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20.11.2020 – The Ecologist

Polluting investments not in our name
(Image by wikipedia.org/Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0))

Daniel Willis

Parliamentarians and NGOs across Europe have signed joint statements calling for public development banks to respect human rights and stop funding fossil fuels.

Last week saw the first ever international meeting of public finance institutions, dubbed the Finance in Common Summit, as development banks from around the world sought to agree on joint responses to the climate emergency and Covid-19 pandemic.

However, an international group of civil society organisations and parliamentarians have issued two joint statements that are highly critical of these financial institutions, arguing that they exacerbate climate change and inequality, whilst also undermining human rights.

Both statements draw attention to the case of Feronia Inc, a Canadian company that operates several palm oil plantations across DR Congo (as The Ecologist has reported on previously).

Commitments 

Feronia, which has received approximately $80 million from the UK development bank CDC Group, stands accused of failing to pay decent wages, endangering their workers with poor safety equipment, and of consistently failing to provide promised social infrastructure (such as adequate housing and healthcare facilities).

More shockingly, in September it was alleged that plantation workers and received racist abuse from Feronia staff and that public whipping had been illegally reintroduced on one plantation (CDC argues that these claims are unsubstantiated).

One of the letters also draws attention to the high levels of fossil fuel financing provided by development finance institutions (DFIs) and calls on them to repurpose these investments to work in the interests of people and planet.

Daniel Willis, finance campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “This Summit should have been an opportunity to reimagine how development banks could act for the public good in the not quite post-Covid-19 world. However, there has been no joint commitment to stop funding fossil fuels or ensure proper human rights diligence. Instead, we can expect continuing adherence to the status quo – privatisation and financialisation.”

“Feronia is a case in point – not only has UK aid supported the awful labour practices of this extractivist enterprise, but the company is backed by numerous European DFIs as well. Now Feronia is set to be sold off to a private equity firm based in a tax haven – further denying justice to the communities in DR Congo.”

Impacts

The civil society statement, signed by over 80 organisations from across the world, argues that DFIs should invest taxpayers’ money in the public interest, not in the interests of corporations: “In contrast to development cooperation bodies, which provide grants and loans to governments of the global south”, the statement argues, “development banks invest in the private sector for a financial return.

“Some of the most damaging impacts of these investments can be seen in agriculture. The organisations collectively condemn the use of public funds to invest “primarily in agribusiness companies and an industrial model of agriculture that is a main driver of both pandemics and the climate crisis. Development banks have little track record for supporting locally-controlled food systems or peasant-led agroecological farming”.

The interparliamentary statement on DFI investments, signed by parliamentarians from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, echoes these calls and argues that DFIs “need to change” to “contribute to genuinely sustainable development”.

In particular, this statement calls for urgent action to end any DFI investments that support fossil fuels or contribute to deforestation. “DFIs need to exclude fossil fuels & coal from their investment portfolios. Additionally … DFIs must have a clear policy to exclude any investments that contribute, directly or indirectly, to deforestation or other types of crucial biodiversity loss”.

Analysis from May this year shows that CDC Group has given a billion pounds to fossil fuel projects in the last decade alone.

Rights

However, despite this pressure, the joint declaration by organisations participating in the Finance in Common Summit left much to be desired.

Participants agreed that they should “consider ways and means of reducing” fossil fuel investments and “work towards applying more stringent investment criteria, such as explicit policies to exit from coal financing” – but no explicit ban on fossil fuels was forthcoming.

Similarly, warm words were given on the need to “share and apply best practices” on human, environmental and social rights – but little was said about the need to take action against those investments already harming communities.

The case study used in the statement is of Feronia Inc, a company which has received $80 million from the UK DFI CDC Group since 2013. Despite this, Feronia is now bankrupt and CDC is now going to write off $50 million of taxpayers’ money as the company is sold.

A wide range of concerns have been raised about DFIs investments in Feronia on a number of issues, including reports by Human Right Watch of unsafe and unjust working conditions, violent confrontations between Feronia security guards and local communities, and more recently the allegations of racist treatment of workers and the (illegal) reintroduction of public whipping.

Struggle 

These concerns were summed up in the joint statements as follows: “Feronia has a very difficult colonial legacy that includes unresolved land conflicts and a very authoritarian behaviour of the management towards the local population. DFIs promised that their engagement would lead to more jobs, better wages and a flourishing company.

“None of these goals have been achieved. To the contrary: Although DFIs have invested more than 200 million Euros, Feronia declared bankruptcy a few months ago. Working conditions remain very poor. Many people still work on a daily basis and do not even receive the minimum wage. Conflicts between the company and the local population have escalated several times within the last years, up to the point of violent encounters leaving three people dead and many more arrested.”

“[DFIs] have taken no action to address the historic conflicts over the nearly 100,000 hectares of land concessions or the allegations of corruption plaguing the project. Their environmental, social and governance (ESG) plans did nothing to alleviate poverty in the communities.

“And the involvement of the various banks did not reduce rampant human rights violations against villagers or workers. What’s worse, the banks have acted to undermine the community efforts to use the grievance mechanisms that they themselves established.”

For communities in DR Congo and the civil society organisations working in solidarity with them, the struggle continues.

