Editorial from the February 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
The failure of the UN climate change conference in Madrid in December was predictable. It is now well established, and accepted by most, that the incremental increase in average global temperature that’s been going on for decades – and its long-term consequences of rising sea levels and more extreme weather – is mainly due to the past and present burning of fossil fuels releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As long as this continues, so will the slow but steady increase in global temperature.
This rise can only be countered, let alone stopped, by using other sources for generating energy that don’t release carbon dioxide and, to a lesser extent, by finding ways to reabsorb it and certainly not by destroying natural ways that do this like the Amazon and other rainforests.
If there is a known solution, why is it not being applied? Basically, it’s because we are living in a capitalist world, divided into rival states, where production is in the hands of competing, profit-seeking enterprises. Each state, claiming to represent a ‘nation’ but actually representing its ruling class, asserts ‘sovereignty’, ie exclusive political control, over a part of the globe and the natural resources it contains.
This was crudely, but honestly, stated by President Bolsonaro of Brazil who told the UN General Assembly in New York in September that the Amazon rainforest was not ‘the heritage of mankind’ but belonged to Brazil, implying that Brazil could to do what it wanted with it, including burning and chopping it down to make way for profitable mining and ranching, even if this would eventually harm other states, let alone humanity.
Brazil is not alone. All states claim that the resources within their frontiers are theirs to do what they judge best with. This is why the states which have coal, oil and gas reserves on their territory are holding up anything that would reduce their profits from exploiting their fossil fuel resources, whether for export or as the cheapest source of energy for their internal needs.
They are only defending their sectional interest as all states do. Whereas within a country there is a body – the state – that can if need be force recalcitrant profit-seeking enterprises to respect the general interest of the capitalist class there, on the world scene there is no such body. The UN is just a talking shop. There is no means of forcing fossil fuel rich states to toe the line. And they are not going to voluntarily undermine their competitiveness by using more expensive ways of generating energy when a cheaper source is to hand.
This was underlined by a report from the International Energy Agency the same month as the talking shop in Madrid that ‘coal will remain by far the biggest source of power supply worldwide in 2024 … because of demand for cheap energy in Asia’ (Times, 17 December). Being relatively cheap there, coal use in India is expected to grow by almost 5 percent a year for the next five years while Bangladesh is building five large new coal-fired power stations.
The threat of global warming is a global problem that can only be dealt with by planned action on a global scale, but capitalism’s vested interests and profit considerations are preventing this. The only framework allowing planned action is a world without borders based on the common ownership of its natural and industrial resources. That’s what those rightly concerned about the dangers of global overwarming should also be working for.