The ink wasn’t even dry on last week’s Workers World article dealing with climate change when tornadoes swept through western Massachusetts on June 1, killing at least three people and devastating more than 20 communities.
Scientists can’t say if a particular storm or set of storms was caused by global warming. Massachusetts has experienced tornadoes before, although rarely. But what scientists are saying with certainty is that the planet is heating up, that warmer temperatures cause more precipitation in some areas and drought in others, and that the frequency and severity of storms has been increasing.
There is also no doubt that the rise in temperatures is due to human burning of fossil fuels, which causes greenhouse gases (GHGs) to collect in the atmosphere and trap heat that otherwise would radiate away from the earth.
Three decades of conferences
These facts have been known or suspected for decades. The First World Climate Conference was held in February 1979 in Geneva, sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization of the United Nations. Nine years later the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to centralize data and issue reports to inform the public on what was happening.
That was followed in 1992 by the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at what became known as the Earth Summit. In the almost two decades since then, the parties to the UNFCCC have held annual meetings. The data presented there have shown that the process of climate change is moving much faster than originally anticipated. But no binding agreement on reducing GHGs has been reached among the member nations.
The main obstacle has been the imperialist U.S. government. In March 2001, President George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that set very modest limits on GHGs and had been signed in 1992 by his father, the first President Bush.
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, there was hope among climate activists that this would put the U.S. back on track to cooperate with a world agreement to reduce GHGs. But that was blown out of the water in 2009 at the 15th Climate Change Conference, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, a gathering that aroused great hope and was attended by ministers and officials from 192 countries. Obama himself went there and blocked the conference from issuing a binding resolution that world scientists had labored over for months and that would have taken effect after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
Thus, it was with a sense of great frustration and even desperation that Bolivia in April 2010 hosted a World People’s Summit on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights. It reaffirmed the damage being done to the environment, especially in countries oppressed by neocolonial capitalism, and called for respecting the rights of the earth. Some 15,000 people attended from all over.
It needs to be understood that even if GHG emissions were right now to be cut to nothing, the planet would continue to warm for quite a while because of the persistence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And the chain effects of that would continue to be felt for centuries. (IPCC, “The Long-Term Perspective,” 2007)
There are two urgent needs, immediate and long-term: 1) to prepare for the consequences of sea-level rise and more extreme weather, both of which are sure to come, and 2) to reorganize human life and activity on this planet so GHGs can be reduced to a level where the earth’s temperature and climate can eventually recover some equilibrium.
The first reaction to such a daunting prospect is likely to be despair. If the huge inequities in the world can’t be righted, and are only getting worse, what hope is there that the governments of the rich imperialist countries, the ones responsible for the vast majority of the GHGs emitted over the last two centuries, will shoulder the burden of rectifying global warming and rebuild their societies accordingly?
No, there is no chance of that happening. The capitalist governments are already in chaos over the irrational workings of their economic system, and won’t even address the severe social problems of unemployment, ballooning health costs and the education crisis.
Prepare better shelters for when a deadly storm strikes? Build sturdy homes for the millions who live in flimsy trailers and substandard housing? Build a mass transit system that would reduce auto emissions? All these things — and much more — need to be done. And there are plenty of people looking for work who would love to do them. But that won’t happen — not under capitalism.
Think outside the box
This article is not meant to belittle the many struggles that environmentally conscious people are engaging in to ameliorate the effects of global warming. Rather, it is to get all of us to think outside the box.
The box is this profit system. It is self-perpetuating, even when it’s in crisis, until a force emerges strong enough to oust the super-rich class of property owners from their seats of economic and political power.
And that force is the working class and all those oppressed by capitalism. It is the only force able to paralyze the system just by withholding its labor — as seen recently in microcosm in Wisconsin and much bigger during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the workers fought tooth and nail to build industrial unions and there was a great leap forward in progressive consciousness on all social questions.
The multinational working class, especially in the imperialist countries, is being walloped by the capitalist bosses and the state and is starting to fight back. It is in the process of painfully developing its own world view, one in solidarity with the workers and oppressed peoples of the planet. Internationalism of the workers is absolutely crucial in this time of a global network of exploitation created by the transnational banks and corporations.
The environmental movement is also being walloped. It needs to develop class consciousness, to identify clearly the root cause of this problem: capitalism. It needs to understand that the super-rich will never become its partners in facing up to the GHG crisis.
Private property divorces the owners of the means of production from the harmful consequences of their productive processes. When the factories, the mines and most of the infrastructure of society are owned and operated to produce maximum profits for a few, then “social responsibility” is just a charade, a cover-up, the spending of a few dollars on look-good projects to hide the fact that the major decisions are calculated to increase the bottom line. And that bottom line leaves out the costs to society. Global warming is one of those costs.
It is a huge problem and can only be truly solved by planning on a mass scale. For planning like that to happen, there will have to be a social revolution. The workers and their allies will have to take over the means of production and operate them on an entirely new basis: not to produce profits for the few, but to meet the needs of the many, including the need to have a sustainable, healthy world.
A tall order? Yes. But capitalism is in crisis and social revolution is more and more on people’s minds. The Bolivia conference showed that. It’s time for climate activists in the U.S. to think outside the box of capitalism.
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