While 2020 was seen as the year that unleased COVID into the world, which in many ways was a product of exploitation of the natural world, 2021 has commenced with a series of apocalyptic weather driven disasters across the planet, with one scientist describing one cataclysmic mass die off along Canada’s Pacific coast as a-one-in-a-1000-year-event.
The planet is accelerating towards the point of no return with extreme weather events which have also taken place in the heart of industrialised wealthy Europe. The political response to this is woeful, despite offering mealy mouthed words to placate the masses, action speaks louder. The G20 meeting in Italy, which was attended by energy and environmental ministers from the world’s richest nations concluded on Friday 23rd July, with a statement issued on the Sunday. The conference failed to produce agreement on the phasing out of coal. Objections were voiced by China, Russia, India, Turkey and the Saudis who were among those defending the use of the fossil fuel. Indonesia, which is one of the world’s biggest coal producer has announced that it continues to extract and burn this fossil fuel well into 2050.
The British minister, Alok Sharma, who will chair COP 26 in Glasgow in October afterwards claimed:
“It is frustrating that despite the progress made by some countries, there was no consensus in Naples to confine coal to history.”
But this statement belies the fact that permission was granted in October last year to open a new deep coal mine in Cumbria, The British government washed its hands of this decision before taking a U-turn and suggesting it will now look at the decision after suffering a huge backlash. The British Home Secretary described Extinction Rebellion as “so called eco-crusader turned criminals” who threaten the UK’s way of national life with the British government introducing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021, in a sordid attempt to remove the right to protest on the streets. Despite climate change being the biggest threat, Johnson and his criminal government seem to be putting all of their efforts in stifling debate and civil liberties. The G20 nations during the period of 2015-2019 provided $3.3 trillion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, the same cabal of wealthiest nations account for 74% of all global carbon emissions that drive global warming.
The biggest culprits providing subsidies are China, Russia, India and Saudi Arabia, all countries that opposed any agreement in Naples. However, this doesn’t let countries like Australia, Canada or the US off the hook, all countries that increased their subsidies. The UK meanwhile provides the biggest subsidies out of any European country on top of which it is the third biggest global villain responsible for airline emissions with most of the Tories supporting Heathrow’s expansion plans. If the government, who act for the interests of the ruling class, were so concerned with climate change they wouldn’t have withdrawn subsidies for solar panels or campaigned so hard for fracking before it was ceased due to environmental damage and seismic activity.
This reliance on fossil fuels and the extraction and environmental degradation that surrounds their use is responsible for the immense suffering of many around the globe, it is generally the poor that bear the greatest burden and suffering from the effects of climate change. Since 1970, 60 % of all invertebrate animals; mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have all been wiped out by human activity. Rapid soil erosion has led to a catastrophic decline in pollinating insects and is creating barren landscapes hostile to holding life. Capitalism with its insatiable hunger for infinite profit cannot cure its greed in a world with finite resources as it attempts to funnel wealth into the hands of a decreasing minority, while most of the world’s population live below the poverty line. The ruling class obsession with GDP, which is used as a barometer for how well they are profiteering from on the backs of the working class, doubles approximately every 24 years. This is unsustainable and is leading to biological annihilation.
In June and July of this year just as the uber wealthy capitalists Branson and Bezos used their ill-gotten gains to show off in space, burning huge amounts of fuel in the process in their attempt to commodify space, the world witnessed natural devastation across the globe on an unprecedented scale that now has scientists worried that we are indeed approaching the apocalyptic abyss. The climatic disruptions included:
The Amazon – Long considered the lungs of the world, the Amazon rainforest was seen as a carbon sink. Satellite studies taken over a decade now shows that the Amazon is now a net contributor for CO2 into the atmosphere, it emits more than it takes in for the first time ever, emitting a billion tonnes, an increase of 20% released more than it absorbed. This is mostly due to increased temperatures, droughts, and deforestation through timber, beef and soy production, which Bolsonaro has doubled down on and promised to continue.
