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Economics

A Cooperative Approach to Climate Action

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When organizing around climate change in the 2000s, DenHerder-Thomas noticed a false narrative of conflict between local economic opportunity and reducing carbon emissions. In this early work, DenHerder-Thomas realized the value of community involvement and local ownership in climate change mitigation.

If we don’t focus on approaches to addressing climate change that are really putting people at the center, that are ensuring that there is wealth creation, job creation, and really a sense of like autonomy and ownership by people and by communities over this really massive transition, people aren’t going to be really bought in

This awareness led DenHerder-Thomas to Cooperative Energy Futures.

Cooperative Energy Futures

DenHerder-Thomas is co-founder and general manager of Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF), a cooperatively-owned community solar developer. Cooperative Energy Futures incorporated as a 308B cooperative in 2009 and has since become a leader in community-driven clean energy solutions.

Cooperative Energy Futures has found success in Minnesota’s community solar program, which launched in 2014. In the last three years, says DenHerder-Thomas, CEF has installed eight community solar gardens in Minnesota with an accumulated seven megawatts of capacity. 800 households have subscribed and get credits for the electricity from these gardens on their electric bills.

 

A board of directors, who are elected by co-op members, make all of the decisions for Cooperative Energy Futures. This democratic process is very important to DenHerder-Thomas, though he hopes for more direct participation from members in the future.

People’s Solar Energy Fund

Financing is a challenge for Cooperative Energy Futures and other small-scale solar developers. Larger solar gardens are eligible for a larger tax credit, but these credits only apply to passive incomes that non-profit and cooperative developers do not have. Large investors must then step in and pay for the garden to take advantage of the credits. However, private equity investors are not interested in solar gardens under five megawatts, says DenHerder-Thomas. The challenge is then for community-based groups to reach that scale.

Investors also have an outsized influence on small solar developers with few other options. If an investor asks for a heightened return on their investment, the developer will need to charge more for the electricity from the garden and the energy will be less cost competitive. At the same time, if the developer is unable to capture the tax credit, the electricity will be more expensive.

The People’s Solar Energy Fund is pooling smaller, community-focused developers together to reach the scale needed to secure lower borrowing rates from investors. Groups involved in the People’s Solar Energy Fund also share their expertise and experience with others that are just getting started.

It’s a combination of getting to scale, having the expertise and the technical assistance to make a project ready for financing, and having more leverage because we’re organizing a market.

Scaling Up for a Substantial Impact

Given the right resources, DenHerder-Thomas believes that Cooperative Energy Futures could easily install 30 or 50 megawatts of solar each year. In addition, he says that hundreds of groups could get to where CEF is right now, given the right technical and policy support.

Scaling up community-driven solar is important not just for clean energy generation, but also in transitioning to a more democratic energy system.

I think it can dramatically transform both how communities can own energy on the scale of tens of gigawatts in the timeframe of five to 10 years from now. And even more importantly, I think it can transform how a critical mass of the American people think about renewable energy.

How can people help? Individuals in Minnesota, says DenHerder-Thomas, can become members and subscribers to Cooperative Energy Futures. For those outside Minnesota, groups like Co-op Power and the People Power Solar Co-op do similar work.

DenHerder-Thomas also hopes for nation-wide policies supporting community solar and incentives for projects that serve marginalized groups.

How do you start to scale those incentives so that there’s higher incentives for projects that are community-based, community owned, support low-income communities and communities of color? Really start to… I think of it as almost like, level the playing field, given the long histories of economic and racial injustice in this country. So that it’s not just all flowing towards the big corporate players.

Episode Notes from the ILSR

See these resources for more behind the story:

Source: ILSR

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Economics

Local food sourcing saves people and climate

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World traffic in food by massive corporations harms environment, jobs, and health; yields no net change in food availability; and harms jobs and food security everywhere. Swedish linguist Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of International Society for Ecology and Culture (now Local Futures), tells Helen Lobato of Women on the Line how prioritizing local food production and distribution will build back local economies and roll back corporate oil-dependent hegemony.

Source: WINGS: Womens International News Gathering Service

 

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Agriculture

Hemp for Victory

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WWII propaganda poster

 

The Big Picture: An anonymous bunch of hippies saw a grave injustice happening, made a plan to remedy it, and then executed that plan over 3 decades.  As of this post, near total success is at hand, at long last.

For the Record:  I’m always casting about for good examples to share with Mobilized readers.  The world needs more awareness of what’s going on and it does get tiring seeing only bad news every day.  So in light of the upcoming Soil Summit, it sure seems right to talk about a farming-related story that may inspire folks to action.

