Despite corporations and governments of all shades the world over declaring their intentions to tackle climate change, a recent report to the UN suggests that humanity is woefully underprepared to face the challenge.
Feeling the heat
Carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere at a rate one hundred times that of pre-industrial society. Rather than decreasing, CO2 levels began rising again in 2017, ending a trend towards levelling off. The effects are already starting to be felt.
The last three years have been the hottest on record. Extreme weather events leading to droughts, forest fires and flooding are increasingly becoming regular occurrences.
The report estimates that even the target set by The Paris Agreement of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C by the end of the century - although significantly better than 2°C - would still result in devastating consequences.
The World Bank estimates that a global temperature increase of 2°C would have the effect of plunging 100 million more people into poverty every year, with between 100-400 million at risk of hunger, 1-2 billion lacking clean water, and a 30% collapse in crop yields.
Under any scenario, it is suggested that the worst affected will be the world’s least well-off, deepening already existing inequalities.
Under capitalism, so-called ‘developing’ countries will bear 75-80% of the cost of climate change. Not only are they geographically the most at risk, but - due to centuries of imperialist plundering - they also lack the level of economic development to mitigate its effects.
Denial and inaction
The report condemns the actions of state bureaucrats as sorely lacking. “Sombre speeches by government officials at regular conferences are not leading to meaningful action.”
Rather than take serious measures to prevent further emissions, private fossil fuel companies are massively subsidised to the tune of $5.2 trillion per year. This is the equivalent of 6.3% of global GDP.
Fossil fuel bosses and their political representatives have known about the dangers of climate change for decades. Yet they have chosen to spend their time and resources spreading denial propaganda and preventing the development of alternative energy sources. All the while they attempt to insulate themselves from the worst effects of the mess they have made.
The report rightly lays the blame for the current situation at the feet of the private sector, correctly concluding that “climate change is a market failure”.
Although not addressed directly by the UN report, it is clear that capitalism has created the conditions for a disaster of biblical proportions. It has set into motion processes that it cannot undo:
“An over-reliance on the private sector could lead to a climate apartheid scenario in which the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”
Yet no real solutions are presented to us, other than creating a “robust safety net” for the poor, and talk of a “well managed transition to a green economy”, without explaining how this is to be achieved.
The balance of forces laid out in the report provide no real basis for such a transition, when the levers of the economy are in the hands of parasites and profiteers.
What is required is a rational planning of the economy, breaking with the anarchic market system of production for profit. The energy companies, as well as the banks and other key levers of the economy, must be nationalised and placed under democratic workers’ control.
Only under a socialist economic plan can production be made to serve the interests of the many and not the few.
It is the working class that stands to suffer most from capitalism’s destruction of the environment. But organised and mobilised, the working class also has the power to stop this.