As I flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 12 for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)—the 20-year anniversary of the historic “Rio Earth Summit”—I read an article in the Financial Times titled “Showdown Looms at OPEC After Saudi Arabia Urges Higher Output.” The article explained that Saudi Arabia was urging OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) to increase their output of oil in order to ensure that the global price of oil would not exceed $100 per barrel in order to “mitigate the risks that high oil prices pose to the global economy.”
The article pointed out that ensuring the health of the global economy requires expanding oil production. This, as we know, will worsen the climate crisis. The takeaway message of the article, therefore, is that the global economy will only thrive by destroying the life support systems of the planet.
At the Rio Earth Summit, this was also the underlying logic of the so-called “green economy” proposals that have polarized and paralyzed the talks since the first preparatory meeting for Rio+20 in May 2010.
According to Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, who wrote about the Rio+20 summit’s preparatory meetings for the Guardian back in March 2011, “Far from cooking up a plan to save the Earth, what may come out of the summit could instead be a deal to surrender the living world to a small cabal of bankers and engineers. Tensions are already rising between northern countries and southern countries…and suspicions are running high that the…‘green economy’ is more likely to deliver a greenwash economy or the same old, same old ‘greed’ economy.”
At the Rio+20 summit, industrialized countries and multinational corporations, accompanied by institutions like the IMF and World Bank, led the push for development of the green economy—that is, to use the very ecological devastation caused by global capitalism to create markets in so-called “environmental services” by turning them into tradable commodities. These new markets would help prop up the global economy in a greenwashed version of business as usual.
“Environmental services,” provided by intact natural ecosystems—which include such things as the storage of carbon, the purification of air and water, and the maintenance of biodiversity—would be given a monetary value in the market, enabling them to be purchased and supposedly protected. In reality, however, it would allow companies to destroy a biodiverse ecosystem in one area, by purchasing the protection of an equivalent ecosystem.