REVIEW : Carbon Rush documentary

Lee-Ann Mudaly | Contributor

The crowded streets of Dehli, India, continue to fill, as a threatening haze of poisonous smoke rise from factory chimneys on the horizon, and sits thick over the city and its people. A garbage truck offloads onto a mountain of waste, where men, women and children alike, await eagerly to sift through the promising heap for recyclable glass, plastics, metal and paper- their livelihood.

This is one of the scenes from ‘Carbon Rush’, a documentary written and directed by social activist Amy Miller. The community in Dehli, India, are one of the many communities who suffer daily. Miller seeks to amplify the voices that have been drowned out and into silence, by the deafening ‘cha-ching’ sounds of carbon credits and emissions being traded on the carbon market. Those that gain continue to do so, and those that suffer, continue to suffer.

In an on-going collaboration with Montreal’s International Documentary Film Festival (RIDM), Cinema Politica showed Miller’s “Carbon Rush” at Concordia University, on Nov. 8, 2012. People lined up waiting for the doors to open, filling up the theatre and staying on for the ‘Q&A’ with the documentary director, after the show.  The topic proved to be contradictory and perhaps a mirroring-effect of the global view of the current environmental and economic crisis. The comments and questions were a mix of disgruntled and pessimistic viewpoints, as well as, a remaining optimistic few, that leaned towards a possible brighter future solution.

Miller’s film addresses varying social issues, in bringing to light all those indigenous nations and communities that suffer as a direct result to the current ‘solution’ put in place. Miller’s documentary, raised certain questions throughout: What effects are these offsets having? Are they reducing the emissions? Who will gain? Who will lose? And, what effects is the international carbon market having on our natural world?

“Our social responsibility as a citizen of the world and one of the most genuine things we can do in terms of being a human being, is to put our time and energy into trying to make a better planet for everyone,” said Miller in an interview.

During the interview, Miller was asked why she decided to cover this story, the social activist said that this was a documentary that had not been done before, and believed that the testimony of people that were affected by the carbon market should be heard. Calling the very capitalist models that are being used to solve the climate crisis, a false solution, Miller added, “The fundamental aspects of how these capitalist models are being used, also need to be exposed.”

Since the inception of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, 178 countries ratified the only international treaty, agreeing to stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions. However, since 1999, the World Bank worked hand-in-hand with the United Nations to set into motion the current carbon market. The carbon market works much like the stock market, where companies or governments trade carbon emissions for carbon credits on the carbon market.  When a company has reached its limits of greenhouse gas emissions, it can continue to pollute without any heads turning, once they have successfully transferred these emissions to another location, through green projects that are approved by the UN; projects usually carried out in the under-developed nations of the global South. The trading of carbon emissions does not mean that these emissions cease to exist, but rather that they continue to exist elsewhere, while the polluting companies and governments gain carbon credits as a trade-off for the gas emissions. These projects transfer emissions, and along with it the same disastrous affects, which fall directly to the locals.

Over the years the United Nations have created a system called the clean development mechanism. This is a system that was designed by the UN to give poor countries access to green technologies, and to act as a solution to the rising amount of carbon emissions.

 “Something had to be done, but by the end, it was a solution so watered down, so full of holes, that it was impossible for it to be an actual solution, but they could present it as the solution(…)The agreement finally reached, was one that kept up profit margins for the players at the table that wanted to ensure that profit margins would remain high,” commented Miller about the process in creating the current system put in place by the UN.

The problem with the current system is that it does not solve the issue of rising carbon emissions, nor does it reduce any carbon emissions.

“The problem can’t be the solution(…) we need to recognize that we live on a finite planet with finite resources, so to have an industrial capitalist model that works on ever-expanding resource extraction and accumulation, and that doesn’t recognize that the planet is finite, that is a contradiction that is so inherently flawed in trying to bring forward any genuine solution, that it becomes absurd,” said Miller.

