Wednesday, April 7, 2021

3495. Biden-Kerry International Climate Politricks

By Patrick Bond, Counterpunch, February 1, 2021

Is U.S. President Joe Biden’s January 27 Executive Order to address ‘climate crisis’ as good as many activists claim, enough to reverse earlier scepticism?

To be sure, it’s great that the word crisis is consistently deployed, not just ‘climate change.’ Applause is due Biden’s commands to halt fossil fuel subsidies and new oil and gas drilling leases on national government lands, and phase out hydrofluorocarbons. There is a welcome promise to instead subsidize new solar, wind, and power transmission projects. Cancelling the nearly-finished Keystone Pipeline extension (from Canada to Nebraska) is praiseworthy, although surely the Dakota Access Pipe Line should be shut, too.

Moreover, a weakened and often climate-unconscious U.S. labor movement did extremely well, with quite a few paragraphs of the Executive Order – e.g. in the box way below – promising well-paying union jobs in a Just Transition. There is an unusual race consciousness, too, as ‘environmental justice’ is invoked to address the discrimination that so often characterizes pollution in the U.S. Much of the Order resonates with Green New Deal demands, so the Sanders-AOC team pulling Biden leftwards can claim some excellent language.

However, caveats and hard-hitting criticisms of the Order were immediately offered by long-standing Climate Justice organizations, e.g.:

Indigenous Environmental Network: “we stand by our principles that such justice on these stolen lands cannot be achieved through market-based solutions, unproven technologies and approaches that do not cut emissions at source. Climate justice is going beyond the status quo and truly confronting systemic inequities and colonialism within our society.”

Food & Water Watch: “Biden’s orders fall well short of what’s needed and must be paired with serious plans to stop our deadly addiction to fossil fuels. We need a White House that is committed to stopping all drilling and fracking, and shutting down any schemes to export fossil fuels.”

These are absolutely valid misgivings, and apply locally and globally. My additional concerns are about how during the 2010s, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) policy was manipulated by Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry (Secretary of State from 2013-17) and other staff from the Obama-era State Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (including former pro-fracking EPA head Gina McCarthy, now Biden’s senior climate advisor). From Copenhagen’s 2009 United Nations Conference of the Parties COP15 to the 2016 Marrakesh COP22 – and especially at Durban COP17 in 2011 and Paris COP21 in 2015 – their corporate neoliberal agenda held sway. This group’s climate-policy imperialism did enormous harm and it’s vital to recall why.

What characterizes Washington’s durable squeeze of UNFCCC policy in that era are eight fatal-flaw silences, which justified climate scientist James Hansen’s critique of Paris as ‘fraud, BS,’ a sentiment also expressed at the time by progressive groups – especially from the Global South, as well as Friends of the Earth International – dedicated to Climate Justice. The Paris Climate Agreement failed to:

• adopt sufficiently deep and binding global emissions reduction requirements, fairly distributed (in contrast to voluntary 2015 Nationally Determined Contributions that will cause at minimum 3-degree heating by 2100 – with only vague hopes of ratcheting up ‘ambition’), combined with a make-believe 1.5 degree aspirational target which is simply a talk-left distraction, while walk-right pollution continues unabated;

• establish accountability mechanisms including penalties (e.g. ‘border adjustment tax’ climate sanctions);

• apply carbon taxation judiciously and democratically (not regressively and top-down, as imposed in France and Ecuador in 2018-19), and dispense with failed carbon trading and offset gimmicks (implicit in most scam-riddled ‘net zero’ and ‘carbon-neutral’ claims, within the resurgent emissions-trading markets);

• respect historical ‘polluter-pays’ responsibilities for the ‘climate debt’ to cover ‘loss and damage’ and to compensate for poorer countries’ unused carbon space;

• ensure a job-rich Just Transition away from carbon-addicted economies (thus entailing new commitments to localized, labor-intensive production processes that had been eviscerated by neoliberal globalization);

• allow poor countries to adopt climate-friendly technology without Intellectual Property restrictions;

• convincingly incorporate and cut military, maritime and air-transport sectoral emissions (three areas long considered by imperialist powers as illegitimate for regulation); and

• compel fossil fuel owners to cease new exploration (and most current extraction) and simultaneously revalue their ‘unburnable carbon’ as ‘stranded assets’ accordingly (instead of allowing an extremely chaotic global commodity market and unreliable fossil financiers to bear this burden).

