Climate change: we CAN avert the apocalypse

Iconic “Earthrise” photo taken during the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. PHOTO: Jim Lovell / NASA
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If your body temperature rises by a seemingly minuscule 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), you’re probably sick. We now know that the Earth also must live within a narrow temperature range, or its life suffers.

The planet’s average temperature is currently 1 degree C above what it was as the industrial revolution began. That’s enough to see serious signs of disease — unprecedented floods, fires, and fatalities.

And the problem is worsening fast. If no steps are taken, we’ll see a 4-degree rise by century’s end, creating conditions incompatible with human life, according to some scientists.

Addressing this planetary emergency, October 2018’s report from the U.N. panel on climate change (IPCC) warned that humanity has just 12 years to rein in global warming, holding it to a maximum rise of 1.5 degrees, or face dire consequences.

A 2 degree rise would mean an additional 10 million displaced individuals, complete loss of coral reefs, and fishery damage affecting 300 million people by 2030, according to the IPCC. To avoid these catastrophes, unprecedented measures are needed to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent. Worse yet, every IPCC report to date has proven to be conservative in estimating the rate at which the crisis is unfolding.

Scientists have calculated that even if the voluntary commitments of the Paris Accords are successfully implemented, temperatures will rise about 3 degrees by 2100, turning southern Spain into the northern Sahara.

We need to stop this march to Armageddon.

The good news. Fortunately, public opinion, technical know-how, and grassroots determination together constitute a favorable starting point.

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 66 percent of Americans understand that global warming is real and 64 percent know it is caused by human activity. The climate deniers have lost.

Kate Marvel, associate research scientist, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Some scientists, like University of Arizona Emeritus Professor Guy McPherson, believe it’s too late to mitigate climate change. But many others disagree. Swedish climatologist Johan Rockström insists, “If the science is right, the technology is right, and the policy is right you can cure that very dire situation. There is no scientific suggestion that the door is shut.”

Scientists and engineers have created solar, wind, and other renewable energy technology. Most importantly, political challenges to the status quo are occurring throughout the world.

In 2016, thousands of Native Americans and their supporters confronted the fossil fuel industry with protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. They inspired global struggles.

Young people are rising up. In November, thousands of Australian youth protested the government’s inaction on climate change. Eleven-year-old Levi Draheim, the youngest of 21 Oregon plaintiffs suing the federal government over climate policy, said, “We need to as a country do much bigger things.”

In December, during UN climate change talks in Poland, thousands marched in Katowice to “Make the planet great again.”

The science. Atmospheric “greenhouse” gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, trap heat. Forty billion tons of CO2 are emitted annually through burning fossil fuels — oil, coal, and natural gas. Cutting down rainforests, now at 70,000 acres a day, reduces the capacity of green plants to absorb this carbon.

Rising temperatures accelerate ocean evaporation, fueling hurricanes and increasing flooding, which threatens communities and food supplies. Poor people, with inadequate protective infrastructure, are hardest hit. Women do more than half the farming in poor countries, and are particularly at risk.

Higher temperatures melt ice faster and glaciers are cracking in Greenland, the Arctic, and Antarctica. Less mountain ice means less water for millions of people, including 250 billion gallons lost each year in the Rockies.

Beyond climate science, the social science of Marxism identifies the specific human activity behind global warming. It’s the relentless capitalist pursuit of private profit. To capitalism, the environment is just another resource to plunder.

Since 1988, a mere 25 private fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP, have been responsible for 50 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions. Such companies thrive on carbon-dependent economies. And all privately owned enterprises lose profits if they have to clean up their own messes.

Market solutions no answer. But haven’t major capitalist institutions acknowledged global warming as a problem? Don’t be fooled. Their concern is endangered profits, not endangered species.

A November 2018 U.S. government report, for example, declared that without reducing emissions, “Annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.”

But capitalist solutions merely tinker with the market. They propose financial incentives to invest in renewable energy, rather than direct government spending to build what we need as fast as we need it. They stress disincentives like carbon taxing to reduce fossil fuel use, which fall mostly on working people and don’t provide alternatives. The essential answer to the problem has to be directly cutting emissions.

Meanwhile, the polluters continue to resist fundamental change and protect their investments. At the climate change talks in Poland, the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait succeeded in preventing the inclusion of the recent IPCC assessment in the final agreement.

The road forward. Good technical solutions are found in the Green New Deal, a concept endorsed by Jill Stein of the Green Party and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Democratic Socialists of America. Measures in one version, by Data for Progress, include 100 percent renewable energy, zero-emission vehicles, electrified public mass transit, and reforesting 40 million acres.

However, it again “encourages private capital to move into these new and expanding markets.” It tells us that to win we must vote for Democrats, even though the party has done next to nothing for 50 years.

We need to build a fighting movement that both demands change now and understands that saving a human-friendly planet requires inaugurating a human-friendly social and economic system — ASAP.

Organized labor could join with environmentalists to demand things like free, accessible mass transit. What a difference that would make! And, along with other reforms like reforestation, comprehensive development of public transit would provide jobs, which is often a sticking point for unionists who oppose environmental measures.

We need to win what we can now. But capitalism is not going to permit the tremendous changes necessary. By taking what has become an insane drive for profits out of the equation — by creating a socialist society, in other words — the big transformations can be made.

That’s the urgent, indispensable political solution. And then we will all be able to breathe a cool sigh of relief.

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