Joanne Knight

February 7, 2014

Oily Hijack: Corporate Hegemony And The Keystone Pipeline EIS


The oil industry has corrupted the Keystone XL environmental assessment process just as it has hijacked the climate change debate and interfered with action on climate change. Reading the Department of State Environmental Impact Statement, it is clear whose interests are served by this report. The confluence of arguments presented in the report with the arguments of the American Petroleum Institute is stunning. Environment Resource Management, the company contracted to produce the report, is being investigated by the Department of State for conflict of interest in producing the EIS. The oil industry continues to follow the playbook laid down in the “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan” by the API in 1998. As environmental groups have grown in influence over the past 30 years, corporations have had to change their tactics in relation to the issue of climate change. Thus has grown the management area of corporate environmentalism. Environmental Management Resources is a whole company devoted to corporate environmentalism. So the capitalist class maintains hegemony over the climate change debate.



January 16, 2014

Corporate Climate Capture

The Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) has been pure spectacle. Not only were energy companies invited to sponsor the conference, corporate front groups ran panels and made submissions. This conference is clearly not an opportunity for governments to come to an international agreement on climate change but another PR opportunity for polluting corporations to improve their environmental responsibility credentials. Real action is blocked at every turn.

Little was achieved at COP19. No money committed to the Climate Green Fund, still no commitment to compulsory greenhouse gas cuts and no definite action to assist developing countries to cut emissions. Another talkfest for the global elite to pat each other on the back.

Even David Hone, Climate Change Advisor for Shell, expressed frustration:

 “After the first week of the Warsaw COP, an observer could be excused for wondering what exactly the thousands of delegates meeting here were actually discussing. The closest the assembled negotiators, NGOs, business people and UN staff came to seriously talking about CO2 mitigation was when Japan announced its new 2020 target, an increase of 3% in emissions vs. 1990…”

Debord explains that the spectacle reduces all attempts at social action to “mere appearance.”

“Understood on its own terms, the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance. But any critique capable of apprehending the spectacle’s essential character must expose it as a visible negation of life and as a negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself.”

COP19 was the first UN climate talks to have corporate sponsorship, with some huge energy companies as official ‘partners’, including Alstom, ArcelorMittal, and BMW. The Polish Ministry of Economy also teamed up with the World Coal Association to put on a parallel “International Coal and Climate Summit,” whose joint “Warsaw Communiqué” was little more than a veiled call for more coal and CCS.

French conglomerate Alstom Power built the Belchatów coal-fired power plant, the single biggest source of carbon emissions in Europe. ArcelorMittalis the world’s leading steel and mining company and the leading supplier of steel products in automotive, construction, household appliances and packaging production. These corporations clearly have an interest in ensuring that reductions in GHGs needed to tackle climate change do not occur.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) was active at events around COP19. President, David Rothbard, and Executive Director, Craig Rucker, “are two of the primary voices seeking to provide a positive alternative to major environmental groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth,” according to the CFACT website. Major sponsors of CFACT have been ExxonMobil, the Carthage Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which supports other prominent right-wing think tanks.

CFACT’s so-called “climate realists” addressed a Polish Independence Day rally during the conference in Warsaw. They argued that UN programs to restrict energy options in the name of fighting global warming, impoverish people and strip away important freedoms. David Rothbard told the crowd that UN global warming programs are attempting “a complete economic transformation of the world.”

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) was an key organiser at COP 19. WBCSD activities at COP 19 were sponsored by Shell. Other members of the Council include BMW, GE, Bayer, and Entergy. On 15 November they hosted a high-level panel discussion focused on the “role of the GCF [Global Climate Fund] in catalysing investment into clean energy by facilitating the deployment of capital at the scale and in the direction required to stay inside 2degrees C.” In other words, how corporations can get their hands on the GCF.

Peter Bakker President of WBCSD has declared climate change to be “the greatest new business opportunity to appear in decades…” Business is beginning to realize that climate change may be, well, bad for business. “The cost of climate change adaptation is frighteningly high. Since climate change mitigation is cheaper than adaptation, the business case for taking concrete steps sooner rather than later is much clearer.”

The steps to be taken involve using carbon capture and storage and other technologies. Unfortunately investment in CCS has been falling and the technology has not been successfully implemented commercially. A CCS demonstration coal-burning power plant in West Virginia shut down its carbon capture equipment in 2011 because it could not sell the carbon dioxide or recover the extra cost from its electricity customers. The equipment consumed so much energy that, at full scale, the project would have sharply cut electricity production.