Post-Paris degeneracy began with Copenhagen discord

Since 2015, matters have become much worse and a global climate emergency is regularly declared. The Paris Climate Agreement’s slacker authors and irresponsible signatories should be condemned, not relegitimized. And now that we know how international climate do-nothing policy of this sort unfolds, warning lights are now flashing about Biden’s plan. Here are some examples:


“Responding to the climate crisis will require both significant short-term global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and net-zero global emissions by mid-century or before.”

Actually, given what we know about politicians’ propensity to shape-shift, the words ‘net-zero global emissions’ will continue to imply ongoing unsustainable levels of Global-North emissions – but now with even more carbon-offset or emissions-trading gimmickry boiling down to Dr.Strangeloveian ‘false solutions. Such wording would, in a just world, be replaced by phrases like ‘gross-zero,’ ‘paying our climate debt’ and ‘genuine nature-based sequestration strategies.’


“In implementing – and building upon – the Paris Agreement’s three overarching objectives (a safe global temperature, increased climate resilience, and financial flows aligned with a pathway toward low greenhouse gas emissions and climate‑resilient development), the United States will exercise its leadership to promote a significant increase in global climate ambition to meet the climate challenge… and alignment of financial flows with the objectives of the Paris Agreement…”

These financial flows are, in reality, farcical, in large part because of prior U.S. ‘leadership.’ At the Copenhagen negotiations in December 2009, Kerry’s predecessor as U.S. Secretary of State – Hillary Clinton – had promised $100 billion in annual North funding for poor countries starting in 2020, if the latter supported the Copenhagen Accord. Newsweek called this “a global bribe… political hardball, Hillary style.”

Nasty episodes of spying, phone-tapping, bullying and bribery have characterized U.S. tactics dating to Copenhagen, too, as we know thanks to WikiLeaks State Department Cables and Clinton’s email leaks, and Ed Snowden’s disclosures about National Security Agency bugging inclinations. The integrity of any Washington negotiator residual from that era (or any other) is dubious, to put it mildly.

Nearly all countries did ultimately sign on to Copenhagen, but many did so under coercion. As the main G77-bloc negotiator, Lumumba Di-Aping, explained to a civil society meeting at the COP15, some of his own home continent’s delegations were “either lazy or had been ‘bought off’ by the industrialized nations. He singled out South Africa, saying that some members of that delegation had actively sought to disrupt the unity of the bloc.”

If Washington, Brussels and London represent the primary sites of climate-imperialist power (usually backed by Ottawa, Tokyo, Canberra, Riyadh and other high-carbon capitals), then Pretoria – along with Beijing, Brasilia and Delhi (and Moscow too) – have served as the main climate subimperialists. The leaders of the latter four – South Africa, China, Brazil and India – joined Obama and Clinton in cutting a backroom Copenhagen deal just after Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It represented, Bill McKibben remarked at the time, the U.S. president’s greatest failure:

He blew up the United Nations. The idea that there’s a world community that means something has disappeared tonight… He formed a league of super-polluters, and would-be super-polluters… George Bush couldn’t have done this — the reaction would have been too great. Obama has taken the mandate that progressives worked their hearts out to give him, and used it to gut the ideas that progressives have held most dear.

The Copenhagen Accord takes shape via a secretive U.S.-India-China-Brazil-South Africa session

McKibben was right, because in coming months and years, the Copenhagen signatories and moderate ‘Climate Action’ NGOs whose leaders actually believed Clinton’s bribe promise found themselves conned, just as if they’d shaken hands with Donald Trump. Clinton’s advertised vehicle for the money, the Korea-based Green Climate Fund, last year only funded 37 projects worldwide costing a measly $2.1 billion.

The typical Global North rebuttal is that there’s plenty more climate money available outside that particular fund, such as in development banks allegedly lending to mitigate emissions or assist in adapting or making countries resilient to climate chaos. But a loan is a loan and most must be repaid with interest, so as Timmons Roberts and Romain Weikmans wrote in a Brookings Institute paper in 2016, “three-quarters of the projects counted as helping developing countries adapt to climate change in fact do not stand up to rigorous criteria.”

