by Bill Onasch
On Course for Best Case Disaster
Renee Lewis wrote on the Aljazeera America site,
“Most leaders and scientists have agreed that limiting the global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius over the next century could yet ward off the worst effects of climate change. But the world remains on a trajectory to experience an increase of 3 C —even if the national emission reduction pledges to be codified in the Paris treaty are implemented— said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.” AJA spoke with more scientists about what could be expected in a 3C+ world.
“The most recent era in which the Earth was believed to have experienced temperatures of 3 C above pre-Industrial levels was the Pliocene Epoch— around 3 million years ago — according to Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. ‘At that time, there was almost no ice anywhere. The sea level was 20 meters (65 feet) or so higher, and forests went to the edge of the Arctic Ocean where there is now tundra,’ Schmidt said.”
According to Ray Pierrehumbert, a physics professor at the University of Oxford, “A world 3 C warmer would see a significant drop in food production, an increase in urban heat waves akin to the one that killed thousands of people this year in India, and more droughts and wildfires.”
Mind you, these scenarios take place with the assumption that the world’s present governments will not only adopt but implement their climate goals submitted to the COP21 climate summit in Paris just two months away. Belief in even such inadequate accomplishment requires more faith than the visiting Pope Francis could muster.
Just over the past week, two embarrassing breaches in present pollution controls were exposed, one presumably through serious miscalculation—the other through corporate fraud. An AP dispatch reported,
“For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relied on estimates to determine how much trash was being sent to landfills. But in 2010, the agency required most municipal landfills to measure and report how much trash was heading into the dumps, as part of an effort to lower heat-trapping methane emissions. Researchers at Yale University looked at the records for more than 1,200 landfills and calculated amounts, predominantly based on weights. They figured it was 289 million tons in 2012, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. For the same year, EPA estimated the figure to be 135 million tons.”
In other words, methane emissions from dumps were likely twice the amount assumed by the EPA. Methane doesn’t hang around nearly as long as carbon dioxide but while it does it’s a much more potent greenhouse gas.
Of course, everyone has heard by now how the world’s biggest car company rigged software to grossly understate the amount of pollution from eleven million greenwashed Volkswagen diesel vehicles in Europe and North America. It’s now estimated that this scam illegally released an additional one million metric tons of pollution—roughly equivalent to all of Britain’s power plants.
If the Paris COP21 turns out to be a total flop, as have other previous gatherings, things could get a lot hotter fast—and ultimately higher than 3C. For a good blend of scientific explanation and political alternatives I highly recommend the article When Did the Anthropocene Begin…And Why Does It Matter? by Canadian ecosocialist Ian Angus, who edits the useful Climate & Capitalism blog.
A year ago, on the eve of last year’s annual UN General Assembly, there were mass demonstrations around the world, including a New York City march of 400,000, calling for “meaningful action” by the UN on climate change. That got the attention of the movers and shakers of global capitalism. They all drew up plans. The last WIR took a close look at the American plan. We now have a good idea of what the climate wreckers consider meaningful action. If we’re lucky, it’s on track to return our planet to conditions that prevailed millions of years ago–before humans could develop.
Retrogression to the conditions of the Pliocene Epoch would take a very long time and certainly will not be completed in my life time or yours. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lot of time left to solve the climate change crisis short of such a disastrous outcome. We’re not going to catch any breaks.
The carbon dioxide released at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is still in the atmosphere. The Earth’s temperature has risen 0.8C since 1880 and big changes are already palpable. We’ve reached a point where quantitative change is also qualitative. Each incremental increase will have exponential impact—and will be irreparable, at least for millennia. Some scientists think temperatures could rise far more than 4C by the end of this century if we don’t soon change our ways. Civilization would not be sustainable in such a world and it’s possible humans might join a long list of extinct species.
Theories about global warming caused by carbon emissions were postulated during the late nineteenth century. Using computers, scientists employed by oil companies recognized by the 1980s the theory was being confirmed by a growing greenhouse effect—but their employers suppressed their findings and to this day promote denial. NASA scientist James Hansen warned the U.S. Congress about the growing danger thirty years ago. And in a 1997 interview in the Scientific American the late eminent biologist Barry Commoner was crystal clear,
“The environmental crisis arises from a fundamental fault: our systems of production—in industry, agriculture, energy and transportation—essential as they are, make people sick and die. What is needed now is a transformation of the major systems of production more profound than even the sweeping post–World War II changes in production technology. Restoring environmental quality means substituting solar sources of energy for fossil and nuclear fuels; substituting electric motors for the internal-combustion engine; substituting organic farming for chemical agriculture; expanding the use of durable, renewable and recyclable materials—metals, glass, wood, paper—in place of the petrochemical products that have massively displaced them.”
