Bush fires, climate change and the community of hope
Posted by John, January 13th, 2013 - under Barry O'Farrell, Bushfires, Community, Cooperation, Global Warming, Global carbon project, Revolution, Socialism, Socialism from below, Workers, Workers' councils, Working class.
The response of communities around Australia to the threats and reality of bushfires over the last few weeks has not only been magnificent. It has given us a glimpse, but only a glimpse, of the basic humanity and cooperation that exists which can address climate change in the long term.
But first the bad news.
A two degree increase in temperature is almost certainly already locked in; so too by the end of the century is 4 to 6 degrees, according to the respected Global Carbon Project, unless we take action now.
The track record for taking action doesn’t look good. Greenhouse gas emissions are now 58% higher than in 1990, the Kyoto base year and sometime goal for reduction of emissions to, and sometimes below. To emphasise, the result of the various climate change talkfests of capital and its politicians has not been a decrease in GHG emissions but a 58% increase.
Which countries are contributing most to this? As Science Daily said about the Global Carbon Report:
It shows the biggest contributors to global emissions in 2011 were China (28 per cent), the United States (16 per cent), the European Union (11 per cent), and India (7 per cent).
Emissions in China and India grew by 9.9 and 7.5 per cent in 2011, while those of the United States and the European Union decreased by 1.8 and 2.8 per cent.
Emissions per person in China of 6.6 tonnes of CO2 were nearly as high as those of the European Union (7.3), but still below the 17.2 tonnes of carbon used in the United States. Emissions in India were lower at 1.8 tonnes of carbon per person.
The decline in US and European rates of emission is in part due to the global financial crisis not any change in policy and direction.
The move of the Chinese dictatorship from state capitalism to market capitalism is fuelling much of the current increase but the US and European per capita levels indicate production societies addicted to fossil fuels, an addiction they have passed to their cousins in China and India. The underlying link in all this is the drive for profit to make more money to reinvest … to make more profit.
The hamster wheel of capitalism is exhausting itself.
The very capitalist accumulation process is the systemic cause of global warming. Fossil fuels are cheaper than the alternatives; capitalism does not factor in costs such as the destruction of nature; entrenched interests and production processes mean a change to alternative, renewable, energy sources would be more disruptive in the short term to profit and accumulation than the creeping but still largely unseen or unrecognised destruction of the planet; capitalists can only focus on the short term and profit making; imperialism and other economic and political rivalries force blocs of capital to grow and gain advantage over their rivals through cheaper fuels, ie fossil fuels; competition between nation states and the stage of their development almost certainly guarantee, as China shows, increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Capitalism is the problem. It is destroying itself and our environment, driven by its own logic to do so. The last rope maker will soon be lining up to sell the hangman his rope.
According to Professor David Karoly a 1% increase in temperatures since 1960 has contributed to the increasing frequency and intensity and spread of the bushfires. Imagine what a further 2 degrees will do, let alone 4 to 6 degrees.
Few appear to be listening. Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Professor at the University of East Anglia, who led the publication of the Global Carbon Project report said:
These latest figures come amidst climate talks in Doha. But with emissions continuing to grow, it’s as if no-one is listening to the entire scientific community.
Capital and its accumulation process mean that much of business and most of its politicians certainly aren’t listening. For example, as fires ravaged much of Australia, Warren Truss, the acting leader of the Opposition and evidently a climate change expert, said
Indeed I guess there’ll be more CO2 emissions from these fires than there will be from coal-fired power stations for decades.
Real experts described Truss’s statement as ‘utter rubbish’ and ‘ridiculous’. But maybe Truss’s comments play out well to big business or in the back blocks of his rural electorate.
Then again, as the temperature continues to increase and the severity and scope of fires increases in rural seats like his across Australia, maybe not.
The resistance of rural communities to fracking and now unrestricted coal and other mining in prime agricultural areas means that many farmers and their communities are beginning to work closely with environmentalists, the Greens and others to resist coal mines and fracking, for example. The support for Jonathan Moylan’s stock exchange stunt among farmers is strong.
Here is what another group of experts said about the current bushfires and climate change in a paper released recently. The Climate Commission’s key messages were blunt and stark:
- The length, extent and severity of the current heatwave are unprecedented in the measurement record.
- Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and longer heatwaves and more extreme hot days, as well as exacerbating bushfire conditions.
- Climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse.
- Good community understanding of climate change risks is critical to ensure we take
appropriate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to put measures in place to prepare for, and respond to, extreme weather.
Professor David Karoly, the Climate Commission scientific adviser told ABC’s AM on Saturday morning:
What we have been able to see is clear evidence of an increasing trend in hot extremes, reductions in cold extremes and with the increases in hot extremes more frequent extreme fire danger day.
