Capitalism can’t save us from ecological disaster

Printer-friendly version

Global warming is more and more a headline issue. In February Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) met in Paris. They announced that the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, was "very likely" the cause of global warming. Before that announcement they had been more cautious in their level of certainty. In the report published they estimated that world temperature rises would be between 2 and 4 degrees centigrade by 2100. This makes it the fastest temperature rise in so short a period that the world has seen.

Working Group II met in Brussels in April to discuss the possible implications for the planet. Unsurprisingly it wasn't great news. Floods, drought, extreme weather, species extinction were all featured in this catastrophe. The worst-case scenario could see humanity itself disappear as planetary conditions become impossible.

At the end of April, in Bangkok, the 120 national delegates of the third working group of the IPCC met to look for solutions. Ogunlade Davidson, the co-chair, promised that "solutions are possible and can be achieved at a reasonable cost". Hurrah! The world is saved in the nick of time. We are told that capitalism can save the planet and make a good profit doing it at the same time. A miracle!

What are these miraculous solutions? IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri invites us to look to the example of former US President Jimmy Carter who in the 1970s recommended everyone should lower the heating in winter and wear a pullover. He did not forget to congratulate the Japanese Prime Minister who has called on executives to forgo their ties so that air conditioning could be lowered. Mr Pachauri also recommends vegetarianism to reduce emissions from cattle. So the solution is to wear a pullover in the winter, take off your tie in the summer and become a vegetarian?

Of course the IPCC makes more "serious" suggestions, including the development of non-polluting energy sources (wind, solar), buildings becoming more energy efficient, a move from road transport to rail and waterway, collection and sequestration of CO2 etc.

There is one thing nagging the conscience of the bourgeoisie: how much will this all cost? The IPCC are eager to dispel fears, claiming that stabilisation of CO2 at today's levels by 2030 would only require a reduction of 0.1 % in annual growth. A drop in the ocean, but maybe a drop too many. Stephen Singer of the World Wide Fund for Nature said that no government would act if it felt its economy would be harmed. James Connaughton (head of the White House Council on Environment Quality) said that measures recommended at the conference "represent an extremely high cost" even "involving a recession". Jacques Chirac, even though a keen supporter of the findings, said that the cost would be "considerable".

In the capitalist world for a nation to finance the reductions in CO2 and make its economy "clean" means to be swept aside by its rivals in the world market. Who will jump first? Obviously nobody.

It can come as no surprise that the G8 meeting in Germany produced so little to solve global warming. Despite Tony Blair's optimism there was no more than a vague intent to act sometime in the future, but not now. The only "solution" that is posed is at the individual level with "what you can do to save the planet" campaigns.

As we said in the International Review issue 129:

"The constant eco-message from the governments is that "saving the planet is everyone's responsibility" when the vast majority is deprived of any political or economic power and control over production and consumption, over what and how things are produced. And the bourgeoisie, which does have power in these decisions, has even less intention than ever in satisfying human and ecological needs at the expense of profit" (‘Twin Track to Capitalist Oblivion ').

Capitalism can offer humanity no solution to the problems it has caused, and this is becoming more and more evident. But this raises the question: what is the real solution? And here lies a source of hope, because the dead-end reached by the capitalist mode of production is a powerful argument in favour of destroying capitalism and installing a new mode of production, a higher form of social organisation where production is geared not towards the insane ‘growth' of capital but the rational needs of man.

Ash 6/7/7.

General and theoretical questions: