Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Death Of Workers In Bangladesh, In Germany

They, the workers burned to death in Bangladesh on a November day, are now a number only. In Germany, in another November day, disabled workers also died in a factory. They are also mere numbers.
And, they are symbols of a time and of a system, symbols of an approach to accumulation by a few. And, they are a call to repudiate and reject the system that flourishes on life.
Flaming fire in a garments factory in Ashulia near the Bangladesh capital city of Dhaka, and the death of the garments factory workers, more than a hundred, are now almost old news.
In Germany, at least 14 workers died. They were disabled workers. The disabled persons had to generate surplus value and the capital appropriated that value. This was also a fire and smoke incident.
Along with passing time, last traces of the news shall turn into peep onto newspaper pages. Within days, the last follow ups of the news shall find its place in limbo.
Even, a faint melancholy shall not keep the memories of the burned-to-death-workers alive neither in Bangladesh nor in Germany.
A silence of indifference shall faithfully spread its shroud over the death of the workers, considered insignificant and expendable to the system. It’s the dust of unawareness that the system shrewdly spreads over such “accidents”, and passes time with crafty management as it believes “time is the best healer”.
It’s not the first incident that has made the workers encounter death. Scores of similar incidents preceded it. All the incidents got assurances of effective steps so that work force is not “spent” in such an inefficient manner.
Then, time moved. And, time took away more workers to the silence of death as time moved to the past. The current Bangladesh and German numbers – more than 100 and at least 14 – are a new addition only, and only to be forgotten, and only to be ignored by the system.
The systems’ strength is the inertia of a major section of the society, the workers’ unawareness and lack of functional steps, weakness of the workers’ organization, lack of the workers’ political mobilization, the broader society’s apathy and indifference, and a significant section’s collaboration.
So, the system thrives, thrives on plunder, on appropriation, on sufferings, pains and deaths of the toilers.
Workers’ death, workers burned to death and the poor burned to death are regular “incidents” in Bangladesh society. Bangladesh newspapers carry the evidence. These are in factories, in city slums. An advanced capitalist society, Germany, does not stand as an exception.
And, the evidence exposes the seemingly innocent face of a system that survives and flourishes on the workers, the toilers’ labor and the working persons’ sacrifices.
And, the evidence exposes the harsh truth: the most dispossessed sacrifice the most for most of the gains by the most minority social class.
The cruel fact repeatedly comes out: the system can flourish only at the expense of the toilers, the working people. And, it’s the system’s only path to fill up its bottomless basket of greed.
Then, the system owns sweet smiles, soothing words, consoling assurances, faces painted with lines of pains, pens composing mal-arguments that buy scholarship, respectability and acceptability, personalities that market confusion with disjointed sentences forming illogic.
This is a system with masks. Mookhash, Mask, a Bangla poem, tells the fact: The system with masks amasses huge wealth although its hands are invisible, and, there are masks of cow, sheep, and goat.
Monkeys, jackals, wolves, leopards, hyenas having masks of human faces are also abundant in the system. This enables the system to make death of workers, hundreds over the last few years, mere numbers.
It’s safe for the system as long as it dominates workers’ politics, as long as it can manipulate workers’ movement with organizations equipped with anti-worker ideology, as long as it can put its subalterns on the position of workers’ leadership, as long as only rage dominates scientific analysis, as long as vandalism and inconsistent slogans command workers’ unorganized, unaware initiatives.
A cost-profit analysis keeps capital assured that labor turned to ashes is not a loss now. Cheap labor gluts the market. A large reserve army of labor makes labor cheap. Political intrigues or competition, whatever the background is, labor is expandable by the system. So, to the system, a callous handling of labor is not dangerous. The system is much careful with all its costly commodities. Its costly commodities don’t turn ashes.
The two countries, Bangladesh and Germany, are far away from each other. They are far away in terms of geographical distance, economy, culture, management system, class character of property owners, politics.
In a country, the dominating capital is mature. In another, it’s shamelessly crude, rustic, immature that even don’t know the art of camouflaging its face and character. In a country, the dominating capital is much old while in another, it’s quite nouveau, absolute upstart, in essence lumpen.
In both the countries, the dominating capital is defended; but in one, it’s done craftily while the other generates incoherent logic and arguments that proudly stand below juvenile level.
And, the two countries are closer. They are closer in terms of appropriation of surplus value, accumulation, dominating philosophy. In both the countries, dominating interests are fundamentally the same: appropriators. This ties the workers together.
The two economies are closer in terms of intensifying appropriation of labor. In one, the method has a sober face while the other fails to hide its rough approach.
The labor in both the economies finds capital as hostile. Both the economies fail to arrange full employment. Both the economies curtail labor’s bargaining space.
There’s no difference between black labor and white labor, between western labor and eastern labor, as is propagated by a section. And, there is no logic to identify capital as only western. The fundamental contradictions between labor and capital remain the same. Capital’s globalization has widened and sharpened these.
Whatever analyses are done, whatever losses or profits are calculated, and whatever political intrigues or competitions form background of the incidents, the deprived labor’s pains shall persist as long as labor is shackled.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Doha Climate Crisis Talks Will Find Critical Clash Of Interests

