Climate Catastrophe

Posted December 17, 2009

As the Copenhagen talks draw to a close, several things remain clear.

Whatever agreement comes out of the talks, it will not be sufficient to address the problem of climate change and broader environmental devastation brought on us by the capitalist world-system. We cannot at this point stop a rise in global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius over the next few decades, the result is going to be a rise in sea levels, rising acidity of water supplies, droughts in some places, catastrophic floods in others, and general chaos.

There is still time, however, to prevent a rise above this two degrees threshold. Anything above 2 degrees and we will see a rolling catastrophe that could last–well in human timescales, indefinitely. The world would never be the same again, and we would have to cope, as a civilization, with living on an earth that is not well-suited for human development. Once over this mark, the widespread die-off of ocean life will unleash more carbon, the melting of the permafrost will release what scientists call “the carbon bomb,” and the feedback loops will spiral into disaster.

Why is this the case?

This is not a technical issue, this is an issue of social organization. Capitalism, as a global system, is absolutely not designed for planning, coordination, and long-term vision. On the contrary, the market imperatives to which we are subject and to which we have subjected the environment do not take into account the utility of what is produced or their long-term viability. Instead of long-term viability and immediate utility, the production of goods and services in our economy–under capitalist social relations–is subject to the logic of competition and profit.

As a rule, the aim of capital is to turn “living nature into dead profits”: raw materials, human labor, and human technology are under the rule of private property, which utilizes the combination of these means of production in order to produce profit rather than the common good. As a result, this system, blinded by its own imperatives, has led us into an ecological catastrophe. It is unable to solve any of these problems even when they are staring it in the face.

We have the technology (and the ability to develop the technology we already have) to transition to sustainable economic development and production, but large oil corporations, natural gas companies, coal companies, etc. have at their disposal the state apparatuses of the US, Western Europe, Japan, China, Russia, India, Brazil: that is to say, the state apparatuses which dominate the system of local states which constitute the political order of the world-system itself. These state apparatuses–a necessary and growing element of the capitalist world-system–will do whatever it takes to protect the profits of their respective markets and facilitate profiteering off of the worst effects of climate change.

The demonstrators who took to the streets in Copenhagen in the tens of thousands once again linked up with African nations at the summit–as they did once before in the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization talks–to challenge the status quo: the result was a short walkout. We must continue to support this growing movement and the linking of democratic struggles in various nation-states around the world (including in the imperial core of the system itself: the United States, which bears responsbility for the majority of the climate devastation).

Failure to bring this movement to power, to overturn this system, will result in a rolling catastrophe that may well end human civilization itself. This is no joke. There is no compromise in the defense of the very ecology upon which our civilization can thrive. It may be that the one contradiction of capitalism that leads to its destruction will also lead to the destruction of most life on the planet itself.


One response to “Climate Catastrophe”

  1. Amauta Avatar

    I’m just starting to read reports on the “results” from Copenhagen.

    What a waste! From what I’ve seen, it is a clear step back even from a Kyoto-like agreement. No mandated cuts, just weak “commitments”. No overarching international mechanism, but rather a pledge from each country to “report” on its own self-satisfying measures. And $100 billion pledge as a line of credit to developing countries so they can fancy new green technology from the bloated industrialized world (watch who ends up with this money folks).

    I agree with James Hansen, that it’s good for COP15 to fail, as it has. It gives more edge to radical solutions and may give a boost to the climate justice movement. Our work starts now.