When I was a college student in a small Ohio town, it was a big deal to grow one’s hair long and get about pretending that the 1960’s never ended.  “Townies” wanted to fight, “Frat boys” wanted to boot you off the campus, and the ladies were not all that impressed (which kinda negated the whole effort, honestly).  But it did open a few doors, and one such door led to a farm over the state line in even-more-rural Indiana.  Run by kids from the nearby college, they had goats and chickens and all manner of interesting ways.  And they had friends.  Friends with even bigger farms.  This led to many educational trips, and overall it left this writer with a real sense of closeness with the land.  The rhythms of a farm are immutable.  If the animals are not tended to constantly, they die.  If the soil is not tended to nearly as much, it too dies.  And also there are times of harvest and celebration, as much a part of the farm life cycle as the rain and the sun.

At one of these celebrations, a giant weekend-long pancake breakfast and amateur music festival, I met a bunch of folks about my age.  They worked on that farm, but were not the main farmers.  They had a very different role, it turned out.  What they did was organize musical acts and speakers, and those folks went out to every college that would host them.  They called themselves “Hemp For Victory”, and they had 1 clear mission.  That goal: to eradicate the unjust laws in America around marijuana and hemp growing.

I will admit to you, reader, that I thought they were insane at the time.  Shows how much I knew… They were armed with a sense of righteousness, a long historical knowledge, and most importantly, a plan.  It wasn’t enough to teach college kids that founding father Geo. Washington grew hemp on his plantation, no sir.  It wasn’t enough to share that industrial hemp was crucial to the World War II war effort, and that in those days the Federal Government did all it could to promote the plant’s growth.  No, these ideas were useful in changing minds, but the goal was the goal.  And to do that, they knew it was going to be a long fight.

Against them, was every District Attorney in the land, every FBI agent, and the entire Congress.  On their side: facts.  That’s it.  All they had was the fact that the plant was not the evil bogeyman the other side had made it out to be, and the less obvious fact that the other side was propping up anti-Pot propaganda because it suited their purposes and kept them flush with cash.  It’s worth noting most of those purposes were nakedly racist, and only barely hidden.

Their plan had only a few steps, easy to learn and remember.  Educate, first and foremost.  Spread out, secondly.  And third: take the battle to the states.  Start small and grow slowly.

Fast forward to this post, in mid-2021.  These folks are largely still around, although by choice they are still largely anonymous.  But you need only look to California’s 1996 Prop 216 legislation, and later bills passed since then, to see their authorship.  And skimming the laws of other states which have legalized Pot you will see their names as well.  For all intents and purposes, the tide has turned.  Marijuana is still a Schedule One drug, according to the Feds.  It has “no legal value”, according to the DEA.  But not for long.  Each of the last 5 Congresses has moved to end this fiction, and pretty soon that will get signed into law.  And – – it really doesn’t matter what the Feds are saying anymore.  Most states with large populations have taken on the matter and are remedying the unjust laws, followed by letting out of jail the folks who were imprisoned for having a bag or two of twigs.  The rest of the states are largely right behind them, now that they see how legalizing and taxing hemp helps fill their coffers.

Next Steps:  It really is the beginning of the end for repressive drug laws in this nation.  Common sense, facts, and sheer orneriness pushed an idea that was seen as ‘radical’ so far into the mainstream awareness that barriers are now falling everywhere.  Credit is justly due to these anonymous activists, among many others.  Their lesson is for you, reader.  What was once unthinkable has become inevitable.  It didn’t take an armed rebellion, didn’t take outrageous headlines to get the task done.  There is a time and a place for everything, of course; sometimes change can only happen via great drama.  But what you can take away from the efforts to legalize marijuana is this: Facts will out.

If you have facts on your side, you will win.  No matter how few you are.  Draw allies to your cause, with facts.  And a heck of a lot of patience.  Don’t assume you are going to need endless piles of money, or an army, to make positive change.  You only need facts, and a plan.  That’s it.

 


What they’re saying:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp_for_Victory

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Economics

How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

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How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

In October 2020, a group of 79 Kenyans filed a lawsuit in a UK court against one of the world’s largest plantation companies, Camelia Plc. They say the company is responsible for the killings, rapes and other abuses that its security guards have carried out against local villagers at its 20,000 hectare plantation, which produces avocados for European supermarkets.

Such abuses are unfortunately all too routine on Africa’s industrial plantations. It has been this way since Europeans introduced monoculture plantations to Africa in the early 20th century, using forced labour and violence to steal people’s lands. Camelia’s plantations share this legacy, and the abuses suffered by the Kenyan villagers today are not so different from those suffered by the generations before them.

Abuses and injustices are fundamental to the plantation model. The question that should be asked is why any of these colonial plantations still exist in Africa today. Why haven’t Africa’s post-colonial governments dismantled this model of exploitation and extraction, returned the lands to their people and emboldened a resurgence of Africa’s diverse, local food and farming systems?

One important piece of this puzzle can be found in the archives of the World Bank.

