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Genocide Fuels Climate Crisis. The Fate of Palestine Shapes Our Climate Future.

The Palestinian struggle for survival is also a global struggle against a potentially horrific future for humanity.

Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, Gaza City, on May 7, 2024.

Part of the Series

Seven months of Israel’s genocidal attack — with massive U.S. support — has left more than 35,000 Gazans dead with thousands more missing and tens of thousands injured. Israel has obliterated more than 70 percent of all homes in Gaza. Hospitals and ambulances have been destroyed, with medical staff imprisoned, tortured and killed. The annihilation of Palestinian life and culture includes scholasticide, with 76 percent of Gazan schools and all of Gaza’s universities damaged or destroyed. And Israel’s brutality has not been restricted to Gaza. Roughly 500 Palestinians in the West Bank have been murdered by Israeli settlers and soldiers since October 7, 2023, and thousands more imprisoned or tortured.

The Guardian reports that since October 7, “olive groves and farms [in Gaza] have been reduced to packed earth; soil and groundwater have been contaminated by munitions and toxins; the sea is choked with sewage and waste; the air polluted by smoke and particulate matter.” Ecocide is part of Israel’s program of genocide.

Before October 7, Israel waged ethnic cleansing partly through toxic waste-dumping, intentional destruction of water storage and sewage facilities, and the expropriation of freshwater sources from Palestinian communities for exclusive use by Jewish settlers. As a result, 97 percent of groundwater in Gaza was undrinkable prior to Israel’s most recent attack, 71.5 percent of the Gazan population were food insecure and 65 percent lived in poverty.

Israel uses the West Bank as a sacrifice zone, where toxic wastewater is concentrated, resulting in high risks of cancer and other illness in the Palestinian population. Millions of trees have been uprooted so as to destroy olive harvests and force Palestinians off their lands. These environmental crimes are integral to Israel’s colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. More than 10 years ago, Friends of the Earth International described what was happening in Palestine as an Environmental Nakba, and the escalating climate crisis will only make the situation worse.

The worldwide outpouring of support for Palestine in the face of Israel’s genocide presents an opportunity to build lasting coalitions, not only for the liberation of Palestine, but to protect the planet from imperialism and the rapacious ecocide of capitalism.

The Carbon Bootprint of Genocide

The effects of global heating are expected to be more extreme in the Middle East than for the planet as a whole. A 2015 MIT study found that, within decades, extreme heat waves would occur in the Middle East, under business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions, with temperature and humidity increases exceeding the limits of human survivability. Indeed, between 1950 and 2017, global average temperatures increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.1°C) beyond pre-industrial averages, while in Israel and the surrounding areas, average temperatures rose by 1.5°C, according to the Israeli Meteorological Service, which forecast an increase of 4°C by the end of the century. And Israel’s Environment Ministry predicts that local sea level rise could be as high as a meter by 2050, according to an investigative report from Haaretz. That forecast may be too conservative. Worldwide, sea level is projected to rise by as much as several meters according to leading climate scientist James Hansen and fellow researchers, as soon as 2050.

A more recent 2022 study reached similar conclusions as the MIT study, reporting that the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East “is warming almost two times faster than the global average and more rapidly than most other inhabited parts of the world,” and that “there are indications of a transition to a drier climate.”

Biologists report that Earth is now experiencing its sixth mass extinction. (The fifth one ended the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.) A 2019 Nature article warned that up to a million species of plants and animals are on the verge of extinction. Underscoring this assessment, the World Wildlife Fund reports that 69 percent of the world’s vertebrate population has died off since 1970. Much of this loss is attributable to global heating, caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels. And humanity is also at grave risk.

The highest global annual average temperature ever recorded occurred in 2023, and 2024 could be even hotter. Global atmospheric CO2 concentrations are presently higher than at any time within the last 15 million years. Other major greenhouse gases — methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride — are also at peak concentrations, with high emissions continuing unabated.

The reporting of carbon emissions from global military operations is voluntary, due largely to U.S. political pressure. As a consequence, only a handful of countries provide even partial data to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But even without comprehensive data, a 2022 study was able to credibly estimate that 5.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to military operations, more than global commercial aviation and shipping combined. The U.S. share of those annual military emissions exceeds the total emissions of 150 countries, including Ireland and Norway. And about 20 percent of the annual U.S. military emissions result from protecting fossil fuel interests in the Gulf region.

