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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue