Climate change, the warming of the earth’s atmosphere, oceans and landmasses, is the pre-eminent issue facing humanity. 2016 was the hottest worldwide since record keeping began in 1880. The previous record year was 2015, and before that, 2014.
The cause is clear: more than two centuries of unprecedented addition of carbon gases to the planet’s atmosphere, mostly through the burning and production of coal and petroleum products. These gases, carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide, are known as greenhouse gases because they act like a greenhouse to inhibit the re-radiation of solar energy into space. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the same as 3 million years ago, when the average global temperature was 2-3 degrees Celsius (4-5F) higher than in pre-industrial times.
A clear and present danger. Ominously for civilisation, sea levels at these temperatures were 12 to 32 metres (39-105 feet) higher than they are now. At the beginning of 2016, the prospect was for a 6 metre (20 foot) increase by the end of this century. This will affect people alive right now, like this writer’s grand nieces and nephews, and even himself, at nearly 60. Coastal towns near Melbourne have lost their beaches.
While individual severe weather events can’t be directly connected to global warming, the increases in such events point to climate change. The average number of tornados is increasing, and in places where they were rare. Cyclones and hurricanes seem to be increasing in intensity. And, as the oceans warm, these storms are moving toward the poles, as those who experienced Hurricane Sandy in the U.S. and Typhoon Lionrock in Japan can attest. And the intensity of both heavy rainfall events and drought around the world are increasing. This writer lost workmates in the horrible and unprecedented wildfires that affected the countryside near his hometown in 2009.
Disappearance of ocean life and glaciers. Ninety-three percent of the increase in atmospheric temperature is absorbed by the oceans. Corals haven’t been able to adapt to the higher temperatures. Off Australia’s east coast, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral system in the world. In 2016, it experienced a catastrophic die-off that left a third of it dead. Such declines are a global phenomenon, and 25 percent of marine species depend on coral reefs for existence. And 500 million people depend on them for sustenance and economic survival.
In late 2016, it was found that the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica has an unstable area that is on its way to collapse and will contribute an additional more than two metres (7 ft) of sea level rise. Add to this the rapid melting of mountain glaciers everywhere, reducing fresh water supplies. That water also goes into the sky as water vapour, which then acts as another greenhouse gas.
Science versus denialism. The term “climate emergency” may sound alarmist, but scientists from all over are sounding this warning. We face a global crisis which threatens everything familiar about the world we love. For example: A study in the journal Nature has concluded “that 15 to 37 percent of species … will be ‘committed to extinction’” by 2050 due to climate change.
There’s nothing wrong with healthy skepticism, which is part of the scientific method of advancing knowledge. But the professional apologists for the energy industry are bought off spin doctors. A Drexel University study cited in Scientific American found that “140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010” alone. The paid scientists and lobbyists who deny that putting extra carbon into the air threatens the environment are simply liars.
Before capitalism, the Earth’s carbon cycle maintained a balance between carbon in the atmosphere and that stored in rocks. This balance helped keep temperatures relatively stable, like a thermostat. To understand how important this balance is, we only have to look at Venus, a planetary hell hole where all the carbon is in the atmosphere and surface temperatures are 462 degrees Celsius (864F).
A world to save. Some outright alarmists claim that we’ll be extinct in 10 to 100 years. They are simply counseling despair. Pessimism gets us nowhere, and united action by those who realise how high the stakes are can change the game.
All over the globe, people are taking action to counter the scourge of the climate disaster. What is crucial is to recognize the huge scope of action that the situation demands.
Recycling and installing solar panels are fine, but limited actions. Individual solutions cannot turn around a planetary crisis. We need massive, organized, collective action, from greatly expanding mass transit to rapidly implementing renewable energy to applying new technologies to combat global warming.
Mass movements have risen up around the world to fight for the future. They include mobilisations in Australia that banned hydraulic fracturing in several states, the battle of South American tribes to halt logging of the Amazon rainforest, struggles in the U.S. against the Keystone XL pipeline, the Lummi tribe’s victory in stopping the Cherry Point coal port in Washington state, and the heroic fight of the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
There can be no underestimation of the challenges facing humanity. Capitalism has shown that it is incapable of putting humans or the planet ahead of profit. Capitalism simply takes with all the subtlety of a chainsaw clear-felling the forest. It steals our labour and separates us from the rest of the ecosystem and pits working people against each other. Only an ecosocialist international movement can mitigate, and then turn around the destruction of the only world we have.
Socialism is what humanity did for the 98 percent of our existence before the rise of private property. We planned for our people’s common good and co-operated. We built and nurtured. That is what we humans are good at, absent an economy based on destruction. That is socialism and, spread globally, is a philosophy with the clear goal of preserving our diversity and the diversity of the planetary ecosystem.
The wonderful water protectors of Standing Rock, in the Dakotas, have joined indigenous peoples on almost every continent to say “no more!” They have a derisory term for the pipeline defiling their land. They call it the Black Snake. Globally, it’s a good metaphor for capitalism — an ugly blight on the planet; a bringer of destruction and death and ugliness and division. So, here’s what we need to do to preserve our earth. Make capitalism extinct — well before 2100. Collectively, we need to cut the head off the Black Snake.
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