Thursday, 16 May 2013
Climate change a real and now concern, capitalism must go !
Pollution and production for the sake of production Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the most important of the human-made ‘greenhouse gases’ contributing to global warming, appear to be reaching catastrophic levels. Published last week, the latest findings from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory strongly indicate that the average daily level of CO2 in the air has risen to above 400 parts per million, its highest level since the Pliocene period some 2.6 to 5.8 million years ago. A staggering thought. The research data from Mauna Loa goes back 800,000 years to the age of the oldest fossilised air bubbles extracted from Dome C, an ice-bound summit in the high Antarctic. During this pre-industrial period, CO2 concentrations fluctuated between around 180ppm during the ice ages and 280ppm during interglacial warm periods. In other words, we have a massively accelerated pace of change in terms of natural history - there has never been anything like it (as far as we know). And the problem is literally getting worse by the day. Since the measurements started in the late 1950s, the rate of increase has picked up from about 0.7ppm per year to 2.1ppm per year during the last decade. Effectively meaning that CO2 in now rising 100 times faster than the increase that occurred when the last ice age ended - a situation that is clearly unsustainable and threatens to totally wreck the planet’s ecological system, which is already severely damaged by capitalist exploitation and plunder. Furthermore, the Nature Climate Change journal on March 12 published an extensive study outlining how more than half of common plant species and a third of animal species are likely to see their living space halved within seven decades on current CO2 emission trends. The species extinction rate is now the highest in 65 million years, with the prospect of cascading extinctions, as the last remnants of vital ecosystems are removed - bird species are dying out at 100 times more than the ‘benchmark’ or ‘natural’ rate. As for the output of greenhouse gases, the study warned, they are putting Earth on track for a 4°C temperature hike by 2100 - chiming with figures produced by the United Nations-established Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has projected increases in average global temperature of up to 5.8°C for the same period. The implications are calamitous. For example, experiments conducted at the International Rice Institute have led scientists to conclude that with each 1°C increase in temperature, rice, wheat and corn yields could drop 10%. You could argue, if so inclined, that the newest statistics concerning CO2 concentrations are hardly surprising, given the sheer amount of coal being furiously burnt around the world right at this very moment. The biggest emitters, naturally, are the United States, China and India - all competing in the ‘dog eats dog’ global race. However, we have now entered a new danger zone - our natural environment is being radically altered. Just think about it. The 400ppm figure is one that belongs to a different era in every sense of the term. As revealed by Mauna Loa and others, the last time we saw comparable levels of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 4.5 million years ago, when the world was warmer on average by 3-4°C than it is today and 8°C warmer at the poles. A time when the tundra in Siberia and Canada was covered in lush forests, savannah and lakes spread across the Sahara, and the Arctic was ice-free - and where the sea level was 20 to 40 metres higher than today, far above most of the world’s major cities. Alarm bells should be ringing everywhere. In a way, we have created - or recreated - a prehistoric climate under modern industrial conditions: what a perverse achievement. Unless drastic action is taken in the very near future, preferably immediately, cities like London, New York and Tokyo are in danger of being drowned like something from a CGI-heavy science fiction movie. Enjoyable as fantasy, or moral fable, but not so as reality. If the advanced countries cannot prevent such a disaster, and there is no reason to think that they can, then what will happen to the poorer countries? An apocalyptic scenario. Bangladeshi peasants, for example, cannot move their farms a mile or so up the road - it is someone else’s land. Capitalism, in reality, is a system uniquely designed not to cope with the ecological crisis that is so obviously gripping the planet. Given its very nature, predicated on production for production’s sake - not on the basis of satisfying rational human need - it is constantly throwing more fuel on the fire. Contrary to a relatively widespread view, capitalism is not the result of countless individual actions taken by ‘bad’ or ‘greedy’ people. Instead it is a form of uncontrolled human relation based on the self-expansion of exchange-value, and this inner dynamic imposes itself on its personifications - ie, the capitalists, who ultimately are slaves to capital just as we in the working class are. Yes, obviously, other past social-economic systems damaged various aspects of the environment - deforestation under the Romans and so on. But capitalism does it on a vaster and more terrifying scale. It is a destructive and wasteful mode of production, which seeks only to make profit - anywhere, anyhow and by any means necessary. Left to itself, capitalism will ‘industrialise’ to the point of self-destruction, making the air unbreathable and the rivers dead with toxic sludge. Conversely, it will effectively leave underdeveloped whole areas of the globe, where it calculates no profit can reasonably be made. It should be pointed out that Marxism is ecological to its very core. Karl Marx fought to overcome the “metabolic rift” between humanity and nature, between town and country, which itself was a reflection - and product - of capitalist class rule over the workers, of dead labour over living labour. Any Marxist who is not an environmentalist - not fighting for a genuinely sustainable planet - is clearly not a Marxist. There are those on the left who peddle the notion that there is a ‘left’ Keynesian solution for present society - ‘green’ jobs, ‘green’ growth, etc. No, it is still capitalism based on growth for the sake of growth. Still the absolute primacy of the profit motive. In short, a reformed capitalism cannot save the planet - so capitalism must go. Only a socialist planned democratic economy can base itself on the needs of the people and also the planet in a sustainable fashion. With thanks and extracts from Eddie Ford’s article at the weekly worker