Watch Out: Your Money Is Being Used to Destroy the World!

Credit: Bigstock

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 3 2019 – Perhaps the most direct way to introduce this tough issue is what the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated just one week ahead of the 5 June World Environment Day, which focuses this year on air pollution, caused chiefly by the use of fossil fuels both in transport, industry and even household cooking, heating, etc.

“Subsidising fossil fuels means spending taxpayers’ money to “boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals: to destroy the world,” the UN chief warned, adding that “We need to tax pollution, not people.” “End subsidies for fossil fuels.”


4.7 trillion dollars in global subsidies?

“Subsidising fossil fuels means spending taxpayers’ money to “boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals: to destroy the world,”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres

A corporation that knows much about money –the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that, globally, subsidies remained large at 4.7 trillion dollars (6.3 percent of global GDP) in 2015 and were projected at 5.2 trillion dollars (6.5 percent of GDP) in 2017.

Its 2 May 2019 Working Paper Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large, updates estimates of fossil fuel subsidies, defined as fuel consumption times the gap between existing and efficient prices (i.e., prices warranted by supply costs, environmental costs, and revenue considerations), for 191 countries.

“The largest subsidisers in 2015 were China (1.4 trillion dollars), United States (649 billions), Russia (551 billions), European Union (289 billions), and India (209 billion dollars),” it reports.

And it adds that “about three quarters of global subsidies are due to domestic factors—energy pricing reform thus remains largely in countries own national interest—while coal and petroleum together account for 85 percent of global subsidies.”

For its part, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that the value of global fossil-fuel consumption subsidies in 2017 is estimated at more than 300 billion dollars, higher than the estimate for 2016, which was around 270 billions.

The Energy Agency also alerts that “higher oil prices led to a partial rebound in total subsidy value in 2017, but the 12% rise in subsidies was considerably less than the 25% rise in oil price.”

The IEA provides this breakdown:

  •  In 2016, subsidies to electricity had overtaken those to oil, but in 2017 oil returned as the most heavily subsidised energy carrier.
  • Oil subsidies accounted for 45% of the total, or nearly 137 billion dollars, covering an estimated 11% of global oil consumption.
  • Natural gas subsidies were also significant, amounting to around 57 billion dollars, affecting the price paid for 23% of gas consumption.
  • Coal subsides are relatively small, at 2 billion dollars in 2017.


The UK, Europe’s champion

Meantime, Sam Morgan on 15 January 2019 reported in that “the United Kingdom spends the most in the EU on subsidising fossil fuels, according to a new report by the European Commission, which also found that EU-wide payments have failed to decrease despite the bloc’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

“In 2016, the UK pumped more than 12 billion euro into fossil fuel support, closely followed by Germany, France, Italy and Spain. However, those countries actually then spent more on renewable energies like wind and solar than on coal, gas and oil.”

All in all, “fossil fuels enjoyed an estimated 55 billion euro in public funding across the EU, with the energy sector the biggest recipient, followed by the residential sector, industry and transport.”


Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Women and children are the primary victims of indoor air pollution in poor, rural areas of India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS


The air we breath

In addition to diverting such huge amounts of taxpayers’ money to sustain major causes of greenhouse gas emissions –at the very cost of devoting them to public health, education and vital social services– there is the dramatic fact that air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world.

New data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution, the world top specialised body reported ahead of the 5 June World Environment Day.

“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

“It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”


Key findings

On this, the World Health Organization provides the following data:

  • The highest ambient air pollution levels are in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and in South-East Asia, with annual mean levels often exceeding more than 5 times WHO limits, followed by low and middle-income cities in Africa and the Western Pacific.
  • Africa and some of the Western Pacific region have a serious lack of air pollution data. For Africa, the database now contains PM measurements for more than twice as many cities as previous versions, however data was identified for only 8 of 47 countries in the region.
  • Europe has the highest number of places reporting data.
  • In general, ambient air pollution levels are lowest in high-income countries, particularly in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific. In cities of high-income countries in Europe, air pollution has been shown to lower average life expectancy by anywhere between 2 and 24 months, depending on pollution levels.

Add to all the above that UN Environment reports that 92 per cent of people worldwide do not breathe clean air, that air pollution costs the global economy 5 trillion dollars every year in welfare costs, and that ground-level ozone pollution is expected to reduce staple crop yields by 26 per cent by 2030.



