Thursday, May 31, 2007

Global warming: we’re not to blame

The government, the churches, the charities are all trying to make us feel guilty by saying that we as individuals are to blame for global warming. Some say that, by our chosen lifestyle, we personally emit too much CO², directly, when we drive a car or, indirectly, when we leave the lights on or heat our homes without them being properly insulated, or when we fly to our holiday destinations. Others take the total amount of CO² emitted from all sources in the country where we live and simply divide it by the total population, attributing the result to each individual. This figure for “carbon dioxide emission per person” is the one that is widely bandied about as our alleged individual “carbon footprint”. But this is absurd as it makes us responsible for the emissions that come from power stations and other capitalist enterprises.

Blaming us as individuals for global warming is based on the mistaken view, taught in economics textbooks, that the aim of production today under capitalism is to satisfy the needs of paying consumers. Or, as they put, “the consumer is king”. If this was the case – if production really were driven by individual consumer choice – there might be a case for blaming individual consumers and persuading us to consume less might help reduce emissions. But under capitalism the driving force of the economy is not to satisfy people’s needs but to make a profit and accumulate most of it as additional capital to be re-invested in production with a view to making more profit. It is this imperative for "growth” that drives capitalism. Individual consumption is merely a by-product of this, what the workers who produce profits and carry out administrative functions within the system must consume to keep themselves fit for work.

Which is why individuals cutting their consumption will not and cannot solve the problem. If everyone cycled to work – as many more used to in the 1940s and 1950s – this would reduce the cost of reproducing workers' labour power and eventually lead to a fall in wages. Or, if people saved electricity by switching off their lights or better insulating their homes, this would save them money – to spend on other things which would probably involve an additional expenditure of energy from burning fossil fuels to produce. But, more likely, as with cycling to work, would exert a down pressure on wage and salary levels. But lower labour costs will mean more profits – to invest in energy-consuming “growth”.

Blaming “mankind” in general for causing the problem suggests that people have deliberately chosen to engage in the activities that have led and are still leading to global warming. Whereas this is not the case. Most humans performing these are just carrying out the orders of those organising them while these latter are in turn constrained to act in the way they do by the economic laws of the capitalist system that currently dominates the world and which require production costs to be minimised so as to have a chance of beating the competition.

It is capitalism that has forced some humans to organise and order other humans to burn fossil fuels, cut down tropical forests, etc because this is cheaper and more competitive than the alternatives. So it is capitalism that must go if the problem is to be dealt with in a lastingly effective way.



KateWolf said...

So, while we live in a capitalistic society, we are not to blame because we are economic slaves? Or are we too blame for not standing against capitalism? First and foremost: global warming is caused by CO2 emissions from humans--be that cars, lights, or big industries around the world. We need to reverse it. How can we, though? If the world is against anything except rapid growth of industry and cheaply made products, what will it take for us to save the world that gave rise to all these ideas in the first place?

Joe Leonard, Charlotte IWW said...

Agreed. While i can understand defending the actions of an often ignorant(unaware) working population, i don't believe ignorance to be a sufficient excuse for actions that damage this planet any further. I think an argument like this shows the widespread ability of the global working class, especially in America, to make excuses that shirk the blame of "rapid growth of industry" which indeed it is. The answer to 'what will it take for us to save this world', is very complicated but does not absolve us of our violoating the planet any more than is necessary. I'm as guilty as any of us, but i think we should at least take responsibility for what goes on on our planet, in a society where we can make personal choices and sacrifices to contribute as little as possible to the machinery of capitalism in this country (and increasingly others) and its impacts on our planet.

Eighth Raven said...

I agree with some of this blog in that the capitalist system has a huge share of the blame for climate change, but individuals have to take some of the responsibility, especially in America. I live in Dallas, where people feel if they travel more than a hundred meters, they have to do it in a car. That was my attitude for a long time. In fact, I currently live 2.5 miles (4 km) from my job, and yet it took me a year and a half to finally decide to walk to work rather than drive. Since then, I've completely given up my car, which not only positively impacts the environment, but also means I no longer give profits to big oil. Individuals do have choices in how much they participate in the capitalist system...they just have to have the courage to refuse to participate and the willingness to reduce their consumption (some would call this "sacrifice").

Mondialiste said...

Yes, individuals could be said to be to blame for "not standing against capitalism". The trouble is that individuals attempts to cut back on their personal consumption is not going to have any effect on the way capitalism works and so won't help solve the problem. Under capitalism people are not in control of what happens; market forces are. Capitalism will continue to steam-roller on, accumulating more capital and employing the currently cheapest productive methods whatever the longer-term consequences. So, the most effective thing to do is to work to get people to stop supporting capitalism and to establish socialism, as a world where the Earth’s resources, both natural and industrial, are the common heritage of all humanity, i.e. don’t belong any longer to rich individuals, capitalist corporations or national States. This would remove the vested interests and market forces that are now preventing the implementation of the known measures that would reduce CO2 emissions (including less waste, better insulated homes, more efficient heating, lighting, air-conditioning, a more rational way of providing for personal transport - such as free taxis and free self-drive cars - even no strawberries in winter, perhaps).

Probability Matrix said...

Fear of development drives the global warming myth, and I say myth, because while every "leading" scientist would agree there is warming on the planet at this period of history, the data is inconclusive as to whether it in fact IS C02 emissions that are causing the problem.

