Photo: Tar sands refinery in Alberta, Canada.
As we approach the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, much of the world is hopeful that some meaningful binding resolution will come out of the talks. All scientific evidence supports that climate change is here, it is caused by human behavior and if we don’t take measures immediately to drastically curb greenhouse house gas (GHG) emissions and consumption levels, we will face catastrophic climate change.
While the EU is pushing for a legally binding climate deal to come from the Paris talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated, there is “definitively not going to be a treaty” and there are “not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto.”
This means more empty promises and little action coming from the biggest per capita polluter—the United States—with over two times that of China per capita.
Of course even if a legally binding agreement comes out, who will enforce it? The United States has a long history of defying international law and acting unilaterally in imperialist wars and interventions around the globe.
The U.S. in past climate talks has pointed the finger at China in particular and other developing countries as guilty of polluting and not matching the commitments of the developed world. But this June, China committed to cut emissions by 65 percent of 2005 levels and pledged $3.1 billion in aid to developing countries to combat climate change. Compare this to the United States’ comparatively weak pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32 percent of 2005 levels by the year 2030. With power plants accounting for only one third of overall U.S. emissions, this pledge falls short of any sincere effort.
Last year, China spent $83.3 billion on renewable energy development with the U.S. in a distant second place at $38.3 billion. China is the leader in hydro and wind capacity and comes in second after Germany’s solar program. Despite the demonization of China for coal use, China reduced coal use by 2.9 percent last year on top of a 7.4 percent growth in the economy.
TPP: act of climate denial
Any commitments by the United States ring hollow as Obama attempts to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress.
Jason Kowalski, policy director of 350.org stated, “The TPP is an act of climate denial. While the text is full of handouts to the fossil fuel industry, it doesn’t mention the words climate change once.” It gives “fossil fuel companies the extraordinary ability to sue local governments that try and keep fossil fuels in the ground … If a province puts a moratorium on fracking, corporations can sue; if a community tries to stop a coal mine, corporations can overrule them. In short, these rules undermine countries’ ability to do what scientists say is the single most important thing we can do to combat the climate crisis: keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Under the free trade model that exploded in the 1990s, emissions from trade have increased by 400% along with shipping of materials and goods, part and parcel of outsourcing production from the developed world to the developing world. (“This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” Naomi Klein)
These same agreements allow corporations to violate local environmental regulations and labor laws going so far as to sue governments if they in any way impede their ability to make profits. This model is at its core irreconcilable with the path to a sustainable world.
The latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin states that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 397.7ppm in 2014 with carbon levels increasing by 143 percent, nitrous oxide by 121 percent, and methane by 254 percent since 1750.
2015 is on the path to being the hottest year on record as we reach the threshold of 1 degree C of warming since the industrial era began.
Scientists warn that in order to stay below 2 degrees C of warming total emissions must leave more than 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Going beyond a 2 degree C increase is predicted to be catastrophic for life on Earth.
But capitalism marches on. For fossil fuel companies it is business as usual. “In 2013, fossil fuel companies spent some $670bn (£443bn) on exploring for new oil and gas resources. One might ask why they are doing this when there is more in the ground than we can afford to burn,” says University College London Professor Paul Ekins, who conducted a study on current corporate and government investments.
California has the most aggressive GHG reduction plan in the nation. Initiated with Assembly Bill 32, California is required to reduce GHG’s to 1990 levels by 2020, but California is one state in one country trying to address a global problem. These measures, while they hope to inspire other regions to change, are powerless to implement the immediate widespread measures that are necessary to avert climate catastrophe.
A 2010 Stanford study by Mark Jacobson shows that with current technology we can provide all the energy needs of the planet using wind, water and solar power. The report states, “We suggest producing all new energy with WWS by 2030 and replacing the pre-existing energy by 2050. Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic.”
The opening for incremental changes and modest regulations ended decades ago. Over those decades, the corporations which mine and burn coal and oil, and which dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere have been unresponsive to calls to transform, to do anything significant that could damage their “competitive edge.” We cannot wait for the corporations—that in reality hold power over the government—to give up their massive profits from fossil fuels and the over production of unnecessary goods, to decide that the planet and people are more important.
Regulatory agencies are weak in the face of Big Oil, gas and coal with their fleets of lawyers and lobbyists that all the environmental groups combined can never match. Additionally, regulation takes a piecemeal approach combined with a lack of coordination and political will between various agencies and the private sector. For example, government agencies that regulate air pollution have no control over how many cars are on the road, which is the main source of GHG emissions. They have no control over accessibility to public transit or smart growth, which contribute greatly to the need for individuals to drive cars. They have no control over the auto manufacturing companies and the affordability of zero emission vehicles.
Solutions for a new world
How can we globally resolve the issue of climate change before it becomes a catastrophe? Can we completely change our system from one of competition and consumption to one of cooperation, sustainability and adaptation? The scientists and engineers of the world have the solutions and are showing that incremental changes and voluntary incentives are now too little and too late. How can we foment the political will of our governments to implement the necessary changes?
We need a globally coordinated effort between the world’s leading scientists and engineers working with global leaders and communities to make the best use of technologies and resources. We need a system of planned economy and production to reduce waste and curb over consumption and to funnel resources toward global change adaptation and renewable technologies.
We need to take control from the corporations who only seek to maximize profits at the expense of the planet. We cannot solve this crisis through the corporate model and the capitalist system that relies on the whim of the market to determine what is produced and in what quantity; where corporations compete for cutting edge technologies and undermine each other’s research and patent new discovers as private property to be profited from.
In socialist Cuba, there is cooperation and a pooling of knowledge and resources within all sectors of society and with the outside world. Through this model, Cuba has repeatedly been the only nation to achieve sustainable development despite the 53-year-long devastating economic blockade imposed by the U.S. that severely restricts Cuba’s ability to trade. Sustainable development is determined by ecological footprint combined with a country’s Human Development Index (HDI) which rates nations on life expectancy, literacy and education.
Cuba has implemented extensive polyculture organic agriculture and urban gardens that eliminate the emissions from transport of food from rural to urban centers. Organic urban farms provide 100% of Havana’s consumption needs for produce along with 60,000 urban patios.
Cuba has the largest and best preserved wetland area in the Caribbean and reforestation programs as well as reclamation of discarded industrial areas in Havana.
An area once a garbage dump in the neighborhood of Poglotti is now a woodland area. “The reforestation project was an initiative of the community itself, and was supported from the outset by local authorities and the Metropolitan Park of Havana, the institution in charge of environmental management of part of the city’s “green belt.”
Cuba demonstrates another way. Their grassroots participatory democracy along with centralized planning and distribution of resources is an efficient means to address the needs of society. In 2006, the government implemented the Year of Energy Revolution and distributed ten million energy efficient light bulbs and over 6 million rice cookers and pressure cookers free of charge to the population along with other energy efficient appliances. Under capitalism, this would not be possible, and the corporations would likely sue the government for inhibiting their profits.
There is a living model for how sustainability can be achieved. If the world is serious about taking action on climate change, world leaders should be studying the Cuban system and adopting it.
Our hopes cannot lie in the politicians to save us or that the “1%” will have a change of heart and stop destroying the planet out of greed. Our hope lies in ourselves. We collectively have the power and the skills to reorganize society in a sustainable way. We need a system, like the Cuban model, that utilizes the world’s resources to sustain and improve life for everyone on the planet; that puts life over profit.
We need to continue to build and strengthen the global people’s movement to demand that change. Leading up to the Paris talks and beyond, we need to be in the streets to demand “System Change, Not Climate Change!” Join us.