Data Localism

Data localism refers to the concept of generating, storing, and processing data within a local or regional context. In the context of ecological accounting, this approach can provide numerous benefits and provide relevant jobs in both the public and private sectors.  Data stewardship is a service that includes conducting inventories, collecting statistics, publishing data, determining conditions and trends, examining and analyzing changes, summarizing data, describing, compiling, measuring, researching, monitoring, and managing lists of information. These are jobs that belong to the community.

Relevance and specificity: Local data can capture the specific ecological features and characteristics of a given area, making the data more relevant and specific. This can result in more accurate assessments of the ecological value of an area.

Encourages local participation: When data is collected and processed locally, it can encourage community engagement and participation. This can lead to a greater sense of ownership and commitment to ecological preservation.

Speed and responsiveness: Local data can be collected, processed, and applied more quickly, making it more responsive to changes in the local environment.

Avoidance of data colonialism: In the context of global data flows, there’s often an unequal relationship between data-rich developed countries and developing countries that may not have yet developed the capacity to assess their data. Data localism can help to address this imbalance, enabling local communities to maintain control over their ecological data before it is absorbed into foreign accounts.

Tailored solutions: By focusing on local data, ecological strategies can be tailored to the specific needs of each area, leading to more effective solutions. This approach can also lead to more sustainable outcomes, as local conditions and resources are taken into account.

Promotes resilience: By relying on local data, regions can become more self-sufficient and resilient, rather than depending on external data sources that may not always be available or reliable.

Fosters innovation: Dealing with local data can stimulate innovation in data collection, storage, and processing techniques. This can contribute to the development of new methods and technologies that are better suited to the local context.

However, while data localism can provide many benefits in terms of ecological accounting, it’s also important to consider potential challenges. These might include the need for technical expertise and resources to collect and process data, the potential for local biases in data collection and interpretation, and the need for frameworks to ensure that data is used responsibly and ethically, with a Whole of Life, Pasifika ethos.


Why are Pasifika economies smaller than those of other nations? The standard answer to this question highlights the unique vulnerabilities and dependencies of the region, such as size, distance from markets, and climate and disaster vulnerabilities. But what if these barriers were actually the source of our regional equity? What if there existed an opportunity to treat them as benefits that could be accounted for in our national economies? And what does this have to do with ocean governance in the Pacific?

The key point to raise here is that there is an opportunity for the Pacific to determine how best to account for the equity in the region. Often our distant and remote islands have been seen as barriers to economic development.  However, we can measure our economic welfare in a way that recognizes and accounts for the bond that people have with their environment, particularly in the context of increasing loss and damage associated with environmental degradation caused by climate change.


Currently, for the Pacific, the biggest threat and challenge to accessing and building resilient data markets are the advanced economies, particularly the colonial countries that maintain colonial or post-colonial administrations. In the Pacific, this includes Australia, France, New Zealand, and the United States and includes Indonesia’s claim of West Papua and Chile’s claim of Rapa Nui.

If data is wealth, we know that wealth accumulation is a pillar of capitalism. Data Accumulation or theft is happening right under our noses, and Pacific Island Countries are giving it away freely. The three programs for data theft are Maritime Protected Areas, Military Defense Management of EEZs, and Carbon Swap programs.

While these programs seem benign compared to the West’s militarization and containment policies seeking to firm up barriers of trade between new multipolar trade networks, these environmental data programs should be viewed as an aggressive assault upon the sovereignty of not just Pasifika, but of every economy that has traditionally stewarded their blue/green spaces.

Consider that World Bank estimates Natural Capital at $100 trillion and that environmental data can only be counted once (Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.

While these mitigation numbers are currently pegged to the “values” of carbon sequestration, this is certainly not a fair or balanced program and it’s worth paying attention to the ongoing debate about the appropriate way to value carbon. Some argue that current prices do not fully reflect the true social, environmental, and economic costs of carbon emissions. There are also legitimate concerns about consequences, that this kind of program will further lead to biodiversity loss and other environmental harm.

The value of carbon sequestration is a significant factor when calculating mitigation numbers or determining carbon offset prices. Carbon sequestration refers to the process by which CO2 is captured from the atmosphere and stored in plants, soil, and the ocean, and has become a spurious strategy in climate change policy by overemphasizing the singular problem of offsetting the emission of greenhouse gases when climate change is a manifold problem that requires solutions that western markets are incapable of providing.

Carbon trading is a poor factor in sustainability when offsetting emissions is a direct gateway to more aggressive mining and extraction industries like seabed mining, for example, industries that jeopardize entire ecosystems for clean energy resources.

