No capitalist solutions to climate change
By Daniel Waldron, October 2009
World leaders are to meet in Copenhagen this December to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in an attempt to control greenhouse gas emissions. But after their failure to reach the modest target set at Kyoto of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2% from 1990 levels we should not expect that whatever agreement they reach will seriously tackle the threat of climate change.
Climate change is here already. It is undeniable that weather patterns are changing. For example, we have seen increases in woodland fires, such as those which have recently ravaged areas of Greece and California. Australia is currently in the middle of an unprecedented drought which is hitting food production there hard. Our polar ice caps are rapidly shrinking. These are the effects seen when mean global temperatures have increased by less than half of a degree. The leaders meeting in Copenhagen say they aim to keep global warming within 2 degrees, what they term an ‘acceptable level’. We must ask the question, acceptable for whom?
A two-degree increase would cause very real changes in regional weather patterns, threatening the livelihoods of people as traditional crop production becomes unfeasible. Millions would be displaced as rising sea levels leave their homes under water. Extreme weather events would become more frequent and many natural habits would be threatened with destruction. And there is serious debate among climatologists as to whether a two-degree increase would initiate a vicious cycle of events beyond our control. The melting of the polar ice caps could cause a large increase in CO2 levels, thus threatening further deforestation and exacerbating the effects of human greenhouse gas emissions. We are in a race against time.
The governments of the USA, Russia and China have now been forced by a massive public outcry to recognise the issue of climate change. But the solutions being put forward by capitalist commentators are absolute red herrings. Clean coal technology, bio-fuels and nuclear power cannot bring the huge reductions in emissions necessary to cut across the threat of climate change, and in fact each pose different threats to the environment and to human life. They do, however, offer the possibility of huge profits for big business. Only serious and urgent investment in truly renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal power, can provide a stable and sustainable future for humanity.
Capitalism cannot achieve this, no matter who’s in power. Even when Greens have entered government, as in the South now and Germany in the past, they have failed to deliver real change, implementing anti-environment as well as anti-worker policies. This system cannot be run for anything except profit as the bottom line. We cannot allow the greed of the bosses to threaten to our future.
We cannot rely on the representatives of world capitalism to safeguard the future of our planet. By taking the massive wealth of our world into democratic, public ownership and using it in a planned way, we could reduce waste and rapidly slash CO2 emissions while also providing jobs and an increasing living standard for the mass of people on the planet. This is, however, now an urgent task.
Sammy Wilson bans climate change!!
Sarah Mair, The Socialist, March 2009
IT DOES not come as much of a surprise to most people in Northern Ireland to hear that, yet again, the Assembly has managed to make a monumental mess of things. But the decision of Environment Minister Sammy Wilson to ban the broadcasting of a government TV ad encouraging people to switch off electrical appliances when not in use in order to save energy has left even the most hardened political cynics open-mouthed.
News stations around the world have broadcast the story in disbelief. Wilson’s reason for this unprecedented move was that the ad was just more “insidious New Labour propaganda” about the impact of climate change. Incredibly, Wilson has said that the world-wide “uninformed hysteria” surrounding the issue was “a con” which had been launched into without examining the “science and implications”. Yet he ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence linking human activity to global warming and virtually universal acceptance that emergency action is urgently required to prevent a major environmental crisis.
The response of the Assembly Executive has been pathetic. The formal position of the Executive is to reduce carbon emissions, yet they continue to back him as Minister. Wilson may have bizarre views on climate change and may be ridiculed by fellow right-wing politicians, but the inability of big business and capitalist governments to put the needs of the environment before profit is more alarming. Steps taken by the main countries responsible for carbon emissions fall far short of what is required to tackle climate change. It is up to ordinary working people across the world to fight for a democratic socialist planned economy to rescue our planet from the threat of global warming.
Pete Dickenson, Socialist Party England & Wales, 3 Dec 08
BARACK OBAMA put the environment at the centre of his US presidential election programme by pledging to bring in a 'Green New Deal' that could tackle the threat of climate change while generating many new jobs to combat the growing economic recession.
His proposal to spend $150 billion over ten years to develop new green technologies echoes the New Deal introduced by Roosevelt, the US President in the 1930s, who pumped money into the economy to try to counteract the effects of the economic depression.
An urgent programme to tackle climate change is clearly desperately needed, since the latest scientific evidence points to a rapidly deteriorating situation. The rate of melting of the polar icecaps is exceeding already dire predictions. Climate scientists now say that it is 'one minute to midnight' before decisive action needs to be taken if global warming's worst effects are to be avoided.
A huge programme of public spending on the environment could introduce green technology rapidly and create millions of jobs in the process worldwide, because the technology will be relatively labour-intensive.
Roosevelt's New Deal had a minimal effect on ending the 1930s depression. Obama's green new deal will probably have even less impact on climate change. The vast majority of people would prefer money to be spent on fixing the planet rather than on bailing out speculators and bankers, but Obama's deal relies on continuing with a Kyoto-style 'cap and trade' treaty, which since it was introduced eleven years ago has been a fiasco.
It has totally failed to tackle climate change. In fact, since Kyoto came in, the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming have sharply accelerated upwards because the treaty had huge loopholes built into it, that firms exploited to avoid paying any penalty if they exceeded their pollution target.
Also, just as importantly, the world's biggest emitter historically, the USA, that accounts for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gases, refused to take part in the system because US firms stood to lose by far the most.
Will Barack Obama's election make a difference? He pledged that the USA will join a revamped Kyoto-style permit trading system and further, that it really will 'make the polluter pay' this time.
The indications, however, are not good. Climate sceptics in the US Congress already cite the economic crisis as a reason to dump action on the environment, claiming it would 'push the economy over a cliff'. Even a Senator who sponsored a new bill to include the US in a Kyoto-type scheme says that action will now have to be put off.
This opposition by the big corporations and their government mouthpieces reflects the brutal reality of the capitalist system, particularly in a time of economic crisis. For them, profits are what matters, and the multinational companies that will lose profits if action is taken to tackle climate change, who form by far the majority, will fight ruthlessly to undermine any proposed 'new deal' on global warming that has teeth.
Firms battle to survive on a world scale, and national governments represent the interests of the monopolies inside their borders. So any 'new deal' that remains inside the capitalist system will be a cosmetic deal. Openly or not, it will allow the culprits, the multi-nationals, to exploit loopholes to keep polluting, since meaningful agreement between competing capitalist nations is impossible.
What is needed is an alternative to capitalism, a Socialist Green Deal, that will take control out of the hands of capitalist institutions and the firms they represent and for the first time will permit the genuine international co-operation needed to tackle global warming.
Such a Deal must include the nationalisation, under democratic control by workers and the community, of the energy generating companies, a huge investment programme to develop public transport and research into improved green technologies.