By Josh O’Sullivan
Last year, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the world’s governments agreed to keep warming to a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit by a zero increase in carbon emissions from 2030. While they may have agreed to the target, there was no bite to the bark. Each country made a declaration to limit climate change, but nothing was guaranteed. Few countries managed to meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997. Even Europe, which is well ahead on climate policies compared to the rest of the western world, has yet to draft a plan to reduce emissions by 2030. Naomi Klein stated recently at a talk about her new book ‘This Changes Everything – Capitalism Vs. The Climate’, “The emission reduction plans of all participating nations — which, by the way, aren’t legally binding — add up to warming levels twice that.”
According to Eric Holthaus, writing in the online magazine Slate, February 2016 shattered world records of warmth averages. It was the hottest month ever recorded, with preliminary measurements showing a 1.15C -1.4C degree warming above average for the month globally. Holthaus states: “It also means that for many parts of the planet, there basically wasn’t a winter. Parts of the Arctic were more than 16 degrees Celsius (29 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than “normal” for the month of February, bringing them a few degrees above freezing, on par with typical June levels, in what is typically the coldest month of the year. In the United States, the winter was record-warm in cities coast to coast. In Europe and Asia, dozens of countries set or tied their all-time temperature records for February.”
If this trend continues, within months the projected average global warming is likely to approach 2 degrees Celsius, something that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had not expected to happen until 100 years from now. We cannot overstate the importance and the horror of what this means for human civilisations and humankind as a species. Alarm bells should be ringing everywhere, and yet in the capitalist media there is little discussion of the impending crises that temperature rises will bring.
The impact maybe more than we have expected. Scientists previously have had great difficulties with climate modelling uncertainties. However, modern models are becoming very accurate as to the predictions of how the increase in carbon emissions can affect the temperature of the planet. While there is little debate that temperatures are rising, there is an issue, particularly by the IPCC, of what effects they will have. Nicholas Stern, writing in the science journal Nature, argues that the economic models used by the IPCC to estimate the cost of global warming are grossly inadequate: “Current economic models tend to underestimate seriously both the potential impacts of dangerous climate change and the wider benefits of a transition to low-carbon growth. There is an urgent need for a new generation of models that give a more accurate picture.”
Stern points out several key areas where the costs are either radically underestimated or not counted at all. He says the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) understated the limits of the research done thus far. The IPCC estimated that the global losses from an increase of 2°C above the mean pre-industrial average temperature would only cost between 0.2 – 2% of global GDP. This estimate does not take into account all the risks associated with warming and the IPCC models do not factor in catastrophic changes and tipping points.
Levels of carbon dioxide are often looked at for possible tipping points, but the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, methane, absorbs trapped heat about 25 more so. Methane release resulting from melting permafrost has only recently been studied and incorporated into climate models. Some parts of the arctic permafrost area may become a carbon sink, but that will be offset by methane that has been trapped in the ice for millennia. As of 2013, climate models do not incorporate the effects of methane released from melting permafrost, which means even the most extreme warming scenarios might not be extreme enough. A spike in atmospheric methane concentration could set off catastrophic rapid global warming.
One of the perpetuated myths about climate change is that it is something we need to worry about for our grandchildren, but its impact is already being widely felt throughout the world. Climate change is not something for future generations to worry about; current generations will feel the effects of runaway warming.
Award-winning journalist Elaisha Stokes has written in VICE News (3 March 2016) that while the causes of the Syrian civil war were political, the worst drought for hundreds of years may have contributed to the conflict. Stokes states that: “the drought caused 75 percent of Syria’s farms to fail and 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011, according to the United Nations. The collapse in crop yields forced as many as 1.5 million Syrians to migrate to urban centres, like Homs and Damascus.”
Alaisha Stokes quotes Christian Parenti, author of ‘Tropic of Chaos’, who said: “By emphasizing regime change, US foreign policy has helped to produce this disaster, … From the Iraq invasions, to the Libyan war, to aiding Salafist rebels in Syria, US-sponsored violence has made it harder for people to adapt to a warmer, drier Middle East.”
The disastrous imperialist wars have doubly exacerbated the effects of climate change, allowing more carbon emissions from the cheap oil they secured and by destabilising the Middle East.
International news reports can leave one feeling bewildered and anxious for the future. Will there be an economic crisis this year? Will war flare up between the U.S. and Russia, or maybe even China? Will the curtailing of democracy continue in western nations? And will our climate become so inhospitable that just surviving gets harder each year?
The capitalist system links all of these issues together, and it lies at the heart of climate change. All of the personal decisions and efforts we make – like recycling, biking to work, public transport, buying biodegradable or ethically sourced products – are just a drop in the bucket compared to the fundamental change to society that is needed. The methods of production of goods and electricity generation need to change. Sustainable, ecological living, in tune with indigenous peoples’ rights, must be adopted. Infinite capitalist growth is in conflict with the resources of the planet. The problem of climate change shows how irrelevant national borders are. The climate change issue, above all others, is why I became a Socialist. Climate change is the ultimate expression of a failed economic system that is well past its use-by date. The only effective way to combat climate change is by massive social change on an international scale.
Only by ordinary people taking control, to produce for need not profit, can we construct an international society that is adaptable and able to plan a way through climate change. Naturally, this is not a simple proposition – those in power will not give it up willingly – but radical changes can must be accomplished in order for a world to be created where all people can prosper.
This battle for the soul of humanity is neatly encapsulated by a great theorist of Marxism – Rosa Luxemburg: “Bourgeois society stands at a crossroads, either transition to socialism or descend into barbarism.” If the mass of humanity does not take control of its destiny, the minority in power will try to make us fight each other for what resources there are left, to the detriment of all. Any tinkering reforms will only come too late. The only solution left to us is revolution.