Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Climate Change and Institutional Failure

Here are some of the headlines from the IPCC report on climate change, released yesterday (summary here).

* The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.

* Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.

* Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming. They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.

* Under scenarios with increasing CO2 emissions, the ocean and land carbon sinks are projected to be less effective at slowing the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.

* Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.

* From a physical science perspective, limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality.

This makes for very grim reading. I remember being at school when the relationship between the fast food giants and tearing down the Amazon rain forest came to light. Around the same time what was then called the greenhouse effect came to public prominence, along with the holes in the ozone layer at the poles. Our geography teacher showed our class a film set in the near future of people going about their business on bikes, wrapped head to foot in swaddling to ward off the sun's deadly rays. And we were told global warming represented a threat to hundreds of millions of people. While we were learning this, the Green Party polled 15% in the 1989 EU elections, and so spooked were the mainstream parties that they began green washing their manifestos. Hit jobs were also duly commissioned on the Greens by the tabloids. I remember one future vision of Britain that appeared in either The Sun or News of the World warning us of a country that was once again a green and pleasant land, but people stood for hours in queues for rations. A fate that has come to pass thanks to deindustrialisation, 11 years of Tory government and the explosion of food banks.

The point is over 30 years on and very little has been done. Public consciousness about climate change and its dangers are acute, especially among the young who are going to spend their lives dealing with it, and more than ever politicians talk about green industry and green jobs while failing to deliver and carrying on favouring fossil fuels as if there isn't a climate emergency. Indeed, the only mainstream party to have adopted a programme committed to the action necessary to avoid catastrophe was roundly rubbished, denounced, and undermined by its own side. The government can point to the UK's fall in emissions over the decades, even joking about how Thatcher did the planet a favour by closing the mines. Yet they (self-interestedly) neglect to mention it's because what was Britain's manufacturing has been largely outsourced to places like China, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. And Tory MPs and commentators have the cheek to say we're but a minnow compared to the gargantuan amounts of carbon released by these industries when it's this country's and the West's demands helping power their growth.

The political failures of the last 30 years is staggering in its irresponsibility, and those heading up governments and boards of corporations will be lucky to not face indentured servitude on the environmental clean up units of the future. Perhaps Boris Johnson could wear the high-vis jumpsuit he's enthusiastic about for chain gangs. But while they have choices, and have made the wrong choices, the logics of their decision-making is about profitability and, crucially, the maintenance of prevailing class relationships - the ultimate root of their pandemic management too. What we're dealing with then is not institutional failure, because the institutions of state are set up to buttress minority rule. Government's default setting is to proceed as if climate change isn't a problem, because its raison d'etre is the management of populations, of making the populace safe for capital. Something the British state has proven itself to be very good at, even if it means exporting industry and importing developing world levels of poverty.

Capitalism as a global system only has one bottom line: the bottom line. In the competitive maintenance of surplus extraction and response to market signals, it is blind to the natural/social metabolism all human societies strike with their environment. As with demands of workers, capitalism has to be forced to take other priorities into consideration - something business doesn't like because it impinges on their right to manage, the relations of production themselves. In the three decades in which capital has enjoyed its unmitigated sway across the globe, the truth of this has become ever more stark. Capitalism cannot respond to or afford environmental protection, and therefore our species cannot afford capitalism. Climate change, properly tackling climate change is contingent on social and political change. Either governments adapt, the system undergoes fundamental change, or the epoch we face is one of wars and revolutions driven by the struggle to survive. Socialism or barbarism, never has choice the old slogan poses been so stark.

Image Credit


BCFG said...

“Public consciousness about climate change and its dangers are acute, especially among the young who are going to spend their lives dealing with it”

We sometimes hear the argument that we must leave a better world for our children and grandchildren. The inference here is that parents are really concerned about their offspring. I read a report which actually claimed the opposite, in other words those people with children were less likely to be concerned with environmental matters. Once again another human concern is pathological, as most of them are.

The lack of action over decades must leave us a little skeptical about all of this. The only thing that ever seems to come out of these climate scare stories are green taxes. In other words, the government doesn’t believe the conclusions of its own scientists. Moreover, while they don’t believe the science, they absolutely expect the rest of us to swallow it hook, line and sinker.

That all said, assuming the climate crisis is real, then markets will not be able to deal with any of the results. This will mean either an authoritarian bottom up movement to abolish exchange (communism) or an authoritarian top down re-ordering of present society (planned hierarchy, state capitalism, neo feudalism, call it what you want).

Even if the climate crisis is all one big conspiracy (I don’t think it is btw) then the fact that resource constraints are fast approaching (probably the main motivation for governments current action, rather than their concern for the planet), and the science of nuclear fusion is still as problematic now as it was 10 years ago, will compel action anyway.

If I was a betting man I would expect the top down approach to win the day (it is actually already in motion), but with no guarantee of success, firstly because resentment will grow at the vast inequality that will ensue, and secondly the mealy mouthed measures of the top down approach will not curtail the problem. After all, decades of taxation against the motor car has not stopped vehicle use growing year on year at alarming rates. Unless we actually ban the fuckers, stop people consuming shit they don't need etc etc nothing will be resolved.

Nothing short of the end of exchange can avoid total barbarism, which will surely be the result of a world built on mutual hostility, competition and suspicion.