Canada and the US – Extreme temperatures along the Western seaboard of Canada and the US have seen the thermometer rise to 121 degrees Fahrenheit. This has led to the deaths of 500 people and wildfires. Marine biologists estimate that more than a billion marine animals perished as the ocean waters overheated along the coastline. Reports of dead and dying rock fish, oysters, mussels, clams, sea stars, etc. will have an inevitable effect on the water quality. Invertebrates and molluscs are water filters, which in turn will impact upon the plant life supporting the ecosystem below the surface. At the time of writing this article, 86 large wildfires are burning throughout the US, collectively burning 1.5 million acres of land.
China – Record breaking rainfall has been reported in central China leaving 51 dead and 1000s trapped as cascading water flooded cities and outlining areas. Reservoirs and dams reached breaking point with 11cm of rain falling in just 2 hours. There were reports of 25 people dead in Hanan Province and 500 people had to be rescued from the underground system in Hanan when the railway tunnels flooded.
Europe – Even the wealthiest nations in Europe have not been spared from the effects of climate change. London experienced flooding throughout large parts of the capital as one month’s worth of rain fell in a few hours. Flash flooding in Germany and Belgium resulted in the deaths of 196 people as rivers burst creating landslides as buildings and vehicles were washed away.
Greenland and Antarctica – In March of this year, a study undertaken by an international team of 89 polar scientists was published in the journal ‘Nature’. The publication was a culmination of a study that used data taken from 11 satellite missions between 1992 and 2018 and showed that the ice sheets are losing ice 6 times faster than they were in the 1990s. Greenland and Antarctica have lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice since the 1990s and if this continues at the same projected rate, will result in a rise of sea level of 17 cm by 2100. This will be catastrophic for many people living on coastlines and will inevitably lead to mass migrations and the need for more cities to be built, which potentially would require adding to our already overspent carbon budget.
Socialism or Barbarism
The effects of climate change are undeniable, the science is well documented and is no longer disputable, despite the attempts of rogue demagogues like Trump or Farage who want to lead us all to hell in a handcart. The ruling class, who only have a short term narcistic view of life, are playing Russian roulette with the rest of us. We are at the tipping point of an ecological crisis of our own making, which is responsible for seeing numerous species become or in danger of becoming extinct. Since 1900 climate change and environmental damage caused by human activity has led to the increased loss of different species outside of what would be considered as natural extinctions. This has resulted in 69 different species of mammals, 158 species of fish, 146 species of amphibians and 24 species of reptiles being lost forever. These are only the species that we know about.
We are witnessing the height of what many scientists now call the Anthropocene, and under capitalism it is endangering many other lifeforms that humanity relies upon, and human civilisation itself. As Rosa Luxemburg once declared, we are faced with ‘Socialism or Barbarism’. No longer can humankind rely on Capitalism, which has accelerated us towards this extinction, it is folly to rely on the greed of the free market to lead us away from falling into oblivion. Global climate catastrophe requires an international response, and this can only be achieved through the masses of the working-class taking control of their own destiny and having a planned economy specifically geared to need and not profit. This economy would need to consider sustainability and reliance on new greener technologies, organised and dedicated towards the preservation of humanity and other life forms that we share the planet with.
We need a programme of transitional demands to build a bridge between the struggle for reforms in the here and now, and the socialist programme of the revolution, as Trotsky pointed out. But actually the environment makes this more urgent because only global economic planning can actually carry out the necessary technological and civilisation-reorganising changes necessary to fend off disaster. So in a sense, the demand for such planned changes, to abolish and replace fossil fuels and other harmful things, like non-degradable plastics production and mass production of ruminant meat (another potent source of greenhouse gases) is such economic planning. So in a sense, the demand for such planning for this practical purpose, of saving the natural world and human civilisation, itself becomes both a transitional demand and a key part of the ‘maximum’ part of the revolutionary programme itself.
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