With world leaders gathering in New York for a UN Climate Action Summit, people will demand urgent measures to stop environmental catastrophe. Carbon emissions climbed a record high last year, despite a warning from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that output of the greenhouse gases must be reduced over the next 12 years to stabilise the climate. Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heatwaves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods
Attempts to halt the massive output of greenhouse gases in the hope of halting global warming have resulted in negligible success, mainly due to capitalism’s higher priority—profit. Judging by capitalism’s lack of response to human need in the face of other vast human tragedies that could easily have been solved without the restraints of the profit system, it seems highly unlikely that flooding or the other consequences of warming would be dealt with in anything other way than as a panic effort at providing vastly inadequate aid after the event. Human and environmental needs come a poor second whenever the needs of capital dictate. The history of sincere but failed attempts to correct a system which cannot meet needs leads to the conclusion that a new social system should be tried.
Co-ordinated global action is what is needed, but the capitalist system hampers this. Capitalism is a world system under which capitalist enterprises and states compete against each other to secure markets and sources of raw materials. It is driven by an economic imperative that imposes itself on those organising production to use the cheapest available methods so as to survive in the struggle to make and accumulate profits. ‘Growth’ of production is built-in to it. Under capitalism, the best that can be achieved is some non-binding inter-governmental agreement that would disadvantage nobody commercially. Clearly, this is pretty minimalist, a consensus at the lowest level. Climate change is just one of a vast range of problems which capitalism is hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with.
If we were living in a rationally-organised world, a global response would be organised as a matter of course regards global warming. If it solutions were generally agreed among the scientific community, then steps would be taken, and any problems encountered would only be technical, not political or economic, as there would be no vested interests manoeuvring and lobbying to prevent or delay what needed to be done from being done.
But of course we are not living in a rationally-organised world. We are living under capitalism where there are vested interests galore – of the states into which the world is artificially divided, of the capitalist corporations seeking to make a profit by supplying some market or other. Certainly, the United Nations exists but it is only the arena in which these vested interests compete with one another for positions of advantage, as is plainly evident, rather than cooperate and collaborate.
The human cost of such climatic fluctuations is considerable. If capitalism continues, this would bring other problems which would be more acute the more the limit is exceeded and which capitalism would be equally incapable of coping with, in particular the population displacement and migration due to rising sea levels and worsened agricultural conditions in many parts of the world. Co-ordinated global action would also be required to deal with this, but once again capitalism’s division into competing capitalist states will impede this. Protesters should direct their efforts to getting rid of capitalism and replacing it with a system where the Earth’s natural and industrial resources will have become the common heritage of all humanity. This will end the current economic imperative to seek and accumulate profits and instead will provide the framework for co-ordinated global action to deal not only with global warming but other current problems such as world poverty and constant war somewhere in the world. Those genuinely concerned about the threat of climate change should think the matter through and campaign not for capitalist governments and corporations to change their spots but for the end of capitalism.
Odds are that whatever is promoted at the New York Climate Summit, there will be much jockeying and positioning, many fine words plenty of ifs and buts and ultimately another abject failure – just like all the times before. What else can we expect from a predatory social system interested only in making money by the blind pursuit of growth? Come 2020 and the COP 26 in Glasgow, the King Canutes of capitalism will still be trying to hold back the (heat)waves with empty gestures.