Another study, released in January 2024, found that in the first two months of Israel’s attack on Gaza, the total emissions from bombs, rockets and artillery, flight time for bomb raids, and the delivery of materiel to Israel via cargo jet were equivalent to 281,315 metric tons of CO2. This is roughly the same quantity of emissions that 75 coal-fired power plants produce in a year, and it exceeds the annual emissions of 20 individual countries and territories. Almost half the total emissions from the first two months of the Gaza genocide came from U.S. transport planes delivering weapons and fuel to Israel.

The crude oil needed to make fuel for Israeli military vehicles is supplied by major international oil and gas companies including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Eni and TotalEnergies. If emissions from those sources and other supply chain emissions for the war (intentionally omitted in the 2024 study) were added to the total, it is estimated that the actual “carbon bootprint” would be five to eight times larger than those of the study’s conservative estimates. Taking into account the additional five months of Israel’s ongoing destruction of Gaza since the study’s release, the accumulated carbon emissions to date from the genocide may have doubled or tripled. Rebuilding will add further substantial emissions, including the replacement of solar panels that Israel destroyed in the West Bank and Gaza to deprive Palestinians of power sources.

This squandering of a significant portion of the world’s dwindling carbon budget for the purpose of creating a Jewish ethnostate, ethnically cleansed of Palestinians, is not only a crime against humanity; it is a crime against nature. And it is only one of countless examples of capitalism’s war against nature.

The urgency of the global climate crisis makes it imperative for all social justice movements to respond to it. There can be no social justice, after all, on a dead planet.

Gaza as a Blueprint Under Climate Collapse

As the planet heats up, Earth’s habitable zones will contract, forcing increasing human migration. According to a 2020 study, each 1°C temperature rise beyond the 2019 global average will result in a billion people forced to migrate or endure insufferable heat. The article warns that in a worst-case scenario of accelerating emissions, a third of the world’s population could experience temperatures as high as those of the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years.

In this context, digital surveillance and advanced weapons technology — and hence war — have increasingly become attractive destinations for capital investment. This is a particularly convenient choice for the global capitalist elite to manage exploding immigration and “surplus humanity” arising from unemployment due to increasing production efficiencies, and shrinking habitats as a result of the climate crisis, such as sea-level rise and aridification of agricultural land.

Following this logic, the genocide in Gaza has the potential to serve as a blueprint for future “kill zones,” to eliminate surplus populations not needed for labor, so as to enable the global capitalist class to stabilize and manage the world economy. Already, Israeli weapons and surveillance technology, tested on Palestinians, has been exported to other countries, as tools of occupation and repression. In particular, Israeli drones have been used by the European Union, as pointed out by Antony Loewenstein, to prevent the rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. On the U.S.-Mexican border, Israeli surveillance towers, manufactured by Israel’s leading defense company, Elbit, are key components of the U.S. arsenal to control surplus humanity at its borders.

In light of this, the heroic struggle by Palestinians for survival is not only for themselves, but is also a part of a global struggle against a potentially horrific future for humanity as a whole.

Building an Ecosocialist Future

Global capitalism is the fundamental driver of the climate crisis. This is because capitalism requires perpetual economic growth, by its very nature, and infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. In order to stave off mass unemployment and economic misery, capitalism requires ever-increasing commodity production, resource extraction, trash and toxic dumping, and energy production. Ultimately, capitalism itself must be replaced by something better. Profit through surplus value must be eliminated as the driver of humanity’s economic interactions, if we are to achieve a sustainable existence on Earth.

Achieving sustainable civilizations, harmonious with nature, will require staggering economic and cultural transformations. If we are to avoid unprecedented catastrophes, climate science research informs us that global greenhouse gas emissions must rapidly be reduced to near zero (and not merely “net zero“). Our survival together with countless other species requires the elimination or retrenchment of vast numbers of power plants, mines, factories, mills around the world. It requires eliminating or repurposing not only fossil fuel companies, but all the industries that depend on them, such as automobile, aircraft, airline, shipping, petrochemical, construction, agribusiness, lumber, pulp and paper, and wood product companies, industrial fishing operations, factory farming, packaging and plastics, disposable products of all sorts, and above all, the war industries. The Pentagon is the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuel energy. And, clearly, ecocide is far from capitalism’s only crime. Capitalism perpetuates ruthless exploitation, racism and an unending cycle of imperialist wars.

Despite this, humanity has the capacity not only to reverse the course of environmental destruction, but also to end those other toxic features of capitalism — along with capitalism itself — through the establishment of ecosocialist governments, built on democratic institutions dedicated to the mutual thriving of humanity and the rest of nature. The defense of the Palestinian people from the Israeli and U.S. program of genocide is a critical step in that program.

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