What it means for the Australian summer is an increased frequency of hot extremes, more hot days, more heatwaves and more extreme bushfire days and that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing typically over the last decade and we will see even more frequently in the future.
The problem is that ‘taking appropriate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions’, as one of the Climate Commission’s key messages put it, directly contradicts the major driver of capitalist society – to make profit to reinvest to make more profit. That has to be done on the cheap, cheaper than your local and international competitors. Effective action on climate change by Australia would worsen the position in the competitive marketplace for a number of Australian based capitalists.
Addressing climate change is costly – the environment is merely an externality for capital – and any real changes would challenge entrenched interests and impose additional costs on, as it always turns out to be under capitalism when workers are quiet and aren’t fighting back, the working class.
Far better to plod along with the irrelevant discourse, as Earth and paleoclimate scientist Andrew Glikson puts it, from Labor, the Liberals and the Greens, an irrelevant discourse matched in much of developed and imperialist capitalism and its talk fests. Far better to adopt cosmetic changes which give the impression of action without challenging the entrenched interests or imposing the cost of climate change on the big polluters.
A two degree increase is almost certainly locked in; so too by the end of the century is 4 to 6 degrees by the end of the century, according to the respected Global Carbon Project.
What impact will warming of 4 to 6 degrees have? In Australian terms it brings Rockhampton to Melbourne. But it does much more than that. It would wipe out most of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area as a food producer. It would mean much more flooding and many more bushfires.
Sea levels could rise over a metre, putting at risk over $220 billion worth of infrastructure in Australia, including many houses. Some Pacific Islands would be wiped out and there peoples would want resettlement before that happens.
Let’s cut to the chase. It isn’t profitable to cut greenhouse gas emissions so it won’t happen unless there is a revolution to do so. That means overthrowing capitalism, not by a small group of enlightened thinkers and environmentalists, but by the working class, the majority class, the only one with the power to stop capital accumulation and through it greenhouse gas emissions.
The ruling class, the petit bourgeois middle classes, the peasantry, intellectuals cannot lead the revolution necessary to overthrow the Sauron of climate change that is global capitalism. Only workers have that power. Only a democratic society in which workers govern through their own institutions, workers’ councils, and plan production democratically to satisfy human need can address climate change now.
In the two major polluting countries, China and the US, workers hold the key to the future. In China the dictatorship is creating its own gravedigger, a massive working class now with more than 300 million workers. In the US the working class is over 200 million. The workers in these two centres of capitalism have the capacity to change the course of history if they can overthrow their rulers and set up a system based on democracy and production to satisfy human need.
Far fetched? So was global warming and the consequent global barbarism a few decades ago.
But there is hope. Communities across Australia have responded magnificently to the threat of and the actuality of the bushfires. People have cooperated on a massive scale, doing all they can to help. They did this not because there was money to be made but because of their essential humanity, their sense of solidarity and care for others.
Partly too this reflects the reality of working class life – that of cooperation in the workplace to make sure things get done.
It wasn’t the market that responded to the fires. It was and is people. The hundreds of thousands of volunteer firefighters have again shown their fantastic commitment to us all by fighting the fires for days without break, desperately trying to hold back the flames of nature. We have joined them, helped them, bought them water, given them breaks, food, shelter and hugs.
Barry O’Farrell on the other hand has cut 260 jobs in the New South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. That is the logic of neoliberalism. Cut services in the face of increasing fire threats. Can privatisation and the idea that only the market can save us from bushfires be far away? In one sense it is with the carbon tax the classic feel good do little market response.
As the Sun-Herald put it in July last year:
Fire and Rescue NSW is being forced to make savings after the Treasurer, Mike Baird, reduced its wages cap by $30 million over the next four years, according to Treasury forecasts. More than $5 million has been cut from overtime and temporary staff in 2012-13 alone.
The cuts equate to 260 staff – about 6 per cent of the 6900-strong workforce.
On top of that the O’Farrell government cut the safety advertising budget from $580 million to $320 million. This is the advertising that tells people how to stay safe when fires threaten.
Now it is true this relates to the fire brigade and house fires in urban areas in the main. But the logic is inexorable. Capitalism can’t afford to fund adequate services so will try to do it on the cheap or privatise government work to the private sector.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is a volunteer service. It has 70000 volunteers who work to defend their communities, and do so because they love their neighbours as themselves and their families. They don’t do it for the money; they aren’t driven by greed or lust for wealth. They do it because it is the right thing to do, because they are community minded, not just individuals in a dog eat dog competitive world.
We have responded to the threats of bush fires by coming together, by supporting each other, by caring for each other.
In the reality of community that the bushfires have bought out in us lies our hope for the future; in the working class and its power to turn society on its head lies the reality of the realisation of a future with hope.