In fact, the data shows that CO2 levels rise about 800 years after the temperature does. So in these periods of "climate change" (such as the Midevel Warming period, and subsequent "Little Ice Age", the temperature of the world is not following rises in CO2, but rather the opposite.

Do the research, it's all there in black and white.

The idea is to blame every individual, force them into paranoid ways of thinking just so the power elite can formulate a way to tax you further. I believe this tax is going to be called the "Carbon Tax" or something similar.

Look that up.

The Passive Observer said...

so topspun, I have heard your crappy argument before. should we therefore do NOTHING? I understand the science behind your argument, but I come to a different conclusion. We (the entire world) are much better off in the long run to assume that are actions are hurting the environment and causing CLIMATE CHANGE, not global warming, CLIMATE CHANGE. We run a much greater risk by ignoring the looming possibility of climate change (if you must sit on the fence) than we do by trying to minimize the effects of burning fossil fuels.
I believe that everyone, yes, everyone is to blame. Some bear far more culpability than others (i.e. large polluting factories), but still, every individual can live their life in a way to make a difference.

Unknown said...

Of course we as individuals are to blame, of course the idea of Capitalism comes into it but thats an invalid factor right now, its here and pointing fingers won't stop it.

I feel that it is the duty of our leaders and heads of states to take action...people are surprisingly uninformed and therefore it is their obligation to act responsibly and collectively for the nation, for the well being of our home planet.

KateWolf said...

No, topspun, there is scientific proof that CO2 is a leading factor in global warming. Global warming leads to future climate change, 800 years later you said? Because the GLOBE has an average diameter of 7,913 miles. It takes awhile to get around. Not to mention the fact that 800 years is literally a blink of an eye compared to how old the Earth is: 4.5 billion years. (Not to mention the cause and effects of a warming period on the globe are exponential; hotter air disperses hotter temperatures quicker. Plus, I'll mention Le Chatlier's principal. A system in balance will compensate for stresses in other parts. Hot temperatures in, say, North America, WILL spread to Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.)

So, here's the proof that CO2 is a leading cause of warming: scientists have measured the captured molecules of CO2 in Antarctic ice. When warming happens, there is a greater concentration of bubbles in a thinner layer of ice; high concentration of bubbles + thinner ice layer = warmer year.

I got this information from the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," so I'm sure you'll think I'm biased. I don't know, though, I find it hard to believe someone who has to politics nor personal profits at stake would lie about that. Also, if I am biased, I take comfort in the fact that I am biased towards a clean, intact environment and stable future for my grandchildren's grandchildren.

Jools said...

I would like to see ALB's evidence for cycling to work exerting a downwards-pressure on wages. In fact this whole article does a great disservice to workers who realise that in order to have a world fit enough to win we have to do something about climate change now and not wait until 'after the revolution.' ALB seems to be suggesting an either/or scenario - either we encourage people to stop supporting capitalism and establish a society of common ownership, or we get together in our communities and work towards preventing the destruction of our 'common heritage' in the here and now. What's wrong with both?

Mondialiste said...

The blog didn't say that cycling to work would cause wages to fall. It said that if EVERYONE cycled to work this would tend to happen. This, on the ground that (as Marx and Engels pointed out)if something which lowers the cost of reproducing workers' labour-power becomes generalised (and cyclying would be cheaper than running a car)this will eventually reflect itself in a fall in real wages. It's ironic that, whereas in the past, we used to get (falsely) criticised from not supporting workers' struggles to get more wages (so that they can consume more) we're now getting stick for not campaigning for workers to consume less!
PS. Some SP members do cycle to work, but for the good of their health rather than as some sort of political statement.

earthenfoothold said...

“It is above all necessary to avoid postulating ‘society’ once more as an abstraction confronting the individual. The individual is a social being. The manifestation of his life—even when it does not appear directly in the form of a social manifestation…—is therefore a manifestation and affirmation of social life. Individual life and species-life are not different things...." (Marx, qtd. in Bottmore 1956, p. 77).

I agree with this blog in that, by emphasizing the consumption side rather than the production side of our economic system as it relates to excessive CO2 emissions, mainstream discourse frames the problem of global warming as the result of an aggregation of individual human behaviors and choices. Thus, the solution from this point of view lies in trying to tweak, via public policy or voluntary renunciation (a privilege, btw), individual consumer behavior.

What is conveniently ignored in this formulation is, first, the fact that an individual consumer or household does not contribute to rising CO2 emissions to the same extent as does a livestock operation grazing where a forest once was, for example. I.e. it does not distribute responsibility properly.

Second, and more importantly, by focusing on individual choice, it ignores the fact that our choices are shaped by the social forms and institutions in which we participate. It's another way of saying humans are irrational, bad, ignorant and so need to change-- rather than saying the economic patterns in which people's relationships are organized are engendering these choices, so these are what need to change.

Curbing our consumption is a nice way to alleviate guilt and feel like we can take some control over the situation without any major upheaval-- it's a typical middle-class response to a systemic problem. But really, it is nowhere near enough to match the scale of the production of CO2 emissions and the destruction of forest cover that results from an economic order driven to devour vital material energy and crap out toxic pollution on a global scale.

earthenfoothold said...
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