Monday, November 19, 2007

The Meltdown


I am not referring to the global finance crunch. I've had a look at the latest IPCC report, and I'm afraid we're in for worse than we thought. Forget about being boiled and cramped like cattle on the tube, and thousands dying during heatwaves. 20-30% of animal and plant species may end up extinct if global average temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees above the levels of the late twentieth century; if they exceed 3.5 degrees above, then between 40% and 70% will be lost. It is beyond my powers of imagination to describe to you what that would look like, but we are talking about a total breakdown of the food-chain. We already knew that food shortages would be a tremendous problem, and that the likely temperature increases in some parts of the world would de-fertilise crops. What would a world short of 70% of its plant and animal species look like? The report refers to "frequent coral bleaching events" with "widespread mortality". There is likely to be more frequent incidence of extreme weather events. The worst sufferers will be the poor and the elderly, particularly those in less developed parts of the globe. Many "semi-arid" areas such as southern Africa and the western United States will go dry. This comes after previous reports that by 2100 one third of the planet or half of the land surface area will be desert. Other reports suggest that a sudden transformation in global temperatures is possible, and would result in the drowning of most of the world's population centres This is a global holocaust in preparation, and the newspapers are preparing for it by urging us to fly off to the tourist hot-spots before they are underwater or unliveable.

Well, there's no point in investing hopes in the Bali negotiations, since these are merely talks about what might be talked about in future. One of the real evils of parliamentarist politics has been the inculcating of political passivity, which amounts to the exclusion of the masses from politics. We are thus in the position where almost everyone knows that there is a huge crisis brewing and that it will probably affect them in their lifetime, and yet few people know how to act. Politicians promise solutions that are not solutions at all - or as with Bush's biofuels answer, will add to the problem. And of course, there is a global industry devoted to befuddling people, which makes it fortunate that the IPCC devoted a whole section to the history and structure of advances in climate change science [pdf]. It seems to me that the IPCC's reports could do with being distilled into a brief, digestible layman's account, and distributed widely. Free, if possible. That is how urgent the information campaign is, and that is one thing a socialist government do. Secondly, we need to build environmental politics into every left-wing organisation, and every trade union. The solution cannot and will not emerge from the existing economic system, which makes its radical transformation more urgent than ever. Now is the time more than ever to be deeply suspicious of 'market-led' solutions to climate change, since these tend to punish the poor without changing the fundamentals that are producing the problem. And quite apart from anything else, it is a question of social justice: we are all trapped in this problem, especially those who have done least to cause it, and therefore we must socialise the solution. The world belongs to everyone.