Miller’s film took viewers through a global trot to the varying countries, towns, villages and communities that are affected by the current carbon market system. The main geographical locations set into focus throughout the documentary are: Brazil, India, Panama and Honduras.

Monocultures. The first stop in the documentary acquaints the viewers with the local community from a small town called Minas Gerais, in Brazil. The locals walked tightly, together, singing in solidarity, “sow the seed in the land (…) it won’t be in vain,” then stopping at a gravestone marked, ‘Antonio Jaoquim, assassinated by the Mannesmann security’.

Vallourec and Mannesmann Eucalyptus Plantations (V & M) are a part of the renewable energy market, and have been registered as a carbon offset project since 2006. They use this alleged renewable energy, which comes from their eucalyptus plantations, to create pig iron, sheet metal and steel.

The problem starts with the companies clearing out all vegetation to plant the monoculture. By clearing all vegetation, the locals say that the savannah is destroyed. All land for their animals to graze on is gone. All fruit, food and water they used to live off of the land, no longer exist.

“Once the savannah is taken away, the water tends to run out(…) the eucalyptus sucks up all the water that should be used for farming(…) it sucks it all up, and it just gets worse for us,” said Avrea Maria Ferriera, a resident of Minas Gerais, as she pointed out the stumps, that remain as proof of the orange grove that once was. The locals no longer can gather anything from the forests, if they do, they are fined by the forest rangers working for V & M; fines which they can’t pay.

 When the harvest arrives, local workers are hired to cut the eucalyptus, then to feed it into ovens, and once the process of carbonization and cool-down is complete, the workers then empty the ovens and transfer the coal to the metal processing sector of Minas Gerais.

Eucalyptus trees have the ability in their lifetime to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but once the trees are burnt, and then fed into ovens to be carbonized, all those pollutants are rereleased back into the atmosphere, adding to the unbearable living conditions created by the companies and these so-called ‘green projects’.

Some residents have suffered greater losses, than that of the loss of the savannah and their livelihood. “Things got a lot worse for me, when I lost my son, because of the eucalyptus,” said Marea Jose Silva Sarmento, a resident of Minas Gerais, and the mother of the late Antonio Joaquim. In late February, 2007, Joaquim was out gathering wood where he used to live, which are now the eucalyptus plantations. Sarmento says, her son was taken from his brother’s property by the forest rangers that work for V & M. They tied him to his ox-cart, beat him, then dragged him into the eucalyptus, started shooting and when they were going to kill his youngest daughter, he said for them to kill him instead. They shot and killed him.

The Forest Conservation Project and Eucalyptus Plantation in Brazil, continues to-date. The documentary continues along the journey to fellow global communities, facing similar issues.

Claims to recyclable materials. The next glimpse into the carbon market conundrum was in Dehli, India, where the waste-pickers no longer have their already low-paying jobs, because foreign companies, such as Hanjer Waste claimed the rights to all recyclable materials. Recyclable materials that companies like Hanjer Waste, then dump into incinerators to create limited amounts of energy, and emitting even bigger amounts of carbon emissions. Among Miller’s testimonies from the locals, she spoke with experts from each area. According to one of these experts, a spokesperson from SWaCH Coop, said that “The waste-pickers were able to reduce emissions by nine times that which is currently being done with the incinerators (…) however, the incinerators rake in $37 million in carbon credit alone.”

Land grabs. Not too far off, in the Nagar and Maharashtra district, the documentary uncovers the workings of companies like Suzlon; a foreign company, which makes a direct deal with a local company, Shahu Bhosale, for the rights to the land belonging to the locals of Nagar district, in India. The locals have no knowledge of this and do not approve the transfer of the deed and the rights to the land, yet they have no say.

In places like Maharashtra district in India, where most of the world’s windmills rest, 12 acres of land was taken from one family and was used for the windmill projects. Their land was then given to other farmers. Their land was lost, along with their livelihood.

Similar cases appear in Tekoha Kuaralay, a forgotten village of the Guarani people in Brazil. Karai Jeguaka Vera, an 81-year-old shaman, says that the government gave him and his community this infertile land to live on.