About the same time as Commoner’s plain spoken remarks the Kyoto Accords were adopted and UN scientists went to work on an impressive series of studies and recommendations. But they have been largely ignored—and our planet has continued to get hotter.
Ian Angus quotes a briefing of the British Parliament by climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larking,
“Only if emissions from industrialized nations reduce immediately and at unparalleled rates and only then if less well-off nations begin a rapid transition to low-carbon development with emissions declining from 2025, is there any reasonable probability of not exceeding the 2°C ‘guard-rail’.”
In her excellent book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein comments,
“What Anderson and Bows-Larkin are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the ruIes of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which is surely the best argument there has ever been for changing those rules.”
It was indeed the Golden Rule of Capital—those who rule get the gold–that created the climate crisis as an unintended consequence of amassing the greatest accumulation of wealth in human history. Most capitalists are as indifferent to the fate of future generations as they are to the workers of all countries they exploit today.
The capitalist class that rules nearly every land is not very amenable to needed rule change. In the homeland of Wall Street this tiny minority in a country professing democracy from birth prefers to manipulate the consent of the majority to govern through control of the two official parties. They sometimes yield reforms in the face of public opinion, especially when backed by mass action. They have plenty of reserves to play with before they start feeling real discomfort. They don’t even appear unduly concerned about a socialist promoting “political revolution” in their currently governing party. The second richest man in America recently had some kind words for Senator Sanders–though Mr Buffet still prefers Hillary.
But they will not surrender their rich climate wrecking profit centers at the very core of global capitalism in response to polls, science, rational arguments, prayer, pleading or terrorism. They must be removed from their control of government and the economy and replaced by the only potential challenger with the power and interest to do so–the working class majority and our allies.
In World War II the government took complete charge of the U.S. economy. It turned out to be far more effective than the Free Market in rapidly converting the economy from production for consumption to mobilization for war.
A workers government could use similar powers and planning methods not for death and destruction but to pursue the objectives outlined in the Barry Commoner quote. And instead of rewarding the capitalists with obscene war profits it would socialize not only the energy sector to begin substituting clean renewables for fossil and nuclear power as quickly as possible but also transportation, finance, mining, construction, AgriBusiness, chemical and manufacturing industries for a planned conversion to an ecologically sustainable economy. It would assist farmers in switching to organic agriculture. It would reverse urban sprawl, restoring wetlands, forests, and farm land blighted by irrational “development” while renovating, rebuilding, and repopulating our urban cores made safe and “green.”
Scientists and environmentalists would join economists and trade unionists to lead the overall planning while management in the workplace would be elected by the workers. Union contracts would be honored and union organizing would not be opposed. And all this rearrangement of work would be subject to Just Transition—any worker who loses their job due to the new planned economy will be paid their regular wages until they can be retrained and/or relocated for suitable new work, of which there will be an abundance. No worker will be left behind.
Because worker solidarity knows no borders a workers government in the USA would share material resources and expertise to assist developing countries to obtain acceptable living standards through sustainable methods.
In my opinion, nothing less than this approach can stop climate change short of climate disaster while still providing a good lifestyle—in fact, much improved for many.
Of course, we are no where near accomplishing the goal of such a transformation that only a workers government could lead. The American working class has not yet built a mass party that we can call our own. But beginning with the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, important union forces have started participating in what is shaping up to be a mass climate action movement. Bridging the two movements, the Labor Network for Sustainability is doing some good work.
The motto of the KC Labor website has long been For Class and Climate Justice. Those who share that perspective belong in the international actions now beginning under the theme The Road Through Paris, coordinated in the USA by 350.org. There will be appropriate occasions during these actions before, during, and following the COP21 summit, to patiently explain ideas for a working class led restructuring to save our biosphere. Expect more on this topic in coming editions of the WIR.
* As this edition is written UAW members are voting on a tentative deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobile. It has been more difficult than usual to get hard information about the contents of this 420 page deal and there have been some shocking revelations almost every day. I’ve seen enough to conclude it’s bad news, an opinion shared by friends at Chrysler. I hope to give it thorough treatment in the next WIR.
* Planned Parenthood has been under vicious and slanderous attack by the theocratic Right. The latest is the University of Missouri withdrawal of hospital privileges for a physician providing services to the nonprofit women’s health group. The law in this state requires such hospital access for abortions. If the University’s attack sticks, women in the campus dominated town of Columbia would have to travel 125 miles to either the Kansas City or St Louis metro areas for abortions. Planned Parenthood is organizing protest rallies in Columbia and Kansas City Tuesday.
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