This Author 

Daniel Willis is a policy & campaigns manager focussing on international development and climate justice at Global Justice Now. 

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

19.11.2020 – The Conversation

Solve suffering by blowing up the universe? The dubious philosophy of human extinction
(Image by Shutterstock / Free downloaden)

At a time when humans are threatening the extinction of so many other species, it might not seem so surprising that some people think that the extinction of our own species would be a good thing. Take, for example, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose founder believes that our extinction would put an end to the damage we inflict on each other and ecosystems more generally.

Or there’s the South African philosopher David Benatar, who argues that bringing people into existence always does them harm. He recommends we cease procreating and gradually desert the Earth.

But humans aren’t the only beings to feel pain. Non-human animals would continue suffering without us. So, driven by a desire to eliminate suffering entirely, some people have shockingly advocated taking the rest of nature with us. They recommend that we actively abolish the world, rather than simply desert it.

This disturbing and extremist position goes surprisingly far back in history.

Benevolent world-exploders

Around 1600 years ago, Saint Augustine suggested that humans stop procreating. He endorsed this, however, because he wanted to hasten the Last Judgement and the eternity of joy thereafter.

If you don’t believe in an afterlife, this becomes a less attractive option. You’d have to be motivated exclusively by removing suffering from nature, without any promise of gaining supernatural rewards. Probably the first person to advocate human extinction in this way was Arthur Schopenhauer. He did so 200 years ago, in 1819, urging that we “spare” the “coming generations” of “the burden of existence”.

Schopenhauer saw existence as pain so he believed we should stop bringing humans into existence. And he was clear about the result if everyone obeyed: “The human race would die out.”

But what about the pain of non-human animals? Schopenhauer had an answer, but it wasn’t a convincing one. He was a philosophical idealist, believing that the existence of external nature depends on our self-consciousness of it. So, with the abolition of human brains, the sufferings of less self-aware animals would also “vanish” as they ceased to exist without us around to perceive them.

Even on Schopenhauer’s own terms, there’s a problem. What if other intelligent and self-conscious beings exist? Perhaps on other planets? Surely, then, our sacrifice would mean nothing; existence and painful perception of it would continue. It fell to Schopenhauer’s disciple, Eduard von Hartmann, to propose a more complete solution.

Abolishing the universe

Hartmann, born in Berlin in 1842, wrote a system of pessimistic philosophy that was almost as lengthy as his impressive beard. Infamous in his own time, but completely forgotten in ours, Hartmann proposed a shockingly radical vision.

Writing in 1869, Hartmann rebuked Schopenhauer for thinking of the problem of suffering in only a local and temporary sense. His predecessor’s vision of human extinction “by sexual continence” would not suffice. Hartmann was convinced that, after a few aeons, another self-conscious species would re-evolve on Earth. This would merely “perpetuate the misery of existence”.

Hartmann also believed that life exists on other planets. Given his belief that most of it was probably unintelligent, the suffering of such beings would be helpless. They wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

So, rather than only destroying our own kind, Hartmann thought that, as intelligent beings, we are obligated to find a way to eliminate suffering, permanently and universally. He believed that it is up to humanity to “annihilate” the universe: it is our duty, he wrote, to “cause the whole kosmos to disappear”.

Hartmann hoped that if humanity did not prove up to this task then some planets might evolve beings that would be, long after our own sun is frozen. But he didn’t think this meant we could be complacent. He noted the stringency of conditions required for a planet to be habitable (let alone evolve creatures with complex brains), and concluded that the duty might fall exclusively on humans, here and now.

Euthanasia shockwaves

Hartmann was convinced this was the purpose of creation: that our universe exists in order to evolve beings compassionate and clever enough to decide to abolish existence itself. He imagined this final moment as a shockwave of deadly euthanasia rippling outwards from Earth, blotting out the “existence of this cosmos” until “all its world-lenses and nebulae have been abolished”.

He remained unclear as to exactly how this goal would be achieved. Speaking vaguely of humanity’s increasing global unification and spiritual disillusion, he hinted to future scientific and technological discoveries. He was, thankfully, a metaphysician not a physicist.

Hartmann’s philosophy is fascinating. It is also unimaginably wrong. This is because he confuses the eradication of suffering with the eradication of sufferers. Conflating this distinction leads to crazy visions of omnicide. To get rid of suffering you don’t need to get rid of sufferers: you could instead try removing the causes of pain. We should eliminate suffering, not the sufferer.

Indeed, so long as there are intelligent beings around, there’s at least the opportunity for a radical removal of suffering. Philosophers such as David Pearce even argue that, in the future, technologies like genetic engineering will be able to entirely phase it out, abolishing pain from the Earth. With the right interventions, Pearce contends, humans and non-humans could plausibly be driven by “gradients of bliss”, not privation and pain.

This wouldn’t necessarily need to be a Brave New World, populated by blissed-out, stupefied beings: plausibly, people could still be highly motivated, just by pursuing a range of sublime joys, rather than avoiding negative feeling. Pearce even argues that, in the far future, our descendents might be able to effect the same change on other biospheres, throughout the observable universe.

So, even if you think removing suffering is our absolute priority, there is astronomical value in us sticking around. We may owe it to sufferers generally.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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