Conflicts of interests will dominate the upcoming Doha climate crisis meet while the common interest of the humanity will be pushed aside as big capitals are calculating potential gains and possible losses in the emerging climate crisis market. But, the planet’s climate health is turning worse while conflicting capitals are fighting each other.
In its recent report, the World Meteorological Organization said: The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reached a record high – 390.9 parts per million in 2011, “which is a 40 percent increase over levels in 1750, the period humans began burning fossil fuels in earnest”. Levels of other heat-trapping gases including methane, nitrous oxide have also jumped to record altitude. The amount of excess heat prevented from escaping into outer space was 30 percent higher in 2011 than it was in 1990.
Plants and oceans’ capacity to absorb the excess CO2, said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, “will not necessarily continue in the future” as these natural sinks have been saturated.
Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, the World Bank’s recently released report, said: All nations will suffer the effects of a world 4C hotter, but it is the poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food scarcity, rising ocean levels, cyclones and droughts. Without significant emissions reductions, the planet’s average temperature could climb by 4C by as early as 2060.
Most vulnerable cities in developing nations including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, the Philippines, Venezuela and Vietnam have been identified in the WB report
Almost immediately before the release of these two reports, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report said in November: This planet’s temperature will increase by 6C within 88 years, which is triple the goal of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Although global carbon intensity is down, energy-related carbon emissions grew by 3 percent from 2010 to 2011.
According to the report, the US carbon intensity and energy-related emissions fell while these reductions were matched or exceeded by a number of industrialized countries including France, the UK, Germany and Italy and they were offset by rising emissions in a number of countries including China, Australia, Turkey, Argentina and India.
Leo Johnson, partner of the PwC, writes in the report’s introduction: “It’s time to plan for a warmer world. Even doubling our current rate of decarburization would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees (Celsius) of warming by the end of the century.”
To meet the Copenhagen Accord’s target, Johnson writes, decarburization by 5.1 percent annually is an imperative. In 2011, the world reduced its carbon intensity by 0.7 percent. “[N]ot once since World War II has the world achieved that rate of decarburization but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years.”
Countries have already started facing impact of the climate crisis. Randy Astaiza reported in Business Insider (“11 Islands That Will Completely Disappear When Sea Levels Rise”, Oct. 11, 2012):

Kiribati is negotiating with Fiji to buy up to 5,000 acres of land to relocate its population as that’s their last resort, “as the tides have reached […] homes and villages” of the Kiribati people. Most of its population has already moved to one island, Tarawam, after the rest of their land disappeared in the ocean. A sea level rise of just three feet would submerge the Maldives, the world’s lowest-lying country. Seychelles, the Torres Strait Islands and Palau are facing the absolute uncertainty in the face of ocean’s rising water. Palau’s “coasts are being eroded, its local farmlands tainted by seawater, and its valuable reefs threatened.” The UN declared the approximately 100 residents of Tegua, part of the Torres Strait Islands, the first climate change refugees in 2005. The island of Vanikoro is sinking along with rising sea levels. Micronesia is being eroded away by the sea waters. High tides inundate the Carteret Islands, destroy its crops, wells, and homes. The highest point of the Tuvalu is less than five meters above sea level, but most of it is less than a meter above. Total population of these island-countries is hundreds of thousands.
In 2009, an Andhra University scientists’ research finding published in the Journal of Geophysical Research said Indian summer monsoon rains have been decreasing steadily over the past three decades, a trend not seen in the 19th century.
The monsoon impacts agriculture and water supply, and on these depend the lives of more than a billion South Asian people.
Bangladesh with worsening floods, storms and sea surges is looking at a grim future in terms of climate crisis. Countries in other continents are also facing the same gloomy future.
Assessments and predictions on global sea level bear bleak message. The rise, according to the EPA, is eight inches since 1870; the National Academy of Sciences’ 2009 predictions suggest that by 2100, the level could rise between 16 inches and 56 inches, depending how the world responds to changing climate.
This, obviously a very little description, global climate crisis reality stands as a background of the two-week 2012 UN Climate Change Conference – COP 18 (18th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change)/CMP 8 (8th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol), which will kick off on November 26 in Doha.
The conference has to search for a legally binding international framework for carbon emission cuts beyond 2012 as the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period will reach to its demise within a few weeks. Financing for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is also in the conference agenda. Six countries will compete to be the host the GCF: Germany, Mexico, Namibia, Poland, South Korea and Switzerland.

