by Ellen Isaacs
November 20, 2022
There is nothing new to say
Except that it is astounding, it is horrifying, it is revelatory that
Those who began it, who knew what they were doing, who now know
That the warming world, their enterprise, will kill itself and us too.
And still they barely act.
We will not say anything new
Except that we will omit the part
About how it might be averted, might reverse itself
Might not destroy our home —
Unless we destroy the destroyers.
Let’s not forget that scientists noted that something was amiss as early as the mid-1800s. In 1824, Joseph Fourier calculated that an earth-sized planet, at our distance from the sun, ought to be much colder, and in 1856 Eunice Foote discovered that carbon dioxide and water vapor were trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. By 1886, Svante Arrhenius predicted that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase surface temperature; by 1956 climate change was predicted.1
The American Petroleum Institute commissioned a report on global warming from Columbia University in 1982, which concluded that climate change “can have serious consequences for man’s comfort and survival.” Then Exxon and other large oil companies formed a task force to study the issue and concluded that a temperature rise from 0.6-3.5 degrees C could be expected from a doubling of CO2 from fossil fuel use. They predicted “aridity and rainfall can change, the height of the sea level can increase considerably and the world food supply can be affected.” So what did the American Petroleum Institute do with its own conclusions? It disbanded the committee and undertook a massive campaign to convince the public and policymakers that climate science was not reliable. President George W. Bush was convinced enough to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, one of the first climate agreements.2
What is the situation today after 30 years of meetings by global leaders?
The average surface temperature has risen has risen about 1.15 degrees C, mostly in the last 40 years and most rapidly in the last seven years.3
Extreme heatwaves, drought and devastating flooding have affected millions this year.
Extreme floods have affected Pakistan, Nigeria and China. 22 million people face severe hunger.4
21.5 million people have been displaced annually by climate change since 2008; 1.2 billion could be displace by 2050. The vast majority of these will be black, brown or Asian.5
At least 550 species could be lost this century.4
The rate of sea level rise has doubled since 1993, levels rising 10% in last two years.
Fossil fuel projects continue to expand. France and China are building an oil pipeline from Uganda to Tanzania that will displace over 100,000 people and emit over 34 tons of CO2 per year.6
The richest nations have spent over $9 trillion on their militaries, which cause 5.5% of greenhouse emissions, from 2013-21, 30 times more than on climate mitigation.7
Adapting to climate change would cost over half a trillion dollars by 2050 but less than $30 million is so far in the pot.8
If we look around our world today, we can already see the devastation that climate induced events bring, even in the wealthier countries. More severe and frequent hurricanes are devastating the southeastern US, severe heat waves have hit Europe, and huge fires have burned Australia. And this does not even compare to the massive ongoing starvation and displacement in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and many small island nations.
And Actions Taken?
This just concluded COP27 climate summit in Egypt is the 27th international meeting since 1992, five years on from the Paris Agreement and one year since the Glasgow Climate Pact that required countries to submit actual goals and plans for reaching them. A year later only 24 out of 193 nations have submitted any plan. To even hope to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees CO2, emissions would have to be reduced to zero by 2050 and to half what they were in 2010 by 2030. But governments have plans to produce 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than is consistent with staying under this threshold.9
The current conference paid lip service to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C, but did not pass a proposal to phase out all fossil fuels, only coal. China, now the largest CO2 producer in the world, three times that of the US, was the largest nation not agree to the broader language. In fact, the text refers to “low emission and renewable energy,” which would allow for further gas resource use as gas produces less emission than coal.4 A Loss and Damage Fund was approved, which is supposed to aid in disaster recovery in vulnerable nations, but it does not contain liability or compensation provisions or firm dollar commitments.10 Meanwhile, over 600 fossil fuel industry lobbyists attended the current conference, up 25% from last year and outnumbering delegates from Africa or indigenous groups.11 The public relations firm Hill and Knowlton Strategies, hired by Egypt to communicate COP27’s conclusions to the world, has long spread disinformation on behalf of big oil.12 Protests were limited by the fascist Egyptian government.
What’s Happening Now
The gas shortage created by the loss of Russian exports since the war in Ukraine has allowed the US approve $300 million to build new pipelines and increase gas exports to Europe. The US has now become the largest gas exporter in the world, most of it fracked in Texas and New Mexico.13 The International Energy Agency (IEA) does say that the war is accelerating the transition to renewable energy and other sources like nuclear, with global emissions predicted to peak in 2025. However, this is not nearly enough. “The IEA predicts that under current policies, the world is on course for about 2.5°C of warming by the end of the century.” Even if all countries fulfilled the promises they have made (which would be an unprecedented event), climate induced temperature rise would be 1.7 degrees C.14
False Hopes from Progressive Voices
At the end of nearly every article from humanist and progressive sources is the conclusion that there is still a path to controlling the crisis. “It’s up to all of us, collectively, to quite literally clean up humanity’s act,” says astrophysicist and author Dr. Ethan Siegel.15 Al gore’s Climate Reality Project talks of disrupting “the systems of white supremacy, privilege, classism, and racism” to “find solutions to the climate crisis,” but partners include Starbucks, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, and the US Environmental Protection Agency, among others.16 On the Progressive International site, Harsha Walia says we must say no borders, and demand decolonial reparations and redistribution in order to avoid climate disaster.17 Finally, in Jacobin magazine, an article by Chris Saltmarsh states that “It is the capitalist system putting profit above all else that blocks decarbonization.” He concludes with “we can form a militant and radical mass movement prepared to build a new economy based on equity, justice, and shared prosperity.”18
But even that last statement is not enough, not nearly enough. How is that movement supposed to happen? What tactics will it need? We cannot just wish to build a new economy, we must contemplate what is necessary to have the power to do so. Capitalists will not fall away because we ask them to, even millions of us, even with devastating logic. History teaches us that they will fight violently, will even unite internationally, to defeat any anti-capitalist upsurge. Therefore, we must be prepared to fight also, fight even with violence.
That Means we Must
Win over millions of workers around the world, in the course of many struggles, to understand that capitalism is the basis of climate change, of all their oppressions
Organize ourselves into an international party to have the capability to lead and make effective struggle
Prioritize internationalism and overcome racism, sexism and nationalism
Prepare for actual battle by winning soldiers to turn the guns around and all of us to fight or support fighters.
The world we must fight for is a communist world, which means a society built on maximizing the value and happiness of all working people. Production will be based on usefulness and not profits, goods will be distributed based on need, racism and sexism will be outlawed. It is true that prior revolutions have espoused these aims and failed, but their early gains were erased by errors such as believing communism was a distant goal that must be preceded by a long period of compromises with capitalist practices, liberals and nationalism. We must learn from these mistakes and try again or we all will face obliteration through climate change, as well as war and disease. We can.