Paris Climate Talks, Environmental Emergency, and the Stakes for Humanity

November 23, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


Blue ice from glacial meltwaterA pool of meltwater from the Canada Glacier in Antarctica. Meltwater can form rapidly flowing erosive streams and cause sudden glacial changes. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Starting November 30, representatives from more than 190 countries will meet in Paris for a UN-sponsored conference on global climate change. Many heads of state, including U.S. President Obama, will attend. The talks are taking place in the wake of the horrific terrorist attack in Paris—and under a state of emergency declared by the French government, which has announced the banning of marches and other large public events that had been planned by people demanding action on climate change. This ban on protests is completely outrageous and must be opposed. (See "Oppose the Ban on Paris Climate Protests" at right.)

Many people around the world are hoping that something positive, at least a start toward actually dealing with climate change, will come from these talks—because the world stands at the edge of an environmental catastrophe. The climate/environmental emergency is accelerating and threatens to leap further out of control. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2014 of “long-standing changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Shocking developments are coming with intensifying rapidity: collapsing ice sheets in West Antarctica and disappearing glaciers; record-breaking global temperatures year after year; extreme weather of scope and intensity never seen in recorded history; increasing annihilations of forests, coral reefs and species; major changes in the chemistry of oceans around the globe; and other major disruptions in ecosystems.

All these transformations are already having devastating effects on people and threaten the future of humanity. Extreme weather and storms, droughts, rising sea level, and disruptions of ecosystems are causing increasing food shortages and starvation, poverty, and displacement of people. Climate change already causes the deaths of tens of thousands each year and is contributing to, along with other factors, the global refugee crisis. If things continue as they are, tens of millions of people, especially in the poorest regions of the world, will be pushed past the point where they can survive. Worsening climate crisis will cause even greater forced migrations, possibly of whole nations, and increasing conflicts over shrinking resources. All this will interact with the already horrible relations under the system of capitalism-imperialism and could strain the very basis of human civilization itself.

From the standpoint of the interests of humanity, the climate/environmental emergency calls for urgent, radical change: in the way industries and agriculture producing the necessities of life are organized, which right now are based on burning of fossil fuels, the major cause of global political structures and the thinking of and interactions among people.

But such fundamental, and urgently needed, changes are NOT what the U.S. and other imperialists and major powers coming together at the upcoming Paris conference are about—even though they claim to be working for a major breakthrough agreement to address global climate change. It’s their profit-driven system that has brought life and humanity on this planet to the precipice of an environmental abyss. Now, faced with the increasingly disruptive economic and social effects of global climate change, major forces among the U.S. rulers and other imperialists are coming to see a growing danger—not to humanity, but to their system of capitalism-imperialism that brings such massive horror and suffering to billions of people. Major voices within and close to the U.S. military, for example, are calling climate change a threat to “national power” and are arguing for the need to prepare militarily and strategically for upheavals sparked by climate change in order to preserve U.S. global supremacy.

U.S. and Other Powers Aim to “Mitigate” and “Manage” the Crisis

Leading up to the Paris talks, Obama—after sitting in the White House for seven years—has now promised the U.S. will cut its emissions of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) by 32 percent by 2030. Promoting the U.S. as “leading on climate change,” Obama recently decided against the Keystone XL pipeline . But under Obama, the U.S. has greatly expanded its commitment to develop its own oil and gas reserves, putting itself in the lead in production of the very fuels that have caused the climate crisis. Obama has overseen a huge spike in building of oil/gas pipelines and vast expansion of rail transport of coal and shale oil—and the accompanying increase in dangerous oil spills and train disasters. The cuts in carbon emissions Obama pushed forward are nowhere near what’s really needed, and completely in line with U.S. imperialist interests and the direction of the U.S. economy in any case.

Special Issue of Revolution on the Environmental Emergency

This Revolution special issue focuses on the environmental emergency that now faces humanity and Earth’s ecosystems. In this issue we show:

  • the dimensions of the emergency...
  • the source of its causes in the capitalist system, and the impossibility of that system solving this crisis...
  • a way out and way forward for humanity—a revolutionary society in which we could actually live as custodians of nature, rather than as its plunderers.

Read online....

