The dog that turned green

Communities in Scotland and Brazil raise questions about carbon trading

I have just watched an excellent movie called The Carbon Connection. The film focuses on two communities, in Scotland and Brazil, which find themselves on opposite sides of a carbon trade deal.


The town of Grangemouth near Glasgow lives cheek by jowl with a huge BP refinery, that has bought the right to continue polluting by buying carbon credits through the planting of eucalyptus stands in Brazil.

The scale of the pollution in Grangemouth is scarcely imaginable given the proximity of the human population. The fumes are so bad and mysterious that one of those interviewed said her dog even occasionally turned green!

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the principal impact of the thirsty eucalyptus stands as far as local people are concerned is to dramatically lower the water table, emptying their wells and killing the plants on which they depend.

The two communities are taught how to use hand-held cameras and the film records their stories, the films they make to send to each other. It is profoundly moving to see communities talk to each other rather than through the distorting lens of the global media and so deeply to empathise with each other’s plight. Both communities thought their situation serious until they saw the problems faced by the other.

So, what has this to do with a column called ‘Life at Findhorn’? Its relevance derives from a debate happening within Findhorn and indeed the wider ecovillage movement over the concept of carbon credits.

On watching The Carbon Connection, one might come out thinking – "well that’s it then, carbon trading is simply a bad thing, end of story". But it is not that simple. In truth, there are many carbon trade initiatives that deliver solid and tangible benefits to communities – and ecovillages have great potential to be vehicles for just such transactions.

Ecovillages in Senegal, for example, are being funded to replant their mangrove forests and to introduce solar cookers. Now, as it happens, this work is not being funded through carbon trading, but it perfectly easily could be.

We could easily set up a mechanism whereby, for example, participants at the Positive Energy conference (www.findhorn.org/positiveenergy) we are organising here in Findhorn at Easter – who collectively will generate a fair amount of CO2 getting here – could be invited to make donations to fund such work in Senegal, or indeed in our own tree-planting or renewable energy programmes.

Perhaps, as seems so often to be the case, the key question is that of scale. Perhaps community-to-community, ecovillage-to-ecovillage schemes of this sort could work in ways that are life-and-Earth-affirming, enabling those of us who are heavy carbon consumers make the transition to a low-impact lifestyle while transferring resources in helpful ways to the global south?

Or are the dangers of muddying the message too great? If we say, "well, some carbon trading can be OK", will not the corporate spin-doctors respond in much the same way as they did with climate change denial – sowing the seeds of confusion as a smokescreen to permit business as usual? Especially so given that the great majority of carbon trading today is on a huge scale and probably resembles much more closely the BP/Brazil trade than the ecovillage model.

Can we run the risk of diluting the core message that we all need to dramatically reduce our carbon consumption as soon as possible?

Should we waste this opportunity to tie our gradual energy descent into the transfer of resources to sister communities across the south?

This is a live and open debate. We rejoin it at the Positive Energy conference. Why not consider joining us? – there are still some places available.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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What type of Brexit did we vote for? 150,000 Conservative members will decide

As Michael Gove launches his leadership bid, what Leave looks like will be decided by Conservative activists.

Why did 17 million people vote to the leave the European Union, and what did they want? That’s the question that will shape the direction of British politics and economics for the next half-century, perhaps longer.

Vote Leave triumphed in part because they fought a campaign that combined ruthless precision about what the European Union would do – the illusory £350m a week that could be clawed back with a Brexit vote, the imagined 75 million Turks who would rock up to Britain in the days after a Remain vote – with calculated ambiguity about what exit would look like.

Now that ambiguity will be clarified – by just 150,000 people.

 That’s part of why the initial Brexit losses on the stock market have been clawed back – there is still some expectation that we may end up with a more diluted version of a Leave vote than the version offered by Vote Leave. Within the Treasury, the expectation is that the initial “Brexit shock” has been pushed back until the last quarter of the year, when the election of a new Conservative leader will give markets an idea of what to expect.  

Michael Gove, who kicked off his surprise bid today, is running as the “full-fat” version offered by Vote Leave: exit from not just the European Union but from the single market, a cash bounty for Britain’s public services, more investment in science and education. Make Britain great again!

Although my reading of the Conservative parliamentary party is that Gove’s chances of getting to the top two are receding, with Andrea Leadsom the likely beneficiary. She, too, will offer something close to the unadulterated version of exit that Gove is running on. That is the version that is making officials in Whitehall and the Bank of England most nervous, as they expect it means exit on World Trade Organisation terms, followed by lengthy and severe recession.

Elsewhere, both Stephen Crabb and Theresa May, who supported a Remain vote, have kicked off their campaigns with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit” in the words of May, while Crabb has conceded that, in his view, the Leave vote means that Britain will have to take more control of its borders as part of any exit deal. May has made retaining Britain’s single market access a priority, Crabb has not.

On the Labour side, John McDonnell has set out his red lines in a Brexit negotiation, and again remaining in the single market is a red line, alongside access to the European Investment Bank, and the maintenance of “social Europe”. But he, too, has stated that Brexit means the “end of free movement”.

My reading – and indeed the reading within McDonnell’s circle – is that it is the loyalists who are likely to emerge victorious in Labour’s power struggle, although it could yet be under a different leader. (Serious figures in that camp are thinking about whether Clive Lewis might be the solution to the party’s woes.) Even if they don’t, the rebels’ alternate is likely either to be drawn from the party’s Brownite tendency or to have that faction acting as its guarantors, making an end to free movement a near-certainty on the Labour side.

Why does that matter? Well, the emerging consensus on Whitehall is that, provided you were willing to sacrifice the bulk of Britain’s financial services to Frankfurt and Paris, there is a deal to be struck in which Britain remains subject to only three of the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people – but retains access to the single market. 

That means that what Brexit actually looks like remains a matter of conjecture, a subject of considerable consternation for British officials. For staff at the Bank of England,  who have to make a judgement call in their August inflation report as to what the impact of an out vote will be. The Office of Budget Responsibility expects that it will be heavily led by the Bank. Britain's short-term economic future will be driven not by elected politicians but by polls of the Conservative membership. A tense few months await. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.