And Trump’s 2017 default on paying into the Green Climate Fund only put the U.S. into what is now merely a $2 billion deficit; that’s how little ambition the negotiators to subsequent UN climate summits possessed, and how unaccountable lying U.S. officials can be.

The Paris pantomime – no substitute for genuine climate policy

When Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, there were diverse calls for punishment – e.g. carbon taxes or other sanctions – against the U.S., from rightwing former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, centre-left economist Joe Stiglitz and climate justice strategist Naomi Klein. But no other Paris proponents had the gumption to do so, confirming that Paris was not worth fighting for, at the cost of offending inter-corporate relations, even in their eyes.

Another confirmation that the deal is a dud came at the end of last month when new voluntary targets updating the Paris emissions-reduction commitments were due, but only 23 countries met the deadline, and by January 27 there were still only 39 according to CarbonTracker, covering only a third of world emissions.

Of those that did, several climate slackers stand out for not having increased their commitment from 2015 levels: Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Switzerland and Vietnam. And major polluters Canada, India, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Venezuela and the U.S. didn’t even bother to submit new Paris Agreement proposals for emissions cuts.

Another reason Paris is worse than useless is the return of the carbon trading strategy. Biden speaks of “promoting the protection of the Amazon rainforest and other critical ecosystems that serve as global carbon sinks, including through market-based mechanisms.”

But since Kerry pushed this as a U.S. Senator in 2009-10 – as a failed ‘cap and trade‘ law – there has been profound conflict associated with privatising the air and selling the right to pollute. Some of these relate to broad neoliberal theory and policy, as a lecture by Tamra Gilbertson at the University of California/Santa Barbara here shows, and some to recent experiences in ultra-chaotic financial markets, I recently argued at the same conference.

For example, two years ago, more than 100 scientists wrote a letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), asking them to reject carbon offsets and trading permits on grounds the existing market-based mechanisms – especially as witnessed in the Amazon – provided minimal compensation, constrained community access to forest resources, and undermined local governance.

A consistent critic of these gimmicks – including CARB’s Tropical Forest Standard – is Amazon Watch, but rather than checking in with these experts, the Biden-Kerry team is committed to the corporate neoliberal agenda, and is not watching how market-based mechanisms actually work in the Amazon or anywhere else.

America First financing = climate-debt denialism


“The Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of Energy shall work together and with the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the Chief Executive Officer of the DFC, and the heads of other agencies and partners, as appropriate, to identify steps through which the United States can promote ending international financing of carbon-intensive fossil fuel-based energy while simultaneously advancing sustainable development and a green recovery.”

Weasel words like ‘identify steps to promote’ would, in a just world, be replaced by ‘veto international financing’ – and indeed where such monies have been committed but not yet fully disbursed, cut them off. And the U.S. must pay reparations where those are required.

Recall South Africa’s plight: sickly parastatal energy supplier Eskom’s two new coal-fired power plants (4800 MW each, the largest in the world) were given irrational support from Washington in 2010-11, when Biden was Vice President. One drew the World Bank’s largest-ever loan (which the U.S. could have vetoed) and additional funds came for coal-mining equipment from the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, in spite of both climate concerns and widespread (confessed) corruption of the local ruling party by Eskom’s main construction firm, Hitachi. (And then late last year the International Development Finance Corp. promised Eskom more billions to buy 2500MW of dangerous nuclear energy from U.S. firms, in spite of a recent history of corruption in the sector which had contributed to President Jacob Zuma’s ouster in an early-2018 palace coup.)

Biden would be taken seriously if he changed the U.S. ‘denialist’ position on the climate debt. The U.S. negotiating team at the UNFCCC was led by diplomat Todd Stern, who repeatedly violated the ethical core of the original United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. That declaration acknowledged both that “The largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries,” and that when it comes to the financial resources required to remedy the crisis,

The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

But by 2009 in Copenhagen, Stern had spun the combined equity and responsibility mandate upside down: “We absolutely recognize our historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere up there that are there now, but the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations, I just categorically reject that.”

