The first time I encountered the phrase ‘atmospheric occupation’ was today when reading Andrew Simms’ Ecological Debt. The Health of the Planet & the Wealth of Nations (Pluto Press 2005). We are all aware of terrestrial occupations during the colonial times and present ones such as the Israeli occupation of the
West Bank. They are visible dominations and their social, economic and ecological impacts are measurable.
Atmospheric occupation, on the other hand, is a kind of domination that is less visible, particularly at its origin. It started when coal became the main source of energy in the middle of the 19th century to power the explosive expansion of the railways in
Europe and North America. It has been growing when oil was added at the end of 19th century and natural gas a little later. These three fossil fuels are now driving about 80% of all energy sources in the world economy.
It is the industrialized North, constituting about 20% of the world’s population, who is responsible for some 80% of the carbon pollution by the use of these fossil fuels. They are basically occupying the atmosphere and using this global commons without indemnifying the 80% of the world population who suffer the main consequences of this pollution and are constrained in using these nonrenewable energy sources for increasing their standard of life.
This ecological, specifically carbon, indebtedness has to be reversed on ethical, social and economic grounds. It is to be connected with the financial indebtedness of the majority world. Agreement has to be reached between the ecological debtor countries in the global North who are the financial creditors and the ecological creditor countries in the global South who are the financial debtors.
There are many ways to balance both the ecological and financial indebtedness of the global North and South. One of them is to use the proposed new non-national international reserve currency of the Tierra as a major, institutional way to balance both the economic and financial accounts in modified balance of payments. By basing the Tierra on carbon emissions permits and having a UN World Monetary Board administer the new balance of payments we are dealing in an equitable, democratic and sustainable way with the climate crisis. The present allocation of SDRs to developing nations is a way station to this superior setup where the atmospheric occupation by a small group of nations is ended in a negotiated process among equals. The Earth and her atmosphere is a patrimony entrusted to all humans equally. In last instance, the Earth is not owned by humans. She is self-possessed and self-organizing. In religious terms, the Earth is the Lord’s.