After the Copenhagen COP failure in 2009 and the deal in Durban COP 17 the climate negotiation process made small achievement: the GCF with $100 billion a year to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries to cope with climate crisis.
The climate crisis diplomacy begins at this point. Economies have respective interests, which get reflected in the climate diplomacy. A number of the climate diplomacy actors are powerful.
A number of countries, fewer than the number in the original 1997 Protocol, prefer a Second Kyoto Protocol ready to roll on January 1, 2013 while another group’s choice is non-participation in the process. Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia probably will not sign up to the Second phase. Probably, the Second Kyoto Protocol will only find the EU countries, Australia, Norway and Switzerland to sign.
Extension of the Kyoto protocol is probably Brazil’s priority while a number of countries prefer bigger emission cuts.
The US signed the Kyoto Protocol but never ratified it. The US’ argument is: The Protocol didn’t impose any binding commitments on big emerging economies including China, India and Brazil. The Chinese line of reasoning is: China is a developing country; so it shouldn’t face the same requirements of emission reduction as the Western countries face. The Western countries have polluted the atmosphere for centuries, says the Chinese contention.
It should not be hoped that the US-China debate will be resolved in Doha.
Funding of the GCF is an area of debate. The European Council’s choice is private sector and market mechanism. The choice stands on a foundation of economic interests. But, market doesn’t favor the poor and the weak, and market doesn’t follow democratic principles.
Along with these interest-positions, powerful climate crisis is creating changes in areas including perceptions and politics in a number of major economies that are influential in climate diplomacy. Parts of a number of economies or sections of capitals are finding new “horizon” for reaping profit.
Current series of extreme weather trajectory is changing public perception in the US. A recent poll by Rasmussen found: 68% of Americans perceive climate change as a “serious problem”. In July, a poll by the Washington Post found 60% of the Americans surveyed perceived climate change was real. Some ultra-conservative politicians are also now concerned with the crisis.
In the US, in terms of climate sensitivity, it’s a big shift. In a Rasmussen poll in 2009, only 46% of Americans perceived climate change was a serious issue. In 2010, Gallup found 48% of Americans perceived the seriousness of global warming was exaggerated.
Two major hurricanes within 14 months including the superstorm Sandy, the recent extreme weather, record high temperatures are pushing the US people connect the changing weather and the climate crisis. This year, 2012, is the warmest year on record in the US, the warmest spring on record, the third-hottest summer on record, and July was the hottest month since weather records began in 1895. About 60 percent of the contiguous US faced drought conditions.
Obama was explicit on the climate crisis issue after his reelection. In his victory speech, in his first press conference since winning reelection, he mentioned the “destructive power of a warming planet”. “Climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children's future”, said Obama. He said: “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions.” The US president said: “[W]e’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
These statements are different from the utterances of his predecessors. But, sometimes, wishes turn solo. Uncertain politicalscape makes many journeys impossible.
Big businesses with relationships to potential climate crisis market are super-active in the US: the catastrophe-modeling, catastrophe risk companies, insurance industry, reinsurers, designing and construction industry, neo-fuel industry, and many others. A section of them has already got involved while another is getting prepared to get involved in the emerging climate crisis market. Companies are planning to invest billions of dollars to construct carbon capture and storage (CCS) mechanism, and infrastructure. Concepts are being floated to build safer nuke power plants.

As an asynchronous reality, the climate crisis deniers’ camp is still strong. Millions of dollars were spent by oil and gas lobby (OGL) to promote oil, gas, and coal interests. Fossil fuel-friendly campaigns were launched. Political maneuvering is there. Lobbyists know the art of making bubbles, painting rosy pictures and propagating fabricated threats.
A section in the fuel-conservative camp has not liked Obama’s reelection. To the section, the reelection is synonymous to “the empowerment of government over the liberty of the individual and free markets” and “a profound rejection of the benefits of free enterprise”.
A highly profitable industry gets big amount of subsidies. Its anger with scientific findings on climate crisis, and political support to the fact of the crisis is not without reason. The profit margin, the industry apprehends, may get squeezed. So, there is the free-market US think tank the Heartland Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity concerned with market’s liberty.
Market competition is pushing down coal industry in a number of countries. Its competitor is natural gas.
In the UK, nuclear, wind, wave and tidal energy industries – more than 1,000 companies – have made an unprecedented joint appeal to ministers not to abandon their commitment to combat climate change. They want a legally binding decarburization target for electricity generation. But the government lacks uniform position on the issue, a reflection of conflicting interests.
Similar conflicts of interests, essentially conflict of competing capitals, are overwhelming economy and politics in countries. At the same time, states, as a single state or as a group, represent conflicting interests also. Climate crisis diplomacy reflects these conflicting interests while people’s interest is thrown out from agenda.