The ugly-American ultra-polluters’ refusal to pay victims of climate change their due reparations – as would even any garden-variety economist committed to ‘internalizing the externalities’ of imperfect markets using the ‘polluter pays’ principle – was dogmatically maintained by Stern through the 2010s. At the time, U.S. climate damage was estimated at $4 trillion. Stern and other rich-country negotiators insisted that a rider to the Paris Climate Agreement specify that any loss and damage acknowledgement “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation” by the guilty parties – so if you sign Paris, you sign away your rights to demand climate debt payments.

The spirit of financial evasion continues in Biden’s Executive Order, which ignores the need for concrete funding commitments: there is not a single costing of any of his commands. On the one hand, Biden has a Senate Budget Committee chair – Bernie Sanders – who is more progressive than any in modern history, and who will advocate as much climate-related spending (via the ‘reconciliation’ process, requiring 51 votes) as can be accomplished with the bare majority the Democrats have at least until the next Senate elections in late 2022.

On the other hand, not only had Sanders wrung an actual dollar commitment out of his mid-2020 task team negotiations – “Biden’s climate and environmental justice proposal will make a federal investment of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years” – but most of the actual legislation required to cement in climate sanity in the U.S. (and to put down a time-wasting Republican filibuster) requires 60 votes in the Senate.

And in any case, there’s now a fair question that cuts to the heart of financing: can Biden be trusted with such promises – because justifiable fury has emerged in the U.S. working class, that the $2000 Covid-19 survival and stimulus check per adult that Biden promised he would send out when he assumed power last week will actually be only $1400 and will only arrive in March.

U.S. technological and militaristic selfishness


“The Secretary of Energy, in cooperation with the Secretary of State and the heads of other agencies, as appropriate, shall identify steps through which the United States can intensify international collaborations to drive innovation and deployment of clean energy technologies, which are critical for climate protection.”

Another slow-poke promise to ‘identify steps’ – and what’s the underlying catch here? Typically U.S. corporations add a huge price mark-up on new technologies, through patent licensing, fees and royalties. The traditional demand from Climate Justice activists is to end the monopolistic ‘Intellectual Property’ (IP) protections enjoyed by corporations (whether from West or East, North or South), especially when such claims prevent diffusion of vital public goods – and also where usually there have been generous state subsidies involved.

This simple principle was accepted in fighting AIDS, when in 2001 the World Trade Organisation agreed that IP protection would be relaxed on Big Pharma’s patented medicines; South Africa’s life expectancy rose rapidly from 52 to 65 as a result of publicly-supplied generics.

The next test of this principle is on February 4 when just as urgent a demand – from the global health justice movement as well as the governments of South Africa, India, Kenya and Swaziland – again reaches the WTO Trade Related Intellectual Property System council in Geneva. Activists and even some of these objectionable governments justifiably insist on a waiver from IP restrictions that prevent generic supply of Covid-19 vaccines and treatment, at a time unethical Global North governments like Canada’s have acquired five times more vaccine doses than its citizens require.


“Agencies that engage in extensive international work shall develop… within 90 days of the date of this order, strategies and implementation plans for integrating climate considerations” – yet even though ‘military installations’ are mentioned, this Order applies “without prejudice to existing requirements regarding assessment of such infrastructure.”

But the catch is that existing requirements are negligible, since Paris exempts the military from emissions scrutiny. The Pentagon does understand one thing consistent with U.S. imperialism’s needs, as Biden reminded: the “security implications of climate change (Climate Risk Analysis) that can be incorporated into modeling, simulation, war-gaming, and other analyses.

The military threat and anti-refugee stance of the ‘deporter-in-chief’ Obama and openly xenophobic Trump regimes are symptoms. But as the Democratic Socialists of America explained the core underlying problem, “John Kerry’s signature climate strategy seems to be selling out the working class to corporate Republicans.” And when the neoliberal, technicist approaches Biden’s team insists upon likely crowd out his promises of Just Transition and Climate Justice, another rightwing backlash and renewed climate-denialist surge will be felt in the U.S. populace.

Rethinking support for both Biden and Paris

Given all this evidence of how the Executive Order falls short, perhaps a rethink is needed. One basic question we’re asking this week in some of the World Social Forum debating about the UNFCCC, is the same one we asked each other when the WSF was founded in 2001, when we were concerned mainly with the World Bank, IMF and WTO as the key vehicles of economic imperialism: “Fix it or nix it.” If the fix-it reform requirements are not properly set out, then the danger is legitimizing a process without applying sufficient pressure to the principals involved.