As such, various approaches to carbon sequestration, such as afforestation (planting new forests), reforestation (replanting existing forests), improved forestry management, and practices in agriculture and soil management, are being monetized based on the amount of CO2 they can potentially capture and store, and not necessarily for the biodiversity it can restore.

The value of this sequestered carbon can then be used to create carbon credits, which can be sold in carbon markets to companies and individuals who want to offset their own carbon emissions. The price of these carbon credits reflects the perceived value of the carbon sequestration.

In terms of data localism, the value of carbon sequestration must include the indigenous or customary management of ecological biodiversity and include cultural and wellbeing factors. As such, communities will benefit far more by localizing data than by swapping it out for million-dollar deals that amount to a shaved splinter of a penny when measured against the tens of trillions of dollars that natural capital is being measured by.

I also want to point out that the Carbon Market, is just one market of the many potential markets that would make much better use of both good climate policy and fair distribution of wealth.

The Pacific is a vast ocean of data and the population of the Pacific is only about 10 million people. No matter how one accounts for data, the Pacific region should be able to leverage trillions of dollars of ecological wealth to invent their own resilience schemes and own the patents for their own mitigation technologies– rather than leasing them from foreign entities. Small Pacific Island States should be devising their own tools and setting international standards, and doing their own assessments and validations in the international context. Tuvalu should be able to leverage its data wealth to hire Tony Stark to defend Tuvalu from the impacts of climate change. If one ever wonders why Australia spent AUD 368 billion on its nuclear sub, they didn’t spend it on the necessity of climate mitigation or resilience, but to keep China (a country that also promotes data localism) from doing business AND to prevent the Pacific from owning their data. AUD 368 billion dollars is a small price to pay for the trillions of dollars they’re anticipating to make to perpetuate their own carbon markets.

I advise all governments already ensnarled in these data schemes to try to withdraw from these agreements and mandate data localism using local auditors to verify the data.

The Eight Tenets on Data Localism

The first tenet is to recognize the intrinsic value of data localism and its role in nature and life.

Pasifika should acknowledge that the prosperity of the region and the welfare of its inhabitants are inherently interdependent. As a result, solution-based programs must be comprehensive and integrated. In this regard, safeguarding our data is imperative, and we must counter attempts by dominant economies to manipulate and exploit our data resources by undermining or downplaying its value through deceptive arguments about the efficacy of “openness,” “transparency,” or “accessibility.” To ensure that data-driven solutions are designed to serve the Pacific region’s unique needs, we must adopt an unrelenting adherence to data localism, an approach that emphasizes community participation, accountability, and cultural relevance.

Data localism is sovereignty. To create a more just, sustainable, and equitable region, we must actively defend our rights and begin to shift from a paradigm of exploitation and waste to one of respect and stewardship. We must reject Natural Capital because nature and life are sacrosanct, and the cumulative impacts are interdependent with existence. We must transition out from a system of commodification to a system of mutual interaction.  This requires that we value, measure, and account for data to meet the targets and goals that we set our baseline to.  Meeting targets and goals can be achieved without the corrupting influence of eco-neoliberal privatization regimes. We must explore data localism, data stewardship, data provenance, and a data marketplace with Pasifika or indigenous-held technologies.

The second tenet is to prioritize data commons. We must empower local communities to take control of their data and promote decentralized systems that allow for greater autonomy and self-determination. This includes advocating for open-source software, community-owned data centers, and community-led data governance structures.

As oil-producing regions produce oil, the Pacific is a vast region where local businesses can manage ecological data to be on par with other regions. Wall Street will exclude people-to-people capacities to exchange, but mutual aid could very well inspire the transition toward a more equitable global economy.

The third tenet is to promote data protocols. Indigenous or customary protocols are unique to specific regions, cultures, and communities, and they reflect the values, beliefs, and practices of those communities. Adopting indigenous protocols can foster new partnerships between professionals from different fields to assist with the development and integration of data into translocal and interglobal markets and exchanges.

Environmental default swaps (EDS), for example, may be a financial instrument that allows us to hedge against environmental risks such as climate change and natural disasters. But an EDS should do more than report on loss and damage and include an account of mitigating and adaptive technologies. Environmental data will transform financial markets and we should be the primary source of information about environmental data markets. It is up to the region to control this data, as our large EEZs and remote locations will provide our small populations with access to capital and new infrastructure.

The fourth tenet is to foster a culture of data reciprocity. We must recognize the importance of mutual exchange and collaboration and promote systems that allow for fair and equitable sharing of data. This includes advocating for data cooperatives, data commons, and open data initiatives that benefit all members of an interglobal community.