Such fundamentalist belief in this failed technology explains why the business community is involved in ensuring that no binding emission reduction targets are ever set. These people are unable to break out of the spectacle which generates an unswerving belief in the efficacy of the commodity form. They are convinced that they can keep safely using fossil fuels because carbon capture will save us.

Another body very active at COP19 was the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Its members include BP, Dow Chemicals, Alstom Power, Citigroup. Through this body, the most powerful energy, financial and pharmaceutical companies in the world were making submissions to COP. This must be the most powerful lobby group in the world.

The IETA Submission to UNFCCC, stated:

“IETA is convinced that a global carbon market is the most efficient way for governments to achieve the necessary emissions reductions in the longterm.”

This reflects more fundamentalist belief in commodity solutions, revealing, according to Debord, that “social space is continually being blanketed by stratum after stratum of commodities.” Corporations believe that “alienated consumption is added to alienated production as an inescapable duty of the masses.”

“The entirety of labor sold is transformed overall into the total commodity. A cycle is thus set in train that must be maintained at all costs: the total commodity must be returned in fragmentary form to a fragmentary individual completely cut off from the concerted action of the forces of production.”

The trading of carbon as a commodity is an intensification of the spectacle which now dominates all social life. It is now almost inconceivable to imagine a life where consumption of commodities is not at the center.

Corporate solutions for addressing climate change involve trading our dependence on one type of commodity, oil, for carbon as an alternative commodity, maintaining control by the same corporations. Turning carbon into a product to be traded has done little to address climate change. A conversion of our society away from dependence on commodities, which actively interfere with our capacity to address real social conditions, is the only way we can save ourselves. The society of the spectacle and our dependence on commodities blinds us to our danger.

November 15, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan and the Economics of the Spectacle

Those who heard the impassioned plea of the Naderev Saño, head of the Philippines climate delegation at COP19 in Warsaw, could not fail to be moved. The Philippines has been battered by record breaking typhoons twice in the past year. Climate scientists have shown that such extreme weather events are brought on by climate change. The IPCC report earlier this year announced that global concentrations of CO2 emissions had reached 400 ppm. The threshold for catastrophic climate change is 350-450ppm. The paralysis of the international community in relation to the clearly accelerating instability of the global climate is extraordinary. This inability to act is another side effect of the society of the spectacle.

Full article at

February 12, 2010

Gunns bite the bullet, at last!

Filed under: environment — joanneknight @ 10:52 pm
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After five long years, the legal battle between Gunns and its vocal critics has finally ended, with the company agreeing to settle with the last four of the so-called “Gunns20” out of court. Gunns agreed to pay $155,088 to defendants to settle. The settlement ends a bitter legal stoush that started in 2004 as an action for damages against 20 people and organisations that had protested against or criticised Gunns’ operations in Tasmania, particularly its logging of native forests.

The case had been heavily criticised as an aggressive form of “SLAPP” writ. SLAPP writs, or strategic litigation against public participation, are civil complaints or counterclaims which are made with the intention of intimidating and silencing individuals or organisations who voice issues of public interest or concern.

From EDO Vic Bulletin

December 20, 2009

Political Climate

As Tony Abbot weighs in to the Climate Change debate with the predictable neocon line, its time to examine why this political philosophy is so dangerous.

The election of Tony Abbot to the leadership of the Liberal Party signals a resurgence of the neocons. The self-flagellation, blame-apportioning and purging have finished, the neocons have regrouped and outflanked the liberals in the party. This is a dangerous time for Australian politics as the agenda which dragged us into the quagmire of the War on Terror and the disaster of Iraq has returned in the form of Tony Abbott. So why are the neocons dangerous? In combination with neoliberal globalisation, it has created a hollowing out of democracy, a swelling of Executive authority and a penchant for ethnic violence.

Neoliberal political rationality represents a business approach to governing. The Emission Trading approach to climate change is one example of this approach, as are privatized child care and skeletal emergency services which cannot cope with emergencies, like the Victorian bushfires in February. The saturation of the state, political culture, and the social with market rationality effectively strips commitments to democracy from governance concerns and political culture.

Abbott’s approach to climate change also prioritises business over reducing carbon emissions. He articulates it as prioritizing ‘the economy’ but all that really means is that we don’t do anything to annoy big business or big agriculture. The position of the National Farmers Federation is that the battle against climate change is lost. We need ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’ strategies.

Neoconservatism is characterised by moralized state power and animated by angst about the crumbling status of morality within the West. It identifies the state, including law, with the task of setting the moral-religious compass for society. Through the political mobilization of religious discourse, neoconservative governance models state authority on church authority, a pastoral relation of the state to its flock requiring submission to truth and to the authority that speaks or wields it. This attribution of moral authority to the state is at odds with liberalism.

