World leaders are to meet in Copenhagen this December to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in an attempt to control greenhouse gas emissions. But after their failure to reach the modest target set at Kyoto of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2% from 1990 levels we should not expect that whatever agreement they reach will seriously tackle the threat of climate change.
Climate change is here already. It is undeniable that weather patterns are changing. For example, we have seen increases in woodland fires, such as those which have recently ravaged areas of Greece and California. Australia is currently in the middle of an unprecedented drought which is hitting food production hard. Our polar ice caps are rapidly shrinking. These are the effects seen when mean global temperatures have increased by less than half of a degree. The leaders meeting in Copenhagen say they aim to keep global warming within 2 degrees, what they term an ‘acceptable level’. We must ask the question, acceptable for whom?
A two-degree increase would cause very real changes in regional weather patterns, threatening the livelihoods of people as traditional crop production becomes unfeasible. Millions would be displaced as rising sea levels leave their homes under water. Extreme weather events would become more frequent and many natural habits would be threatened with destruction. And there is serious debate among climatologists as to whether a two-degree increase would initiate a vicious cycle of events beyond our control. The melting of the polar ice caps could cause a large increase in CO2 levels, thus threatening further deforestation and exacerbating the effects of human greenhouse gas emissions. We are in a race against time.
The governments of the USA, Russia and China have now been forced by a massive public outcry to recognise the issue of climate change. But the solutions being put forward by capitalist commentators are absolute red herrings. Clean coal technology, bio-fuels and nuclear power cannot bring the huge reductions in emissions necessary to cut across the threat of climate change, and in fact each pose different threats to the environment and to human life. They do, however, offer the possibility of huge profits for big business. Only serious and urgent investment in truly renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal power, can provide a stable and sustainable future for humanity.
Capitalism cannot achieve this, no matter who’s in power. Even when the Greens have entered government, as in the Southern Ireland now and Germany in the past, they have failed to deliver real change, implementing anti-environment as well as anti-worker policies. This system cannot be run for anything except profit as the bottom line. We cannot allow the greed of the bosses to threaten to our future.
We cannot rely on the representatives of world capitalism to safeguard the future of our planet. By taking the massive wealth of our world into democratic, public ownership and using it in a planned way, we could reduce waste and rapidly slash CO2 emissions while also providing jobs and an increasing living standard for the mass of people on the planet. This is, however, now an urgent task.
By Daniel Waldron