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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The struggles of Huma Abedin

On the behind-the-scenes story of Hillary Clinton’s closest aide.

In a dreary campaign, it was a moment that shone: Hillary Clinton, on the road to the caucus in Iowa, stopping at a Mexican fast-food restaurant to eat and somehow passing unrecognised. Americans of all political persuasions gleefully speculated over what her order – a chicken burrito bowl with guacamole – revealed about her frame of mind, while supporters gloated that the grainy security-camera footage seemed to show Clinton with her wallet out, paying for her own lunch. Here was not the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, known to people all over the world. This was someone’s unassuming grandmother, getting some food with her colleagues.

It might be unheard of for Clinton to go unrecognised but, for the woman next to her at the till, blending into the background is part of the job. Huma Abedin, often referred to as Clinton’s “shadow” by the US media, is now the vice-chair of her presidential campaign. She was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at the state department and has been a personal aide since the late 1990s.

Abedin first met Clinton in 1996 when she was 19 and an intern at the White House, assigned to the first lady’s office. She was born in Michigan in 1976 to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother. When Abedin was two, they moved from the US to Saudi Arabia. She returned when she was 18 to study at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Her father was an Islamic scholar who specialised in interfaith reconciliation – he died when she was 17 – and her mother is a professor of sociology.

While the role of “political body woman” may once have been a kind of modern maid, there to provide a close physical presence and to juggle the luggage and logistics, this is no longer the case. During almost 20 years at Clinton’s side, Abedin has advised her boss on everything from how to set up a fax machine – “Just pick up the phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up” – to policy on the Middle East. When thousands of Clinton’s emails were made public (because she had used a private, rather than a government, server for official communication), we glimpsed just how close they are. In an email from 2009, Clinton tells her aide: “Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed.”

Abedin shares something else with Clinton, outside of their professional ties. They are both political wives who have weathered their husbands’ scandals. In what felt like a Lewinsky affair for the digital age, in 2011, Abedin’s congressman husband, Anthony Weiner, resigned from office after it emerged that he had shared pictures of his genitals with strangers on social media. A second similar scandal then destroyed his attempt to be elected mayor of New York in 2013. In an ironic twist, it was Bill Clinton who officiated at Abedin’s and Weiner’s wedding in 2010. At the time, Hillary is reported to have said: “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.” Like her boss, Abedin stood by her husband and now Weiner is a house husband, caring for their four-year-old son, Jordan, while his wife is on the road.

Ellie Foreman-Peck

A documentary filmed during Weiner’s abortive mayoral campaign has just been released in the US. Weiner shows Abedin at her husband’s side, curtailing his more chaotic tendencies, always flawless with her red lipstick in place. Speaking to the New York Observer in 2007, three years before their marriage, Weiner said of his future wife: “This notion that Senator Clinton is a cool customer – I mean, I don’t dispute it, but the coolest customer in that whole operation is Huma . . . In fact, I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human.” In the film, watching her preternatural calm under extraordinary pressure, you can see what he means.

In recent months, Abedin’s role has changed. She is still to be found at Clinton’s side – as the burrito photo showed – but she is gradually taking a more visible role in the organisation overall, as they pivot away from the primaries to focus on the national race. She meets with potential donors and endorsers on Clinton’s behalf and sets strategy. When a running mate is chosen, you can be sure that Abedin will have had her say on who it is. There’s a grim symmetry to the way politics looks in the US now: on one side, the Republican candidate Donald Trump is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country; on the other, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton relies ever more on her long-time Muslim-American staffer.

Years before Trump, notable Republicans were trying to make unpleasant capital out of Abedin’s background. In 2012, Tea Party supporters alleged that she was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and its attempt to gain access “to top Obama officials”. In her rare interviews, Abedin has spoken of how hurtful these baseless statements were to her family – her mother still lives in Saudi Arabia. Later, the senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke up for her, saying that Abedin represented “what is best about America”.

Whether senior figures in his party would do the same now remains to be seen.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad