Saturday, May 30, 2009

Too late? (2009)

Book Review from the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Too Little, Too Late. The Politics of Climate Change. By Colin Challen. Picnic. 2009

It’s not going to happen. CO2 emissions are not going to peak by 2015 which, according to some scientists, will mean that the average world temperature will rise by more than 2ÂșC by the end of the century. Will rise? Actually, what the scientists say is that, according to the assumptions of their computer models, there is a high probability that this will happen. It is not a definite prediction. It is only amateur environmentalist campaigners who say that it will happen and that the end of the world is just about nigh.

The fact is that we don’t really know. We don’t know how realistic the scientists’ models really are and we don’t know what other, relevant events might happen between now and 2100, including what people and governments might do. To influence governments to do something is of course why campaigners sometimes exaggerate the dangers. They may well sincerely believe their own exaggerations.

If you really believe that civilization will collapse in 2100 as a consequence of the effects of global warming, then it’s logical for you to see this as the only issue worth campaigning on. You will be led, like James Lovelock, author of the Gaia hypothesis, to embrace nuclear power, despite its dangers, as the main alternative source to burning fossil funds for generating electricity. Or, like the author of this book, Colin Challen, Labour MP for Morley and Rothwell and chairman of the All Party Climate Change group, to envisage a coalition government and a committee presided over by the monarch – King Charles III? – to deal with the issue. You will certainly tell us – as we were told by CND in the 1960s – that we can’t wait for socialism as this won’t come in time, so that we should suspend campaigning for socialism in favour of campaigning on the single issue of climate change.

But this is to assume that this could be avoided without getting rid of capitalism. Challen himself provides grounds for seriously doubting this: that, in intergovernmental negotiations, “trade always trumps conservation” (p. 71) and that competition impedes agreement (“Nobody wants to see their economy damaged by another’s which itself dos not face the extra costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”, p. 93).

Which is why he himself is rather pessimistic about the prospects of CO2 emissions peaking by 2015. But even on the worst scenario – rising sea levels, displacement of populations, shifts in the balance of geopolitics – only socialism would provide the framework for dealing with the problems.
Adam Buick