Also available in brochure format (downloadable PDF)

The U.S. and other powers controlling the Paris talks are aiming to “mitigate” the crisis and to “adapt” their system as best they can to the realities of climate change. They hope to “manage” a roaring crisis that, according to climate scientists, threatens to leap out of control. They want to slowly draw back on the emission of greenhouse gases while still pursuing blind economic growth—and to gradually transition to different forms of “green energy” while they remain firmly tied to the world’s remaining fossil fuel supplies. As they do this, the U.S., Russia, the European Union (EU) countries, China and others are contending and competing for economic and geostrategic advantage, including as they work on various plans and agreements related to climate change.

This “mitigate” and “adapt” approach—with the goal of protecting their system of brutal exploitation and oppression—is behind the moves of the U.S. and other powers going into the Paris conference.

Most countries—including the U.S. and China, the world’s leading carbon polluters—are coming to Paris with “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to cutting carbon emissions. In other words, instead of an overall plan to deal with the global crisis of climate change and environmental emergency, there will be a multitude of plans from individual countries. The Paris summit will supposedly determine what cuts the individual countries will make, whether these cuts will be mandatory and enforced or be entirely voluntary, what kind of verification mechanism will be set up for the cuts, and who will control that verification process.

There will also be discussion over who will receive and pay for a “Green Climate Fund”—to supposedly fund poor countries, who have contributed little to the climate change crisis, to get green technologies and to “adapt” to climate change.

There’s no guarantee that the Paris conference will result in an agreement where the countries involved promise to cut their carbon emissions to some degree in the coming decades. If there is such an agreement, this will no doubt be trumpeted as a great new “breakthrough” in combatting climate change. But it will be nothing of the sort.

First, whatever agreements the powers actually come up with through this conference, their plans are going to be running up against the limits and the profit-in-command workings of their capitalist-imperialist system—and their military and strategic necessities as they engage in cut-throat competition against each other. It is simply NOT possible to quickly and radically transform the petroleum-based economy under this current system. One example: the U.S. military is the largest single institutional consumer of oil in the world. Will the U.S. rulers be willing to dismantle their military in order to help save the planet? The answer is obvious.

Moreover, even if the Paris conference comes up with an actual plan for global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions—and even if such a plan were to be fully implemented—that will not be enough to avert a planet-wide climate catastrophe. Climate experts have already calculated that the INDCs—the cuts in carbon emissions on a country-by-country basis—do not add up to the drastic cuts that are actually needed to make a significant change in the current disastrous course.

The whole approach of “mitigating” and “managing” the climate crisis is completely antagonistic to what is actually needed: an emergency effort to change the whole energy foundation of the world away from fossil fuels to clean green energy. Fossil fuels now in the ground need to be kept in the ground. The whole way agriculture is carried out needs to be dramatically transformed to move away from the way it contributes significantly to carbon pollution. There is a need to stop the destruction of forests and, in fact, to foster their stop the destruction of habitat and species...end the over-harvesting of fish...and much more.

Instead, the monstrous system of capitalism-imperialism rolls on—chewing up the earth...poisoning the air, land, waters and seas...driving species out of existence...shredding ecosystems.

The Real Way Forward

As Bob Avakian has put it:

This system and those who rule over it are not capable of carrying out economic development to meet the needs of the people now, while balancing that with the needs of future generations and requirements of safeguarding the environment. They care nothing for the rich diversity of the earth and its species, for the treasures this contains, except when and where they can turn this into profit for themselves... These people are not fit to be the caretakers of the earth. (BAsics 1:29)

The Paris talks are a gathering taking place under the domination and repressive baton of global imperialism. They are a means through which various powers are maneuvering over how best to preserve their interests and their whole system as they are confronted with a crisis of their own making. In contrast, what is needed is a coming together of the world’s people marked by international cooperation, to move quickly to do what is needed to save the planet and humanity. This can only happen as actual revolution increasingly breaks through to break the hold of capitalism-imperialism and to increasingly establish a powerful material force and moral example of preserving and protecting the planet, and allowing it to heal from the depredations of centuries of capitalism.

People must fight for that direction today—fight for the interests of humanity, stand up for another way; for a world where humanity is liberated from wars, poverty, oppression and brutality, for a society where people come together to preserve and protect our natural world, the very basis of our lives, with love, with appreciation and caring for it, for each other. We need a new world.

Stay tuned to Revolution/ for more coverage of the climate talks and protests in Paris



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