The United Nations Climate Change Conference meets in Bali from 3 to 14 December. There will be a flurry of greenwash. But the problem will remain: the economy does not need to be tweaked a little bit to include a carbon emissions. It needs a complete overhaul to produce for human need and to prepare for the climate chaos that is inevitably coming our way.
Capitalism needs to grow in order to survive. Its core operation is the one that turns a billion dollars into two billion dollars and then into four billion - and so on without limit...
No amount of international emissions trading or carbon offsetting will tame this relentless drive to accumulate. Capitalism’s growth is based on the consumption of resources in order to produce riches and wealth for the few.
The wheels of the capitalist economy do not turn for human need but for the sake of profit — and more profit, and yet more profit.
Capitalism is an enemy of the working class and an enemy of the world. Its insatiable appetite for the world’s resources and its degradation of the majority of the world’s people will not be stopped until the working class seizes power and places the economy under its own democratic control.
That means: take industry out of the hands of the profiteers and place it under workers' control where it can be used for the satisfaction of human need and to construct a sustainable relationship between humanity and the natural resources of the planet.
Who, given conscious collective control, would push for more gadgets today at the cost of ecological disaster tomorrow? The global economy is not some abstract principle, it is the product of our daily work. A society run by democratic economic planning can decide consciously to cut back some areas of consumption and to limit others — because it would have guarantees of a decent living standard for all. It would understand that the real measure of human wealth is cultured, leisured, sociable free time, not the accumulation of material tokens.
We are a very long way from the level of working class self-determination needed to achieve that, but we must build for it with urgency. In countries such as Iran, Nigeria or Venezuela, oil workers have shown their power. We must imagine a revolutionary world-wide workers’ democracy linking up with those workers, controlling major oil fields, and deciding rationally on the use of those resources.
In Bali, the talks are designed to develop a new framework for the period beyond the Kyoto protocol of 1997, which runs out in 2012. Kyoto was already very limited. It asked for only a 5% reduction in emissions, and key countries, including the US, opted out. It was blighted by the fact that a number of powerful multi-nationals lobbied hard against it with aggressive anti-environmental propaganda. And it has produced very little.
The annual growth rate of emissions over the last ten years has been not slower, but 30% faster, than the average for the past 40 years.
CAPITAL is nothing if not adaptable. In the run-up to Bali, big sections of the capitalist class have signalled that they accept climate change is a danger, and want to do something about it. Only, all their proposals are about extending the remit of capitalism and opening up new markets.
The report put out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the run-up to Bali says that “Global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions due to human activities have grown... 70% between 1970 and 2004”.
Carbon dioxide is the most important GHG. The use of fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) and the destruction of forests (which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) have driven its rise.
Some writers suggested that the problem could be solved painlessly by boosting the long-term trend for carbon dioxide emissions per unit of output to decline. In fact that trend has stalled since 2000.
Without any further measures or controls, GHG emissions would grow by between 25% and 90% by 2030. That will send us well on the way to the level of increase in global temperatures when possibly catastrophic “feedback” effects are triggered which make global warming self-accelerating: ice sheets go into irreversible meltdown, ecosystems collapse, and billions suffer water and food shortages.
The IPCC reckons we need to cut global emissions by 85%, to 15% of their 2000 level. As George Monbiot points out, that means the UK cutting by 94%.
A group of multi-national corporations including Nike, British Airways, Shell and Rolls Royce, has signed up to a statement calling for a tough framework from Bali. What have we here? An unholy alliance of capitalists who have gone to enormous lengths to crush workers' organisations, obscure environmental debate and perpetuate war and disease, led by Prince Charles. The names of these companies are associated with massive human rights abuses in Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, China as they prop up vicious regimes that crush workers movements and the forces for democratic change.
Their “Bali Communique” argues that a shift to a low-carbon economy is not only “an environmental imperative but also an unprecedented economic and social opportunity.”
“Unprecedented economic opportunity” sounds very much like a threat. And the group emphasises that it wants "an enhanced and extended carbon market" — that is, an extension of what the European Union already has, where quotas for carbon emissions are handed out to corporations and can then be advantageously “traded”.
The Confederation of British Industry has issued a long report “Climate Change: Everyone’s Business”. It “calls for a shift to a world where carbon becomes a new currency — so that consumers and businesses are rewarded for making the right choices. Carbon has to be priced according to supply and demand, under a system which leads to lower emissions, crosses national borders, and rewards good behaviour”.
It wants the government to establish a stable regime so that the UK (i.e. UK capital) does not “miss out on the commercial opportunities that will emerge on the pathway to a low carbon economy”.
But so sober a source as the Financial Times (26 April 2007) has already shown that “carbon markets leave much room for unverifiable manipulation”.
“The vaunted European emissions trading system has been more a way of transferring quota rent to a few big emitters than an effective means of emissions control. The UK government has, for example, been honest enough to admit that large electricity generators gained £1.2 billion in quota rent for 2005 alone” (FT, 5 Dec 2007)..
The government, which has always tried to foster a close relationship with the CBI, has bought this logic and set up the “Commission on Environmental Markets and Economic Performance”. This body sees the threat of world destruction as an “investment opportunity” in which “profit-seeking firms will respond to the early adoption of demanding, flexible environmental policies by innovating to reduce environmental impacts at less cost, in order to gain a competitive advantage.”
• Bali Communique: http://www.balicommunique.com/communique.html
• CBI report: http://www.avtclient.co.uk/climatereport/