It’s impossible to say whether the extreme destructiveness of Hurricane Irma was due to global warming, but its intensity demonstrates the forces we can expect to be unleashed now average global temperature is above that 125,000 years ago during the last interglacial. During this interglacial, when homo sapiens was confined to Africa, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps melted. The current interglacial which we are now living through began only 11 thousand years ago. The Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps have yet to melt, but, accelerated by human CO2 emission, this is now happening. When the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps melted 125,000 years ago, sea levels rose some 4 to 6 meters above the current level. If they melt again, as is expected, sea levels will again rise by a similar amount.
No one knows for sure how quickly the ice sheets will melt or where the process will stop. A completely ice free world would result in a drowned world with sea levels some 70 metres above current levels. Unless a tipping point is reached first, this is currently thought unlikely in this century, but the direction of travel given our dependency on fossil fuels and the profits that can be derived from their extraction is clear enough.
Can humanity cope with increases in sea levels of 4 to 6 meters or more? Go to http://flood.firetree.net, feed in your own predictions and fears and judge for yourself the effect on shorelines and how you and yours will be directly affected. But the amount of currently dry land that will be below sea level is only part of the problem. As Hurricane Irma and recent floods in Texas, the Caribbean and India demonstrate, water moves and it is surges, precipitous rainfall and wind that cause the real damage rather than the slow encroachment of the sea. Living a few hundred feet above sea level will not secure your future or that of your children – unless, that is, you are part of the capitalist elite.
One reason for the lack of enthusiasm in tackling CO2 emissions – look for example at how the issue was ignored in reaching the decision on Heathrow expansion – is that capitalists, those who own the means of production and thus don’t have to sell their labour to live, are pretty confident that they will survive the coming global climatic catastrophe. They are strengthened in this view by robotisation, the accelerating substitution of labour by machines, giving them an implicit belief that they can become self-sufficient provided they are supported by a servant class. The 1% need, say, 2% to serve them, leaving the 97% superfluous to their needs.
Scared? You should be. Global warming is probably unstoppable even if the political will existed to try. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot be slowed or that our world will shortly (i.e. by the end of the century) become uninhabitable. The choice is between: letting the 3% survive and the rest of us perish; and starting out on the road to building a communist society which meets the needs of everyone. Given where we are starting from, that means building the Communist Party – now, in Croydon and everywhere.