By Stuart Jordan
Freak weather conditions have emerged with increasing frequency over the last few years. This summer has seen two million people on the Indian sub-continent have their villages submerged by flood water, an extended heat wave in continental Europe and the worst floods in centuries in the UK.
So has the recent weather convinced everyone that global warming is happening and we better be prepared? Well some parts of big business have stopped denying the reality of climate change, but are now saying that it is not caused by human activity, that it is a natural phenomenon. That it has nothing to do with 200 years of fossil fuel burning and the destruction of the rain forest. The scientists on the payroll of big business are now coming up with a whole lot of new “proofs” that climate change is ‘natural’.
But whether or not July’s floods were a direct result of increased CO2 emissions or not is largely by-the-by. The question is what is society going to do about the massive ecological problems the planet faces — crop failure, mass migration, resource scarcity and freak weather. The UK’s political establishment’s failure to deal with the relatively minor problem of flood water raises some scary questions.
It is scary. One of the main problems with climate change as a phenomena is that it leaves people feeling completely helpless. We wake up in the morning, the weather is weird, some people have lost their homes, a couple of people have drowned, what to do? The most pathetic scene in July was the group of Oxford residents demonstrating “Enough” in the face of the approaching disaster.
We need real, concrete solutions. The starting point for developing those solutions is to to develop a critical response to capitalist solutions.
Do the people who rule the world have any interest in stopping climate change or putting in place adequate provision to deal with the fallout? Yes, but only if it helps to maintain their profit margins. The main conclusion of the government-sponsored Stern Report on climate change, published in January this year, was that if we don’t act soon then it will be bad for business. But to some capitalists climate change may be an opportunity to expand and grow — Russia for instance has takeng advantage of the melting of the North Pole in order to do some underwater exploration for new oil and mineral deposits. And because capitalist profit making relies on the commodification of everything — including healthcare, education, social housing — the world ends up cluttered with stuff. Only people with money can afford to live ecologically sustainable lifestyles! Capitalism is a waste of energy and its insatiable demand for evermore growth is surely at the root of our present ecological crisis.
Even if you do not buy into all or some of this it is now starkly clear that capitalism cannot, will not deal with the consequences of global warming.
In the UK 100,000 homes have been lost in a flood that could have been predicted years ago.
The cost of the flood is predicted to be £1.3 billion. Government aid to the affected communities stands at a puny £3 million.
With already over two million properties in Britain standing on flood plains, the government’s solution to the housing crisis is build on more flood plains!
These houses will not be publicly-owned democratically-controlled social housing but houses built by property developers and multi-million pound housing associations. These companies will be doing all they can to shirk their responsibility to provide adequate flood defences in the pursuit of a quick buck.
The Environment Agency, involved in managing the disaster, were less interested in saving the people from the rising tide, but more interested in stuffing their pockets with public money. The executives of the EA have just awarded themselves a bonus as part of a performance review. Baronness Young the CEO decided that she had done such a good job that she deserved a £24,000 bonus on top of her £163,000. The other seven executives all agreed with Young’s analysis and followed suit. This is after the National Audit Office criticised the EA for failing to maintain the flood defences in 50% of the most high risk areas.
Dealing with the terrible affects of climate change will require all resources — material, scieintific, technological — aimed at serving the public good. This will not be achieved by overpaid bureaucrats being paid vast amounts of money to set targets, cost-savings and building infrastructure on the cheap.
In the long-run we need to take stop relying on insurance companies, bourgeois politicians and their hired hands, but take collective, democratic control of the world’s resources.
This project is not a present reality. We need to build a movement that can fight for that project. Socialist ideas can help us do that. Socialists see human labour as the key to making, creating and changing the world for the better. From Pentium processors, the bricks and mortar that make our houses, to the clothes on our backs, human labour rearranged the raw matter of the earth to transform the world. Capitalism has been able to organise labour very effectively but on the principle of short-term, individual gain for the capitalists and the wealthy. It is fundamentally incapable of serving a collective good, serving the majority and will do the bare minimum to preserve its labour force. Ultimately the majority can learn to live collectively and will in those circumstance be able to summon up the means, ideas, technology and whatever it takes for humanity and the planet to survive the worst flooding, hurricanes and droughts.