There isn’t really a religious-moral aspect to climate change. Not in the way that neocons think about morality: as a good vs evil dichotomy. There is no enemy or humanity as a whole is the enemy. Fundamentalist thinking requires the destruction or punishment of the enemy as in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq for the War on Terror. This type of fundamentalism has led the neocons into the position of climate change denial and brought the world to the brink of climate disaster.

The uncertainty created by climate change creates a feeling of insecurity, adding to the trepidation already faced by people confronted by global economic uncertainty, terrorism, continuous war, and global movements of refugees. Existing networks of social knowledge are eroded by rumour, terror and an everchanging technological environment. One response to social uncertainty is violence which can create a macabre form of security and a means for ensuring suspicion between ‘us’ from ‘them’. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan came as a response to the uncertainty created by the September 11 attacks but also in response to the erosion of social knowledge which has occurred under neoliberal globalisation. The erosion of liberal democratic principles which had formed the social bonds in Western democracies until hollowed out by principles of neoliberalism. Neoconservatism attempts to recreate such social bonds by calling on forms of identity politics at odds with liberal democracy.

Identity politics does not just play out as the demonization of other ethnic identities; it also plays out as rural versus urban identities, ‘climate change denier’ becomes associated with the bush ethic. Neocons in Australia are particularly skilled at mobilizing the bush identity as part of identity politics. Just as ‘stolen generation denier’ and ‘native title denier’ also form a consistent part of the neoconservative philosophy. It plays into an already existing social identity which has existed politically since Australia was colonised. Climate change denier becomes a righteous identity, the expression of a moral (not just a political) position.

This position was illustrated well by the debate between Ian Plimer and George Monbiot on Late Line. Both sides maintained condescending moral positions, both sides accusing the other of fraud, misrepresenting data, lying, etc. These are moral positions, not a rational debate on the merits of climate change science. The climate change debate remains frozen in competing moral positions framed by identity politics and undermined by political maneuvering. Meanwhile the ice caps continue to melt, Greenland sink holes expand…

Neoconservatives draw on identity politics through emphasis on particular moral codes and modes of behaviour. Neoconservatism polices cultural and national borders, the sacred, and the singular through discourses of patriotism, religiosity, and the West. It is clear that neoconservatives oppose the creation of global solutions to climate change and mobilise identity politics to undermine the creation of international agreements. However what is also clear is that, without such agreements, we cannot deal with this problem. If we sit behind our national borders, playing realist politics, reality will soon catch up with us.

September 28, 2009

Chemical Chicken

‘If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.’ Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland

The suing of KFC by an Australian family in New South Wales for causing serious injury to their 7 year old daughter opens the whole bucket of chicken for industrial agriculture once again. This is not a localized issue of whether something nasty got into the food because of poor hygiene standards of the local store but goes to the issue of how food is manufactured in our world today.

In October 2005, Monika Samaan, now 11, collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital after eating part of a Twister from Villawood KFC. Her salmonella poisoning developed into acquired spastic quadriplegia, acquired profound intellectual disability and liver dysfunction. She is now confined to a wheel chair.

We all know that eating junk food is bad for us but the fast food chains seem to like to add an extra bullet in the game of dining roulette. In 2003, the Food Safety Information Council estimated that a whopping 5 million Australians are affected by food-poisoning every year and a 2005 report found that approximately 120 people die from food-borne illnesses in Australia every year.

KFC only stopped using partially-hydrogenated oils, one of the worst sources of trans fats which massively increases the risk of heart disease, to fry their chicken when the Centre for Science in the Public Interest took them to court in 2006. Health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fats be reduced to trace amounts. Baskin and Robbins makes a large Fudge Brownie (‘vanilla soft serve blended with brownie chunks and hot fudge’) which packs two days’ worth of saturated fat (39 grams) and almost a day’s worth of recommended calorie intake (1,900 calories) into a snack.

If that doesn’t put you off, listen to this. In the United States in 1994, health investigators found that contamination of icecream pre-mix occurred because it was transported in tanker trailers that had previously been used to haul liquid eggs contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis. The contamination was not detected until the icecream had been distributed across the nation. Researchers estimated that 224,000 people in many different states contracted gastroenteritis as a result of eating the contaminated icecream. The practice of mass-distribution and transporting food long distances contains extensive risks as well.

The principles of the fast-food restaurants are coming to dominate more and more sectors of society and everyday life. Producing things in similar, standardized ways embodies four principal processes: ‘efficiency’, ‘calculability’ based on quantitative indicators, such as profit, ‘predictability’ as standard products are delivered in predictable ways, and ‘control’ through technology.