By establishing a Pasifika data regime that manages environmental data in market terms, we will set the rules for the region. Much like with the PNA Vessel Day Scheme, Pacific EEZ should set the boundaries of new accounting standards.

The fifth tenet is to prioritize data privacy and security. Individuals and communities have the right to control how data is collected, used, and shared, and that this data is protected from unauthorized surveillance, collection, access, and misuse.

We must prioritize the restoration of ecosystems, protect endangered species, and promote sustainable land and water use practices. Unlike bio-colonial efforts to collect people’s genetic information, biostatistics is a branch of statistics that focuses on the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data related to biological systems. In the context of indigenous and customary communities, biostatistics can provide valuable data about our interactions with environments. Ethical guidelines and regulations must secure our data and we must devise regulatory and auditing processes that can reliably interpret our ocean of data.

The sixth tenet is to recognize data provenance and honor the interconnectedness of data and our lives. We must work to break down the false dichotomies of data versus privacy, individual versus community, and realize that we are all part of a larger, interdependent web of data.

We must recognize the importance of collective action and empower local communities to take control of their own resources and futures. Data provenance refers to the history of the ownership and control of environmental data. It is concerned with the identification of the original source of data, how it has been modified, and who has had access to it. For indigenous and customary peoples, data provenance is critical for maintaining the integrity of traditional knowledge and protecting the rights of their communities. Data provenance provides a mechanism for identifying the ownership and control of traditional knowledge, ensuring that it is not misused or exploited by third parties without the consent of the original owners.

The seventh tenet is to prioritize education and awareness. We must ensure that all people have access to accurate information about the value of data points meeting its targets (or not) and are empowered to make informed decisions about their impact on the digital landscape.

We must ensure that all people have access to accurate information and are empowered to make informed decisions about how they value their interaction with the environment. Developing an accredited curriculum focusing on integrating communities with accounting methodologies that facilitate both translocal and interglobal approaches to ecological-economic accounts provides diligence to monitoring, auditing, and enforcement that will protect both communities and investors and allow for coherent markets to evolve.

The eighth tenet is to recognize and honor the potential for data to create positive social change. We must work to promote data justice and equity and ensure that data is used to promote social and environmental sustainability, rather than perpetuating systemic injustices.

Ecological Accounting and Spirituality: Data Reciprocity and Data Localism

Our relationship with the natural world has been a topic of discussion and contemplation for thousands of years. In recent times, the urgency of addressing the ecological crisis has brought the need for a more integrated approach to the forefront. Exploring the intersection between economics and spirituality argues that incorporating spiritual values into economic decision-making can lead to a more sustainable and equitable world.

Data Reciprocity and Data Localism address the urgent issues of data sovereignty, privacy, and equity in the digital age. It recognizes the need for a radical transformation of our economic and social systems in order to achieve these goals.

The ecological crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity today. Climate change, habitat destruction, and the loss of biodiversity are just a few of the many problems that threaten the survival of countless species and the well-being of the planet. The root cause of these problems is often traced back to a human-centered worldview that sees the natural world as a resource to be exploited for human benefit.

Economics, as a discipline, is primarily concerned with the allocation of scarce resources to meet unlimited human wants and needs. However, the current economic system often prioritizes profit over other values such as social and environmental well-being. This has led to a number of negative consequences, including income inequality, environmental degradation, and the depletion of natural resources.

Spirituality, on the other hand, offers a different perspective on the relationship between humans and the natural world. Many spiritual traditions view the natural world as sacred and see humans as part of a larger, interconnected whole. This worldview emphasizes the interdependence of all living beings and the importance of living in harmony with the natural world.

The integration of ecology, economics, and spirituality offers a path toward sustainability by incorporating both scientific and spiritual perspectives on the relationship between humans and the natural world.

One of the key benefits of this intersection is the creation of a more equitable and sustainable economic system. Data measuring our well-being, for example, can be a tool addressing our spiritual values such as compassion and cooperation, and result in economic decision-making guided by a deeper sense of purpose and responsibility. This can lead to a more equitable distribution of resources and a greater emphasis on environmental protection and sustainability.

Throughout history, the spiritual exchange of goods and markets has played a significant role in many cultures and civilizations. In ancient times, bartering was a common practice, where goods and services were exchanged without the use of currency. This exchange was often guided by spiritual beliefs and values, such as the belief in the interdependence of all living beings and the importance of mutual support.

