Friday, August 26, 2016

Nature not preserved

According to the latest official assessment from the government, birds and butterflies on farmland have continued their long term downward trend and 75% of over 200 “priority” species across the country – including hedgehogs, dormice and moths – are falling in number. Farmland birds fell to the second lowest level ever recorded in 2014, the most recent year for which data was available, 56% lower than in 1970. Farmland butterflies reached their lowest point in 2012 and small increases in the next two years did not significantly alter the overall downward trend. Wintering water birds have also declined in the last five years.

The Natural Environment Indicators for England also showed that water quality has fallen in the last five years, with just one in five rivers and lakes having high or good status, and the amount of time given by conservation volunteers has also fallen.

“This report paints a pretty grim picture of how our wildlife is faring in the countryside,” said Sandra Bell, at Friends of the Earth. “Added to recent new evidence that wild bees have been harmed by neonicotinoid pesticides, it’s clear that if we want to enjoy a thriving natural environment big changes are needed to our farming system.” 

Christine Reid, at the Woodland Trust, said: “It’s hard to be positive about the state of our wildlife when reading these figures…”

People often say that the reason that the world’s eco-systems are is in its current dire state is because there are too many people or because of the inevitable effects of industrialisation and modern technology. It is not the case that most modern industrial technologies are inherently destructive. And there exists no over-population crisis. The problem is in the way society - and particularly manufacturing and commerce - is run. The burning of fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) resulting in global warming is, indeed, catapulting the planet towards disaster. However, it doesn’t have to be so. Environmental destruction is destroying large parts of the planet, threatening the existence of all species, including our own. However, this is not the result of bad choices made by individuals, but of how society is organised. Businesses maximise profits when they do not have to worry about the environment, while governments encourage investment when they do not try to impose strict regulations. As a result, it is up to the working class to defend the environment as we are the only people with an immediate interest in defending it.

At the Paris climate summit in December 2015, the agreement set out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. It has now become clear that on present trends, there is very little chance of it being achieved. Indeed, figures for February-March 2016 showed an increase of 1.38⁰C, already very near to the long-term target, even as all the indications suggest there will be major additional rises in the next few years. In any case, many climate scientists and energy analysts argue that the current targets for reducing emissions are far too low. This is because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a slow rate of circulation, meaning that – even if the rate of emissions is brought under control – there is a considerable 'lag' phase before concentrations are reduced.

According to Benjamin M Sanderson of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR):
"If the world puts all its resources into finding ways to generate power without burning fossil fuels, and if there were international agreements that action must happen instantly, and if carbon emissions were brought down to zero before 2050, then a rise of no more than 1.5C might just be achieved."

Other climate experts argue that all coal-fired power-stations worldwide should be closed down by the early 2020s and all use of the internal combustion engine – in cars, trucks, buses and the rest – must end by 2030.

This all mandates an almost unbelievable rate of transition, yet such is the growing impact of climate disruption that it is becoming uncomfortably necessary. Heat-waves of more than 50⁰C in Iraq and India in recent weeks are yet further indications that climate disruption is a present-day reality, not something for the future that the world can respond to at leisure. It should be noted that for years we have had the technology to make buildings far more energy efficient which means less energy needs to be generated but implementation has been slow. Political and financial barriers remain major obstacles to addressing climate change. The technology to save civilization has existed for a while now, but it’s become increasingly clear over the last several decades that we had almost no chance of holding to any survivable temperature anyway, because of the psychopathy of the wealthy corporations.

Seriously tackling climate change  cannot happen, or not at least until climate-related disasters become so extreme that even the most recalcitrant of governments accepts the need for change. The implication is that only huge catastrophes with enormous loss of life in the millions will have the necessary impact. We need to make radical and fundamental changes immediately to our economic system to have any hope of surviving. What we need to talk about, is not more superficial improvements in our already available technologies but upending and completely abolishing capitalism.

It isn’t enough to place a price on emissions with a carbon tax and charge it to consumers. Like sales taxes and all other standalone consumption taxes, a carbon tax is, by nature, regressive. This means that people further down the economic ladder will have more difficulty paying them than their wealthier counterparts. Low-income households in the US spend, on average, 7.2 percent of their income on electricity and fuel — far more than higher income families, which pay about 2.3 percent. Simply put, any tax that increases the price of fossil fuels would hit lower-income families harder than their affluent counterparts because a bigger portion of their income would be subject to it. It is also clear that the environmental crisis affects everybody, and threatens the survival of the human race as a whole. However, even though the environmental crisis is a global threat, working class people are those most severely affected by it. We are the ones that have to do the dangerous jobs that cause environmental degradation and live in areas damaged by pollution, while those with money can afford to move elsewhere.

The goal is to change the way we produce, live, and work to reduce and limit the use of fossil fuels. A successful approach to climate change would be one in which people understand the true costs of dirty energy, and actively demand an economic system that rejects the use in favour of a cleaner future. Living in an eco-friendly way does not necessarily mean that we have to accept a lower standard of living. The real blame for the environmental crisis isn't because ordinary people leave too many lights on or use the wrong type of soap. It is the wasteful system of production for profit that is unsustainable. The real blame for the environmental crisis must be laid at the door of capitalism, governments, and the society that these forces have created. Capitalism is an enormously wasteful system of production, geared towards market competition and profit. For companies to survive this competition, they profits must be maximised. And to maximise profits, costs must be kept low. So just as paying workers is a cost that needs to be minimised, so is the cost of protecting the environment and disposing of waste safely. It is more profitable to shift these costs onto society in the form of pollution.

In a capitalist society, the success or failure of a state depends on the success of capitalism within it. Therefore promoting profit and growth of the economy is the key task of any state in capitalist society. Nations will not willingly enforce strong environmental protection laws against companies because it does not want to cut into their profits (and its own tax revenue). In addition, it is often feared that strong environmental laws will make countries 'unattractive for investment'. While in the long-term a global environmental crisis would affect everyone, not everyone shares an immediate interest in fighting it: the bosses and the state profit from the processes that harm the environment. Only the working class have a direct interest right now in defending the environment. As capitalism is an inherently destructive system, the only real way to stop the environmental crisis is to create a new society based on human need rather than profit. We will have to use our collective strength to build a new world, not based on the relentless drive for profit but on fulfilling human needs; including that of a clean and healthy environment.

The essential arguments of socialists can be easily summarised: if capitalism has a built-in ‘growth imperative’, and limitless growth is environmentally unsupportable, then capitalism is incompatible with sustainability. Therefore, if sustainability is to be taken seriously by all environmentalist, capitalism must be replaced with a post-growth or steady-state form of eco-socialism that operates within planetary limits. In the most developed regions of the world, this environmental equilibrium must be preceded by a phase of planned economic contraction, or ‘degrowth’. Obviously, degrowth by definition is incompatible with the growth imperative of capitalism, so here we have the Marxist claim confirmed: capitalism cannot be reformed; it has to be replaced.