The Endless Algebra of Climate Markets

by Larry Lohmann

first published 28 October 2011

The carbon markets that constitute the main approach to the climate crisis being followed by the world's governments have had many engineers – economists, governments, businesses, traders, consultants, environmentalists. Not surprisingly, the result has been markets with many conflicting functions – reducing the costs of obeying envirionmental laws, guaranteeing the conditions for accumulation now being threatened by demands to phase out fossil fuels, opening a new frontier for financial profit-taking, and many more.

The objective of helping tackle global warming pulls the market in one direction, but the requirements of commodity construction pull it in an opposite direction. These paradoxes of valuation are far more intractable than those that affect other commodities such as food, energy, consumer durables, or even futures and complex financial derivatives.

This article was published in the December 2011 issue (Volume 22, Number 4) of, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, the first issue of the journal to be entirely devoted to a single theme – the "contested climate summit" taking place in Durban, South Africa in December 2011.

The issue explores two interlocking and overlapping themes: the eco-social conditions and enviornmental justice campaigning in Durban itself; and climate justice advocacy against market-based false solutions at the global scale. Issue editor Patrick Bond says of these two themes:

"Their fusion at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change links up myriad battles over ecoystems that mainly revolve around 'neoliberalized nature'. The pricing of socio-ecological services has been extreme when applied to carbon sequestration, and Durban is a leading site."