Without that pressure, the Biden regime will naturally adopt a George H.W. Bush (Rio, 1992) yankee-consumer-imperialism negotiating standpoint, as did Kerry himself last week “Tackling climate change did not mean a diminishment of lifestyle.”

The greatest danger here is the combination of Biden’s neoliberal market-orientation (he hails from his country’s leading bank tax-haven zone, Delaware, after all) with his neocon imperial-military tendencies (the foreign policy appointments are hot off the Military-Industrial Complex revolving door). This mix will make the Biden Administration just as wicked a UNFCCC negotiating partner as was Obama’s team; indeed, Biden’s recycling many of the same people – with the sole apparent exception of a progressive Interior Department leadership nomination, Deb Haaland. That means climate activists in the U.S. should from the outset be as critical as reality demands.

Youth activist Greta Thunberg sent this message to the World Economic Forum on January 26, condemning the elites for:

creating new loopholes, failing to connect the dots, building your so called ‘pledges’ on the cheating tactics that got us into this mess in the first place. If the commitments of lowering all our emissions by 70, 68 or even 55 percent by 2030 actually meant they aim to reduce them by those figures then that would be a great start. But that is unfortunately not the case. And since the level of public awareness continues to be so low our leaders can still get away with almost anything. No one is held accountable. It’s like a game. Whoever is best at packaging and selling their message wins.

Given the prevailing evidence, claims made about Kerry’s new-found ‘humility’ should no longer lull observers into allowing another decade of U.S. sabotaging global climate policy. And that means a totally different perspective is needed on how U.S. and international progressives treat the U.S. re-entry to Paris: with eyes wide open – and protest placards at the ready.


Patrick Bond teaches at the University of Western Cape School of Government, South Africa. His research interests include political economy, environment, social policy and geopolitics. He can be reached at:

Monday, April 5, 2021

3494. Big Meat and Dairy Companies Have Spent Millions Lobbying Against Climate Action, a New Study Finds

By Georgina Gustin, Inside Climate News, April 2, 2021

Top U.S. meat and dairy companies, along with livestock and agricultural lobbying groups, have spent millions campaigning against climate action and sowing doubt about the links between animal agriculture and climate change, according to new research from New York University.

The study, published this week in the journal Climatic Change, also said the world’s biggest meat and dairy companies aren’t doing enough to curb their greenhouse gas emissions, with only a handful making pledges to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

“These companies are some of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change,” said Oliver Lazarus, one of the study’s three authors, now a doctoral student at Harvard University. “They’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money downplaying the link between animal agriculture and climate change.”

The research, which builds on data first published in 2017 and 2018 by the advocacy group GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), is the first peer-reviewed study to document the individual carbon footprints of meat and dairy companies.

The authors found that, as of last summer, only four of the 35 companies—Dairy Farmers of America, NestlĂ©, Danish Crown and Danone—had pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

JBS, Cargill, Hormel, Fonterra and Smithfield had not. China-based Smithfield has since pledged to be carbon-negative by 2030 and Brazil-based JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, announced last week that it would reach net-zero by 2040. A spokeswoman for Hormel said the company was “on a path to zero” and plans to set a target for greenhouse gas reductions by 2023.

These commitments, the authors say, are short on specifics or focus on carbon dioxide reductions, while the bulk of emissions from animal agriculture comes from methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas. In some cases, the companies’ commitments don’t address emissions from their whole supply chain.

JBS, for example, has said in public statements that it does not assess land-use change—a major source of agricultural greenhouse gases—from third-party suppliers. These are emissions, the company said in 2019, “over which the Company has no responsibility or indirect responsibility.”

Overall, animal agriculture is responsible for more than 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to calculations by GRAIN and IATP, the five largest livestock-based producers—JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Fonterra—emitted more greenhouse gases than ExxonMobil. The NYU researchers said they’re not aware of more recent and accessible company-level data, although a 2020 report from IATP found that emissions from individual dairy companies climbed in the years since the GRAIN assessment.

Recent reports, including from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have found that cutting emissions from agriculture is critical for controlling runaway climate change. But the new research found that only seven of the 16 countries where the largest livestock producers are based mention animal agriculture in their plans to meet the targets of the Paris climate agreement.

