Like a “Speeding Freight Train”: Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accelerate, Threaten the Planet

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For the last three years people have been told that they should look to governments and the 2015 Paris Agreement to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and seriously deal with climate change. But despite all that is known about global warming and its devastating impacts on all life and human society, and despite solemn pledges made in the Paris climate negotiations, every year more and more greenhouse gases are being pumped into the atmosphere. And several recent scientific reports make clear that the global environmental emergency is not just continuing—it is accelerating toward catastrophe.

“We thought, perhaps hoped, emissions had peaked a few years ago,” Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford and an author of one of the reports, said. “After two years of renewed growth, that was wishful thinking.”

The Paris Agreement allowed each government to set climate goals for itself. And the goals which were set were known at the time to be far from enough to stop or even slow down climate change. The result after three years? Globally, carbon emissions broke records in 2017 and 2018. Almost no country is on track to even come close to meeting their Paris goals, including the U.S., which is rated by the research organization Climate Action Tracker as “critically insufficient” in meeting the goals.*

The repeated promises on climate change that the U.S. and other major polluters make are like a batterer vowing to “change his ways.” These capitalists make promises—and they not only go on carrying out their horrors, they amp them up.

Scientific Reports Issue Increasingly Dire Warnings

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body responsible for studying climate change, issued a shocking report. The IPCC report said that, if the earth warms by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, (°C) people will face a horrific situation. Tens or hundreds of millions of people will be forced to migrate from their homes… rising sea levels will flood coastal regions and Pacific islands… droughts will disrupt the lives of more than 350 million people, leading to widespread famine… 99 percent of coral reefs in the world’s oceans will die. The report estimated that the planet would cross the 1.5°C threshold between 2030 and 2052—within the lives of most of the people alive today.   

Just two months later, two scientific reports were released saying that the IPCC scientists may have underestimated the urgency and the danger. These new reports say that 2018 will set a new record for greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide fossil fuel emissions rose by 1.7 percent in 2017 and are set to rise 2.7 percent this year. One of the reports compared greenhouse gas emissions to a “speeding freight train” that will “make climate change faster and more furious than anticipated.” 

Since 2000 the planet has been warming at a rate of .2°C per decade, and that is the rate that the IPCC has used for its projections. The new studies predict that in the next 25 years, the earth’s temperature will increase at a rate of .25-.32°C per decade, a 25 percent to 60 percent increase above the previous predictions. This means that the world could breach the 1.5°C level ten years earlier than predicted by the IPCC—by 2030, just 11 years from now.

Lancet: For Centuries to Come

For several years the Lancet, one of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world, has published the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change. The Countdown is a collaboration between 24 academic institutions and intergovernmental organizations based in every continent and with representation from a wide range of disciplines.

This year’s report, subtitled “shaping the health of nations for centuries to come,” reveals much of the human misery that lies behind the statistics on rising greenhouse gas emissions. 

Some of Lancet’s findings:

  • 157 million more people were exposed to heat wave events in 2017, compared with 2000.
  • The amount of labor lost due to climate change in 2017 is equivalent to 60 million people working for a full year.
  • In 2017, a total of 712 extreme climate-related events resulted in $326 billion in economic losses, almost triple the total losses of 2016.
  • There is increased possibility of the transmission of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world.
  • After a trend of rising crop yields, agricultural production is estimated to be declining in every region.
  • By 2050 several hundred million people could end up being vulnerable to forced migration, with climate change as the sole contributing factor.

Rising sea levels will flood coastal regions where 50% of the world’s population live. Bangladesh during heavy rains, 2018. (Photo: AP)

Droughts will disrupt lives of more than 411 million people, leading to widespread famine. Kenya. Photo credit: Buzz Kenya

In the report’s conclusion, the Lancet authors say that climate change is responsible for an “unacceptably high risk for the current and future health of populations across the world,” adding that it has the “potential to disrupt core public-health infrastructure and overwhelm health services.”

Climate Change Emergency

The bitter truth is that our planet is on a precipice. Plundering the earth for fossil fuels to fire the global economy without regard for their environmental impact is built into the capitalist-imperialist system. Only with a revolution that puts into place a radically new economic and political system can we begin to heal the planet’s scars. See here for excerpts from the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America on how a revolutionary socialist society will address the climate crisis, and here  for a report on a Revolution Club discussion on those excerpts.


* According to Climate Action Tracker only Gambia and Morocco are on target to keep climate change at 1.5°C. Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, India and the Philippines are on track for a 2.0°C increase. All of the other countries are rated either insufficient (corresponding to a 3 degree increase), highly insufficient (corresponding to a 4 degree increase), or, like the United States, critically insufficient (corresponding to an increase of greater than 4 degrees). [back]


The Destruction of the Planet by Capitalism-Imperialism

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USA: Climate Criminal #1

Global Climate Budget 2018 looks at emissions by country and found that China, the U.S., India, and the European Union are responsible for about 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. China produces 27 percent of global emissions, according to the report. The United States accounts for 15 percent of emissions, the European Union 10 percent and India 7 percent.

Some, including Trump, have seized on these numbers to say that countries like China or India are the most responsible for global warming. This is bullshit. A deeper look reveals the United States as the number one climate criminal in the world.

First, total global emissions do not take into account the population of a country. Looking at per person emissions, the U.S. is MUCH worse than any of the other countries on this list. The U.S. dumps more than twice the amount of carbon emissions per person as China or India: 16.07 tons per person into the air for the U.S. compared with 7.72 by China and 1.87 by India.

Second, historically the U.S. has been by far the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions with more than 26 percent of the total emissions, more than twice the total of the entire European Union, which is made up of 28 developed capitalist countries! Because greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for a long period, much of these “historical” emissions are still in the atmosphere.

Third, the total emission numbers give no context. For example, India is in the midst of trying to bring electricity to 300 million people. This is not equivalent to people in the U.S. driving giant gas-guzzling SUVs. Estimates are that about 33 percent of China’s greenhouse gas emissions are for goods produced for export, much of which feeds both profit and consumption in the U.S.

Fourth, many ways that the U.S. contributes to climate change are not included. For example, at the insistence of the U.S. emissions by the military are not included in calculations related to climate change. That means the U.S. military, which produces more emissions than any other single institutional entity is not even counted. The United States leads the world in extracting oil and gas and is number two in coal mining and exports much of this—which means the U.S. profits from fossil fuels burned in other countries.

Finally, the U.S., more than any other country, is actively working to remove any constraints on its emissions of greenhouse gases. The two biggest sectors of the economy contributing to greenhouse gases in the U.S. are transportation and power. In August, Trump unveiled the misnamed “Affordable Clean Energy Act,” which, if it goes into effect, would increase the amount of greenhouse gases dumped in the atmosphere by power plants in the next decade by a factor of 12. Trump’s proposed changes to auto emission standards would allow an additional one billion tons of greenhouse gases to be pumped into the air annually.

Trump and his regime attack any effort to even recognize that climate change is an issue. For this reason, they are withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. While other countries are sending heads of state to the climate conference in Poland which is going on right now, Trump is sending the lowest-ranking official that he could to head the U.S. delegation, the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) at the Department of State.

The U.S. delegation is planning just one event at the conference: a presentation promoting expanded use of fossil fuels!


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