These principles seem to be applied so that even routines to ensure food safety and hygiene operate at their most economical and efficient rather than their most effective. KFC’s own internal hygiene review found the Villawood outlet, the subject of the legal action, regularly failed to comply with standards around food cooking, storage temperature and shelf life. In March, the NSW Food Authority dished out a $73,000 fine to two KFC restaurants in Sydney for poor hygiene and QSR Pty Ltd, which operates the outlets, was convicted of 11 charges of breaching food hygiene laws.

Such principles become especially problematic when applied to large-scale agricultural production from which KFC and other fast food chains source their never-ending demand for chicken and beef. The connection between flu viruses, now a source of global epidemics, and the practices of agribusiness have been strengthened by the findings of a report by Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (2009) produced in association with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

‘Industrial farm animal production is characterized by confining large numbers of animals of the same species in relatively small areas, generally in enclosed facilities that restrict movement. In many cases, the waste produced by the animals is eliminated through liquid systems and stored in open pit lagoons.’ This image of farms surrounded by lakes of excrement is almost enough to put you off your 2-Piece Feed.

One of the report’s damning findings is that the ‘intensive confinement production system’ or factory farming increases antibiotic resistance because of their misuse in the industry. OK we all want clean, healthy animals killed for our gastronomic pleasure. But antibiotics are administered in huge quantities, not just for disease prevention, but also for growth promotion. Tender, juicy breasts of chicken so big that the poor chicken cannot stand up and lies face down in its own excrement.

Reports show that between 17.8 to 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics per year are pumped into these animals. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70% of the antibiotics dispensed in the United States annually are used in farm animals. The practice of adding low levels of antibiotics and growth hormones has become common practice among battery farm operations.

Disease experts are investigating the links between this widespread use of antibiotics in animals and the role of antimicrobial resistance in epidemics. Benign or beneficial bacteria, which normally live in the human digestive tract or on human skin, such as Golden Staph, may pass antimicrobial resistance to harmful bacteria. Golden Staph is an enduring problem in many large Australian hospitals, attacking intravenous lines, catheters and wounds after operations.

The Pew report states ‘While it is difficult to measure what percent of resistant infections in humans are caused by antimicrobial use in agriculture as opposed to other settings, it can be assumed that the wider the use of antimicrobials, the greater the chance for the development of resistance.’

The essentially unregulated use of antibiotics in US industrial farming has serious implications for the incubation of epidemics. Public health experts are studying the correlation between conditions in industrial food animal production and the spread of the influenza virus. Dr. Ann Marie Kimball, at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health says influenza surveillance may be missing the key bridging populations, such as farmers, veterinarians and meat packers. Just as avian influenza (H5N1) and SARS had connections to human contact with animals, reports point to a swine flu epicenter around a huge hog farm in Veracruz.

Industrial food animal production and fast food consumption are intimately linked. These production centres are no longer farms. We must relinquish our bucolic dreams of cows peacefully chewing in lush fields and chickens clucking contently in the farm yard. They have now been replaced by the clamour and bustle of something more like the cross between a science lab and a factory but with more shit, blood and pain. Surprisingly, these images are produced by dispassionate scientists not by animal activists in the street. Monika Samaan is a symbol for everybody on the planet. We are all at risk from this dehumanised factory system.

January 14, 2009

Environmental Frankensteins

Filed under: environment — joanneknight @ 10:39 pm
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Written on 8 Jul 2008

. . . the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818

By ignoring two key features of the Garnaut Report (exempting petrol from the carbon trading scheme and compensating electricity generators), it is clear that the Federal Government, under the thrall of free market economics, is incapable of divesting itself of corporate control. The Frankenstein-list of solutions proposed by corporations to global warming include nuclear power and genetically-modified food. These are simply the same commodity-focussed, profit-driven solutions that have led the global economy (and now the environment) to the brink of collapse, having increased poverty and the wealth gap.

In May, the National Australia Bank cut its 2008-09 winter crop forecast by 5% to 37 million tonnes. A large proportion of Australia’s grain growing areas failed to achieve average spring rain. The market answer to a bad harvest: drive up the price so rich speculators can make more money on futures contracts. Meanwhile farmers cannot make a living and agribusiness descends to take over the farm.

After 30 years of market-driven poverty alleviation programs, developing countries are a social and environmental disaster. The Gross Domestic Product of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s seven richest people combined. Almost 1 billion people suffer from hunger, yet 1.2 billion suffer from obesity.

