Climate Change and Class
It’s “the most urgent fight of our lives. It is our last chance,” says NASA space scientist James Hanson. He warns of “runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet,” adding that “The biggest obstacle to solving global warming is the role of money in politics.”  (“Storms of my Grandchildren,” Bloomsbury, 2009)

 “Shock Doctrine” author Naomi Klein cites Harris polling data showing U.S. adults’ concern about climate change dropped from 71 percent in 2007 to 44 percent in 2011. (“The Nation,” Nov. 10, 2011) Major U.S. news services ran 147 climate change stories in 2007, only 32 in 2010.

Most Republican congresspersons and all but one 2012 Republican presidential aspirants see climate change as a hoax or non-issue. Climate change deniers receive massive funding from petroleum and coal companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Koch brothers.

The door is open for socialists worldwide to take a leading educational and organizing role in an intensified global effort to stave off climate change. They know capitalists put accumulation first, which requires economic growth. Industrial and commercial growth is built on fossil fuels. Limits placed upon the use of oil, coal, and gas in effect, therefore, are anti-capitalist. 

Klein takes note of capitalists’ fear that “climate change makes some kind of left-wing revolution virtually inevitable, which is precisely why they are so determined to deny its reality…Most leftists have yet to realize that climate science has handed them the most powerful argument against capitalism since William Blake’s ‘dark Satanic Mills.’”

All the while, evidence mounts of looming catastrophe and institutional paralysis. Meteorological experts say 13 of the past 15 years were the warmest on record. Summertime arctic ice was down 40 percent four years ago. Oceans rise 3.4 mm/year, up from 2.0 mm/year in 1920-1970. Flooding, drought, and serious storms killed 600,000 people in the 1990’s. They’ve subsequently increased in frequency and severity.

In 2007 the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reporting on the findings of 2500 scientists, indicated the planet warmed by 0.75 degrees C during the 20th century, that global warming over the last 50 years was due, with 90 percent assurance, to excess atmospheric carbon emissions (CO2) from human activities. To limit warming to a safe and realistic rise of 2 degrees C, the IPCC set 350 parts per million (ppm) as an acceptable atmospheric CO2 concentration  Presently, it’s 392 ppm, up from 275 ppm two centuries ago.

At the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, 154 nations signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), thereby agreeing to voluntary reductions of atmospheric CO2. In 1997, 178 nations, not including the United States, imposed legally-binding reductions under the Kyoto Protocol (KP) Thirty seven industrialized nations would cut emissions to five percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The KP would end that year.  

At the 15th Conference of Parties under UNFCCC auspices (COP15), held in Copenhagen in 2009, individual nations pledged varying reductions. The United States promised 17 percent emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2020. Industrialized countries, U. S. President Obama in the lead, prevented COP15 from extending the KP. Scientists were then recommending emissions cuts of 25-40 percent by 2020, 60-80 percent by 2050. Otherwise, they warned, atmospheric temperature would rise by 4 degree C, thereby risking irreversible calamity.  COP16 in Cancun reaffirmed voluntary measures.

As COP17 began in Durban, South Africa on November 28, 2011, scientists reported emissions were up 5.9% in 2010 - possibly “the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution” (New York Times). The International Energy Agency warned climate change negotiators meeting earlier in Bonn that “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained.”

At the behest of industrial nations, COP17 failed to renew the KP and instead promised to agree on legally binding arrangements by 2015 that would take effect five years later. They promised to set up a $100 billion fund to assist poor nations in dealing with climate crisis.

A worldwide movement for climate justice has materialized. In 2010, a few months before COP16, Bolivia held an alternative climate summit in defense of “Mother Earth” attended by 30,000. In Durban, organizations representing small farmers, poor women, indigenous people, and small island nations demonstrated, held press conferences, and carried out civil disobedience. "Delegates must listen to the people, not to certain corporate interests,” Greenpeace International head Kumi Naidoo advised beforehand.

Climate change victimizes the world’s poor disproportionately, especially in the global South.    Struggle for democracy is thus at the center of climate justice. Nicaragua’s Humboldt Center, for example, reported on Durbin at a press conference. Humboldt spokesperson Víctor Campos demanded an “urgent change of direction [in Nicaragua, aimed at] protecting the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of the country.” Elevated ambient temperatures, severe storms, drought, and diminished access to water afflict 45 percent of Nicaraguans living on 88 percent of Nicaragua’s land surface. They are the rural poor. http://nicaraguaymasespanol.blogspot.com/2011/12/cambio-climatico-en-nicaragua-de-la.html

Studying environmental depredations under early capitalism, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were familiar with scientific findings as to desertification, topsoil loss, and diminished rainfall occurring worldwide. As indicated recently by John Bellamy Foster, they attributed overgrazing, deforestation, and water diversion to large scale agriculture. (Monthly Review, December, 2011)

Naturalist Carl Nikolaus Fraas provided Engels with “the main proof that civilization is an antagonistic process that, in its form up to the present, has exhausted the land, devastated the forests, rendered the land unfertile for its original crops and made the climate worse.”

Marx offered a “theory of metabolic rift” to explain loss of soil fertility as, under industrial scale agriculture, meat, grains, cotton, and more were shipped to distant population centers without nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium being restored. Marx explained that, “The more a country proceeds from large-scale industry as the background of its development, the more rapid is the process of destruction.”

The Communist Party of Australia issued a call for climate action.  Its pamphlet “Hot Earth” was released in September, 2011 and is available on line. http://www.cpa.org.au/resources/cpa-doc-current/hot-earth-2011.pdf  The document warns of environmental disaster at the hands of capitalism and corporations.  Battered by drought, wildfires, water shortages, crop failures, and severe flooding, Australia is at the frontlines of climate change. In 2008 only the United States topped Australia’s per-capita rate of carbon emissions.

Australian Communists say, “Scientific and technological progress under capitalism is used to make profits by exploiting people and nature. This has been the major contributor to the environmental and global economic crises we now face. In capitalism today, the future does not amount to much…Capitalism has brought humankind to the edge of catastrophe. It is an unsustainable system.”

Crucially, “burning fossil fuels has fired the engines of capitalism’s exponential growth. The inescapable drive of capitalism for economic growth, accumulation and profit means the system is unable to comprehensively deal with the climate crisis.”

“Hot Earth” calls for sustainable development through renewable energy sources. “Policies are required that replace privatization, deregulation and market mechanisms with regulation, controls on monopolies, planning and an expanded public sector.”  And “nationalization of all major mining, power generation and water resources [which] would redirect investment away from polluting industries.”

The Communists demand price and profit controls, military spending cuts, recycling, efficiency, and public transport. They seek “a new kind of government, one which is made up of representatives of the people, a government prepared to challenge the power of the monopolies.”

At the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, Fidel Castro added his socialist voice to climate change deliberations. The leader of Cuba’s revolution noted that, “An important biological species — humankind — is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat” He blamed “consumer societies” for “appalling environmental destruction.”

For Australian Communists, it’s “a serious mistake to campaign for inadequate policies just because people feel that at least they are a start. It is essential to fight for what is necessary, for policies that can really help to solve the climate crisis.” They say that to block the power of corporations, “Massive mobilization of working people” is required, and “social transformation.”  “We have perhaps two decades to achieve this in order to save our planet and humanity.”

December 30, 2011

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