Climate change crisis - not a natural disaster

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Climate talks collapse as thousands die in man-made floods, drought and forest fires

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 158 – December 2000/January 2001

‘It is no longer a question of whether the earth's climate will change but rather when, where and by how much.'

 The world is getting warmer and the consequences are already showing. In mid-November, 180 governments met in The Hague, Holland under serious pressure to act. Yet despite the recognition that a severe crisis is imminent, the polluting nations, led by the United states, refused to cut carbon emissions and the talks collapsed. Meanwhile, time is running out for planet earth.

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio Janeiro, Brazil, world leaders signed the United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as recognition that climate change posed a serious threat to the earth. The treaty did no more than request that signatories draw up proposals to limit carbon emissions. The world returned to a dream state and little change took place.

It had a serious awakening in 1996. The Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of 2,000 scientists and climate specialists from around the world, revealed that 'there is a discernible human influence on the global climate'. They concluded that 'world-wide cuts in carbon dioxide of at least 60-70% are necessary to guarantee no further increase in atmospheric concentrations'. Climate change was back on the agenda.

In 1997 the world's governments agreed to the Kyoto Protocol which required them to protect the climate system and called for a reduction in carbon emissions from the industrialised countries by the year 2012. The agreed targets would be legally binding.

There is good reason for this. The twentieth century's 10 warmest years were all within the last 15 years. 1998 was the warmest year since records began and 1999 was not far behind.

Weather records show that the average global temperature has risen 0.3 to 0.6 °C since 1890. The IPCC states that 'small changes in the mean climate can produce relatively large changes in the frequency of extreme events'

Natural disasters over the past year alone include:

  • November 1999, India. 10,000 killed and whole villages washed into the Bay of Bengal, after a cyclone tears through Orissa.
  • December 1999, Venezuela. 30,000 killed and 150,000 made homeless as the country is struck by torrential floods and mudslides.
  • December 1999, France. 83 people are killed by storms and many left without power.
  • February 2000, Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa. 100,000 flee their homes as floods sweep through the three countries, sparking fears of a disease epidemic.
  • April 2000, Kenya and Ethiopia. 8 million face drought and forest fires which devastate crops.
  • May 2000, northern India. 100 million suffer drought in the third successive year without rain.
  • August 2000, north-east India. 400 killed and 4.5 million made homeless by flooding which devastates crops and infrastructure
  • August 2000, USA. 4.3 million acres of forest burn in forest fires.
  • November 2000, Britain, eastern Australia, and northern Italy. Thousands of people evacuate their homes after torrential rains.

Kyoto promises forgotten

Three years after the Kyoto conference, only 30 governments have ratified the protocol. No major industrial nations have legally bound themselves to the targets. Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised nations would be committed to reducing their overall emissions by 5.2% over the next decade. Given that emission reductions of 60-80% are needed, the Kyoto target is a vital first step that is being ignored.

The real obstacle is the capitalist lobby, the multinationals and imperialist governments that represent them. Their only concern is profit. Imperialist governments protect their industries and evade responsibility for climate change. In Britain, representatives from multinationals are at the heart of government, determining policy and defending their business interests. This is what happened in The Hague.

Talks collapsed because, refusing to put checks on its national industry which is responsible for high carbon emissions, the US attempted to quota barter. This means buying up unused entitlements from countries where heavy industry is collapsing, such as Russia and the Ukraine. Even within countries companies have already started bidding for each others reduced emission. Furthermore the measurement criteria are corruptible. For example the US wants to avoid fines by buying up forests and not cutting them down, pumping carbon dioxide into oceans, or spreading iron solution across the surface of the Antarctic to simulate plankton growth. Such schemes shamelessly finance environmental destruction by hiding behind the Kyoto Protocol.

Meanwhile there is little recognition in the imperialist bloc that the poorest countries are suffering because of pollution. Tony Blair has the arrogance to say 'industrialised countries must work with developing countries to help them combat climate change'. Yet the reality is that while Britain emits 9.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, countries like Honduras emit just 0.7 per person. In fact:

  • 45% of world carbon dioxide comes from the G8 countries.
  • The USA holds just 4.5% of the world's population, but emits 22% of the world's greenhouse gases.
  • India holds 17% of the world's population, but emits 4.2% of the world's greenhouse gases.

Danger signals revealing the destructive effects of capitalism on the environment have been flashing for over 40 years. Capitalism should be jamming on the brakes but instead it pushes down harder on the accelerator. There will be no answer within a capitalist system. The latest failure to introduce even token carbon reductions, backs this up.

An alternative to destruction

Back in 1983 Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionaries published a pamphlet titled: The world economic and social crisis — its impact on the underdeveloped countries, its sombre prospects and the need to struggle if we are to survive. Describing the catastrophe unfolding in poor nations and the impact of multinational expansion, Castro states ‘man's actions on the environment, are increasingly causing changes in the stability, organisation, balance, interaction and even survival of the earth's main ecological systems.'

At the 1992 Rio Summit Fidel Castro gave his celebrated speech `Tomorrow is too late — development and the environment crisis in the Third World'. He warned the developed world to: 'Stop transferring to the Third World lifestyles and consumer habits that ruin the environment ... Use science to achieve sustainable development without pollution. Pay the ecological debt instead of the foreign debt. Eradicate hunger, not humanity...Tomorrow will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.' He concluded: 'Humanity can still stop and reverse the destruction of the environment ... but time is running out.'

At the Millennium Summit this September, Castro warned: 'Nature is being devastated. The climate is changing under our eyes and drinking water is increasingly contaminated or scarce.' He continues: ‘There is nothing in the existing economic and political order that can serve the interests of humankind' and concludes 'the dream of having truly fair and sensible rules to guide human destiny seems impossible to many. However, we are convinced that the struggle for the impossible should be the motto ... '

The deadly hand of capital was present at The Hague. Greenpeace called it 'the moment when governments abandoned the promise of global co-operation to protect planet Earth'. It is clear that to combat climate change and its devastating effects, we must change the present world order, before it is too late.

Susan Rose

What is climate change?

Solar energy from the sun drives the earth's weather systems, the climate and heats the earth's sur-face. Most of this energy is emitted back into space. Some is trapped in the Earth's atmosphere by a layer of `greenhouse gases', mainly carbon dioxide. Plants and animals absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen, maintaining the balance of gases in the atmosphere for the last 10,000 years.

However, the industrial revolution meant that human activity interfered with the natural cycle. Burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere.

Most man-made greenhouse gas emissions are carbon dioxide, released by burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity and transportation. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by around 30% in the last 200 years.

Many recent 'natural disasters' are caused by climate change, in reality an entirely man-made disaster.