Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Climate Courage for System Change

The greenhouse gases heating the planet in 2018 were higher than humans have ever recorded, according to a report from the American Meteorological Society and the US government. GHG levels topped 60 years of modern measurements and 800,000 years of ice core data, the study found.

Sea levels were the highest on record, as global heating melted land-based ice and expanded the oceans. Sea surface temperatures were also near a record high.

Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent was near a record low, and glaciers continued to melt and lose mass for the 30th consecutive year in a row.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the report “found that the major indicators of climate change continued to reflect trends consistent with a warming planet”.

Mexico reported its third warmest year in its 48-year record. Alaska reported its second warmest in its 94-year record. Europe experienced its second warmest year since at least 1950. Australia had its third warmest year since 1910. The report finds 2018 was the fourth-warmest on record for the world overall since the mid-to-late- 1800s. There were 14 weather and climate events in the US that each caused over $1bn in damage – the fourth highest since records began in 1980.

To reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases we need meaningful action in the way the economy and society works. What is required is the rapid, far-reaching re-organisation of industry, energy, transport which is simply not possible under capitalism. Huge amounts of human resources must be devoted into developing and improving the efficiency of renewables: solar, wind and tidal power. It is also necessary to rid the system of all the duplication in production processes with its competition between similar companies and nation states. The way goods are distributed globally, the food industry being a prime example, is in need of radical deep re-organisation.

How is it possible to plan sustainably the world’s resources, production and distribution of goods and services when they are owned and controlled by an unaccountable minority elite?

How is it possible to have a plan when the vast majority of the world’s people – who do all the producing, servicing and distributing – have no say in how the economy is run?

Most people cannot see beyond the capitalist system. However, the fight to halt and then reverse profit-driven global warming is the fight to replace capitalism with a world socialist system based on human solidarity and respect for the planet on which we live. Most are likely to dismiss this choice out of hand as utopian or mere socialist twaddle. In the end, though, facts speak for themselves. As Robert Burns penned, But facts are chiels that winna ding’

No matter how well-intentioned, appeals for individuals to change their personal consumer habits are trivial recommendations when measured against the real scale of the problem. Extensive private vested interests have ensured that the vastly more wasteful, inefficient and polluting industries and products still dominate the market. Capitalism is a system driven by the single-minded need on the part of business for ever-greater accumulation of capital. This is why all schemes based on the hope of a no-growth, sustainable-growth or de-growth forms of capitalism are pipe dreams. As, too, are campaigns for consumers to go “green” in order to reform the system. A “steady-state” capitalism is an impossibility. Investors and fund-managers are driven by the need to accumulate wealth and to expand the scale of their operations in order to prosper within a globally competitive milieu. Many in the environmental movement argue that with the right policies of taxes, inducements and regulations, everybody would be winners. Big Business will have cheaper, more efficient production, and therefore be more profitable, and consumers will have more environment-friendly products and energy sources. So goes the story.

In a rational socialist society innovations would lower the overall environmental impact in terms of materials and energy substituted for more harmful technology. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a rational society. Capitalism approaches technology in the same way as it does everything else. What will generate the most profits? Whether it is efficient, clean, safe, environmentally benign has little to do with it.

A plethora of proposals for an ecologically sustainable world have been produced by environmentalists , many containing commonsense policies to deal with the environmental crisis. They fail not because their proposals are far-fetched. They fail because they do not accept that capitalism is incapable of bringing them into being.

Only a society that places the “associated producers” at its head and at its heart can build a genuinely feasible sustainable society. A society run by and for the “associated producers” — a socialist society — would allow people to think about, discuss and rationally plan the best way forward for both the planet and all its inhabitants. Profit will no longer dictate what is produced. Almost immediately, huge material and human resources would be released to begin to rapidly reverse problems like global warming as well making a start on ending the poverty, hunger and disease that affect billions. 

Engels in Dialectics of Nature wrote to “regulate” our relationship with nature “requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and simultaneously a revolution in our whole contemporary social order.”

Marx urged a social revolution that would abolish private ownership. Marx wrote in Capital that only “the associated producers [can] govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bring it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power”. Contrary to the assertions by some in the environmental movement, Marx and Engels were well aware of humanity’s interconnectedness with the environment, and they recognised that it was essential for socialism to be ecologically sustainable. Marx referred to capitalist farming as “an art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil” that sapped the everlasting sources of wealth — the soil and the worker. He argued in effect for the return to ecological sustainability, which had been destroyed by, and was not possible under, capitalism.

Right now, the technology is available to theoretically generate all the clean energy we need. Combined with efficiency targets throughout the economy, from the industrial level to house-designs and household appliances, and socially organised recycling, greenhouse gas emissions could be not only slashed but reversed.

Right now, advertising and marketing-driven over-packaging of products could end, saving entire forests, and banishing billions of tonnes of “disposable” but environmentally indigestible plastic from land-fill.

Right now, inbuilt obsolescence could be ended, and the corporate creation of disposable, throwaway fads and fashions would become a thing of the past. No more “this year’s new model”. Products would be built to last for a very long time, designed to be repairable and reusable and when they are due for replacement they would be as recyclable as possible.

And as the “associated producers” build the new society, wants and needs will inevitable alter, and so too will consumption habits. Capitalism thrives on the cultivation and celebration of the worst aspects of human behaviour; selfishness and self-interest; greed and hoarding; the dog-eat-dog mentality. Capitalism warps normal human interaction. 

Socialism is a society that is organised first and foremost to work together to produce enough to comfortably ensure people’s physical and mental well-being and social security — abundant food, decent housing, full healthcare, inspiring and stimulating cultural pursuits with lifelong education and in which new technology, robotics and automation, benefit everybody without costing the environment. A new social definition of wealth will evolve. It will not be measured by personal wealth, or by how much “stuff” you’ve hoarded. It will be not be measured by an ever-increasing consumption of goods and services, or expanding GDP figures of “economic growth”, but in the words of Marx, “free time, disposable time, is wealth itself…free time…for the free development, intellectual and social, of the individual.”

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