Climate & compensation

Many, many international conferences on climate change have been held since scientists began issuing alarming reports on what human activity was doing to the planet. Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, reports and resolutions have been produced.

Yet the unprecedented warming of the planet continues to exceed all those early projections. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are still being spewed out into the earth’s atmosphere at a rate that makes it certain the climate disasters already linked to global warming can only get much, much worse.

The destruction to life, homes, habitat and crops resulting from climate change and severe weather is most critical in what are called the “developing” countries. But this designation hides the fact that these nations represent the parts of the world carved into colonies and spheres of influence by Europe, the United States and Japan starting in the late 19th century. Because their economies were controlled by these capitalist colonizers, they were not allowed to modernize, except insofar as their economic development aided the extraction of raw materials and labor.

Now they are nominally independent, but most are still shackled to their oppressors by the most ironic chain of all: debt. They are in “debt” to an imperialist banking system that enriches the same ruling classes that have robbed these countries’ natural resources. Their subsequent poverty has made them especially vulnerable to climate change.

The latest climate change conference, called COP18, is being held from Nov. 26 to Dec. 7 in Doha, Qatar, an oil-rich enclave in the Middle East. Like the others, it will probably make little headway, mostly because of the refusal of the U.S. and other imperialist governments to accept any defined limits on their polluting but profitable industries — profitable, that is, for the corporate owners, because they are not held accountable for the costly damage they do to the environment.

But there is one new development of note. reports, “Ministers from more than 100 developing countries — led by the Alliance of Small Island States, the Least Developed Countries bloc and the African Group of Nations — have stepped up and are asking for rich nations to take responsibility for their significant contribution to climate change in the form of compensation or ‘rehabilitation’ to more vulnerable nations.” Such a demand has not been raised before.

The vast majority of the greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere come from the industrialized countries — especially the U.S. and northern Europe. Per capita emissions from these countries continue to far exceed those of any others.

Even China, which has become the “factory of the world,” still emits only one-fourth the carbon dioxide of the U.S. on a per capita basis. Beijing is investing twice as much as Washington in the development of clean energy, and has embarked on a highly developed plan for building a green energy infrastructure.

It is able to do so because the Chinese Revolution expropriated the landlords and capitalists, empowering socialist planning. Despite all the concessions to capitalist development over the last three decades, the Chinese government and the Communist Party continue to control the “commanding heights” of the economy, and can allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to infrastructure development.

The countries oppressed by imperialism have every right to be compensated for the climate disaster caused by rampant capitalist development on a world scale that has brought them little but poverty and the uprooting of their traditional cultures. Such a demand is in line with the demands for reparations by countries in Africa irreparably damaged by the brutal slave trade.

But as China has shown, it takes a socialist revolution to break imperialism’s grip and begin to develop a sustainable society based on the long-term needs of the people rather than the hectic profit greed of the capitalist system.