To change the climate — change the system
Published Dec 23, 2009 2:25 PM
The International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which was two years
in the planning, ended in a train wreck. Nothing was arrived at: no treaty, no
deadlines, no binding agreement of any sort.
For years the real dividing lines in this struggle were obscured by technical
language and the most detailed schemes for reducing carbon emissions. But
underneath all the debate was the class struggle in its most virulent form.
Based on intense U.S. pressure, backed by European maneuvers, the financial
pledges to poor and developing countries ended as vague statements of zero
substance. By the final day the commitments to strict carbon emissions
framework dissolved into a “let’s all do our own thing”
President Barack Obama and the U.S. delegation called the conference finale an
“unprecedented breakthrough.” Most other countries and
environmental groups considered it a disaster. In this intense struggle two
revolutionary leaders, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President
Evo Morales of Bolivia, sharpened the debate by defining the real problem:
The economic crisis that has wracked the global economy for the past 18 months
has confirmed for millions of increasingly desperate people the inherent
instability of capitalism. But Copenhagen confirmed in the starkest light that
capitalism is a totally irrational system. Corporate survival based on the
drive to maximize profits trumped planetary survival.
Now clearly the battle to save the environment means taking on these dinosaur
corporations and the social system that gives them life.
The conference was a world gathering on a scale not seen before, meeting on an
issue that all agreed was of the most urgent concern to all humans.
Representatives of 193 countries gathered, including 128 heads of state. Over
45,000 delegates, members of the international media, lawyers, lobbyists and
countless representatives of “special interests” of giant
corporations gathered, registering along with thousands of activist
nongovernmental organizations that focus on environmental justice.
Everyone agrees that cooperation is desperately needed on an international
scale. But cooperation was impossible! The reality was that irrational
competitive forces tore every possible agreement apart. The leaders of
countries whose rulers serve a handful of powerful transnational corporations
held the conference as they hold all of society — in an economic,
political and military vise-grip.
Repression and exclusion
In the streets outside the conference 100,000 people joined mass protests and
counter meetings. In the largest police action in Denmark’s history,
police used tear gas, pepper spray, mass cages, baton charges and mass
preemptive arrests to suppress the voices of dissent. There were more than
Inside the Bella Center, the United Nations suspended even mainstream
environmental groups and barred registered delegates from re-entering the
conference. Organizations staged a sit-in to protest their exclusion from the
talks. African nations, joined by China and some other members of the G77
group, walked out of the controlled sessions as the issue of reparations was
pushed off the agenda.
Every strong-arm effort was made to exclude the positions and views of those
countries most impacted by climate change and to place demands and restrictions
on their future development. Big business in the rich nations used the
conference as a cynical maneuver to maintain their economic dominance.
The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population and is responsible for
at least 25 percent of greenhouse gases. From the beginning of this global
effort, Washington has fought to prevent any restrictions or controls on its
emissions. It has used its enormous political and economic weight in past
international climate conferences to win concessions and exclusions.
Since the Kyoto Accords the U.S. had secured the blanket exclusion of its
entire military machine, with its thousands of bases and installations across
the U.S. and all around the world, its hundreds of warships, aircraft carriers
and destroyers on the seas and its jets, helicopters, rockets and drones in the
air. The U.S. also wrangled other set-asides in past negotiations. That all
international maritime shipping and aviation — a major and growing source
of carbon emissions — was also excluded also benefits U.S.
With its own military facilities safely excluded, the U.S. negotiators in
Copenhagen upped the ante by demanding the right to set up inspections of all
industrial facilities in China and all developing countries. This was of course
seen as an attack on the national sovereignty of all formerly colonized and
Many of the G77 countries, environmentalists and thousands of street activists
were demanding reparations for the environmental destruction caused by major
corporations in over 200 years of industrial development.
According to many environmentalists, developed countries should pay a climate
debt of $1 trillion a year to help reverse carbon emissions in poorer
countries, which suffered centuries of deliberate underdevelopment,
colonialism, racism and toxic dumping. This concept of “climate
justice” was an accepted goal of all past climate negotiations. It was
pushed off the agenda at Copenhagen.
By the second week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presentations in
Copenhagen made it clear how much the U.S. was demanding and how little it was
willing to give.
She grandly offered that “the United States is prepared to work with
other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020
to address the climate change needs of developing countries. We expect this
funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral
and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.”
In essence this amounted to nothing except a possible $100 billion — 10
years from now, with no specific U.S. commitment, except an offer to help raise
funds. This vague financing package would be available only if all countries
agreed to the U.S. terms. These terms included killing the already insufficient
Kyoto Accords and all legally binding measures and universal emissions targets
and replacing them with the fuzzy concept of “transparency.” This
was the same package that President Obama offered two days later.
Cap and trade — capitalist nonsolutions
The real sources of environmental destruction were not being addressed because
the Copenhagen Conference had a profit-driven agenda. The big capitalist powers
used the global warming consensus to justify a global multibillion-dollar
scheme for trading permits to produce carbon emissions.