In some indigenous cultures, the concept of the “gift economy” was central to the exchange of goods and services. In these societies, resources were shared freely and individuals were encouraged to give generously to those in need. This was seen as a way of building community and strengthening social bonds and was often guided by spiritual beliefs about the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Religious markets, such as the Suq in the Islamic world, have also played a significant role in the exchange of goods and services. These markets were often a hub of economic activity and served as a place for merchants and traders to exchange goods and services. They were also a place for religious and cultural exchange, where individuals from different backgrounds could come together to exchange ideas and goods.

The concept of “fair trade” and provenance in supply chains has emerged as a way of incorporating more holistic values into an economic exchange. Fair trade is based on the idea of creating a more equitable and sustainable economic system by ensuring that workers and producers in developing countries receive a fair price for their goods and services.

Data Reciprocity and Data Localism

Data Reciprocity and Data Localism recognize that data is a valuable resource that has the potential to empower communities and individuals, but that this potential is often exploited by large corporations and governments. Therefore, any solution to these global challenges must prioritize the rights and needs of people over the profits of a few.

A 21st-century economy integrates the intrinsic value of data and its role in shaping our lives. We must acknowledge the rights of individuals and communities to control and benefit from the data that they produce and shift from a paradigm of surveillance and exploitation to one of transparency and reciprocity.

Prioritize data localism. We must empower local communities to take control of their own data, and promote decentralized systems that allow for greater autonomy and self-determination. This includes advocating for open-source software, community-owned data centers, and community-led data governance structures.

• Foster a culture of data reciprocity. We must recognize the importance of mutual exchange and collaboration, and promote systems that allow for fair and equitable sharing of data. This includes advocating for data cooperatives, data commons, and open data initiatives that benefit all members of a community.

Prioritize data privacy and security. Individuals and communities have the right to control how their data is collected, used, and shared and that this data is protected from unauthorized access and misuse.

Prioritize education and awareness. All people have access to accurate information about their data and are empowered to make informed decisions about their impact on the digital landscape.

Recognize and honor the interconnectedness of data and our lives. Break down the false dichotomies of data versus privacy, and individual versus community, and realize that we are all part of a larger, interdependent web of data.

Recognize and honor the potential for data to create positive social change. Promote data justice and equity and ensure that data is used to facilitate social and environmental sustainability, rather than perpetuating systemic injustices.

Data Reciprocity and Data Localism recognize the urgency of the global crises we face in the digital age.

An integrative approach to ecological economics and spirituality is the creation of a more holistic understanding of our interactions with ecological biodiversity. Translocal markets recognize the importance of protecting the natural world not just for its own sake, but for the well-being of all living beings and for future generations.

The intersection between economics and spirituality offers a path toward a more sustainable and equitable world. By incorporating spiritual values into economic decision-making, we can create a more holistic and compassionate economic system that prioritizes the well-being of all living beings and the planet as a whole.

The Intemerate Equation can be a counterweight to the unbalanced weight of our GDP

In very concrete terms, how we move the global economy is to reform our national accounting system. As long as the wrong things are valued without the counterweight of the right things being valued (like our environment and wellbeing), the global economy will be incapable of a just and equitable change.

The Intemerate Equation addresses this very issue. The equation is tangible in that how we account for restoration fulfills three things: 1) it embraces indigenous and local methodologies to value and interact with their environment; 2) encourages data ownership so that communities can be more self-determining; and 3) promotes people-to-people translocal and interglobal exchange. From a national perspective, a new accounting framework provides the Global South with a path away from the trappings of debt dependency and boomerang aid schemes towards a true mirroring of our economic value, seeking the elimination of the tiered structure that provides advanced economies advantages over developing countries as well as greater access to capital for disadvantaged, displaced, and impacted communities.

Progressive International published an excellent article by Max Ajl called The NIEO in a State of Permanent Insurrection” where he writes, “Production of goods under the law of generalized commodity production, accumulation of value, and for exchange value cannot deliver a decent world. Capitalism cannot be reformed. There must be a shared horizon of production of goods and services for use, with prices engineered to achieve a worldwide just distribution of these goods, social rights guaranteed, and political institutions created to allow for the human reproduction of the ecology. There must be appropriate and ecologically modulated sovereign industrialization alongside regional collective self-reliance.”

We mostly know what the problems are. While we may not know the history that has led us to this place, collectively, we understand the failures of free market capitalism, the myopic pursuit of neoliberalism, and the enforcement mechanisms used to entrench peoples and countries. It is time to sit down and address a tangible pathway forward.

Three Little Pigs: Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands: The tall tale of resilience

Pasifika could draw upon the story of the three little pigs to illustrate how Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands might be the very countries to stand up to the economic tyranny of eco-neoliberal efforts to devalue their homes.

