Opinion: Columnists

Ron Arnold: Green-grabbing for carbon 'offsets' takes toll on Africans

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On Feb. 28, 2010, troops acting on behalf of a British forestry company that fights global warming evicted residents in Uganda's Mubende District.

They did so to make way for a tree plantation that would absorb carbon dioxide so carbon credits could be sold to transnational polluters. Longtime villagers in thriving, permanent communities were beaten by gun-toting soldiers who burned homes, destroyed crops and butchered livestock.

An 8-year-old boy named Friday Mukamperezida was sick in bed and was burned to death in his home while his mother was out getting medicine for him.

So says a civil suit filed by 1,489 Mubende claimants in the High Court of Uganda at Nakawa. A report by British group Oxfam corroborates the claims.

The New York Times and other media outlets reported on the story. New Forests Company, the London-based seller of carbon credits, denies the claims and says the settlers living in that area of Uganda were transients who were illegally trespassing and left in a "peaceful" and "voluntary" manner.

New Forests had been granted a 50-year license to grow forests of pine and eucalyptus trees -- non-native, water-hungry, invasive species -- in three districts in 2005 by the government of Uganda, one of the poorest nations in the world, in desperate need of revenue.

The evictions were legal. The villagers won a temporary injunction in 2009 ordering a halt to the evictions, but they also got a deadline to vacate company premises under police surveillance.

The deadline was Feb. 28, 2010. The horrifying events of that day became part of court records in the lawsuit seeking compensation for victims.

New Forests, which has similar projects in Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda, said in its defense that it runs education, health and income-generating programs in communities where it operates.

In Uganda, for example, it has built school rooms, health clinics, wells and latrines, and runs literacy programs as well as outsourcing some tasks to local businesses.

I asked my young Ugandan friend Steven Lyazi to see what he could find out locally, and he sent back a mountain of news clips showing that New Forests enjoyed an excellent reputation and was backed by deep-pocketed investors, including the World Bank, so it can tap an emerging multibillion-dollar market trading carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol.

Some of Al Gore's millions came from that Enron-like paper "market." The company expects that it could earn up to $1.8 million a year.

This "accumulation by dispossession," as British geographer David Harvey calls it, was the result of a program contained in the Kyoto agreement called the Clean Development Mechanism.

The CDM provides for emissions-reduction projects that generate Certified Emission Reduction units, or CERs, which may then be marketed in government-approved emissions trading schemes.

The CDM legalizes the purchase of CERs by industrialized countries and allows companies to invest in emission reductions where it is cheapest globally.

This hideous new green imperialism has become a global ignominy now being tracked by professionals who examined it last year in the British peer-reviewed Journal of Peasant Studies.

A special issue entitled "Green Grabbing: A new appropriation of nature?" revealed some of the forces behind green land grabs like those in Uganda: "things green have become big business;" they require "the construction and perpetuation of a sense of crisis," and "there would be no carbon-trading without the science-policy discourses that have discerned global warming."

The CO2 level in the atmosphere climbed steadily during the past two decades, but atmospheric warming did not, a panic-inducing detachment.

Billions in paper climate-credit fortunes stand to evaporate like Enron if that disconnect continues. We should expect a crescendo in the noise level from the hypocrites behind green-grabbing imperialism.

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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