Last year, an alliance of African organizations, together with GRAIN and the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), produced a database on industrial oil palm plantations in Africa. Through this research, we found that many of the oil palm and rubber plantations currently operating in West and Central Africa were initiated or restored through coordinated World Bank projects in the 1970s and 1980s. The ostensible goal of these projects was to develop state-owned plantations that could drive “national development”. The World Bank not only provided participating governments with large loans, but it also supplied the consultants who crafted the plantation projects and oversaw their management.

In case after case that we looked at, the consultants hired by the World Bank for these projects were from a company called SOCFINCO, a subsidiary of the Luxembourg holding company Société Financière des Caoutchoucs (SOCFIN). SOCFIN was a leading plantation company during the colonial period, with operations stretching from the Congo to Southeast Asia. When the colonial powers were sent packing in the 1960s, SOCFIN lost several of its plantations, and it was then that it set up its consultancy branch, SOCFINCO.

According to documents in the World Bank’s archives, SOCFINCO was hired by the Bank to oversee the development and implementation of oil palm and rubber plantation projects in several African countries, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinée, Nigeria, and São Tomé and Príncipe. SOCFINCO oversaw the development of blueprints for national oil palm and rubber plantation programs, and helped identify lands to be converted to industrial plantations.  It was also paid to manage the plantations and, in some cases, to organize sales of rubber and palm oil by the state plantation companies established through the program.

SOCFIN received lucrative management fees through these projects, but, more importantly, they positioned the company to take control of the trade in agri-commodity exports from Africa – and eventually to even take over the plantations. It was a huge coup for SOCFIN. As the World Bank projects were operated through parastatal companies (companies owned or controlled wholly or partly by the government), local communities could be dispossessed from their lands for plantations under the justification of “national development” – something that would be much more difficult for a foreign company like SOCFIN to do. Indeed, a condition for World Bank loans was that the governments secure lands for the projects, a step made easier by the fact that most of the projects were being implemented by military regimes.

The World Bank projects also allowed SOCFIN to avoid the costs of building the plantations and their associated facilities. Under the projects, the African governments paid the bill via loans from the World Bank and other development banks.

It was not long before the parastatal companies set up by the World Bank were mired in debt. Of course, the Bank blamed the governments for mismanagement and called for the privatisation of the plantations as a solution – even if those plantations were already being run by the high-priced managers of SOCFINCO and other foreign consultants.

In the privatization process that then followed, SOCFIN and SIAT, a Belgian company founded by a SOCFINCO consultant, took over many of the prized plantations. Today, these two companies control a quarter of all the large oil palm plantations in Africa and are significant players in the rubber sector.

Nigeria is a good example of how this scheme worked. Between 1974 and the end of the 1980s, SOCFINCO crafted master plans for at least seven World Bank-backed oil palm projects in five different Nigerian states. Each project involved the creation of a parastatal company that would both take over the state’s existing plantations and develop new plantations and palm oil mills as well as large-scale outgrower schemes. Overseeing all of SOCFINCO’s work in Nigeria was Pierre Vandebeeck, who would later found the company SIAT.

All of the World Bank projects in Nigeria generated enduring land conflicts with local communities, such as with the Oghareki community in Delta State or the villagers of Egbeda in Rivers State. After dispossessing numerous communities from their lands and incurring huge losses for the Nigerian government, the parastatal companies were then privatised, with the more valuable of the plantation assets eventually ending up in the hands of SOCFIN or Vandebeeck’s company SIAT.

SIAT took over the plantations in Bendel state through a subsidiary and then, in 2011, it acquired the Rivers State palm oil company, Risonpalm, through its company SIAT Nigeria Limited. Vandebeek was SOCFINCO’s plantation manager for Risonpalm under the World Bank between 1978-1983.

SOCFIN, for its part, took over the oil palm plantations in the Okomu area that were also developed under a World Bank project. It was SOCFINCO that first identified this area for plantation development as part of the study it was hired to undertake in 1974. The Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc. (OOPC) was subsequently established as a parastatal company in 1976, and 15,580 hectares of land within the Okomu Forest Reserve of Edo State was “de-reserved” and taken from the local communities to make way for oil palm plantations. The company hired SOCFINCO as the managing agent to oversee its activities from 1976-1990. Reports vary, but at some point between 1986 and 1990, OOPC was then divested to SOCFIN’s subsidiary Indufina Luxembourg.

This sordid history explains why so many of subsidiaries of SOCFIN and SIAT in Africa still carry national sounding names, like SOCAPALM in Cameroon or the Ghana Oil Palm Development Company. It also explains why these companies are so well designed to extract profits into the hands of their owners, and the crucial role of the World Bank for facilitating this corporate profit-seeking process in the name of “national development”.

 

Courtesy of Local Futures, This post is adapted from a GRAIN blog

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