the doors to any sort of engineering solution, like getting rid of cows as some argue because they produce methane, or perhaps even breed them just because of they do.
Much to the contrary, besides all the engineering solutions and that should of course be exploited to the hilt this is an utterly moral issue that leaves no room for amoralities. Here we have our chance as humans to show that we are made of somewhat better and superior materials and so let us take it, especially when if we prove otherwise and need to bake in other warm ovens, we will still have ample time for that.
I suggest Mr. Robertson that we urgently, place a little web camera on a small and poor village in Africa and watch those little malaria stricken kids go and get the final wood stumps to cook whatever wood stumps to cook they could find for food, and then look into ourselves for our moral answers, instead of outsourcing our morality to engineers, and not that they do not need to be moral too.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
I am one of the executive directors of the World Bank who recently were bombarded with your mostly similar and spam-like messages urging us to approve word by word all the recommendations that the so-called “eminent person” made in conclusion of the Extractive Industries Review (EIR).
Most of what is said in the EIR is logical and already has been considered and applied by the World Bank. Nonetheless, there were some issues and recommendations that carried more than a hint of radicalism. These extremist suggestions blind the world from finding the pragmatic solutions it so urgently needs to solve the problems of environmental degradation and adequate energy availability.
In his book, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Random House, 2001, Lawrence Lessig writes that “a time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted.” In this respect, I had big hopes that the discussions on the EIR would help us unlock the current debate, which seems to be suffering from another bout of failure of imagination.
Unfortunately that was not to happen, since many of the really significant problems and solutions were just ignored, while minor issues were highlighted. Even the Bank management’s final response, although technically quite adequate, in using an excuse-us-NGOs-for-daring-to-disagree tone, does not put forward the differences of opinions with sufficient strength and clarity.
In this and all other respects, the real challenges still lie ahead of us. Therefore, I wish to send you herewith my thoughts on some of the issues covered by the EIR, hoping this will help to focus our energy and concerns in more productive directions. By the way, what follows are strictly personal opinions and they do not reflect any formal statement made during the discussions of the Board, as these need to be confidential to guarantee that they are never taken out of their overall procedural context. And so, in a nutshell, here is what I think of the EIR.
The high growth rates of some countries, which are undergoing the highly energy-demanding transition from bicycles to cars, are forcing the world to face two very important constraints more than ever: general energy availability, and the capacity of an already overstretched environment to absorb the carbon impact of such growth.
Instead of discussing issues such as whether the world needs to find a way to tax excessive energy consumption to promote fairer global distribution of energy use or how to compensate for the quickly growing opportunity cost of not developing environmentally sensitive areas such as the Amazon Jungle, some very parochial NGO perspectives captured the EIR, and most of the participants just played along.
Yes, we all want clean energy, but given the urgency and magnitude of the problem, it must be clear that the world cannot afford to waste resources on unaffordable solutions. The money not spent on early prototypes of hybrid cars, or on subsidizing wind or solar-power generation plants that are not yet economically justifiable, could be much better spent on research for truly sustainable renewable energy sources, fighting poverty, or even directly paying for environmental priorities, such as keeping the Amazon intact.
Yes, the world should move away from coal and oil, especially as oil is too valuable just to produce energy. But as the price of gas has reached the unaffordable level of US $6 per Mcf (one thousand cubic feet) and is generating billions of dollars in losses for electricity generators, realities are driving the world back to coal. In this respect in particular, the recommendation of the so-called “eminent person” for the Bank to withdraw fully from coal, gas, and oil is so completely out of synch with current realities that perhaps the Bank should have done best by just ignoring it.
Although countries with annual incomes of US $30,000 per capita might survive using uneconomic environmental approaches, those with US $3,000 or less will certainly not. In this respect, the Bank should have reiterated more firmly that under no circumstances can it be allowed to cut the umbilical cord that needs to run between its efforts aiming at poverty-reduction on the one hand and economic rationality on the other.
Yes, human-rights issues are of extreme importance, and the Bank, by nature and through the quality of its people, does always give them due consideration. But to tie up the Bank and its extractive-industries (EI) operations with additional sector-specific formal rulings will only hinder reaching the acceptable balance between individual human rights and collective human rights.
Yes, the interests of indigenous groups should always be considered respectfully, but assigning special and near-veto rights to them will clearly infringe on the rights of the rest of us, who all are indigenous to this planet.
Yes, if we all agree that a holistic approach is needed, why is then the analysis of the demand side for the resources produced by the extractive industries missing? It is clear that in most cases, the share of revenues among local participants has not been adequate. But to ignore the fact that the slice of the pie to be shared locally might be too small—as many nonrenewable resources are sold at a price equal to their marginal extraction cost and therefore don’t leave much room for earnings—is not really an objective approach.
Yes, initiatives such as the Revenue Transparency Initiative might not be perfect, but they are a step in the right direction, and the Bank should pursue them always, not only in the EIR. For instance, the use of the economic surpluses created when granting patents, presumably to pay for research, should also be more transparent so as to better measure the prohibitively high prices of vital medicines. Since the treasury of most industrialized countries perceive through their gasoline taxes more fiscal income from a barrel of oil than the producer, this not only begs the question of who might really be cursed, but also whether those flows could also benefit from more transparency. Taxes collected on gasoline in the name of the environment (more than $100 billion a year on unleaded gasoline in Europe alone) of which basically nothing really goes to the environment and much of which has even been used to subsidize the coal industry could be the foundation for a real environmental global fund or, better yet a global tax program. By the way, if we are to have a global tax based on a gasoline tax, then I am of the opinion that ALL countries should pay an amount per liter consumed, albeit at rates that are adjusted for their national income per capita. (Even the poorest have the right to feel they are contributing toward a shared world cause)
Yes, there is always a need for better practices, as in gender issues, but for EIR to go to such an extreme as to single out the sector and specifically link it with issues such as rape and prostitution is unacceptable, both on moral and intellectual grounds.
Friedrich List wrote that free trade was the means through which an already industrialized country “kicks away the ladder by which it has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after it.” If we were to paraphrase List, the way the “eminent person” wanted the EIR to conclude would have kicked away the ladder for many undeveloped countries, preventing their use of their natural resources.
In conclusion, it is unfortunate that these EIR discussions did not advance a more rational agenda, especially since the World Bank is one of the few worldwide institutions that could really establish a leadership role in environmental and energy issues. Nonetheless, let us not cry over spilled milk. There are so many urgent challenges and opportunities for the Bank and all of you to play a truly creative and proactive role.
For instance, in one African country, millions of small and unorganized miners who need their jobs in order to survive create severe environmental damage. The same country also suffers yearly deforestation of hundreds of thousands of acres of forest. In such a case, wouldn’t perhaps a “Forest-Growing Miner Cooperative” be a quite sensible program for the world to sponsor? Would not this make more sense as an investment vehicle for all those environmentally sensitive dollars that the rich nation’s consumers are currently willing to spend on much less worthy proposals, such as building windmills in their gardens or driving around in their hybrids?
Let us not be busybodies blocking the world from going forward. Let us instead be very busy bodies helping it to go forward … in the right direction.