While the Paris agreement focuses on individual country’s emissions—and their potential to reduce them—the authors of the new report looked at how these companies’ future emissions compared to the emissions reductions pledges of their home countries. They determined that emissions produced by Switzerland-based NestlĂ©, the world’s largest food company, and New Zealand-based dairy giant, Fonterra, were so high that they would eclipse their respective home country’s emissions pledges, in effect consuming the entirety of those countries’ emissions budgets. Denmark-based Arla, the largest producer of dairy products in Scandinavia, will account for 60 percent of Denmark’s total emissions.

“Those meat and dairy emissions would actually completely wipe out the emissions (those countries) say they’re going to be emitting according to their Paris agreement pledges,”  said Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Environmental Studies and one of the authors. 

In taking this approach, the authors say, they’re assigning responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions to countries on a corporate basis.

“The Paris agreement suggests that Brazil is responsible for what happens in Brazil. What we said was: What if Brazil was responsible for JBS or China for Smithfield?” Jacquet said.

The authors said they were following the pattern of seminal studies on the fossil fuel industry, which calculated historic emissions from individual companies and then assigned responsibility to those companies. 

“Essentially what we’re trying to do is build out the climate responsibility of meat and dairy producers,” Jacquet said.

A spokeswoman for Fonterra said its carbon footprint was “46% lower than other major milk producers” and that the company was “actively working on tools and technologies to reduce emissions and help New Zealand reach its climate change commitments.”

Filling a Research Gap

The next goal of the study, Jacquet said, was to examine how these companies and their lobbying groups have fought climate regulation in Congress and before the Environmental Protection Agency, and to analyze how they’ve shaped a narrative around animal agriculture’s role in climate change.

The authors calculated that U.S. agribusiness, which includes meat and dairy companies and also other agricultural companies, spent $750 million on national political candidates from 2000 to 2020. The U.S. energy sector, by comparison, spent $1 billion. 

The same agribusinesses spent $2.5 billion on lobbying from 2000 and 2019, compared to $6.2 billion by energy and natural resource companies. 

The authors said these companies also spent their lobbying money on issues beyond climate change, including the Farm Bill and farm subsidies. But, they wrote, “it is often difficult to disentangle the two as policy decisions on crop incentives, land-use, and animal production methods have large implications for the extent and intensity of the animal agriculture sector’s emissions.”

The report also looked at the contributions of individual companies. Exxon spent roughly $17 million on political campaigns and more than $240 million on lobbying during the 20 years studied. In the same time frame, Tyson gave $3.2 million to political campaigns. But relative to each company’s revenue, Tyson spent double what Exxon spent on political campaigns and 33 percent more on lobbying. 

Industry lobby groups—the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Institute, the National Chicken Council, the International Dairy Foods Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, along with its state members—spent nearly $200 million, much of it lobbying against climate and environmental regulations, from 2000 to 2019, the authors found.

A spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council said the organization voted against a cap-and-trade bill specifically because it “would have converted massive amounts of cropland to forest” at a time when pork producers were already struggling to gain access to feed.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), the new study said, published or funded research downplaying the emissions from livestock production, often pointing to the low percentage relative to overall U.S. emissions.  

Sarah Little, a spokeswoman for NAMI, said the report referenced outdated documents. “NAMI members are at the forefront of research and innovation to strengthen meat’s contributions and ambitious commitments to healthy diets and protecting our environment. The U.S. meat sector has dramatically reduced its impact on the environment in recent decades, including by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions…. This study was already outdated the day it was researched.”

The nine U.S.-based companies covered in the report emitted 6 percent of overall U.S. emissions, the study found, but emitted about 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s on the same scale as Brazil, which has the highest carbon footprint from animal agriculture and where the top four livestock companies emitted about 380 million metric tons of the greenhouse gas annually. But that amounts to about 28 percent of that country’s emissions.

“The US industry really leans on Brazil’s terrible carbon footprint to compare to its own,” Jacquet said, but domestic agriculture is “high in terms of absolute emissions.”

The report also notes that the U.S. companies’ emissions totals presented in the study don’t include those connected to production outside of the U.S. 

