quarta-feira, 1 de dezembro de 2010

A Petro-Inocência Ambientalista / The Environmentalist Oil-innocence

Fonte: Imagem picada aqui

Uma reflexão que fiz aqui, e que me apraz partilhar convosco, sobre a inocência ambientalista em relação à nossa dependência do petróleo.


The environmentalist oil-innocence
by Valdemar J. Rodrigues
vjrodrigues65@sapo.pt
The exploration and use by man of fossil fuels is, according to the dominant scientific paradigm, the causa causarum of global warming. Furthermore, off-shore oil exploration and transportation of oil by sea are activities with significant environmental impact, in the origin of some ecological disasters that human memory will hardly forget. In addition to environmental damage, such disasters often pose to society a heavy account of social and economic damage. The economic accounting of such damages, we must concede, it is very difficult to perform, since it involves ethical issues that lie outside the usual domain of economic science. In the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by the explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizom oil platform, we again saw how such incidents are difficult to value from a monetary perspective. What would be the fair value to be paid by BP to offset society for caused damages? Each head would respond with its sentence, and with plenty of reasons to do so: the monetary value we attach to environmental goods will always depend on a huge amount of social, cultural, and political factors. Ultimately, such value is just a mere indicator of the moral condition of man at a given time, and in a given situation. Besides, in which currency should we report such a value? And which guarantees of stability should we require to that currency? - These are but examples of the many and legitimate questions that can be asked with this regard.
Some environmental experts, however, find consensus on one thing: the price of oil is too low compared to what it should be if the environmental and social costs of its life cycle were properly taken into account. Here comes the first act of environmentalist innocence: the failure in recognizing the trap that underlies the acceptance that nature may have a monetary value, and that such is fundamentally a good thing. Unconsciously, environmentalists admit that nature can be submitted to the randomness of capital accumulation/destruction cycles that characterize capitalist economies. But like many environmentalists, I believe that nature as a whole simply has no cash value, being the same rule valid to all its parts. Only in that sense I understand that nature goods such as oil, once extinguished, simply cannot be replenished or replaced. If nature is for sale, it could only benefit from such a destiny if investors on “environmental capital” were gods, or at least supermen capable to convince us that they would protect it and maintain it endlessly, something that is definitely far from being a reasonable expectation. We should remember what has happened, and still happens, with national economies whenever they are exposed to currency speculation. We should also remember the arguments used by European politicians whenever they make recommendations to small (and peripheral) eurozone economies such as the Portuguese one. In their discourse there is always a stressing remark on the erratic and potentially speculative nature of financial markets. Many environmentalists, by accepting inadvertently the idea of monetary valuation of nature, they actually deny its main source of strenght and identity: the idea of intrinsic value of nature, so well defended by the founding fathers of modern environmental ethics, such as Henry Thoreau, John Muir and Aldo Leopold.
The second act of environmentalist innocence stems in part from the first: most environmentalists claim that an increase in the price of oil would decrease global greenhouse gas emissions, since that would mean less demand from the current millions of direct and indirect consumers of oil products. But environmentalists, here as elsewhere, tend to minimize, or ignore, the supply-side effects of such a claim. For example, the effect of legitimating new (or aggravated) environmental taxes and charges by the local governments, which makes their states still more dependent on oil to finance their policies; or the more prosaic effect that, in the peculiar market of oil products, such a claim might pose, in terms of additional pressure for the rising of prices. That might lead to the artificial increase of oil prices, beyond what would be the normal increase due to the perception, by economic agents, of the growing scarcity of oil resources. This situation can stimulate companies to explore oil zones that formerly were not economically feasible, thus diverting (and delaying) its investments that, otherwise, could be applied more broadly, and more rapidly, in more sustainable forms of energy. Such consequences might mean in practice the extension of our global economic dependence on oil, and less preparedness of societies to change, which means probably more poverty and less development, namely in poorer countries. I am sure that that's not definitely what environmentalists want.
Therefore, I think it is important that environmentalists pay some attention to the supply-side of oil chain. Key issues must be scrutinized, such as the tolerance, and even blind desire, with which many governments face the possibility of starting new oil explorations in their territories. That seems to me inconsistent with the prevailing discourse of global warming prevention, as well as with the practice of subsidize clean energy projects, some of which involving huge amounts of public resources. For instance, it is deafening the environmentalist and political silence about the first exploration of oil in the Portuguese territory, whose drilling works were announced for the spring of 2011 by the american company Mohave Oil & Gas. Above all, I sincerely hope that worldwide environmentalist community can understand more deeply the larger consequences of its discourse, something that may be decisive for the future credibility of its campaigns and actions for the environment. It is also worth to notice the paradox of many political discourses on renewable energies and carbon zero emissions, once confronted with the reality of public budgets dependence on oil. We must keep ourselves awake during what it seems to be the long and painful journey to sustainability.