“The biggest concern is that the land is theirs and that they have a right to live here, but they do not own it,” said Michelle do Pilar Lemos, a local teacher. “(…) there have also been cases where officials in the cities have signed documents on behalf of the indigenous, forging their signatures and taking the money for themselves,” added Lemos, when speaking of the deals made on the local’s land.

In 1999, SPVS (a Brazilian NGO) joined the US-based NGO, The Nature Conservancy. The groups received $18 million from Chevron, American Electric and General Motors to purchase 18, 600 hectares of land. The Nature Conservancy covers a vast area of land, including the land of the indigenous Guarani people. The US use the carbon credits from this project to offset their carbon emissions back home.

Human Rights Violations. Since November, 2012, Miguel Facusse, has been implicated and found directly linked to the assassinations of at least 31 campesinos (local farmers and peasants) by his hired private security, in the Aguay Valley. Facusse claims at least 22,000 acres in the lower Aguan Valley, at least one fifth of the entire area, where he now plants African palms, which play a major role in his expanding biofuel empire.  In July, 2011, Dinant Corporation, a biofuel plant, using African palm oil plants, were approved by the UN for carbon credits. Palm oil is used in making biodiesel; the future for oil tycoons.

There are so many living in abject poverty and desperation throughout the world, more so in the developing world. This documentary aimed to shed light on the issue to-date, and nailed it. Poverty, sickness, strife and even death have arisen as result to these so-called ‘green’ projects. In light of such shocking and dire realities, the lack of demand from the international community for major change and for an immediate end to this current system, is appalling. However, as Miller stressed in her film, as long as these big players and gain seekers continue to exploit others unchecked, then human rights shall continue to be violated. As long as these select few are not held accountable for their profit making off the backs of others, then the current carbon system will continue to be fuelled.

“Until the unjust organizations that have so much control and power are torn down then it’s going to be very difficult for any genuine change to happen,” argued Miller, adding that, “no- one is held accountable, due to the rights of impunity existent and practised by these very same organizations.”

Miller says that if you don’t recognize what the problems are at the root or the causes that are leading to climate change, which is industrial capitalism, we can’t then use an industrial capitalist model to rectify this problem. The type of model that is solely based on industrializing the productive process, all the while making exorbitant changes to the social and physical landscape- which to put in plainly, has the Western world  and bigger players making a buck on the backs of the vulnerable from the developing world and global South.

 “This is one of the primary flaws of pushing off with the carbon markets and carbon offset markets,’ she says.

Miller stressed that those that suffer are those that create the lowest carbon footprints; indigenous communities the world over, and people throughout the global south. People that are gaining seem to be small corporate, dominant powers in the global north that are primarily resource extracting industries.

Though Miller says that the facts on ground are high proof of the current dysfunctional system in place, she retorts that, “even if we want to go on some false pretence that the carbon offset market is working in reducing carbon emissions, which it is not, if we to actually look at how it is affecting people on the ground, and time-and-time again, it’s leading to the displacement of communities, it’s leading to environmental degradation, and often extreme human rights violations.”

Some experts believe that the carbon offset market is currently collapsing, but Miller doesn’t agree, saying that, “they’ve been saying this for years, but it continues to go on and people are continuing to profit off of this system (…) Whether it collapses or not in its formal structure, they’re already trying to set up in place this kind of voluntary market, which is even scarier,” said Miller

Some agree with the social activist, that the voluntary market would lead to even less accountability and transparency, therefore results would remain the same. “At the end of the day, neither the voluntary nor the allegedly regulated carbon offset market, is reducing emissions,” said Miller.

When asked what she predicts will occur if the global community continue down the current path it is on, she responded, “By continuing to operate like ostriches with our heads in the sand, that being assuming that the current carbon trading will change things… then we will see a continual decline of glaciers, a rise in ocean levels, continued climate chaos, and no genuine change to rectify it, because this current system is not a genuine solution attacking the root of the problem.”

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