WHO also estimates that:

  • Around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.
  • Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period, it explains.
  • More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
  • Around 3 billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution.
  • Air pollution is a critical risk factor for non-communicable diseases, causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.


Around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia


Now, where does air pollution come from?

Regarding the major causes of air pollution, the United Nations reports that

  • Household – The main source of household air pollution is the indoor burning of fossil fuels, wood and other biomass-based fuels to cook, heat and light homes. Around 3.8 million premature deaths are caused by indoor air pollution each year, the vast majority of them in the developing world.
  • Industry – In many countries, energy production is a leading source of air pollution. Coal-burning power plants are a major contributor, while diesel generators are a growing concern in off-grid areas.
  • Transport – The global transport sector accounts for almost one-quarter of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and this proportion is rising. Transport emissions have been linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths.
  • Agriculture – There are two major sources of air pollution from agriculture: livestock, which produces methane and ammonia, and the burning of agricultural waste. Around 24 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted worldwide comes from agriculture, forestry and other land-use.
  • Waste – Open waste burning and organic waste in landfills release harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and black carbon into the atmosphere. Globally, an estimated 40 percent of waste is openly burned.
  • Other sources – Not all air pollution comes from human activity. Volcanic eruptions, dust storms and other natural processes also cause problems. Sand and dust storms are particularly concerning.

This scary information does not mean that taxpayers should stop contributing—everybody should continue doing it, sure.

But what about voting for those politicians who can hopefully show real, honest commitment to put an end to this mad practice of using public money to fund death?


Baher Kamal is Director and Editor of Human Wrongs Watch, where this article was originally published.


Exploitation and Acculturation

Minik, New York 1897.

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jun 3 2019 – There are several means to make profitable use of other human beings, an endeavour that tends to turn others into tools by depriving them of their roots and self-respect. This happened in concentration – and work camps, where individuals were reduced to mere numbers.

Another form of objectification of fellow human beings has been to gain money by exhibiting them to paying audiences. The fate of Ota Benga is an example of this. He was a Mbuti man who in 1904, together with other “primitive people”, was exhibited at the Lousiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis and later in the Monkey House at Bronx´s Zoo in New York. Ota Benga had by the missionary Samuel Phillips Verner been purchased from slave-traders in the Belgian Congo, while Verner was searching for “exotic Africans” to be exhibited in St. Louis.

After newspapers had exposed the mistreatment of Mr. Benga, he was after six years released from the zoo. A supervisor of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn arranged to have Benga´s filed teeth capped while providing him with basic education and ”decent” clothes. Benga planned to return to his Congolese home, though when the outbreak of World War I ended cross-Atlantic passenger traffic, Benga did at the age of 32 build a ceremonial fire, chipped off the caps on his teeth and shot himself in the heart with a stolen pistol.1 By the beginning of the last century, Benga´s tragic fate was far from unique, people like him were brought from other continents to be exhibited at museums, circuses, and fairs. During the last decades, several books and movies have paid attention to some of these unfortunate individuals.

One example is the French film Black Venus from 2010. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche it tells the true story of Sara Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman from South Africa who in the early 19th century was exhibited in several European countries. At that time, as well as after her death when her skeleton and a painted plaster model of her naked body until 1974 were exhibited at Musée de l´Homme in Paris, Ms. Baartman has figured in novels, poems, and artworks. She suffered from steatopygia, abnormally big buttocks, as well as protruding genitals. When she was exposed naked, both alive and as a plaster model, Sara was presented as a representative of the ”abnormality” and ”hypersexuality” of the ”black race”, an outcome of its ”unique physique”. Ms. Baartman died from ”inflammation” at the age of 25. 2

Another representative of abused indigenous people is Minik, who seven years old together with his father Qisuk and four other Inghuits, in 1897 by the US explorer Robert Peary were brought from the village of Uummannaq in northern Greenland to New York, to be exhibited at shows and at the American Museum of Natural History. However, all of them soon died of tuberculosis, except for one man who succeeded to return to Greenland and Minik who was forced to remain in New York.

