We Must Challenge Capitalist Attempts at “Solutions” to Climate Change

Climate activists have described this month’s Conference of the Parties on climate change (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, as a make-or-break opportunity to avert disastrous climate change.

The COP21 in Paris was similarly cast as a make-or-break moment in 2015, as well as the 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen. Since 1995, when the states that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Berlin, Germany, there have been COPs every year. As the COP is the treaty’s supreme decision-making body of the treaty, it has final decision-making authority over how the treaty will be interpreted and implemented.

However, this year’s summit garnered exceptional attention because just two months before its opening, it was preceded by the release of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounding the alarm on climate change. Thus, we were told, the effects and costs of warming up the planet by 2.7° Fahrenheit (1.5° Celsius) will be much greater than the ultra-cautious, fossil-fuel-friendly IPCC has led us to expect up until now. Worse, we may reach this point in 10 to 12 years.

The report’s urgent tone was highly gratifying to those who had for years been trying, to no avail, to convey just such urgency, and the document elicited a substantial response everywhere, even in the mainstream media.

However, there is no cause for rejoicing; on the contrary, for behind the urgent tone of the October report, barring a popular revolt, COP24 portends business as usual. In short, it is old Kool-Aid in new bottles, and we are being asked to drink, copiously.

A thorough reading of the report reveals a profoundly disturbing underlying assumption: All measures taken to avoid the cataclysm that we have so long and so assiduously been preparing will be carried out within the parameters of the very parasitical, predatory capitalist paradigm that has brought us precisely to the brink. Envisioning another, humane world order seems to be out of the question, much less proposing serious ways to dismantle the current planetary death cult.

Instead, according to the report, we must slowly, gently, over the decades to come, “transition” to new ways of generating the energy we need to keep on the same path that is poisoning the Earth, exhausting its resources and massacring its irreplaceable biodiversity.

Take for example, the following paragraph from the report’s “Summary for Policy Makers”:

C.2.4. The urban and infrastructure system transition consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would imply, for example, changes in land and urban planning practices, as well as deeper emissions reductions in transport and buildings compared to pathways that limit global warming below 2°C (medium confidence). Technical measures and practices enabling deep emissions reductions include various energy efficiency options. In pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, the electricity share of energy demand in buildings would be about 55–75% in 2050 compared to 50–70% in 2050 for 2°C global warming (medium confidence). In the transport sector, the share of low-emission final energy would rise from less than 5% in 2020 to about 35–65% in 2050 compared to 25–45% for 2°C of global warming (medium confidence). Economic, institutional and socio-cultural barriers may inhibit these urban and infrastructure system transitions, depending on national, regional and local circumstances, capabilities and the availability of capital (high confidence). {2.3.4, 2.4.3, 4.2.1, Table 4.1, 4.3.3, 4.5.2}

The suggestion in this paragraph about low-emission energy playing an increasing role within the transport sector supposes that we are going to continue to move about as we do today, still manufacturing automobiles, still paving over the Earth, still burning – what? Gasoline? But we’ll be emitting less greenhouse gas.

None of this takes into account the current capitalist paradigm’s need for unlimited, exponential growth – and waste.

And the use of 2050 as a reference point for setting goals belies the basic claim underpinning the report’s sense of urgency; to wit, that a decade is all we have (for a goal that even the report admits is arbitrary). Anybody who has been reading Dahr Jamail’s Climate Disruption Dispatches that Truthout has been publishing monthly for several years knows that.

Absent from the report is any acknowledgement that we are already at 1.5°C and even over. This additional half-degree – if not an entire degree – is being held at bay by the cloud of sulfates enveloping the Earth generated by burning fossil fuels. If we are to decarbonize our way of life, that means stopping the burning of fossil fuels and letting the sulfates settle to the ground and letting the sun shine in – to add to the heat.

In an excellent article Truthout published shortly after the October report, Rachel Smolker laid out some of the problems with the IPCC’s modus operandi. She started by pointing out that “there are some major sources of emissions we are aware of, but have been granted exclusion from consideration, such as the vast quantity of emissions from military activities.”

Indeed, the United States military is the biggest single polluter and user of fossil fuels on the planet. If one requires an introduction to its inveterate environmental depredations, Jamail has chronicled numerous examples in the Pacific Northwest. Failing to take those depredations into account invalidates any attempt at realistic assessment of the problem.

