Friday, November 20, 2015

What’s the price of our planet?

Anticipation and expectations build for the United Nations climate conference in Paris. The World Socialist Movement however believes that the hopes of many people for a consensus solution to climate change are misplaced. The climate talks will fail because the corporations that have the most adverse impact on the environment will not change their behavior adequately, irrespective of the rhetoric some of these corporations utter and despite any claims of corporate progress that are being made. You can't watch any of the cable news networks without seeing multiple advertisements from the American Petroleum Institute, from ExxonMobil, sort of green-wash, where they present themselves as caring about the environment at the same time they are spending tens of millions of dollars sort of in misinformation, in perpetuating misinformation about climate change. They will resist any change that does not reflect reality in the markets in which they operate. The proposed corporate 'trade agreements' such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, if adopted, will render governments largely powerless on environmental issues.

The other reason that the climate talks in Paris will fail is because the goal being considered is delusional. Anyone who is seriously interested in tackling the ongoing climate catastrophe knows that tolerating a 2 degree Celsius increase is far too high. If you read the scientific literature, many scientists are telling us that. We are currently at a mere .85 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and we are already experiencing climate chaos as our record temperatures, storms, floods, wildfires and droughts, monster hurricanes, vanishing Arctic, Antarctic and glaciers, and disappearing Pacific islands remind us. What do you think we can expect if we go to 2 degrees?

Another trap with the focus on 2 degrees Celsius is that it draws our attention away from other assaults on the environment including those unrelated to the climate. These include the devastating assaults on the environment through rainforest destruction, industrial farming, mining, and commercial fishing. We are also systematically destroying the limited supply of fresh water on the planet which means that water scarcity is becoming a frequent reality for many people and the collapse of water systems is now expected by 2020. Human activity drives 200 species of life (birds, animals, fish, insects) to extinction each day and 80% of the world’s forests and over 90% of the large fish in the ocean are already gone. If we continue with business as usual, our carbon, burning of fossil fuels, with the growth of emissions in countries like China, India and South America, it's only a matter of a couple of decades before we cross that 2 degree Celsius warming and the science tells us a lot of bad things will happen with two degrees Celsius warming of the planet, but even worse things will happen with 3 degrees Celsius warming and far worse things with 5 degrees Celsius warming. And we are on track to exceed 5 degrees Celsius warming of the planet by the end of the century if we continue with business as usual. We are talking about a monumental change in climate on a time frame far shorter than anything that nature has ever produced before, and that's the real problem. There are uncertainties, there are potential surprises that loom and they're not going to be pleasant surprises. There are potential aggravating factors like the potential destabilization and release of methane that could make the problem worse than we currently project with our climate models. And so it once again highlights the fact that in many respects climate scientists have been overly conservative in the scenarios that we've envisioned and the changes that we've projected for the future. It could potentially be a whole lot worse. We're talking about rates of change, magnitudes of change and rates of change that have no precedent in the past and may indeed, as some have speculated, lead to the sixth great extinction event. We are on course to the sixth great extinction event if we don't change our way of doing things.

The world has the technology and the ability to wean itself from fossil fuels almost completely by mid-century. And we have the ability to scale up solar and wind and other renewable sources of energy. It isn't just theoretical. We've got to stop burning dirty coal. We've got to massively deploy renewable energy if we are going to avoid crossing those dangerous thresholds. Fossil fuels receive massive subsidies world-wide which is destroying our climate; destroying, in some sense, our planet, and not providing similar incentives for the forms of energy, renewable energy. If we stopped burning carbon right now, not only would the surface of the Earth continue to warm for half a century, probably give us at least another half a degrees Celsius, but the oceans would continue to warm for centuries, and sea level rise will continue to rise for centuries.

There are the real constraints imposed by the capitalist organisation of society, which will rule out virtually every outcome that fails the test of compatibility with profit. Capitalism can never take us to a world without profit. Second, if time is running out on the race to stem the worst effects of climate change, it is just a matter of time before the two curves cross and the institutions of scientific progress are forced to begin shutting down. Between rising ocean levels and global temperatures, agriculture will arguably fail to feed the world’s still growing populations. Quite apart from the wreckage of the institutions underpinning markets, large numbers of people will succumb to famine, further undermining the ability of agriculture to feed everyone, not to mention the working abilities of huge numbers of people. People who can’t eat, can’t work. Likewise: no food, no science. Only the majority rejection of production for profit, will open the door to the future. The profit system not only cannot, will not, act uniformly in any meaningful way, to tackle the problem of climate change, but is itself the cause of this dilemma. Given also, that it can never operate in the interests of all humans, the way forward, our possible bright future, can only be achieved by replacing the profit system and establishing a socialist system. We can never over-estimate the problem of climate change and the imperative to act now. Pollution and global warming are world problems and require a world solution. The very life blood of capitalism is the profit motive and anything that interferes with its production will be fought and ignored by capital and the politicians of all parties that exist to run capitalism.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a fantastically informative and perceptive posting. I agree with every word. I wish more people could read it other than those who habitually frequent this blog.