Minik suffered from his father´s death and pleaded for a proper Inghuit burial. For the benefit of Minik, the museum staff staged a fake burial. Unknown to Minik the coffin had been filled with stones, while his father´s corpse was de-fleshed, his skeleton mounted and publicly displayed together with painted, plaster models. Through his classmates, Minik found out that his father´s skeleton was exposed together with casts of his and his father´s naked bodies. The press got hold of the story and after almost ten years in New York, Minik was brought back to Uummannaq. He had by then forgotten his mother language and much of Inghuit culture and skills. In spite of being welcomed by his people, reintegrated in their culture and becoming a skilled hunter, Minik never felt at home. In 1916 he returned to New York, where he after a few months died of pneumonia.3

Minik had been kept in New York under the pretext of acculturation, a process of social, psychological and cultural change through which a dominant society incorporates individuals from a differing culture. Forced assimilation remains a common violation of minority rights.

A Danish movie, premiering the same year as Black Venus – The Experiment by Lousie Friedberg – deals with the perils of acculturation. In 1951, with the intention of transforming them into “small Danes” by adapting them to “modern” society, Danish colonial authorities removed twenty-two, six to eight years old Inuit children from their parents. The children were “relocated” to Denmark and the movie follows their fate as they lose their original language and culture, while suffering the trauma of being separated from their families. More than half of them died before reaching adulthood.

There are several examples of such tragedies, disguised as benevolent efforts to secure a bright future for “native” children, one was the Canadian Indian residential school system, a network of boarding schools administered by Christain churches. During its hundred years of existence (1869 to mid-1960s) 30 percent of Canada´s indigenous children, around 150,000 individuals, were separated from their parents and placed in residential schools. Due to incomplete historical records, the number of school-related deaths remains unknown, though estimates range from 3,200 upwards of 6,000. 4

Acculturation has occurred in the other direction as well. Children and youngsters captured during raids by Native American warriors quite often received the name of a deceased member of their captor´s tribe, receiving his/her social status while becoming a member of the deceased person´s family. White settlers became astonished to find that “rescued” captives often preferred to return to their captors. In 1753, Benjamin Franklin observed:

    … when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, though ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them, to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them. 5

Captivity Narratives soon became a sub-genre of American biographies, novels and movies. The phenomenon of settlers preferring to remain with their captors is as old as the first encounters between Westerners and Indigenous people.6 In his magnificent eye-witness account of Hernán Cortés´s conquest of México, the Spanish soldier Bernal Díaz del Castillo described a meeting between the priest Jerónimo de Aguilar and the former sailor Gonzalo Guerrero.

Eight years before the arrival of Western warriors these two men had been shipwrecked on the Mayan coast of México. Other members of their crew were almost immediately ritually sacrificed, while de Aguilar and Guerrero escaped. After being re-captured, they were instead of being sacrificed turned into slaves. de Aguilar kept his faith and remained a slave, while Guerrero became a ”war leader” in the service of Nachan Can, Lord of Chactemal and married his daughter, Zazil. When Cortés heard about the two Spaniards he paid ransom for them. His Mayan owner freed de Aguilar, who joined the Spanish troops, becoming their translator. When he arrived among the Spaniards, de Aguilar told Cortés that he had failed to persuade Guerrero to join him. Guerreo, who was not a slave, had answered his friend:

    Brother Aguilar, I am married and have three children, and they look on me as a Cacique [lord] here, and a captain in time of war. Go, and God´s blessing be with you. But my face is tattooed and my ears are pierced. What would the Spaniards say about me if they saw me like this? And look how handsome these children of mine are. 7

Cortés soon learned that Guerrero led Mayan warriors in attacks on Spanish troops and he eventually died fighting his former compatriots. Guerrero´s story is proof of the fact that you are at home where you feel you belong and that no one can force such a feeling upon you.

1 Newkirk, Pamela (2015). Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga. New York: Amistad.
2 Crais, Clifton and Pamela Scully (2009) Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. It was common that indigenous individuals, brought from isolated areas to big cites in the US and Europe, died from contagious diseaes.
3 Cruchaudet, Chloé (2008). Groënland Manhattan. Paris: Delcourt.
4 Réaume, Denise G. and Patrick Macklem (1994) Education for Subordination: Redressing the Adverse Effects of Residential Schooling. Toronto: University of Toronto.
5 Isaacson, Walter (2005) A Benjamin Franklin Reader. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 157.
6 Turner III, Frederick W. (1977) The Portable North American Indian Reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, pp. 310-311.
7 Díaz, Bernal (1965) The Conquest of New Spain. Harmondsworth; Penguin Classics. p. 65

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

The World Has Lost Its Compass

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jun 3 2019 - The terrible feeling I had on waking up and seeing the Italian voting results at the recent European elections was that my country was suddenly full of strangers. How could the majority of Italians [...] Read more »