A glimpse of history helps in these moments of inaction.
Droughts brought collapse of the Classic Maya civilization over centuries. The Maya people’s agriculture got disrupted, big cities gradually crumbled down, people abandoned cities, instability and political collapse followed. Research by Douglas Kennett, environmental anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University, found the agonizing fact. (D.J. Kennett et al, “Development and disintegration of Maya political systems in response to climate change”, Science, Vol. 338, November 9, 2012, p. 788, doi:10.1126/science.1226299)
However, part of mainstream is now concerned with the climate crisis. The crisis will not only ultimately hurt drive for profit, but endanger profit’s cherished status quo also.

“We will never end poverty if we don’t tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today”, the WB chief told reporters on a recent conference call. The statement tells the urgency.
But, capitals have not yet resolved own conflicts. So, the crisis remains unattended by its sections, remains on bargaining table.
Now, it’s universally accepted, other than a few deniers, climate crisis is a planetary crisis, a human crisis. Now, there are at least 25 million climate refugees. More than 1 billion people, most of them are poor, live in low-lying coastal areas. The planet is facing climate catastrophe. To the people, climate crisis is not a hoax. To avoid irreversible damage to humanity, the present pattern of economy – the maximization of profit – has to be changed as essential steps are not taken simply to maximize profit.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Profit And Corruption Widens Energy Inequality

Profit is the opposite side of poverty and deprivation, which is ignored by mainstream although the mainstream takes the posture of crusader against poverty. Profit fattens itself by pushing many to the world of poverty and deprivation. The sphere of energy is not free from this equation.
A comparison with the amount profit of the oil companies helps understand the inequality. The oil industry, Antonia Juhasz writes, is the most profitable industry in the world. Six of the ten largest corporations in the world are oil companies: ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell (Shell), BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Total. With over $40 billion in profit in 2007, ExxonMobil is the most profitable corporation both in the world and in world history. Its profits are larger than the entire economies of 93 of the world’s nations ranked by GDP. ExxonMobil had the most profitable year of any corporation ever in 2003 and then proceeded to surpass its own record every year for the next five years. ExxonMobil’s profits were more than twice those of the next three US companies on the Fortune 500 list combined: Chevron with $18.7 billion; General Motors, which lost $38.7 billion; and ConocoPhillips with $11.9 billion. Similarly, in 2006 ExxonMobil’s profits were nearly twice those of the next two US companies combined: United Airlines with $23 billion and Citigroup with $21 billion. ExxonMobil is not alone. Each major American oil company — ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Valero, and Marathon — has surpassed its own record-breaking profits in almost every year for the last five years. Combined, they earned more than $80 billion in 2007 profits. There is simply no comparison with any other industry in the United States. The 10 largest global oil companies, according to the Fortune’s 2007 Global 500 listing, took in over $167 billion in profits in 2006 alone, about $50 billion more than the top 10 companies in the second most profitable industry, commercial and savings banks. (The Tyranny of Oil: the World's Most Powerful Industry and What We Must Do To Stop It, 2008)
Not only oil, other sources of energy also reap profit. These are lucrative. Reports on business, trade, investment in energy sector and its sub-sectors show the fact. Force, political, diplomatic and military power, manipulations and conspiracies, assassinations and murders, which are applied in areas of deals, labor, politics, geopolitics and regime change in countries and regions are indicators of power of profit in the area of energy. Identifying the source of profit helps locate source of poverty, and energy poverty is no exception. Section of political economics has long ago identified both the sources that have still not been possible to refute and nullify by the other section.
Any common person from a Fourth World country or from strife-torn Nigeria or from energy poor Bangladesh can ask: what the profit could have done in the lives of the billions living in dark, struggling daily with energy expenses, walking miles to collect biomass for cooking, in hospitals facing power outages? Even, many citizens in the US, in the low-income part of a municipality can raise similar questions. But, the true path of profit does not go along those outposts of life. Its survival and expansion depend on depriving many. Thus it creates crisis, crisis in the form of civil strife, violation of human rights, and ultimately for itself. This aggravates the energy poverty situation.
The energy poverty situation turns grave with the factor of corruption in the entire energy business, and corruption hurts the poor most. A World Bank study said: corruption “perpetuates or deepens inequality, as the few amass power and wealth at the expense of the many.” The study defined two types of corruption: petty corruption by petty employees and “grand corruption in the allocation of lucrative monopolies” by company managers and mid-level bureaucrats associated with energy purchase or sale contracts or debt instruments. Both types of corruption hurt the common people, but the later one hurts the country, the broader public interest, the economy.
Grand corruption, according to the study, involves political campaign contributions and the personal enrichment of political leaders. It mentioned election finance scandals in industrial countries, and politicians in “new” democracies acquiring illicit sources of campaign funding. As example the study mentioned that in a south Asian country losses of two organizations related to electricity amount to more than US $100 million each year. Corruption is more common in unsolicited bids, supplier’s credits, and crash program–type procurement initiatives.
The study cited a few examples of corruption: A former prime minister in Ukraine personally granted exclusive rights to a gas trader that was reportedly controlled by him and his associates. The trader imported gas from Russia at a price of US $50 per thousand cubic meters and sold it to captive industrial consumers for US $80. The prime minister used the financial wealth generated by this lucrative monopoly to establish a political party. Diversion of utility revenues had become such a problem in Pakistan that in 1999 the government mobilized the army to supervise meter reading and billing. The scale of theft surprised the authorities, especially the extent to which the affluent benefited. Industries, shopping centers, and large residences accounted for a large share of the stolen electricity. Subsidies in power sector in one country, the study mentioned, amount to more than US$100 million a year, more than expenditure on health. The beneficiaries of the subsidies are the relatively affluent 16 percent of households that have electricity service.
The World Bank study commented: “The poor lose from the budget subsidies to the power sector in two ways: lower rates of economic growth and less social expenditure from which they would benefit directly.” Corruption that grows along the modus operandi of the dominating classes contributes to energy poverty.
With intensified competition among capitals and accelerated and almost complete globalization by capitals, corruption is a tool in the hands of capitals. Each of competing capitals aspire and demand a fair game for all but self. Each of competing capitals