But the left need to stop blaming Amazon, the fast food outlets etc and place the blame where the solution resides, i.e. at the fat bloated morons who consume fast food and the consumer idiots (many youngsters among them incidentally) who spend half their lives on amazon buying shit they do not need. After all, the morons need to know, and surely can work it out, if you attack the junk food industry you attack the shit that people are consuming and ultimately you attack their lifestyle. If communism really is to be a bottom up movement then we need to challenge that bottom, and make it fit for purpose. Attacking the elites simply reinforces the idea that salvation lies in their hands, if only they would do the decent thing!

Maybe during the next black Friday event we could round everyone up and put them in environmental protection camps. That way we will know things are finally being taken seriously!

Maybe the first act of a socialist society and one that would hopefully ram the message home, is to bring in a law preventing those ordinary, salt of the earth, simple folk, to stop concreting over their fucking gardens!

Anonymous III said...

"When the situation is hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about'." Hayduke from the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang.

When governments and the instruments of the state remain inert - which they will - it will be left to groups of humans outside the institutions of politics to take action in the protection of their environments. For Hayduke & the Monkey Wrench Gang, this meant sabotage. For them there was nothing to worry about, because defying the coercive apparatus set up to defend the interests of the polluters (capitalists) meant that getting caught was the least of their concerns.

Forty years ago, I was one of those teachers mentioned by Phil our blogger, stood in my classroom outlining to my students the horrifying trajectory for human life on earth in the near future if we continue with the current pace of eco destruction. At parents' evening, I was regularly admonished by parents, upset that I had disturbed the world view of their children. I was told I was making them unnecessarily anxious & fearful for their futures. Back in the day, us 'lefty' teachers were the Cassandras of our times. Much effort was put in by goverments, starting with Callaghan, into controlling the curriculum. Politicians of all the main parties wanted to wrestle away from teachers, what was taught, how it was taught and how it was assessed. We now have a very instrumental (British Values) national curriculum, with a succession of woeful & inept Secretarys of State for Education deciding what is taught, how it is taught and how it is assessed.

I notice that only recently the BBC bite-size revision books have had to be withdrawn. In the author's efforts to attain balance, they attempted to indentify some positives of climate change i.e. more resources, such as oil, becoming available in places such as Alaska and Siberia when the ice melts.......

I'm not sure if either of the two points above are linked in any way, except that we consciously chose barbarism a long time ago....

Graham said...

I recommend the book "Losing Earth" by Nathaniel Rich. The computer models haven't changed since the late 70's and the book starts with "by 1979, we understood nearly everything we know today about climate change - including how to stop it"

Taking the example of the tobacco industry delaying action on cancer for 40 years, the oil and gas industries have successfully denied scientific fact and undermined actions to prevent global warming for decades.

A minor example of their success was that only four years ago the BBC was still giving broadcast time to Nigel Lawson to spout his climate change denial.

Anonymous said...

Losing Earth is part of a false narrative. The problem is that we only have a very dim notion of now to stop climate change without destroying the consumer society in which we live, and it certainly cannot be done without destroying oligarchic plutocracy. The scale of reduction of carbon dioxide/gaseous hydrocarbon emissions required is too great to preserve our current economic order. Therefore the IPCC has been lying about the problem for decades even as the journalists paid by electric car and wind turbine manufacturers told us, falsely, that making a few electric cars and wind turbines would solve the problem. Now we are decades down the road and we are still cleaving to electric cars and wind turbines, which will not save us, and our governments are even more controlled by oligarchic plutocracy than before.

Graham said...

The problem with the “socialism or barbarism” response to global warming is that although it is good propaganda it leaves us with nothing to agitate for. It is the left wing mirror of the right wing survivalists hiding in Montana; there is nothing we can do so we might as well climb into our bunkers and wait for the inevitable.

We can argue that the alternative to petrol driven cars is not electric cars but buses and that the replacement for meat should be lentils not industrialised hyper processed “plant based” food.

We can make a difference and in campaigning for a socialist response to climate change make that part of a general opposition to inequality.

Capitalism is not monolithic and just as the opposition of the tobacco interests was finally overcome then that of the fossil fuel lobby can be defeated.

Otherwise we are all f**ked

Dipper said...

"Socialism or barbarism, never has choice the old slogan poses been so stark."

Remind me how well China is doing in reducing CO2 emissions. Or is their mass coal-fire power station building program somehow my fault?

BCFG said...

"The problem with the “socialism or barbarism” response to global warming is that although it is good propaganda it leaves us with nothing to agitate for"

I have offered something to agitate for, the end of exchange. I.e. no more looking shit up on amazon and buying whatever takes your fancy.

I suppose your idea of stopping the collapse of the climate and ameliorating the mass extinction taking place as we speak is Starmerism, or some bullshit Utopian market socialism, the ultimate oxymoron!

"We can argue that the alternative to petrol driven cars is not electric cars but buses and that the replacement for meat should be lentils not industrialised hyper processed “plant based” food. "

Non socialist are arguing this, as are socialists. Are you just not paying attention?

"Capitalism is not monolithic and just as the opposition of the tobacco interests was finally overcome then that of the fossil fuel lobby can be defeated."

Like that is the only problem! Whatever defeat the fossil fuel lobby even means!!!!

Anonymous said...

“Remind me how well China is doing in reducing CO2 emissions. Or is their mass coal-fire power station building program somehow my fault?”

Dipper is correct here, a communist led nation is far better economically speaking than the decrepit old capitalist market nations. This time next year Dipper will be a fully fledged communist agitator.