Providing solutions for the climate crisis requires the collaboration of local communities, national governments, and international policy stakeholders. Currently, financially based climate solutions ultimately benefit the very same countries most responsible for the climate crisis. Whether aid-for-climate adaptation initiatives, insurance schemes, cap and trade, or blue/green bonds, these schemes are either unsustainable or predatory, systemically excluding people and communities from benefitting from advancing their own interactions with their environment.

Focusing on local methodological engagement as well as the slippery topic of political and economic self-determination, Intemerate Earth has produced an index to gauge countries that would most benefit from rethinking how we account for our ecological biodiversity while providing inclusive market solutions for local and sustainable well-being. For example, as we begin to produce indicators of National well-being, how we aggregate that data as a cooperative side table to adjust GDP, we could collectively build upon our economic capacity for resilience, adaptation, and/or mitigation.

The children’s tale of the Three Little Pigs is generally understood as a story of adaptation. One pig builds a house of straw that does little to protect him from the hungry wolf who will huff and puff and blow his house down. The second little pig assembles his house out of wood, once again succumbing to the terror of the wolf. The third little pig constructs a brick house that withstands the wolf’s advancements. The story concludes with the wolf being driven away by the resilience of the pig who had adapted technologies to stop the wolf’s aggression.

If this were a story about the predatory ambitions of international finance and the profit motivations of capitalism’s worst abuses, then the wolf would not stop at a brick house. The geopolitical ending would result in the demolition of the brick house through either military force, legal shenanigans, or debt. The wolf in this story is a persistent predator and as long as we remain in this fairytale, the wolf will continue to find back doors and cunning motivations to get what he wants.

Pasifika could draw upon the story of the three little pigs to illustrate how Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), might be the very countries to stand up to the economic tyranny of capitalism’s effort to devalue their home. A policy consultant has described the situation of these three atolls as such, “Tuvalu has an amazing plan, but no money; RMI has an idea for a plan but hasn’t consulted and has no money; Kiribati has no plan but a ton of money!” Despite over a quarter-century of data measuring the fragility factors of low-lying countries, the very survival of these countries has been compromised by dismissive inaction, revealing how climate-based solutions have only been as good as profit-based motivations. By regionalizing alongside a multilateral system, a better outcome for the three little atolls would be to manage a market for their own ecological data, one that would provide better access and more capable technologies for resilience. People should benefit from their interactions with their environments as it is that value that is intrinsic to the ecological biodiversity of the region.

Presently, we are in a time when the hegemonic system of predator and prey could potentially be dismantled, giving way to a mutual understanding that the rules of nature need not be defined by privatization and predatory capitalism. Climate negotiations should be applying a notion of mutual fair play in market economies, where the rules of an economy reflect the well-being of straw dwellers, branch dwellers, and brick dwellers as they do economic predators. The ecological biodiversity of our planet is entwined with the economic stewardship of peoples, traditions, and communities and it is the interaction of these markets that should benefit from ecological services most.

If the wolf were the global capitalist institutions, the three little atolls would have little or no defense against the predatory advancements of large economies leveraging aid or citizenship for duplicitous resource or data management schemes. However, if the three island nations were to change the rules by adopting a regional plan that would altogether sidestep its relationship with the wolf, then we could begin to transition away from the predatory nature of spurious climate financing.

Financing mitigation and adaptation, the three atoll nations should consider a regional alliance where they would own their ecological data across their combined EEZs, and leverage that data to create the kind of infrastructure that would allow them to stay in their own homes, research and develop their own technologies, and develop their own accounting protocols to account for the value of environmental data that is both global, as well as locally owned and derived.

Profit and privatization motivate eco-neoliberal economies to undermine sound climate policy. Over the years, we are seeing both green and maritime protected areas created and normalized in the non-self-governing territories of the Pacific, and that includes the occupations and territories of Australia, France, New Zealand, and the United States. The accounting of these large swathes of maritime areas is not owned, managed, or accounted for by Pasifika governments or the customary rights holders, rather they are for the benefit of the administering power. The creation of these maritime protection programs utilizes technologies developed by Department of Defense contractors and the environmental data is owned by federal agencies.

By itself, this may not seem like much, but that is because the little pigs are only concerned about mitigation and adaptation. As time goes by and severe weather becomes more and more of an issue of existence, the large economies understand very well that small economies will surrender their territories for citizenship. What the little pigs might not know is that how we account for our environment may soon be adopted into national accounting matrices.
But what if the three little pigs understood that sharks, a lion, and a bear would create a biodiversity of power that facilitates a program to determine their own future, whether straw, stick, brick, or reconstituted plastic waste, and devise their own resilience schemes?

