From the October 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
I am a difficult person to please when it comes to weather. Having lived all my life in Britain, I find the climate too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer.
Imagine my dismay then, when, among the dross and the drivel that passes for television in this country, a recent edition of the BBC ‘Horizon’ programme forecast that within twenty years, Britain’s climate could be similar to Alaska’s, with 1963-type winters every year, pack ice around the British coast and ice storms regularly bringing down electricity and telephone lines. The effects of global warming are melting the Greenland icecap, and increased rainfall is pouring more water into the great rivers of Siberia, which drain huge areas of Asia and flow northwards into the Arctic Ocean.
The effect of all this extra fresh water at high northern latitudes is to interfere with the circulation of the Gulf Stream, or the ‘Conveyor’ as it is now known. The Conveyor prevents Britain, which is in the same latitude as Labrador, having a harsh Labrador type climate. Warm water from the Gulf of Mexico crosses the Atlantic, and after warming up Britain and Ireland, continues northwards and ensures that Norway’s ports are ice free. The contrast with Sweden could not be starker. Sweden exports much of its iron ore through Norwegian ports, because Swedish ports have a tendency to ice up in the winter, as the Baltic does not get the benefit of the Gulf Stream.
The circulation of the Conveyor is dependent on the water maintaining its salinity. Fresh water does not convey the heat as efficiently. Observations off the Faeroe Islands have revealed that the cold water returning southwards on its way back to the Caribbean is 20 percent less saline than it should be. Based on these observations, climatologists are forecasting that sometime in the next twenty years, the Gulf Stream could shut off. The results would be catastrophic for the whole of North Western Europe. And this is not merely a scientific theory. The Faeroe Islands studies demonstrate that the process could well have already started.
Nobody can be 100 percent certain that the phenomenon of global warming is due to human activity. What can be said with certainty is that if it is a natural process which would have occurred anyway, capitalism’s indifference to the future of the planet is exacerbating a problem which has the potential to end life on Earth. Earth Summit after Earth Summit have achieved little or nothing. While capitalism fiddles, Rome burns; huge holes m the ozone layer, the retreat of the glaciers and rising sea levels are problems that are beyond the ability of capitalism to solve, with its concern for profits, and its competing network of two hundred mini-capitalisms, the nation states.
We may be facing a stark choice: a socialist world community or no world at all. It has long been the view of the Socialist Party that capitalism will not collapse of its own accord; it will have to be abolished. So the victory of the case for socialism depends on a change of climate in political thinking. It would be as well, in terms of our own future, that this should be the only serious climatic change we have to face.