Welcome to a Brave New World: Is carbon-offsetting just eco-enslavement?
If you thought that the era of British bigwigs keeping Indians as personal servants came to an end with the fall of the Raj in 1947, then you must have had a rude awakening last week.
In a feature about carbon offsetting in The Times (London), it was revealed that the leader of the UK Conservative Party, David Cameron, offsets his carbon emissions by effectively keeping brown people in a state of bondage. Whenever he takes a flight to some foreign destination, Cameron donates to a carbon-offsetting company that encourages people in the developing world to ditch modern methods of farming in favour of using their more eco-friendly manpower to plough the land. So Cameron can fly around the world with a guilt-free conscience on the basis that, thousands of miles away, Indian villagers, bent over double, are working by hand rather than using machines that emit carbon.
Welcome to the era of eco-enslavement.
The details of this carbon-offsetting scheme are disturbing. Cameron offsets his flights by donating to Climate Care. The latest wheeze of this carbon-offsetting company is to provide ‘treadle pumps’ to poor rural families in India so that they can get water on to their land without having to use polluting diesel power. Made from bamboo, plastic and steel, the treadle pumps work like ‘step machines in a gym’, according to some reports, where poor family members step on the pedals for hours in order to draw up groundwater which is used to irrigate farmland. These pumps were abolished in British prisons a century ago. It seems that what was considered an unacceptable form of punishment for British criminals in the past is looked upon as a positive eco-alternative to machinery for Indian peasants today.
What might once have been referred to as ‘back-breaking labour’ is now spun as ‘human energy’. According to Climate Care, the use of labour-intensive treadle pumps, rather than labour-saving diesel-powered pumps, saves 0.65 tonnes of carbon a year per farming family. And well-off Westerners - including Cameron, and Prince Charles, Land Rover and the Cooperative Bank, who are also clients of Climate Care - can purchase this saved carbon in order to continue living the high life without becoming consumed by eco-guilt. They effectively salve their moral consciences by paying poor people to live the harsh simple life on their behalf.
Climate Care celebrates the fact that it encourages the Indian poor to use their own bodies rather than machines to irrigate the land. Its website declares: ‘Sometimes the best source of renewable energy is the human body itself. With some lateral thinking, and some simple materials, energy solutions can often be found which replace fossil fuels with muscle-power.’ To show that muscle power is preferable to machine power, the Climate Care website features a cartoon illustration of smiling naked villagers pedalling on a treadle pump next to a small house that has an energy-efficient light bulb and a stove made from ‘local materials at minimal cost’. Climate Care points out that even children can use treadle pumps: ‘One person - man, woman or even child - can operate the pump by manipulating his/her body weight on two treadles and by holding a bamboo or wooden frame for support.’
Feeling guilty about your two-week break in Barbados, when you flew thousands of miles and lived it up with cocktails on sunlit beaches? Well, offset that guilt by sponsoring eco-friendly child labour in the developing world! Let an eight-year-old peasant pedal away your eco-remorse…
The whole piece (and there is much more to it) is a worthwhile read.
I'm starting to think the entire environmental movement is becoming nothing more than the not-so-disguised imperialism of the 21st century.