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Kyoto: Colonialism With A Green Face
"It is another form of colonialism," said a South African community activist about a World Bank sponsored project that will generate electricity from methane emitted by a garbage dump. According to an article in the March 12, 2005 issue of The Washington Post, the activist "has fought for years to close an apartheid-era dumpsite that she says has sickened many people in her predominantly brown and black community outside Durban, South Africa..."

However, the Kyoto treaty will make it much less likely that the dump will be shut since it "now stands to become a cash cow that generates income for South Africa while helping a wealthy European nation meet its obligations under the pact." The activist's complaints "are being increasingly heard from environmentalists and even some business leaders around the world..." according to Clean Development Mechanism Watch, an Australia-based environmental watchdog group that monitors Kyoto's impact.

Since the "rich countries" that have ratified the Kyoto agreement, are unlikely achieve promised emissions reductions through domestic controls, they can meet up to half of their obligations through two mechanisms. "The simplest involves buying credits from Eastern Europe and Russia, where an economic meltdown in the 1990s shut down many old industries ... giving them a large ‘headroom' of carbon credits." However, the "Bush administration has ridiculed such trading because it will not result in any emissions reductions."

Thus, Europe, Japan and Canada are going to make up for a lack of reduced emissions at home, in part, by "investing in clean-energy projects in poor countries." Although such projects can help meet their obligations under Kyoto, the projects can have harsh consequences.

The Post article quotes the South African community activist explaining that "World Bank and the treaty do not recognize the realities on the ground where she lives. ... No buffer zone protects the community ... hazardous chemicals at the dump have given her cancer and caused numerous health problems in the area. ... ‘You are talking about gaining credits and making money, but the people on the ground will continue to suffer.'"

South Africans are not the only one to pay the human costs associated with the Kyoto treaty. In Brazil "tracts of land are being converted to eucalyptus plantations to earn emissions credits under Kyoto..." according to one community activist. The "plantations are depleting the water table and displacing poor people who depended on agriculture. Biodiversity, he added, is being replaced by ‘monocultures' of eucalyptus forests that he called ‘green deserts.'"

Although Kyoto's contributions to disease, urbanization and reduced bio-diversity are still negligible, it is clearly a step in the wrong direction. A citizen of a developing country living near a garbage dump that should have been shut down or looking at "green desert" that used to be a farm must wonder what hath Environmentalism wrought?


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