One of Climate Care‘s carbon offset schemes involves replacing diesel pumps for irrigation with treadle pumps. They say that the benefits include:
- Allows 2 or 3 harvests a year, instead of 1
- Prevents farmers having to leave their families to work in the city during ‘off season’
- Farmers’ income increases, often between two and five-fold
So as a result of trade both parties are better off. Someone in a rich country gets to offset their CO2 emissions, while poor farmers save the money they would have had to have spent hiring diesel pumps and increase their income.
Sounds good, who could possibly object to trade that benefits poor farmers?
Brendan O’Neill, that’s who. In Spiked he describes the scheme as “keeping brown people in a state of bondage” and “eco-enslavement” and
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.
But bondage, slavery and imprisonment are all forms of coercion. No-one is forcing the farmers to use treadle pumps — they are only going to use one if it makes them better off. If calling voluntary trade “slavery” reminds you of Marxist propaganda, that may be because Spiked used to be Living Marxism which was launched as the journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party.
You wouldn’t think that O’Neill’s crude rhetoric could get libertarians to come out against trade, but here’s Megan McArdle:
To be fair, there apparently are other projects that don’t involve tethering people in developing countries to human hamster wheels, but all in all, that may be one of the most appalling things I’ve ever read.
And here’s Jason Soon:
Climate Care is a genuinely evil multinational which should be boycotted
To be fair, there are some libertarians with consistent principles. Here’s Alex Tabarrok:
Ala Larry Summers, I don’t see the problem. Westerners pay Indian farmers to produce cotton, why is producing carbon-sinks any different? It seems that some environmentalists are more interested in producing guilt than in reducing carbon.
P.S. I raised this matter in comments to Soon’s post and he responded by calling me a bunch of names and declaring:
you’ve made an enemy of me for life.
Shine on, you crazy diamond!