On the eve of climate change destruction?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released its latest Impacts volume of the Fifth Assessment Report .
It doesn’t make for joyous reading for those of us who think beyond the next annual profit report. Anthony McMichael, Colin Butler and Helen Berry, three Australian academics, contributed to the health impacts report. They couldn’t be clearer. Here is what they say in part in an article called ‘Climate change and health: IPCC reports emerging risks, emerging consensus‘ in Monday’s The Conversation.
Missing from the discussion is the threat climate change poses to Earth’s life-support system – from declines in regional food yields, freshwater shortage, damage to settlements from extreme weather events and loss of habitable, especially coastal, land. The list goes on: changes in infectious disease patterns and the mental health consequences of trauma, loss, displacement and resource conflict.
In short, human-driven climate change poses a great threat, unprecedented in type and scale, to well-being, health and perhaps even to human survival.
Long term, there is a threat to human survival.
So we aren’t on the eve of destruction right now and we can all relax can we? Well, no.
Capitalism as a system of production is blind to long term consequences, to so-called ‘externalities’ producing possible extinction for example. Its purpose is profit as quickly as possible and reinvestment of that profit in capital and labour power to make …. more profit.
The political expression of this is the climate science deniers and their neanderthal cousins, the ‘free’ market politicians and all the others who worship at the altar of profit. They might talk about direct action or a price on carbon but this masks a deeper reality, one which takes on an even more macabre sense now that some academics are warning of possible extinction. That deeper reality is that profit comes before people, that profit comes before the planet.
Capitalists would live in shit if it meant they made a good profit. Climate change might deliver on the first part of that scenario but not the second because, according to a leaked IPCC report mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald, rising temperatures (of say 4 degrees centigrade by 2100) will reduce global productivity by 40% in the warmer months.
Put simply we won’t be able to adapt enough to the much higher temperatures. You can’t air condition the environment.
It is not just the bosses’ bottom line this will affect. As the three academics say in The Conversation:
The chapter discusses three impact categories in particular:
under-nutrition and impaired child development due to reduced food yields
injuries, hospitalisations and deaths due to intense heat waves, fires and other weather disasters and
shifts in the seasonal duration and spatial range of infectious diseases.
Starving people, and those burned or flooded out, will move to find food and shelter. Memo to the Scott Morrison’s of the world: One hundred million Bangladeshis fleeing floods and looking for food can’t be turned back.
Climate change is and will continue to have a big impact on Australia. Let me summarise in my own words chapter 25 of the report which is on Australia (and New Zealand, which I don’t discuss.)
Rockhampton will be in Sydney. See the Great Barrier Reef before we kill it. Kiss goodbye to the snowfields. Find some way to cool down all day every day or move somewhere a bit cool, like Tasmania. Take out flood and fire insurance. Stock up on water purifiers. Don’t buy homes too close to the coast. Definitely don’t buy a farm. If you are indigenous or poor or both, you are completely stuffed. Well, maybe not you but your grandkids for sure.
We can begin mitigation strategies to address the impacts of climate change now, but it is already past the tipping point for major changes to occur. How then can we address the challenge of already in place but forthcoming climate change and prevent it worsening over time?
Plant a few more trees, like that spokesman for the polluters, Tony Abbott, suggests. Yeah, Tony, the boy with his fingers in the dyke. Or maybe we could put a price on carbon like Labor implemented? Yeah, fiddling while Rome burns.
It was Australian National University earth and paleo-scientist Andrew Glikson who wrote in The Conversation that the consequence of the dumbing down of the debate was that ‘an irrelevant discourse ensues between those willing to undertake symbolic action and those who deny the science altogether.’
An irrelevant discourse and symbolic action – that’s both direct action and the carbon tax.
It is time to end the fantasy of finding the ‘right’ price on carbon. As Simon Butler has said:
‘At the launch of last year’s Climate Summit, I argued that carbon pricing – the notion that we can best reduce pollution by extending private property rights to pollution – had a fatal flaw at its core. Prices can never reflect true ecological values because those values simply cannot be expressed in dollar terms.’
What can we do?
The challenge of climate change is so immense and capitalism so incapable of addressing it that only overthrowing the rotten system can limit the damage and ultimately prevent a possible spiral into extinction.
Capitalism is built on fossil fuels. Getting rid of its dependence on fossil fuels requires getting rid of capitalism.
Democratic working class revolution is the solution.
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