Capitalism will do nothing about climate change

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The issue of climate change never really goes away. Every so often there are big reports and big conferences. Big speeches with big promises are made. Little seems to change. Here are some of the most recent reports.

A report published by the IEA (International Energy Agency) in May said that greenhouse gas emissions from power generation in 2010 were higher than any year in history.

The CCAFS (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) have produced their first report into the effects of climate change on food supplies. They set out to predict those areas of the world that would suffer most over the next 40 years. They predicted that western Africa is particularly vulnerable as countries like Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali already rely on drought resistant crops for food production.

HadCRUT3, a joint initiative in the UK has said that global warming between 1995 and 2010 was 0.19C. More importantly the statistical measurements amount to a statistically ‘real’ trend, i.e. statistically likely between 95%-100%.

We have come to expect rises in global temperatures and warnings of disasters of one shape or another. Every year seems to be the ‘worst year’ ever recorded for one indicator or another. What is more significant is that all these records are occurring while the world is supposed to be doing something about it.

Take for instance the first report mentioned, the IEA report on greenhouse emissions from power generation setting a new record for 2010. An international carbon emissions trading scheme is in operation.

There is carbon offsetting where companies and financial institutions can create carbon credits by creating schemes where CO2 is saved, particularly in the areas of the world which are not covered by the ‘cap and trade’ system.

This ‘cap and trade’ system is where big industrial companies are handed out licenses to release CO2 which can then be traded with other holders to increase or reduce emissions within the limit of the carbon allowance.

The carbon trading system is supposed to reduce the CO2 requirements of major industries and yet the IEA report says that CO2 from power generation is at an all time high. This is the paradox of green capitalism.

While the bourgeoisie accepts climate change is a problem, the competition between nation states means that each country is at the same time trying to prevent any serious disadvantage by acting significantly.

The large scale use of fossil fuels in transport has meant that for the first time the bourgeoisie has had some flexibility to move goods economically on a large scale, including even the most perishable of goods. One TV programme in the UK a few years ago showed prawns fished in the UK, transported by plane to Thailand, sorted and packaged there before being flown back to be sold in British shops. The sourcing of cheap labour in the ‘peripheral countries’ of capitalism has been motivated by the crisis in the capitalist system rather than its good health. Cheaper labour in the third world has enabled capitalism to reduce further the labour costs of production but this can only continue with the use of relatively inexpensive fossil fuels.

The threat to the food supply is a more serious problem. Cheap labour requires cheap food to reproduce itself. The threat from global warming in the long term is for increases in food prices. This can be seen in recent years with harvest failures contributing to the increase in supermarket prices. The bourgeoisie hasn’t worried too much about starvation in the third world as these countries by definition are undeveloped economically and are therefore insignificant within the world economy. What the bourgeoisie worries about is the ability to feed workers at a cheap price.

The analysis of Had CRUT3 is one more addition to the scientific evidence for global warming. It seems that capitalism will pretend to trade its way to sustainability. In reality capitalism will only sustain exploitation and destruction.  

Hugin 2/7/11.

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Climate Change