“From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].” Karl Marx
From the end of this month through early December, much of the world’s attention will be focused on Paris, the site of the upcoming round of UN climate negotiations. This is the twenty-first time diplomats and heads of state will gather under the umbrella of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a document first put forward at the landmark 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro – the same global conference where the elder George Bush told the world that the “American way of life is not negotiable.” Since then national “pledges” have turned into “commitments” and the further watered down to “voluntary contributions”
As this year’s conference approaches, people around the world are suffering the consequences of some of the most extreme patterns of storms, droughts, wildfires and floods ever experienced. In recent weeks, laudatory headlines have accompanied the news that formerly reluctant countries, especially China, India and Brazil, have now announced their intended climate “contributions” for the decade of the 2020s. Unfortunately, despite some incremental progress, these quasi-pledges don’t really add up. Two independent analyses of all countries’ climate pledges to date were released in early October. The MIT-affiliated Climate Interactive projected that the existing pledges would result in 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 °F) of warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100, far short of the Copenhagen goal of a maximum of 2 degrees.
The Climate Action Tracker, a project of four independent research organizations with support from international environmental groups and the World Bank, among others, put forward a more optimistic estimate, projecting a global temperature rise between 2.2 and 3.4 degrees C by 2100 if current pledges are fully implemented. These represent a significant improvement over the business-as-usual scenario of 4 to 5 degrees of average warming projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year, but not a huge step beyond the modest carbon-reduction policies that various countries already have in place.
The Climate Action Tracker now projects a 92 percent probability of exceeding 2 degrees this century. It is important to note here that even 2 degrees C is far from a “safe” level of climate disruption. Research suggests that 2 degrees is more accurately seen as the level at which there is roughly a 50 - 50 chance of avoiding insurmountable climate “tipping points,” a statistical coin toss. Too many people are making too much out of the 2C target. Nobody is even sure whether the climate can stop warming around 2C. Certainly some scientists have speculated, based on good reasons that positive feedbacks such as thawing permafrost releasing methane or carbon dioxide are likely to really kick in after 1C and drive the temperature upwards at least 1-2C regardless of what actions are taken.
Many environmental groups continue to raise hopes for an agreement in Paris but virtually any agreement that emerges from Paris is probably going to be proclaimed a “success,” as at the end of every COP. Indeed, as a report from the Global Forest Coalition explains, “The extreme hype around the Paris deal being desperately needed to ‘save the world’ is scaremongering people into accepting a disastrously bad deal… If we are to make Paris about saving the planet, then it should be about rejecting the false deal that is on the table.”
The ruling class’s drive for profits has created a world where we are all dependent on fossil fuels in our everyday lives. As soon as we begin to consider climate change, two things become apparent. The first is that, by its very nature, the problem is global and no national solution is possible. The second is that the development of economic and social life, cannot be considered outside of mankind’s relationship to nature. Or, to put it another way, there is no separation between the activities of mankind, a part and product of nature, and the rest of nature, upon which mankind depends. Mankind’s productive activity must be carried out, not independent of, but in accordance with, the laws of nature.
In considering these questions, however, we run headlong into the very foundations of the global capitalist order.
Take the issue of the nation-state system and the contradiction between the development of the global economy under capitalism and the division of the world into conflicting nation states. The expansion of the world economy has given rise to a conflict between the major capitalist powers for markets, profits and resources. Now it has emerged to the surface once again as each of the major powers attempts to shove off the costs of climate change onto its rivals, minimise its own costs and secure the maximum benefits from any emissions trading system that may be established.
The Socialist Party has no easy answer to the problem of climate change and offers no reforms to mitigate it effects because climate change is wedded to the operation of the capitalist system, based on private ownership of the means of production, and the drive for profit, which is the source of the problem. The social relations of capitalism are based, in the final analysis, on the buying and selling. Overcoming the threat to human civilisation posed by global warming is inseparably bound up with the struggle for socialism, that is, the overthrow of the system of private ownership and the ending of national states. The dictates of profit must be overturned and the laws of reason applied to social and economic relationships. Confronted with this perspective, the apologists of the present order rush to its defence. But the rational democratic control of the economy, ending the domination of the blind workings of the market, is not a matter of preference. It is a necessity to protect the planet. Humanity is threatened by the outcome of its own economic activity, over which it has no control. Let us assume, for argument’s sake, that all the so-called world leaders assembled at the COP21 in Paris genuinely want to achieve an agreement to reduce global warming. They are unable to do so, because of the structure of the economic system over which they preside. This capitalist system has become the greatest danger to the continuation of human civilisation and we must change it.
Many in the environmentalist movement say socialism may be all well and good, as a general aim, but the fight for a socialist perspective cannot deal with problems, such as climate change, that have to tackled immediately. Such arguments are generally advanced under the banner of ‘realpolitik”. In fact they constitute the most unrealistic perspective of all. It is most unrealistic to believe that somehow, some way, if only enough pressure is applied, the capitalist system can be reformed in such a way as to provide a future for the next generation and all the generations to come.
The World Socialist Movement reject claims that the threat to the environment is caused by the allegedly too-high living standards of working people in the developed world, or by supposed over-population. Such conceptions represent an effort to blame the human race for the problems caused by the capitalist mode of production. Socialism is not to regress backwards to more primitive way of life. The Earth can sustain a growing population with an average standard of living far above that which now prevails now under capitalism. While abundance is the enemy of capitalism, scarcity is that of socialism. Abundance is needed for the realisation of a sustainable and just society.
Climate change will affect you, and your society. It’s going to happen to you, and it will be bad. The climate will also become much more unstable. Rainfall and storms will increase in intensity, and hurricanes and cyclones will move north and south. Some places will flood, and in others drought will spread. Crops will fail in many areas and decline overall. Small rises in sea level will be magnified by hurricane surges – giant waves that carry all before them. We can expect to lose many coastal cities. As climate change intensifies, there will be many disasters, in many places, in the same year. Governments will be unable or unwilling to cope. The poor will be hit hard. The worst hit will be small farmers in poor countries hit by drought, working class people in coastal cities, and all those people in every country who cannot run. The impact of these “natural” events will be massively increased by the way society is now organized, aka “capitalism.” Crop failures will become famines. Disasters will lead to hundreds of millions of refugees. Those refugees will come up against armed borders. They may spend years in refugee camps, or the rich may become “tired” of feeding them. And there will be wars. You will change for the worse, and the society you live in for the worst too.
No one knows the precise form serious climate change will take. No one knows the timing either. It won’t be the end of the world. Civilisation and high-tech capitalism will continue. All those dystopian novels and movies of the post-apocalypse offer predictions of what may happen. But be sure of one thing, the Paris negotiations lack any credence at all, and it’s time to view the entire UNFCCC process as thoroughly corrupted and hopelessly beholden to fossil fuel corporations and the interests of global capital.