Environmental and economic damage combine to hit the poor hardest

By Shay Cullen
June 9, 2013

Environmental damage caused by economic activities like coal plant electrical generation and mining is costing the global economy as much as US$4.7 trillion a year. That is what is revealed in a report released on 15 April and commissioned by the Group of Eight economic powers and the United Nation's Environmental Programme.

The G8 nations' next meeting is at the Lough Erne Summit, 17-18 June 2013, in Northern Ireland. The grim facts of environmental degradation are causing worldwide economic loss and that means greater poverty and health problems.

The loss to the world economy through environmentally destructive economic activity is greater than the wealth generated. The short term benefits are mostly for the rich while the environmental damage hurts the poor.

The study calculates the impact of air and water pollution, health costs, the damage caused by climate change due to global warming and the destruction costs of deforestation, the rise in ocean temperature and one hundred other impacts.

Coal-fired power plants do the worst damage to the environment and the economy. The negative impact and damage is so grave that it negates any economic benefits that the electricity generated helps create. The damage in East Asia alone, including the Philippines, causes economic losses of $452.8 billion. The wealth generated is only $443.1 billion causing a net loss - that's bad business for the world economy.

Those who claim that we need to suffer some environmental damage to generate wealth, progress and development are wrong. It is now proven that the losses are greater than the benefits.

It is not often that environmental protectors and campaigners get good news and have victories in protecting the health of citizens and protecting the environment. Recently, a Philippine court ruling set back the construction of a coal fired power plant on Subic Bay after intensive campaigning against it.

In the Philippines as elsewhere, a real democratic political system does not work to protect the greater good. It benefits the few rich. The so-called economic boom in the Philippines is only for those already rich. The value of their holdings and stocks are rising. So it is really an oligarchy, not a democracy. This court ruling has revealed a dent in that armour of invincibility of the ruling elite. Once in a while, a judge is independent of their influence.

State employees are usually beholden to their political masters who appoint them and the energy industry and these politicians are frequently in cahoots with each order. Former industry businessmen are elected and invited into the cabinet by the President. They see to it that the interests of their masters are protected and enlarged. They get political protection and permits to pursue development projects which are detrimental to the environment.

There is nothing new in that arrangement. Keep the poor in poverty so they will take the money to fill empty stomachs during election time and the rich can elect themselves. The recent election in May 2013 has proved the point. Arnold Padilla on www.preda.org made it clear that business people and the political elite are one and the same. Dozens of rich politicians from ruling families made fake parties. These members of ruling families had their fake party approved by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the Supreme Court and bought enough votes to get themselves elected to Congress and there they can work for the benefit of the rich.

The classic place to see this link up in action is the power plant application project at Subic bay. RP energy, a consortium of Philippine and foreign tycoons, some inner sanctum members of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the government agency (SBMA) in charge of the Subic bay industrial complex had petitioned the court to reverse previous court rulings, saying that the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) permits issued to RP Energy to allow the coal fired plant to be built were invalid.

Their appeal for a reconsideration of this ruling was recently denied by Associate Justice Celia Librea-Leagogo. She denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the DENR, RP Energy, and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). The planned 600 megawatt coal-fired power plant due to be set up at the Redondo peninsula on Subic Bay is now back to square one. The people in the Olongapo city and surrounding area are happy with this. But RP Energy will be in cahoots with the government officials to get the permits. But community acceptance is not possible.

In all nations, people of conscience and concerned for the well-being of people and nature are challenged to renew efforts to reduce the environmental destruction going on all around us. Every issue is important. Since my comment on the 'fishing wars', the EU has finally made a binding agreement with member nations to abide by the strict quotas and banning of bad practices of throwing millions of tons of non-commercial fish back to the sea dead.

Lobbying and speaking out can bring positive change and a healthier world. We are stewards of this beautiful planet; it is the only one we have got. There is nothing much on Mars.


(c) Shay Cullen is a Columban priest and director of the human rights centre PREDA, which is best known for its campaign work and investigations into syndicates and paedophile rings, its rescue and rehabilitation of children, and for bringing successful prosecutions against Filipino and foreign offenders. Visit www.preda.org for more related articles. Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times and in publications in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

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