The major European Union politicians, former Vice President Al Gore and other
imperialist forces have long proposed creating a global carbon market with caps
of total emissions, but which allows trading of emission rights among nations
and industries. This is called “cap and trade.” With this approach,
industries that produce high carbon emissions in the wealthiest imperialist
countries could offset their extra emissions by purchasing permits from
industries in the poorer countries. These proposals make permits for carbon
emissions an important commodity that can be bought and sold.
In essence this scheme means that uncontrolled development can continue in the
wealthiest, most developed countries by a system of credits or promised
payments to curtail carbon emissions, while allowing the pollution that harms
the poorest countries.
Many critics of these market schemes consider the proposals to be a
recolonization of the global South. The basic proposal of a global
cap-and-trade plan is a market-based approach that will do little to slow
dependence on fossil fuels. It merely allows polluters to continue polluting
and Wall Street traders to make billions of dollars in global offset markets
and complex trading schemes.
“A Nov. 29 British Guardian article was entitled, “Carbon trading
could be worth twice that of oil in next decade — Carbon market at the
heart of Copenhagen Conference could be worth $3 trillion a year.”
Wall Street is poised to make billions of dollars in the “trade”
part of cap and trade. The market for trading permits to emit carbon dioxide
appears likely to be loosely regulated, to be open to speculators and to
A Dec. 4 Bloomberg News article titled “Carbon Capitalists Warming to
Climate Market Using Derivatives” shows the real deal: “JPMorgan,
Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
and Morgan Stanley will be watching closely as 192 nations gather in
“Estimates of the potential size of the U.S. cap-and-trade market range
from $300 billion to $2 trillion. ... Banks intend to become the intermediaries
in this fledgling market. Although U.S. carbon legislation may not pass for a
year or more, Wall Street has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars
hiring lobbyists and making deals with companies that can supply them with
‘carbon offsets’ to sell to clients.
“The banks are preparing to do with carbon what they’ve done
before: design and market derivatives contracts.”
Here is how Green Chip Stocks editor Jeff Siegel, featured on CNBC’s
Green Week, posed the issue: “There’s no telling just how lucrative
this market will become. Why else would huge companies like GE, DuPont, and
Johnson & Johnson be racing to reduce their emissions? It’s because
of the huge profits that stand to be made.”
This pro-capitalist Web site brags: “Here are some recent Green Chip
Review issues our readers picked as their favorites: Investing in Water: An
Ounce of Water, a Pound of Profits. ... The Hottest Stock Market on the Planet:
It’s all about Energy and Minerals, and the Party’s Just Getting
The failure to reach any clear agreement is expected to deflate this latest
speculative bubble for a time. An article in the Sidney Morning Herald as the
conference closed was titled: “Copenhagen fallout: carbon trade to
tumble.” The article complained: “The two-week climate meeting,
concluded a day behind schedule, failed to deliver most of the improvements
needed in the U.N. market, said Kim Carnahan, a U.N. emissions-trading
researcher at the International Emissions Trading Association, a lobby group in
Geneva. Its members include Goldman Sachs and Royal Dutch Shell.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales explained the essence of the problem: “We
cannot end global warming without ending capitalism.
“Capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity. Capitalism — and
I’m speaking about irrational development — policies of unlimited
industrialization are what destroys the environment. ... And that irrational
industrialization is capitalism.
“The budget of the United States is $687 billion for defense. And for
climate change, to save life, to save humanity, they only put up $10 billion.
This is shameful.
“The best thing would be that all war spending be directed towards
climate change, instead of spending it on troops in Iraq, in Afghanistan or the
military bases in Latin America. This money would be better directed to
attending to the damages that were created by the United States. And, of
course, this isn’t just $100 billion; this is probably trillions and
trillions of dollars.”
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela asked: “Can a finite Earth
support an infinite project? The thesis of capitalism, infinite development, is
a destructive pattern, let’s face it. How long are we going to tolerate
the current international economic order and prevailing market mechanisms? How
long are we going to allow huge epidemics like HIV/AIDS to ravage entire
populations? How long are we going to allow the hungry to not eat or to be able
to feed their own children? How long are we going to allow millions of children
to die from curable diseases? How long will we allow armed conflicts to
massacre millions of innocent human beings in order for the powerful to seize
the resources of other peoples?
“One could say, Mr. President, that a ghost is haunting Copenhagen, to
paraphrase Karl Marx, the great Karl Marx. A ghost is haunting the streets of
Copenhagen, and I think that ghost walks silently through this room, walking
around among us, through the halls, out below, it rises. This ghost is a
terrible ghost. Almost nobody wants to mention it: Capitalism is the ghost,
almost nobody wants to mention it. It’s capitalism, the people roar, out
there. Hear them.
“Socialism, the other ghost Karl Marx spoke about, which walks here too,
rather it is like a counter-ghost. Socialism, this is the direction, this is
the path to save the planet. I don’t have the least doubt ...
that’s the way to save the planet. Capitalism is the road to hell. ...
Let’s fight against capitalism and make it obey us.”
A complete English version of Chávez’s speech can be found at
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