Consider that the combined exclusive economic zone and total interior area (EEZ + TIA) of Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the RMI is about 6.18 million square kilometers (an area in size between Australia and India) and that the combined population is about 183,000, this would put their population density at about .0004. As a reference, the population density of Australia is about 3.3 (population/area). When you consider the population index of an area of Kiribati, Tuvalu, and RMI and realize that the average GDP per capita is about $2,444 annually (compared to Australia at about $58,000) one should wonder if a new accounting scheme that embraces environmental stewardship would essentially raise the national accounting figures of the population several thousand percent, thereby affording these atoll nations with the ability to not only stay in their homes but to access the kind of financing that could produce technologies as inspired as Laputa, the floating island in Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

If left unchallenged, it may take decades for national accounting systems to fully transition from GDP to an SEEA (System of Environmental-Economic Account), but for the smallest and most vulnerable economies to initiate that transition away from a unipolar market to a new multipolar market and begin to write the rules for what this accounting scheme should look like, financial benefits might be measured in years, if not months. Without an appropriate institution that is inclusive of the customary, indigenous, and national rightsholders, no market economy of any significance is possible, and all climate policy will be driven by the same hegemonic institutions and industrial entities that benefitted from exploiting and perpetuating our climate crisis.

Regime change is a threat that is more immediate than any typhoon and the huff and puff of the most militarized economies coupled with the manipulations of the media can topple nearly any government.

Adopting a multipolar financial scheme that would create a market for ecological data (one that is outside the rule-making processes of Wall Street) would have been impossible after the advancement of the 1991 post-Perestroika Washington Consensus that enforced a global economic and legal regime dominated by the United States and the international institutions.

While the unsustainable markets of this economy had been challenged, alternative systems were undermined by regime change, uprisings, sanctions, and any number of advancements that the wolf could muster. Regional groupings like the Bolivarian Alliance, BRICS, the EEU, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group had sought to provide economic stability outside the dominant sphere of the Washington Consensus and there have been many attempts to undermine these integrations through a litany of coups and assassinations reminiscent of the decade of decolonization in the 1960s. Even the containment and obstruction of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative is hypocritical and provocative, particularly as the debt of the advanced economies has far surpassed the GDP debt thresholds by trillions of dollars, far more than the collective debt of the developing countries. When you consider that trillions of dollars of debt can only be leveraged by militarized promises of private access and ownership, one must wonder why the relatively low debt obligations of developing countries should be an issue of concern to the stability of global markets.

It wasn’t until the 2008 financial collapse that fissures in unipolar global governance emerged, and a new multipolar system occurred with the rise of the BRICS economies. Having created an alternative operational system that can bypass US sanction power, currency exchange, and investor-state enforcement, the possibility for countries and economies to transition towards a more balanced trade and infrastructure development seemed promising. Unfortunately, as every government has become aware, regime change is a threat that is more immediate than any typhoon and the huff and puff of the most militarized economies coupled with the manipulations of the media can topple nearly any government.

But while the shroud of the wolf looms large, that should not prevent a new operational system that accounts for the management of our ecological biodiversity to occur. We should not have to surrender to Wall Street’s climate financing schemes to reverse climate change, particularly when the option for a fair and equitable transition is rooted in our very existence.

COP 27: Why “loss and damage” is a bust before it begins

Tangible? Potent? Spectral? Will the Intemerate Equation be a thing to behold, free-floating between the gravity of capital markets and the spirit of ecological and economic justice? Image from AG Roja’s video “Naeem.”

Expressing the failure of COP 27 is neither a pessimistic avowal that global climate policy is incapable of meaningful change, nor is it a nihilistic admission that the restoration of our planetary capacity to survive has moved beyond the tipping point. The failure is the systemic disconnect between the rich industrialized economies of the Global North and the inability of the Global South to advance an alternative multilateral system that can operate in parallel with the rich countries. As long as a unilateral network of dependency is enforced, one without the option of access and infrastructure, developing countries will remain tethered to corporate interests and the investment regime.

The pronouncement of success at COP 27 is that vulnerable countries will now be able to access funds to tackle loss and damage. The reporting of the details remains vague, but we should already be prepared to challenge this initiative as a backdoor investment scheme. The pathway for this fund appears to be dependent upon commercial industries investing in our most vulnerable countries. The debt-laden governments of the Global North will be unable to sustain a loss and damage fund and it will thereby fall upon the commitments of private sector interests that can afford the insurance policy to cover the risk of loss and damages, particularly as they will be the ones to profit from their “future anticipated losses.”

