In July hundreds of lives were lost in heat domes over western Canada and the US, and floods in Germany and China. Wildfires raged out of control from California to Greece, Turkey and Siberia. These disasters are clearly the result of global warming disrupting weather patterns. If emissions of greenhouse gases continue on the present path, these events will seem like a vicar’s tea party in comparison to what is to come. Millions upon millions will die.
Historically the human species has survived in a narrow range of mean average temperatures (MAT), the so-called climate niche. This range is approximately 11°C to 15°C and it also is the range for successful cultivation of crops and livestock. The average pre-industrial temperature was about 13.75°C and so far MATs have risen 1.1°C above pre-industrial temperatures so we are already at the limit of optimum temperatures for human survival. Since 2010 there has been an increase of 0.4°C in MAT which means we will reach the famous 1.5°C agreed at the Paris Climate Conference in the next 5 to 10 years, not by the end of this century. A rise of 2°C, possibly by 2040, will put a third of the human population outside the climate niche. Even at 1.5°C there will be a large reduction in food produced, and at 2°C yields are estimated to halve in areas like the US Midwest and India. Millions, possibly billions, of people will be forced to migrate as the climate niche moves to higher latitudes. This will lead to social breakdown and wars.
A number of warming processes are already beyond the tipping points, the points where human action cannot reverse them. Three important tipping points now appear to have been crossed; the melting of the Arctic ice, the melting of the west Antarctic ice sheet and the bleaching of the coral reefs. A further three processes appear to be close to tipping points; the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the melting of the East Antarctic ice sheet and disruption of the Gulf Stream. While we produce more greenhouse gases we are also destroying nature’s ability to absorb them. The Amazon basin, for example, has changed from a net absorber of carbon dioxide to a net emitter because of fires and forest clearance.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its report for achieving net zero emissions by 2050, the Paris Conference goal, concludes this can only be achieved if there are
“No new oil and gas fields approved for development [and] no new coal mines.”
Of course our rulers have not taken the slightest notice of this. The bulk of new energy investments is going into fossil fuels. The G7 as a whole spent $189bn to support oil, gas and coal in the year 2020-2021, 29% more than they spent on renewables, and in the 6 years since the Paris Conference the G20 have subsidised fossil fuels to the tune of $3.3tn! The IEA reports that just 2% of the $16tn allocated for the pandemic recovery is going to clean energy and notes that CO2 emissions are likely to surge to a new peak by 2023.
Why are our rulers doing the exact opposite of what their scientists tell them? The reason is they do what capitalism demands. Firstly the capitalist system only produces for profit, and fossil fuels are still very profitable, and secondly the system requires continual accumulation of capital, which means continual growth, which translates into energy growth. While the capitalist system dominates the world the need for profits and growth will determine what our rulers do even if this is leading to future extinction of Homo sapiens.
Intimately connected with the production of greenhouse gases is the pillage of the planet. Capitalism’s use of the renewable resources of nature is now annually 1.6 times what nature can replace. This is simply not sustainable. What can be done? Today we are presented with two alternatives; global conferences of the leaders of world capitalism agreeing to decarbonise, or direct action to disrupt the system forcing governments to decarbonise. Neither of these will work.
The first relies on the leaders of global capitalism agreeing to halt the way capitalism works. The COP conferences are supposedly a forum for this and the latest, COP 26, is due in Glasgow in November. The COP conferences have met annually since 1995, yet all previous COP conferences have achieved nothing whatsoever. Global warming has steadily increased. The Paris Conference was supposed to produce legally binding commitments, however, such commitments are unenforceable! Apparently 100 poor nations will come to the Glasgow meeting demanding money from the rich nations to fulfil the Paris COP 21 pledges which they haven’t met! Another fudge will be the outcome and the participants will, as usual, pat themselves on the back for making promises they have neither intention nor ability to fulfil.
The second alternative imagines global capitalism can be forced to decarbonise the economy by disruption and mass disobedience. This is the strategy espoused by Extinction Rebellion (XR) and its offshoot Burning Pink. They propose a “peaceful” revolution via members elected to parliament and citizens’ assemblies controlling decarbonisation. Decarbonisation costs are to be paid for by confiscation of 90% of the assets of the richest 10% of the population. The real criticism of all this fantasy is that the capitalist system with its continual demand for profit and growth is, according to XR, to remain in place. In other words all the forces which are leading us to catastrophe remain intact.
The simple truth is that there can be no solution to the environmental crisis while capitalism remains the global system of production. The ending of wage labour and production for profit is absolutely necessary before the terrible damage capitalism has inflicted on the planet can be rolled back. A global system based on cooperative production for human need must be constructed before we can strike at the root of the environmental problem.
Photo from: commons.wikimedia.org
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 56) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.