The authors pointed out in an interview that there’s been ample academic research into the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to influence public discourse, but that a similar body of research into the agriculture industry’s efforts has not yet emerged. That could largely be attributed, they said, to the fact that very little agricultural research is done outside of industry-influenced universities or by independent researchers.

“It’s not surprising that they’re this active in shaping climate discourse,” Lazarus said, referring to the livestock companies. “What we’re trying to do is show the extent to which that has largely been ignored.”

Monday, March 29, 2021

3493. The Rise of Capitalism and the Productivity of Labour

By Michael Roberts, Micahel Roberts Blog, March 28, 2021

In my view, there are two great scientific discoveries made by Marx and Engels: the materialist conception of history and the law of value under capitalism; in particular, the existence of surplus value in capitalist accumulation.  The materialist conception of history asserts that the material conditions of a society's mode of production and the social classes that emerge in that mode of production ultimately determine a society’s relations and ideology. As Marx said in the preface to his 1859 book A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: “The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

That general view has been vindicated many times in studies of the economic and political history of human organisation.  That is particularly the case in explaining the rise of capitalism to become the dominant mode of production.  Now there is new study that adds yet more support for the materialist conception of history.  Three scholars at Berkeley and Columbia Universities have published a paper, When Did Growth Begin? New Estimates of Productivity Growth in England from 1250 to 1870.

They attempt to measure when productivity growth (output per worker or worker hours) really took off in England, one of the first countries where the capitalist mode production became dominant.  They find that there was hardly any growth in productivity before 1600.  But productivity started to take off well before the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 when England became a ‘constitutional monarchy’ and the political rule of the merchants and capitalist landowners was established.  These scholars find that, from about 1600 to 1810, there was a modest rise of the productivity of the labour force in England of about 4% in each decade (so 0.4% a year), but after 1810 with the industrialisation of Britain, there was a rapid acceleration of productivity growth to about 18% every decade (or 1.8% a year).  The move from agricultural capitalism of the 17th century to industrial capitalism transformed the productivity of labour.

The authors comment: “our evidence helps distinguish between theories of why growth began. In particular, our findings support the idea that broad-based economic change preceded the bourgeois institutional reforms of 17th century England and may have contributed to causing them.”  In other words, it was the change in the mode of production and the social classes that came first; the political changes came later.

As the authors go on to say, “an important debate regarding the onset of growth is whether economic change drove political and institutional change as Marx famously argued or whether political and institutional change kick-started economic growth”.  The authors don’t want to accept Marx’s conception outright and seek to argue that “reality is likely more complex than either polar view.”  But they cannot escape their own results: that productivity growth began almost a century before the Glorious Revolution and well before the English Civil War.  And “this supports the Marxist view that economic change contributed importantly to 17th century institutional change in England.”

The other interesting aspect of the paper is that the authors try to measure the impact of population growth on productivity and wages.  In the early 19th century, Thomas Malthus argued that it was impossible for productivity growth to rise sufficiently to enable workers to increase their real incomes, because higher incomes would lead to increased births and eventually over-population, scarcity of food and famines etc, then reducing the population and incomes again.

The authors note that before 1600, there is evidence to support the Malthusian case.  The period from 1300 to 1450 was a period of frequent plagues — the most famous being the Black Death of 1348. Over this period, the population of England fell by a factor of two resulting in a sharp drop in labour supply. Over this same period, real wages rose substantially. Then from 1450 to 1600, the population (and labour supply) recovered and real wages fell. In 1630, the English economy was back to almost exactly the same point it was at in 1300.

The reason that the Malthusian argument has validity before 1600 is that there was little or no productivity growth; so livelihoods were determined by labour supply and wages alone.  Pre-capitalist England was a stagnant, stationary economy in terms of the productivity of labour.  But so was the impact of the Malthusian over-population theory.  The authors found that Malthusian population dynamics were very slow: a doubling of real incomes led to a 6 percentage point per decade (0.6% a year) increase in population growth. That implied that it took 150 years for a rise in real incomes to drive up population sufficiently to cause a reversal in income growth.

But once capitalism appears on the scene, the drive for profit by capitalist landowners and trading merchants encourages the use of new agricultural techniques and technology and the expansion of trade.  Then productivity growth takes off at a rate increasingly fast enough to overcome the slow impact of Malthusian ‘overpopulation’.  Indeed, with industrial capitalism after 1800, the growth in productivity is 28 times higher than the very slow negative impact of rising population on real incomes.

