A Climate for Change?

Posted November 20, 2009

A Statement by the Solidarity Political Committee

JUST WEEKS BEFORE the Copenhagen Conference on climate change, a clear consensus is emerging on its outcome: Nothing. No treaty. Nothing binding. Maybe a “framework” for more talk later. The G-20 finance ministers, the governments at the Asia-Pacific summit, president Barack Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao – they all agree that they can’t agree on dividing the costs of saving the planet.

Copenhagen, Denmark: 2009 (left), 2059 (right)

This was all too predictable. With no action in the United States Senate on the legislation narrowly passed last summer by the House of Representatives – a bill so weak to begin with that the environmental movement was divided down the middle on whether it was worse than nothing – president Obama was heading to Copenhagen with nothing but his rhetoric in his hand. To tell the truth, most of the rest of the “advanced” industrial capitalist countries aren’t doing much better.

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The developing countries, led by India, China and Brazil, have made it clear that the wealthy countries that pumped most of the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere have to carry the burden of cleaning up the mess. They are quite right, of course. But it’s also true that the runaway acceleration of climate change hits these very same developing countries first and hardest: vanishing glaciers that will destroy the agricultural systems dependent on Himalayan-fed rivers, storms that are already devastating south Asian coastlines, changing weather patterns that bring murderous drought to east Africa while flooding the west, global warming that will turn the Amazon rain forest to desert by the end of the century.

Human civilization is heading for a cliff, and we’re getting ready to take half the species on earth down with us. The environmental disaster isn’t just about global warming either. At present atmospheric levels of 385 parts per million, carbon dioxide has begun to acidify the oceans, severely threatening the already stressed coral reefs and fish stocks on which hundreds of millions of human beings depend. The rate of summer melting of the Arctic ice sheets now exceeds what used to be the “worst case extreme” scenarios of climate-change computer models. The capitalists’ solution? Quick, scramble to claim the undersea oil that will be available to drill!

What’s most astonishing is that this entire catastrophe is exhaustively documented, recorded, photographed and reported in mass media right before our eyes – yet almost nothing is being done. The near-collapse of the auto industry represents an extraordinary opportunity to convert shuttered plants with their skilled work forces to produce a new generation of mass transit vehicles, electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines. The money poured into endless, unwinnable and reactionary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could finance our transition to a new, sustainable economy. But just like health care for all, a sustainable economy cannot be achieved through the profit-driven capitalist “free market” and the politics it produces, dominated by corporate lobbies and the super-wealthy.

Addressing the global environmental crisis – which is now a crisis of the survival of civilization — in a serious way requires simultaneously political action, popular mobilization and what Martin Luther King, Jr. once called “a true revolution of values.” The U.S. election of 2008 brought to power a dynamic and brilliant new president promising “change we can believe in.” But instead of Dr. King’s “revolution of values,” the Obama administration’s “change” seems to be from one disastrous war in Iraq to another one in Afghanistan, from the old bankrupt auto industry to the “new” one producing the same vehicles with fewer workers making half the wages, from a government of Big Oil to a government of investment banks and hedge funds.

The grassroots movement demanding action, not talk on the environmental catastrophe is growing, as we’re seeing in the pre-Copenhagen mobilizations and the actions organized by 350.org among others. The scientific consensus around human-caused climate change and the imminent “point of no return” has become overwhelming. The fundamental obstacle to change is not inadequate technology, it’s the system we live under: With capitalism, life itself will be impossible.