In all the dire news about the increased severity of climate change and its catastrophic effects, the most important element is not just downplayed — it is missing altogether.
For example, in a report issued Oct. 8, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that as soon as 2040, rising world temperatures will bring inundated coasts, intensifying droughts, worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs. (“IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC”)
This stunning report, prepared by more than 200 scientists from 40 countries, quantifies the cost of damages to the world economy at $54 TRILLION, but doesn’t even attempt to put a number on the loss of lives.
This means that a 3-year-old today could face a terrifying world when they reach 25.
Can anything be done to avert this staggering prediction? The cause of global warming and climate change is now well-established: the accumulation of heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere, resulting mainly from burning fossil fuels.
But while scientists say that “it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees [1.5ºC] of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.” (New York Times, Oct. 7)
So the science and the technology DO exist to avoid this catastrophe. Shouldn’t that mean a worldwide mobilization to make sure it gets done?
Yet it is “politically unlikely.” If anyone thinks that means we just have to get rid of Trump and his cronies, think again. U.S. administrations have been warned about this problem since the 1980s. Both Democratic and Republican administrations decisively rejected the advice of the scientists. (“Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,” New York Times Magazine, Aug. 1)
Global warming is not a problem of science and technology. It’s a problem of class relations. It demonstrates, in the most urgent way, that private ownership of the means of production stands in the way of carrying out rational decisions about the economy.
While climate change most damages the people who have the least, it affects all of society. Given what we now know, turning back this catastrophe should be at the top of everyone’s agenda. Instead, the big corporations and banks are totally invested in doing only what turns a profit for them. And they can’t do otherwise — because capitalism is a dog-eat-dog society in which cooperation for the common good has no place.
In early human society, when people lived communally and shared what they had, it was to everyone’s benefit to work together to solve problems. Even with limited technology, humans were able to accomplish daunting projects — think of the huge stone statues on Easter Island and the massive circles of Stonehenge. What sacrifices they made to demonstrate their ability to literally move mountains!
Class society changed all that. The interests of those owning property — in the form of enslaved people, land and finally capital — became antagonistic to the interests of those doing the work. Human solidarity was destroyed. Greed triumphed over the common good.
For human society to be sustainable, there must be solidarity. It was no accident that the early anthem of the workers’ movement in the U.S. was “Solidarity Forever.”
Capitalism breaks down solidarity. It pits boss against workers, worker against worker, nation against nation; it divides us by gender and sexual expression, by our place of birth, by our hair and skin color, by language, by religion, ad nauseam.
Right now, Indonesia is at the epicenter of countries releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. From 2007 to 2014, vast tropical forests were leveled — at the rate of three acres every minute — to make way for palm oil plantations. In 2015, fires set to then clear the land raged out of control. NASA satellites detected more than 120,000 hot spots. All this was the direct result of supposedly environmental-friendly legislation in the U.S. promoting biofuels over coal. Big U.S. investors like Black Rock were in on the deal. (“Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe,” New York Times Magazine, Nov. 20)
How did U.S. corporations get such influence in Indonesia? Through a military coup and massacre of a million Indonesians in 1965 that destroyed solidarity by decimating the once-powerful Communist Party there. (Read “Indonesia 1965: The Second Greatest Crime of the Century” at workers.org/books.)
Nothing about climate change is inevitable. It’s all connected to the class struggle to take the means of production, as well as science and technology, out of the hands of capitalist exploiters and use it, not for the profits of the few, but for the common good. Which is another way of saying, we urgently need to ramp up the struggle for socialism.