Hurricanes, climate change, and global warming

Part 4: What is to be done?

Revolution #035, February 19, 2006, posted at

November 28, 2005. A World to Win News Service. While the U.S. government has insisted that global warming doesnt exist, most scientists are convinced otherwise. Some researchers say global warming was a major factor in the deadly series of hurricanes (as the violent tropical storms or cyclones that hit the Americas are called) that struck the Caribbean, Central America, and the U.S. recently. At the Montreal international summit on climate change, the first such meeting since the 1997 Kyoto summit, the U.S. continued to refuse to recognize the dangers or even the existence of global warming, which an attending UK scientist declared is as perilous to the future of humanity as weapons of mass destruction. Observers at the opening of the Montreal meeting of 190 countries had little hope that it would make real progress in achieving international agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the main factor in the rapid rise in world temperatures. Even though the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions agreed to at Kyoto are criminally inadequate (the goal is to reduce emissions to 5 percent below the 1990 level by 2012), so far actual emissions have increased, not decreased. Even the European Union, which supported Kyoto, has failed to meet its target.

What is the link between global warming and tropical storms? What are the causes of global warming? To what extent is global warming caused by human activity, and what can be done about it? How dangerous is global warming? Why do the rulers of the U.S. and other major powers refuse to take serious action even as disaster stares mankind in the face? These questions are addressed in this article, which is being run in five parts. See earlier issues for:

Part 1: Natural Climate Changes

Part 2: Man-made Climate Changes

Part 3: How dangerous is global warming?

From what has been shown by scientific research, especially over the last 30 to 40 years, the future of Earth is in the balance if human beings conduct business as usual. However, despite the possible bleak outcomes of human activity over the last 150 years, as Mark Maslan of the Environmental Change Research Centre, Department of Geography, University College in London has said, global warming is not necessarily the "end of the world."

While global warming is a multidimensional problem that challenges the very existence of human civilization, at the same time there are multifaceted solutions that could be effective if they had the will, creativity, and organized strength of billions of people behind them. It is true that some elements contributing to global warming, such as greenhouse gases that last a long time in the atmosphere, would continue to have adverse effects on the environment for decades even if steps to eliminate new emissions were taken immediately. Some have caused even irreversible damages--for instance, the melted Antarctic glaciers and parts of Greenlands ice sheets are gone, if not forever, at least until the next ice age. Biodiversity is threatened badly. But taking a fatalistic attitude would be as bad as ignoring the problem and waiting for disaster to strike.

Technical solutions and the development of environmentally friendly policies are within human reach--such as decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases produced, and especially reducing and finally phasing out the emission of carbon dioxide altogether, just as was done with the fluoride gases used in industry and household products. Why arent huge resources being devoted to the research and development of clean renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower? Even a relatively simple refitting of existing coal-powered energy plants, the worst single source of greenhouse gases, could cut their carbon dioxide emissions by almost half immediately.

One problem is that what can be done and what cannot be done today depends on how any given solution fits in with a global imperialist system based on profit. Because of competition between various capitalists, the basic law is expand or die. Making instantaneous profit no matter what--no matter the cost to human beings and their environment--is the basic operating mode of capitalism. The cost involved in fixing problems, and the immediate need for profit, places gigantic obstacles in the way of implementing long-term solutions.

No company, nor in the end any capitalist country, wants to devote vast resources to something whose cost would reduce overall profitability to deal with a problem that is just coming over the horizon. Its true that countries, and especially the imperialist countries ruled by a handful of monopoly capitalists, spend huge amounts of money on unproductive endeavors like armaments and war, but that is forced on them by the competition between them and the hope of gaining (or losing) competitive advantage in relation to other groups of capitalists. The way countries like the U.S. see it, massive investment to deal with global warming would just drag down their economies in relationship to the competition--other imperialist countries. This, in turn, is one reason why the other imperialist countries dont want to act unless the U.S. does, and why they are willing to accept the U.S.s inaction as an excuse for their own passivity.

The IPCC diagram below depicts the correlation between carbon dioxide emission and the economic output (Gross Domestic Product) of the U.S., the former Soviet Union (really an imperialist country since the 1950s, long before it collapsed) and Japan.

That is why even a flawed agreement such as Kyoto Protocol calling for only an 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to bring them down to their 1990 level by 2012, and which so far has not been implemented, has been rejected and sabotaged by the U.S., and was given, at best, lukewarm approval by the European Union.

This brings up a second reason why more hasnt been done about global warming, and why some governments--like the Bush administration--have tried to deny the problem exists. First, capital is rooted in nation-states, and second, the world is divided into imperialist countries and the third world countries they prey on. If this situation is accepted as necessarily eternal, that is a basic obstacle to being able to even think properly about how to solve a global problem.

For instance, the U.S. says it will not commit itself to reducing gas emissions unless third world countries do likewise. Other imperialist countries have followed suit in using the unwillingness of countries like China, India and Brazil to make such an agreement as another excuse for their own refusal to take more serious measures. This is hypocritical for two reasons. The first, obviously, is that the U.S. has been by far the worlds biggest polluter, followed by the other imperialist countries, especially if viewed in terms of their role in how the world got into this mess over the last century and a half. But the second and even more substantive reason is this: the huge shift of the worlds manufacturing to third world countries, with China first and foremost among them, is not due to the development of economies in those countries that would benefit the people. Nowhere is this more obvious than in China, where since capitalism was brought back after a reactionary coup following the death of Mao Tsetung, that countrys "development" has turned it into the worlds sweatshop. Tens of millions of Chinese proletarians work 12 and even 16-hour days seven-days-a-week at survival wages to manufacture products for the Japanese, American, and European markets and bring enormous profits for the capitalists based in those countries. It is imperialist finance capital that demands Chinas breakneck industrial development with no regard to the welfare of the people of the country and the world. This has contributed greatly towards shifting the pollution from West to East and from North to South. The problem with industrial pollution in the third world lies not just in those countries but even more in the whole existing web of world capitalist relations that need to be overthrown and uprooted to save the planet.

To be continued.

NEXT WEEK--Part 5: The Future Is at Stake

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