New Accounting Standards

To really appreciate the obtuse justification for these new accounting standards, I recommend following the hyperlinks as they illustrate just how different financial standards are between the OECD countries and the rest of the world. In 2021, new accounting standards were adopted by the Federal Reserve to mitigate “current expected credit losses” (CECL), estimating allowances for that loss. In the 2008 UN SNA (Chapter 12: The Other Changes in Asset Accounts), those losses are reported in national accounting aggregates not as liabilities, but as assets that can contribute to how the too-big-to-fail financial institutions would report this to national statistical offices. However, the only ones that would benefit from such convoluted designs, are the very countries and economies that have the ability to make these spurious claims and get away with it.

Private sector industries are easily poised to pay multi-million dollar insurance premiums, particularly when they are structured so that future “anticipated losses” will cover the risk

The BIS (Bank for International Settlements), has addressed how to account for risk and losses, and in 2020, published a paper that forecasted the time-varying probability distribution of future losses due to extreme conditions. Essentially what this means is that insurance companies have an instrument with which to predict and account for climate-based catastrophes in the most vulnerable countries, countries that will also be most receptive to attracting corporate industries like Big Ag, aquaculture, R&D, tourism, and nature-based investments like water (now a Wall Street traded futures index), marine energy, ecosystem management, waste, and renewables. Private industries are easily poised to pay multi-million dollar insurance premiums, particularly when they are structured so that future “anticipated losses” will cover the risk. The only real benefit that might come to these host countries will be new tax revenue, but that will be dependent upon the terms of these negotiations and whether they accept or reject tax-avoidance conditions by foreign-owned entities.

Other climate fund options that have been devised recently are the blue or green bonds, but these are unsustainable and eligibility for these funds usually comes with a cost that will ultimately boomerang back to the funder.

Transitioning away from capitalist solutions

Finding solutions to our global ecological and economic crisis requires an understanding that our ecological biodiversity is shared between the oldest, largest, youngest, and smallest of our species and the mutual interconnectedness of everything in between. The Anthropocene, the geological recording of humanity’s impact on the planet, locates the very industries that have degraded, depleted, and exploited our health and environments, tracing our residue along geological striations that read like a roadmap to our own extinction. While there is controversy among geology departments over the legitimacy of an Anthropocene, there was also once a group of scientists denying manmade climate change. And even with an abundance of divine oracles and soothsayers distracting us from real solutions while predicting chaos and doom, the causes of our climate crisis have never been a secret to anyone.

Since the 19th century, the captains of industries have rejected the most decent of principles in the name of progress, profit, and nationalism, and have done so under the banner of capitalism. As long as the structures of capitalism are in opposition to the health and well-being of people and the environment, there can be no transition to a just, fair, and equitable economy. But anti-capitalist motivations should also not come at the expense of people gaining access to finance, capital, modes of production, and exchange. What we need to focus on is how we transition from their economy to ours. We cannot rewrite the trajectory of the last 200 years, but we can equitably regulate how capital is exchanged in ecologically based markets by accounting for our interactions with restoring our environments rather than as commodity-based natural capital.

The Anthropocene, the geological recording of humanity’s impact on the planet, locates the very industries that have degraded, depleted, and exploited our health and environments, tracing our residue along geological striations that read like a roadmap to our own extinction.

While it is undeniable that the operations of free-market capitalism, liberalized trade policies, and deregulated markets have caused irreparable damage to communities and environments, the answer to the problems of capitalism may not actually be the flow of financial and investment capital itself, but the accounting structures embedded within our current economy that privilege privatization and commodity markets over collectivization and ecological ones.

Behind the Curtain: National Accounting Systems

An overlooked, yet viable action that would transition the global economy towards one that values sustainable development is to reform our national accounting system. This includes the accounting of degradation and depletion as a liability rather than as an asset. Sustainable development includes household work, and rejects the accounting of military systems as a fixed asset unless we can include our ecological biodiversity as a national security issue, and repurpose weapons to be tools for restoration, regeneration, and reparation, repurposing weapons as tools of mass reconstruction.

Where this action needs to be directed is the obscure but highly essential System of National Accounts within the UN Statistical Division, (SNA, UNSD). Currently, the SNA codifies how we measure our national accounts, or GDP, and is dominated by OECD members. The United States is the only major economy that does not conform to the SNA international standard, stubbornly clinging to its ability to liberally and quickly maneuver through its own accounting revisions with NIPA (National Income and Product Accounts). As with much of the international order, it is the SNA that follows NIPA, indicating just how U.S. exceptionalism exploits the rules-based system it claims to uphold.

