Monday, December 14, 2009
The Ecology posted by Richard SeymourFrom summit to nadir so quickly? Copenhagen was, according to the most powerful state leaders represented at it, a flop from the beginning. Obama said so, and he wouldn't lie to me. But not only is Copenhagen almost a complete waste of time as far as securing real measures to prevent climate change are concerned. Even the most ambitious rhetoric doesn't address the reality of the reforms required. Gordon Brown claims that he wants to reduce carbon emissions by 30% from 1990 levels by 2020. He does not appear to be taking any measures, unilaterally or multilaterally, to actually accomplish such a reduction. But perhaps he doesn't have to do too much. This is in part because, as George Monbiot points out, 'carbon offsetting' is factored into the overall target - so, the UK may continue to expand its polluting industries, particularly air travel, and will purchase carbon credits from other countries.
Based on the current arrangements, that means that the poorest countries, would have to buy sell so many carbon credits that they would end up reducing their total carbon emissions by 60% while the richer countries reduce theirs by only 40%. This limits the development capacities of those nations in need of development, while placing the burden of climate reform on those least responsible for the greenhouse gas effect. Quite aside from the issue of justice, the current targets agreed by the G8 countries currently dominating discussions in Copenhagen would not actually reduce carbon emissions enough to prevent global temperatures rising by 2 degrees - which itself may not be the best target anyway. Recall that a recent IPCC report predicted that 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. This would in itself be a catastrophic shock to the ecosystem upon which we appear to depend. And if the temperature does rise by more than 2 degrees, then the likelihood of 60% of the populated surface of the earth being flooded does rise substantially.
But the summit is also, if the 'Danish text' is any guide, the means by which the representatives of wealthy capitalist nation-states will further assert their dominance over the poor. More power is to be accumulated by the rich countries, and unequal limits on carbon emissions are to be imposed. These efforts have already resulted in a brief rebellion by African countries at the talks, who say that the rich countries are trying to overthrow Kyoto. The text also allows for developed countries to derive targets based on their own standards, rather than basing them on the science. Now, some commentators say that the release of such a draft document is not all that significant, that the circulation of these proposals is part of the drama of international negotiations, but that it does not necessarily preclude a more hopeful outcome to the talks. But the coincidence between the interests of the most powerful states at the summit and the measures vaunted in the text drafted at the COP suggests that something like the 'Danish text' will be the end result any way.
Now, I know what you're saying. There is nothing to worry about. The leaked e-mails from leading climatologists show that climate change is a fraud, and that global temperatures have actually declined. David Davis says so. Well, the good news is that the world's climate scientists are not engaged in an international conspiracy to defraud the public. The climate 'sceptics' are whistling dixie. Here's an effective debunking:
The bad news is, that means there is still the whole species-death thing to worry about, though the PR industry is still working assiduously to put your mind at ease on this score. Even worse news follows. Capitalism is a system of competitive accumulation and, as such, is a perpetual growth machine. The rate at which the system grows in normal circumstances has already taxed the earth's life-support systems to the limit. The effects of the amount of carbon already pumped into the atmosphere have not yet fed through the ecological systems that we depend on, meaning that we have probably already guaranteed ourselves a much more difficult - and for some, potentially unliveable - future on the planet.