September 21 is the International Day against Tree Plantations:  industrial-scale tree monocultures that produce pulp for paper, wood, oils and agrofuels.

Surprising as it may seem, many environmentalists are opposed to large-scale tree plantations.

There has been a massive finance-driven increase in large-scale plantations over the last few years.

As part of efforts to counter climate change, large-scale tree plantations have also been increasingly posited as “carbon sinks” and have started to “generate” tradeable carbon credits in financial markets.

‘Several financial institutions, large corporations and investment banks are ‘financialising’ nature: a process whereby financial markets create new “financial assets” and new ownership rights.

But continuing to ‘financialise’ nature will surely lead to  disaster, considering the abundance of financial crises-in-the-making dotting the landscape. [1]

Financialisation reduces the value of everything traded to its financial utility — or a derivative of this — whose future price, in the case of nature, is proportionate to its scarcity. With the ongoing destruction of the environment, this scarcity is likely to become increasingly lucrative.

Financialisation allows large corporations and industrialised countries to continue releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere guilt-free while buying hollow carbon credits.

But nature, biodiversity and forests need to be protected and not subjected to speculation on irresponsible financial markets.

Moreover, positing tree plantations as ‘carbon sinks’ is a patently false solution, which utterly fails to compensate for the loss of native forests.

Serious doubts exist about the quantity of carbon these plantations really absorb and the length of time that it remains absorbed.

Plantations are not forests. Plantations do not possess the rich biological and social diversity that characterizes forests. On the contrary, they have serious negative consequences: displacement of entire communities, violations of peoples’ rights, damage to local culture, widespread violence, pesticide pollution, loss of biological diversity and disturbance of hydrological cycles.

All of which has enormous consequences for nature and the communities who depend on it, with women being particularly affected. Unfortunately, there are many examples of the destruction of cultures, and historical and communal rights as a result of large-scale plantations.

What we need is more forests managed by local communities and fewer plantations managed and financed by large corporations.

Unfortunately, the interests of large corporations drive reforms in national and international politics, which helps them to take control of biodiversity and forests.

Contrary to common sense and the demands of civil society organisations, financial markets are infiltrating the economy and society more and more under the guise of the “natural resource economics”.

Financial markets, institutions and elites are continuing to increase not just profits but also an enormous influence over economic policy. The state is increasingly serving the interests of the financial markets and elites.

At the same time, this process translates into greater social, workplace and environmental exploitation. Similarly it overturns the rights won by Indigenous People and the role of the state in securing those rights.

Financialisation harms biodiversity and nature, by subjecting them to ownership and control as financial assets.

But we can still stop the financialisation of nature. This significant step would defend forests, communities and Indigenous People, as well as help to halt corporate control of nature.

[1] The Economist, September 7, 2013 : ‘Where’s the next Lehman?’ Editorial, page 12.

Image: Chris Lang. Pine tree plantation in Swaziland.