The Paris Agreement (COP21) in December 2016 is intended to encourage fuel efficiency and develop non-fossil fuels so as to limit global warming to 1.50C above pre-industrial levels. Will it?
The USA has given notice that it will withdraw from COP21 by 2020. This will not help, but the strategy itself is flawed. As the discussion paper on Global Warming from the Communist University in South London (CUiSL), currently in the proof reading stage, argues, catastrophic climate change will only be avoided if fossil fuels are left in the ground. There is, however, no indication that this is happening. According to a forecast from the International Energy Agency, annual fossil fuel consumption is set to increase by the equivalent of 82 trillion barrels of oil by 2040[i]. This is 14% more than at present and is forecast despite a forecast increase in renewable and nuclear energy of 67% by 2040. These will still be contributing less than a quarter of our energy by 2040.
This failure to act to halt global warming should not surprise us. As the CUiSL discussion paper also argues, capitalism is simply incapable of addressing global warming. Its rationale is the accumulation of capital by generating profits. Due to market-based discounting, its time horizons are too near, leading it to under-estimate catastrophe in coming decades; there is simply too much profit to be made today and in future from fossil fuel extraction to leave it in the ground; and there is too much capital tied up in fossil fuel extraction to see it written off. Whether or not every apologist for capitalism recognises it, their mantra is “Pump, baby pump”. Ours should be borrowed from the Cubans: Socialismo o muerte (Socialism or death). Cubans use it to affirm their willingness to die to defend their system. We need to adopt it in recognition that our system, capitalism, will kill our grandchildren if we don’t begin to take steps now to replace it with socialism.
In the final paragraph of his book, Stepping Stones, the making of our Home World, Steve Drury concludes that:
a mere 10 thousand years of human history has created economic chains that stifle such potential and increasingly endanger its survival. It seems to me that if history is to continue being recorded and sifted through, the next stepping stone is consciously to break those chains.
As communists we heartily endorse this conclusion, but we may not all be fully aware of how we got here. Marxists tend to study history and pre-history back to the end of the last Ice Age, but Steve Dury takes us from when our planet was formed some four and a half billion years ago and, drawing on the latest scientific evidence, explains everything with stunning clarity and insight. You can still find copies of the original hardback first edition (Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0 19 850271 0) if you hunt round for them but he has now generously published a revised, second edition as an e-book here . Both this and the revised second e-edition cannot be recommended highly enough. Day to day political and economic analysis and knockabout is all very well, but, in addition, we all need to be aware of the long term view..
It’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time that, contrary to the establishment view, capitalism is not the permanent and definitive form of society, it is merely a transitionary phase in human development with a finite shelf life. There are a number of developments in the 21st Century that will make its survival into the 22nd highly problematical. These include:
- global warming and capitalism’s inability to deal with the cause – society’s dependence on fossil fuels;
- as predicted by Marxist economic theory (and largely ignored by non-Marxists), increasingly severe economic crises due to the over-accumulation of capital and a long-term tendency for the rate of profit to decline;
- increasing inequality and the failure of more humane variants of capitalism such as the Swedish social democratic model to survive; and
The last item is frequently overlooked. Growing world population clearly represents a threat to humanity’s survival but the greater threat to capitalism’s survival may come from its relative success in extending the average life of ordinary working people – assuming that is that the profits driven pharmaceutical industry doesn’t botch its response to the next pandemic or the equally profit greedy food manufacturers don’t kill us with obesity and diabetes generating food. Data published last week by the Office for National Statistics predict that a girl born between 2010 and 2012 can now expect to live until 82.8 while a boy is expected to live until 79. The previous predictions in 2005 were 80.6 and 76 respectively. The immediate response from the so-called pension ‘industry’ was that the state pension age will have to rise much faster than currently anticipated by the government “almost inevitably reaching at least 70 by the middle of the century”. Their motive, of course, is the huge profits they make peddling ‘personal pensions’, but there can be little doubt that the government will comply with their wishes.
What are we to make of this? By the middle of the century capitalism will have created an immensely wealthy 1% who own practically everything (where we live, the land beneath our feet, the services on which we rely) and who, apart from an ambitious, competitive minority, will neither wish nor have to work. For the remaining 99%, we will be required to work (or claim survival level ‘benefits’) well beyond any age at which we might be considered competent. Nonagenarian bus drivers? I don’t think so. Old people on jobseekers allowance? Much more likely!
The alternative is, of course, socialism which, in its fully developed form, has been described by Marx as from each according to their means, to each according to their need. While it will become immensely attractive to the exploited majority, it won’t, however, happen by itself. It will take organisation and effort. That’s where we in the Croydon CP and socialists and communists across the county and worldwide come in.
Sir Howard Davies’ long-awaited report from the Airports Commission was finally published last week. Predictably, he delivered what Big Business wanted: a recommendation to build a new runway, ideally at Heathrow, and silence on the impact it would have on the UK’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 2050. Howard Davies is, however, an expert at looking the other way when needed. He was the founding Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, luckily standing down sufficiently prior to the financial crash in 2006-7 to escape the criticism heaped on the head of his hapless successor. No matter – he had delivered for his political masters the ‘light touch’ self regulatory regime they wanted. How could he be blamed that it was totally unfit for purpose? His subsequent career as Director of the LSE did come unstuck following its acceptance of money from Gaddafi – looking the wrong way again but this time a self-confessed “error of judgment”. Just the man then the government needed as Chairman of the Airports Commission!
As Greenpeace commented, the topic of carbon emissions is largely absent from Howard Davies’ report. Where it is addressed, it is with calls for marginal improvements such as increasing airport charges for older aircraft and mandating “green slots” under which less polluting aircraft take up the new capacity. No doubt aware of this deficiency, Davies wrote to Lord Deben of the Climate Change Committee when the report was published, pointing to the need for “a more significant package of measures” than appeared in his report. His ideas for these? A huge increase in the carbon price, which would presumably obviate the need for a new runway in the first place, and the pipe dream of bio fuels to replace aviation oil. It cannot be produced without reducing food production and starving the poorITS .
Frequent flyers are predominately drawn from the wealthiest 10% of the population. 15% of the British population who flew three or more times last year accounted for 70% of all flights. More than half the UK population took no flights at all. We don’t need a new runway – we need the wealthy to fly less frequently. Building more runways at Heathrow or Gatwick is not the way to go about this.