If we are to restore our ecological biodiversity and reverse climate change, the Statistical Division needs to be more inclusive of developing countries, indigenous peoples, and impacted communities. We achieve this by altering how we account for our interactions with our environment and value what is most sacrosanct in all our myriad and diverse ways. We cannot accomplish a just and equitable economy as long there is a top-down imperative to value environments on commodity-driven initiatives that seek to manage and privatize what we have traditionally stewarded. It is up to us to own our data, value our interactions with our green and blue spaces, and facilitate our own distributive networks of exchange by choosing our own multi-faceted pathways for development.

The intersection of diverse peoples and communities, our spiritual networks, and our local and customary agencies is evident everywhere and nothing should interfere with our mutual interconnectedness.

There are two ways to achieve this. The first is to campaign and petition the SNA to include us in the revision of national accounting systems. That is likely to be a slow and cumbersome process as large economies will bully us with technical jargon that will keep us playing catch up despite the fact that our customary knowledge is far more valuable than their lexicon of obtuse terminology. The second, or preferred option, is to utilize our own tools and methodologies to measure our interactions with the environment and incorporate a regulated exchange of capital with the kind of access and infrastructure necessary to uphold sustainable markets and development.

Our community networks are strong. The intersection of diverse peoples and communities, our spiritual networks, and our local and customary agencies is evident everywhere and nothing should interfere with our mutual interconnectedness. The profit-motivations of market-driven industrial interests are stalwarts for containing and obstructing genuine security and development.

As we step back to really examine our economic interactions, we should be amazed by our protocol and reciprocity. How is it that the governments of advanced economies are the most heavily indebted? If we consider these governments as proxies for industrial self-interest, we would find that the rhetoric of democracy, justice, transparency, and rules-based mechanisms are misaligned with so much hypocrisy that those who define those terms most are the very ones that weaponize those ideals for the benefit of industrial greed.

The Audacity of Debt Repayment

The United States alone currently has a nearly 120% debt-to-GDP ratio, meaning that government taxpayers currently hold about $27 trillion in public debt. For perspective, the combined public debt of the ACP countries (Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific) is ~$1.3 trillion. When you consider that the total population of the ACP is ~1.2 billion, and the population of the United States is ~337 million, the per capita holding of debt in the U.S. is well over 50 times greater than in the ACP. Another way to read this is that each U.S. taxpayer owes ~$80,000 and each ACP citizen owes ~$108. This is a population-to-debt difference of 740-to-1.

Ecological and economic justice cannot happen unless the United States addresses its hegemony and unfurls the sail that will set economies free to engage in multilateral markets of exchange.

So the question we should be asking is how does the proverbial 1% have access to 99% of the debt without any strategy of debt repayment while the ACP countries remain tethered to debt repayments, all while the economies of the Global North continue to degrade, deplete, and exploit peoples and environments? The clearest answer is that the United States has something to leverage to the international investment cabal– the owners of the debt–and that is its military. The United States has 750 bases in 80 countries. No other country has a military presence remotely close and all countries face the threat of destabilization, regime change, and sanctions. The winds of ecological and economic justice will blow when the United States addresses this hegemony and unfurls the sail that will set economies free to engage in multilateral markets of exchange.

The history of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties has been a trajectory where the agenda of the advanced economies, led by the United States– a proxy of the international investment cabal and industrial regimes– has continually asserted its own interests over the security and well-being of people and planet.

Since the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and President Bush’s withdrawal from the COP 3 Protocol in 2000, we have only seen consolidated efforts to destabilize, undermine, and reject sound climate policy. Additionally, with the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals, we have seen tremendous global efforts to create a viable program that seeks to address the 17 goals and the 169 targets. These targets, however, are mostly designed with a pathway for privatizing the management of data through private investment and industry. It is the accounting of that data that the large economies seek to own and use to create a value on nature for the benefit of investors and industries. And since this data cannot be accounted for twice, developing countries, indigenous peoples, and impacted communities will once again be removed from the value chains of our ecological biodiversity and public health.

COP 28: We’ll bring the bread.

In this regard, COP 27 is a ruse. For COP 28, we might want to consider regulated versions of capital exchange where developing countries, indigenous peoples, and impacted communities benefit from our own traditional or customary data sets and engage in a regulated form of market exchange that protects our biodiversity and profits from a growth model that restores our environments, revitalizes our communities, and repairs our histories.

Urgency matters. We may not have time for a picnic at COP 28, but between now and then, consider protocols for exchange and methodologies for valuing our interactions to restore environments. If all we are concerned with is reversing climate change, it may be as easy as surrendering one’s home to private capital and global wealth funds, but what we need to be fighting for is an equitable redistribution of global wealth because this planet and our future belong to all of us.