But Smolker continues:

The choice of authors plays a significant role in shaping the nature of IPCC reports. The emphasis on maintaining economic growth and minimizing costs of mitigation reflects the engagement of many economists and physicists. The somewhat [she is too kind] garbled manner in which IPCC addresses ecosystem-based approaches reflects a lack of engagement of ecologists.

In May 2017, a letter to the IPCC chair from 108 civil society organizations expressed deep concern over the selection of authors who are or were senior employees from major oil companies (ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco), the second- and third-largest corporate emitters of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The letter pointed out that Exxon holds the most patents and financial interests relating to carbon capture and sequestration (or “clean coal” technology) of any company worldwide, and has, to put it mildly, blatant conflict of interest.

In other words, the IPCC is linked to the fossil-fuel sector, which, given its wealth (and remember, money is power) means that it is calling the shots.

This is attested to from another quarter, with another report — this one utterly absent from even the alternative media yet central to COP24.

On November 21, the Geneva Press Club played host to a major press conference entitled, “Is the Paris Agreement on Climate Dead?”

Since Emmanuel Macron has designated France as a sort of guarantor of the Paris Agreement, his ambassador, François Rivasseau was sent to speak in his stead. Along with him, among others, were Zbigniew Czech, the Polish ambassador, representing the host country of COP24, and Deputy Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). None of them had anything to say worth listening to, although Manaenkova gave the game away by referring to COP24’s basic document. It was not the October report.

Rather it was the Talanoa Dialogue, submitted to the United Nations on April 1, 2018. Intentionally or not, the date of submission was appropriate, for if ever there were a bad April Fool’s Day joke, this was it.

The 76-page document starts out quite promising:

While supportive of the efforts and proposed commitments to date to reduce emissions of both long- and short-lived greenhouse gases as a means to limit the increase in the global average temperature to no more than 1.5 to 2ºC above preindustrial [level], the scientific and economic evidence that is available makes clear that: (a) Greenhouse gas emissions are not on a pathway to accomplish the stated objective and, indeed, given economic realities, technological capabilities, and the world’s present reliance on fossil fuels for ~80% of its energy, there will be significant temperature overshoot…. reducing risks back to levels that society and the environment can accommodate will require bringing the global average temperature back to no more than 0.5ºC above its preindustrial level as rapidly as possible.

Thus, the movers and the pushers running COP24 are aware not only of how far off the mark the October report is, but also of what is really needed as a goal.

However, the above passage is from the five-page introduction. A careful reading of the report itself, which starts on page six, makes clear that its authors, just as much as the authors of the October report, are counting on squaring the circle: all this, including the geoengineering necessary to pull it off, will be carried out by capitalism’s international organized crime syndicates otherwise known as transnational corporations. One cannot escape the conclusion that, if the situation is being diagnosed as being as dire as it actually is, it is to fatten the contracts for those who are being called upon to fix it.

A glance at the roster of donors to the Climate Institute that issued the report explains it all, for there one finds, among others, American Gas Foundation, American Honda Motor Company, BP, Ford Motor Company Fund, GE Foundation, Goldman Sachs, PG&E [Pacific Gas and Electric] Corporation, Shell Foundation, Toyota Motor Company, US Agency for International Development, US Department of Energy, US Army Corps of Engineers and the World Bank.

This journalist, appalled by the non-substance of the presentations at the Press Club, put the speakers on the spot, asking, in essence, what they were proposing in order to bring the transnational corporations to heel since these corporations control the governments that are running the IPCC and are the biggest obstacle to dealing with planetary warming.

Ambassador Rivasseau denied that they needed to be brought to heel or that they try to manipulate the situation in their favor, claiming that they seek only to make a good impression by each trying to outdo the other. He also came out strongly in favor of involving the private sector in any effort to deal with planetary warming. Manaenkova, speaking for the WMO, claimed that the IPCC is “robust” in its independence.

After the conference, I approached Ambassador Czech. He thanked me for the question, and stated that he knew many, many politicians who agree with what I was saying, but, he added, “They lack courage.”

Change rarely comes from above, and, as Frederick Douglass insisted, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.” May we find the courage to struggle, for the hour is late.