Limousines for the rich, swim lessons for the poor

Posted February 6, 2010

Many of the global criticisms of last month’s Climate Change talks in Copenhagen have sarcastically noted that not much more than hot air emerged from the meeting . It turns out that’s true. The largesse of the 15,000 delegates and “world leaders” dumped the equivalent of 41,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Why? Among other things, more than 1,200 gas guzzling limousines were ordered to chauffeur politicians around.

The Solomon Islands: Global Warming’s Atlantis?

For a sense of the scale, over half a million Solomon Islanders produce about 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide weekly. It takes the 100,000 residents of Tonga four months to produce the amount of extra CO2 emitted in Copenhagen that week.

Island nations like these face total submersion beneath the rising Pacific waters without drastic cuts in carbon emissions.

It’s not an island, but densely populated Bangladesh is considered to be at the front line of climate change, an issue that’s a matter of life and death there. Bangladesh is one of the Earth’s poorest nations per capita, and around half the country is mere feet above sea level. Already, an estimated 20 million people have relocated due to the impact of climate change!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Three centuries ago, Jonathan Swift invented the satirical essay with “A Modest Proposal.” Poverty in Ireland, he offered, might be overcome with a simple solution: selling the children for food would reduce population and provide some extra income to struggling parents. Not to be outdone, the United Nations children’s agency has unfurled a project teaching Bangladeshi children to swim:

“What we are doing now is that we are pre-empting a situation for five to seven years down the road,” said UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh Carel de Rooy. “This is very relevant for Bangladesh; some estimates are that if the sea levels were to rise over the next century by one metre, a third of Bangladesh could come under water.”

So far 35,000 kids have gotten training. They’ve got a long way to go: 162 million people live in Bangladesh. But the country produces just 0.27 tons of carbon emissions per capita each year – by far the lowest of any large country.

These kinds of horrifying figures are driven home by a slogan I like from the international (and internationalist) climate change movement: People are not Pollution. This succinct argument targets the real issue, against the misinformation that “overpopulation” is the root problem of climate change and of the general ecological crisis facing humanity. (Taken to is morbid logical conclusions, this belief would have millions of corpses in Earth’s poorest areas to supposedly “Save the Earth.”) No!

I’m not a fan of the overall politics of the Earth Liberation Front, which ironically overlap with the same kinds of anti-people sentiments I argued against above, but their slogan “The Earth is not dying it is being killed and the killers have names and addresses…” hits at another important truth – one anxiously covered by defenders of capitalism. The unprecedented warming of the planet over the past century was not an unavoidable accident of “human development” but the result of an economic system (and the rich who hold its reins) that puts “economic growth” above the survival of people and of nature. Rolling Stone published a good expose on some of the Climate Killers – who are also people killers, as seen above.

The same capitalism that has under-developed places like Bangladesh has over-developed the capacity of the industrialized “Global North” (under the direction of these killers) to poison the air and water. To save Polynesia, the Ganges river delta and other low-lying areas of the planet, drastic cuts in emissions are needed over the next decade – and the responsibility lies firmly at the feet of those countries which have historically emitted the most.

Meanwhile, many organizations at the forefront of climate justice in the Global South explicitly reject the industrial and agricultural development of their regions on the pattern modeled by imperialism. The future of much of humanity and of the planet is linked – and fighting for an ecologically planned socialism is our great task for this century.


2 responses to “Limousines for the rich, swim lessons for the poor”

  1. Wayne R. Avatar

    The honest truth is that the left tends to have at least a minimal ability to follow the money. The few scientists who claim that anthropogenic climate change is “educated speculation” are as blatantly corporate financed as the doctors who claimed that smoking isn’t related to lung cancer. Climate change denial is an industry paid for by corporations who stand to benefit in the short term from long-term environmental degradation. It stands opposed to the hard facts that greenhouse gas accumulations have gone up precipitously because of human activity, and are impacting climate in blatant ways.

    It’s not exactly news that capitalism is harmful to the environment. Marx was very critical of the impact of industry on the air and soil. When there’s a broad consensus of actually credible scientists that this has taken a particular form, and the dollar signs are all but visible on the opposing opinions, the role of the left becomes to understand and fight back.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Why should the left uncritically accept the catastrophist anthropogenic global warming theory as more than educated speculation? What is the level of climate sensitivity? Without agreement on (or better still, proof of) that, how can one predict disaster for anyone?
    Let’s not forget Lysenko.