Political economy of the crisis should not be missed
The energy crisis is part of the world crises now overwhelming the planet. The fundamental aspect of the energy crisis will be missed if it is only viewed in terms of the prospect of dwindling oil supply and is viewed without connecting it to the world production and distribution system. The approach pushed by the donors in the poor countries in the name of development, part of the world production and distribution system, is contributing to the crisis. A major part of this approach is oil intensive. The life style the dominating segments in the poor countries have jealously adopted is contributing to the energy poverty, and widening the gap.
Plundering of public property is the lifeline for the dominating segments in many poor countries, and the process of plundering increases energy disparity. The plundering process and the plundering class/segment is part of the present world system while the plundering of the energy resources from poor countries is an act of the world system.
Metropolitan states with their all might stand by their owners: the energy giants. The world power structure stands by their compradors, the junior partners in appropriating/plundering and squandering of public resources including energy.
Increased energy poverty is the consequence of energy loot from the poor countries. The political economy of energy poverty is thus connected to class rule and the world system. Degradation in environment and changes in climate is worsening the energy poverty situation. All these are part of the energy crisis.
The energy poverty situation puts forth a few tasks: (1) Explain this disparity and deprivation to the masses so that the possibility of drying up of oil, a major source of profit, could not be depicted by the mainstream as the only aspect of energy crisis, so that the people at the bottom turn aware of the way they are being deprived, and so that the private sector could not make the pockets of the poor a big market. (2) Demands for energy equality, environment-friendly energy for the common people, affordable energy not harmful to health should be raised. An equitable distribution of energy will stop many of the luxuries that squander energy. (3) Cooperatives for energy could be organized at community level. This will provide people, through mistakes and failures, space for debating related issues, getting mobilized, practicing democracy, running organizations, fighting bureaucracy, and articulating greater demands. (4) The designs and attempts to take control of energy sources by external actors should be exposed. (5) Popularize the approaches: (a) the lower the more, and (b) no transparency no deal. The first one is for proportionately more subsidy in energy to the poorer, more participation from the bottom in planning and decision making while the next one is for demanding all energy related deals to be made public and to be debated. Debating the energy squandering life style of the energy rich and the “development” approach prescribed by the donors will create scope for broader space.
[This section, 4th in the series, modified and elaborated, is the last part of the chapter “Energy Inequality and Energy Poor” in The Age of Crisis (2009) by Farooque Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based freelancer.]