Thomas Malthus

This confirms the view of Engels when he wrote: “For us the matter is easy to explain. The productive power at mankind’s disposal is immeasurable. The productivity of the soil can be increased ad infinitum by the application of capital, labour and science.”  Umrisse 1842

Before capitalism, feudal societies stumbled along with their economies ravaged by plagues and climate.  For example, the Black Death of 1348 engulfed English society for more than a year, claiming about 25% of the population. For three centuries after the Black Death, the plague would reappear every few decades and wipe out a significant share of the population each time.  So real wages in England were mainly affected by these population changes and the consequent size of the labour force (if, as argued above, at a very slow rate).

But under capitalism, productivity rose sharply and the level of real wages was no longer determined by the weather or pandemics but by the class struggle over the production and distribution of the value and surplus value created in capitalist production in agriculture and industry.  One of the features of the rise of capitalism from 1600 that the authors point out is the increase in the working day and working year – another confirmation of Marx’s analysis of exploitation under capitalism.

The authors note that as capitalism started to move from agricultural production to industry, in the latter half of the 18th century, real wages in England fell slightly despite substantial productivity growth.  They cite one potential explanation, namely “Engel’s Pause,” i.e., the idea that the lion’s share of the gains from early industrialization went to capitalists as opposed to labourers.

The authors are reluctant to accept that Engels was right, preferring a Malthusian explanation in the late 18th century (having just rejected it).  Moreover, they think real wages started to grow as early as 1810, before the period of the 1820-1840 cited by Engels as a ‘pause’.  But anyway, we can see that the gap between productivity and real wages widened sharply from the beginning of industrial capitalism to now.  Surplus value (the value of unpaid labour) rocketed through the early 19th century.

Most important, the study refutes the ‘Whig interpretation of history’, namely human ‘civilisation’ is one of gradual progress with changes coming from wiser ideas and political forms constructed by clever people.  Instead, the evidence of productivity growth in England shows “sharp and sizable shifts in average growth” supporting the notion that “something changed.” i.e., that the transition from stagnation to growth was more than a steady process of very gradually increased growth.” On the gradual Whig interpretation, the authors conclude that “the results do not support this view of history.”

Also, the study shows that, as sustained productivity growth began in England substantially before the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it was not the change in political institutions that led to economic growth.  On the contrary, it was the change in economic relations that led to productivity growth and then political change. “While the institutional changes associated with the Glorious Revolution may well have been important for growth, our results contradict the view that these events preceded the onset of growth in England.”

As Engels put it succinctly: “The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. 

The authors cannot avoid reaching a similar conclusion.  As they say: “Marx stressed the transition from feudalism to capitalism. He argued that after the disappearance of serfdom in the 14th century, English peasants were expelled from their land through the enclosure movement. That spoliation inaugurated a new mode of production: one where workers did not own the means of production, and could only subsist on wage labour. This proletariat was ripe for exploitation by a new class of capitalist farmers and industrialists. In that process, political revolutions were a decisive step in securing the rise of the bourgeoisie. To triumph, capitalism needed to break the remaining shackles of feudalism…. Our findings lend some support to the Marxist view in that we estimate that the onset of growth preceded both the Glorious Revolution and the English Civil War (1642-1651). This timing of the onset of growth supports the view that economic change propelled history forward and drove political and ideological change.”

The development of capitalism in agriculture and in trade laid the basis for the introduction of industrial technology that led to the so-called industrial revolution and industrial capitalism.  The Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain around 1800 because “innovation was uniquely profitable then and there”.  As real wages rose, there was an incentive to exploit the raw materials necessary for labour saving technologies in textiles such as the spinning jenny, water frame, and mule, as well as coal burning technologies such as the steam engine and coke smelting furnace.  Labour productivity exploded upwards.  There was staggering rise in investment in means of production relative to labour.  According to the authors, from 1600 to 1860, the capital stock in England grew by a factor of five, or 8% per decade.

Industrial capitalism had arrived, and along with rising productivity came increased exploitation of labour and the ideology of ‘political economy’ and bourgeois institutions of rule.