In Papua New Guinea at the moment, there’s a lot of controversy over something called “carbon trading.” Now, as many of you may never have heard of this, I’ll give a brief explanation.
There are laws in place in some countries that limit the amount of pollution a business can produce. This is a good thing. But there are also laws in those same countries which allow these businesses to pollute more if they can afford to. This is not such a good thing.
If a business wants to produce more pollution than it’s limited to, it contacts people who pollute less and pays them a fee for the privilege. It’s like a tax. The theory is that those who can produce less pollution will do so because it costs less to do so and that those who produce almost no pollution in the world will be rewarded for doing so. Like all theories though, it’s problematic in practice.
For Papua New Guinea, the problem has become acute. There’s no legislation in place for a start. The country is barely thirty years old and is still dealing with coming into the industrial age, let alone the post-modern one. If you think you have a hard time understanding carbon trading with all your basic knowledge of economics and the environment, imagine what the average PNG village person thinks of it as. The article gives us some idea:
they think they’re setting up a deal to suck oxygen from the trees to create a big tank in the west
Quite obviously, the potential for carbon trading to be abused is massive and one of the keys to its abuse is literacy.
How many of you feel up to reading a 48-page legal document? Anyone? Imagine if it was in a foreign language! Now imagine what it looks like when you are not literate in any language – even your own.
Although, once bitten by previous schemes, some villagers are reluctant to do trust these documents, the fact that figures as powerful as the prime-minister’s nephew are involved in these injustices indicates how potentially lucrative they can be.
While literacy does not prevent injustice from arising in people’s hearts, it can prevent the schemes that result.