The market answer to the food crisis and climate change is Genetically Modified Food. Biotech companies are asserting that farmers cannot prevail against climate change without genetic engineering. The world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations, Monsanto, BASF, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, and Dow, along with biotech partners such as Mendel, Ceres, and Evogene, have acquired patents and patent applications for climate-proof genetic traits, especially related to drought and extreme temperatures. Globally, the top 10 seed corporations already control 57% of commercial seed sales. It is a proprietary approach that seeks to expand an industrial model of agriculture, one which will concentrate corporate control, further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds and divert resources from affordable, farmer-based strategies for climate change adaptation.

Sales strategy disguised as philanthropy is spreading this technology to developing countries. Monsanto and BASF are working with national agricultural research programs in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa to develop drought-tolerant corn, which will open African markets for high-tech seeds accompanied by intellectual property laws, seed regulations, and other products and practices amenable to agribusiness. Governments in developing countries are so desperate to earn foreign exchange that they are selling their countries’ agricultural productivity to corporations.

In a genuinely democratic system, the needs of the poor would never be excluded. However, corporations constantly maneuver to avoid the consequences of democratic demands. The reaction by corporations to calls to clean up polluting industries is to move them to developing countries while still producing for profit for developed countries. Researchers found that US imports of goods from China cause a greater production of carbon dioxide than if the goods were made in the US. Factories in developing nations tend to use more energy than in the West. Thus in order for rich countries to ‘reduce’ their green house gas emissions they move the emissions to another country.

Corporate-controlled institutions, such as the WTO, fail to understand or respond to democratic processes. The decision-making processes of such bodies have led to the exclusion of the interests of most of the Earth’s people. Trade negotiations are structured in such a way to obstruct genuine participation by citizens and organisations acting on their behalf. Any mechanisms for participation reproduce the WTO logic that only groups with a ‘legitimate’ interest in the organisation’s work, defined as having a ‘direct interest in issues of production, distribution and consumption’, are entitled to a say. It seems that even when corporations attempt to institute inclusive processes they fail. At heart there is no motivation and no understanding. Corporations are blind to the legitimate demands of ordinary people.

Unless there is a move towards including the valid concerns of developing countries and ordinary citizens, our capacity to deal with climate change will be extremely limited. Tom Athanasiou, director of EcoEquity, a green think tank, argues that the only way developing countries are going to make significant reductions in emissions, without compromising their development prospects, is if the wealthy countries provide them with the technology and development assistance necessary to do so.

Under the influence of corporate globalization, the decision-making structures of democratic countries have been reduced to technocratic management of large, unresponsive, bureaucratic, and unaccountable institutions. The demands of the people are dismissed as ‘populism’ but populism began as a farmer’s movement demanding rights to land. Now it is typically associated with ‘the pathologies of the masses’: nationalism, xenophobia and calls for moral and racial purity.

René Cuperus of the Wiardi Beckman Foundation, think tank of the Dutch Labor Party, argues that the rise of populism could be a legitimate warning against technocratic policy making, against new inequalities, and the failures of representative democracy. In this sense of the word, populism must never be demonized and underestimated. He suggest that it may be an alarm indicating a crisis of representation or a communication breakdown between elites and ordinary people resulting in popular revolts, such as the recent food riots in Haiti.

Dr Janette Hartz-Karp, Associate Professor at the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy (ISTP) Murdoch University, argues that to deal with the complexity of climate change and oil dependency, much of the adaptation needed will take place at a local level. However, local level adaptation can run into problems from individualistic attitudes and behaviours, such as the ‘not in my backyard’ (‘NIMBY’) syndrome; the tragedy of the commons (‘I don’t want a new freeway outside my house either but I’m still going to buy a second car that will contribute to the need for more freeways’); and the difficulty of reducing ‘ecological footprints’ when the full impact of that footprint is not felt locally (when environmental impacts such as waste are shifted large distances into someone else’s ‘backyard’). These attitudes work against the common good.

Dr Hartz-Karp pioneered a system of deliberative democracy. Deliberative Democracy envisions that a representative group of ordinary citizens selected by random sampling (as opposed to the 2020 Summit), comes together to deliberate on issues important to society. Disparate people have the opportunity to engage in egalitarian discourse on a public issue. The hope is that through respectful, informed dialogue, participants will solve problems creatively and find common ground that reflects the universal good. This system requires a reversion back to democratic basics, heeding the informed will of the people, in an environment that seeks to discover aggregate, communitarian viewpoints.

The need for urgent action on climate change has prompted calls for an oligarchy of scientists and technocrats to take over and declarations that democracy has failed. These calls come in response to the domination and failure by corporations and free market fundamentalists. A system of true democracy would involve people in meaningful decision-making and would ensure that all voices are attended to as we tackle climate change.

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