Capitalism's Arctic plan – get the oil, destroy the lives of millions
Citizens of every country will pay a massive, painful price for the melting of Arctic sea ice, even though capitalist corporations and governments view it as a potential profit bonanza.
A study in the journal Nature models the economic impact of the release of 50-gigatonnes of methane from melting permafrost and shows it would result in flooding, sea-level rise, agriculture damage and health impacts amounting to a cost of $60 trillion – roughly the size of the entire global economy last year.
And a parallel study confirms that this release of methane is already happening at an alarming rate. The melting of the Greenland ice sheet started a little later this year but is spreading fast and will probably match last year's record melt by September. The result of this annual trend is that permafrost in the Arctic, in Siberia and Alaska is melting, releasing methane and speeding up global warming.
The methane could continue to be released gradually, albeit on a rising trend, or there could be a sudden pulse as tipping points are reached. This would push temperatures up so fast we could reach 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2035.
Once you say that of course you are really saying "anytime" because emissions of all greenhouse gases continue to rise and no effort is being made to halt or slow them. A feedback effect could kick in at any moment.
A slowing of the rise in temperatures over the last few years provided a breathing space.
But instead of using this to take urgent action to halt the growth in emissions, it was simply exploited by climate change deniers to say there is no global warming.
Now we know that much of the heat was being absorbed into the deep oceans and as they lose their capacity to soak up more, warming will take off again. Indeed, the overall upward trend has never halted, with all the hottest summers on record taking place during this disputed period.
Corporations and governments may be greedily eyeing the Arctic, but alongside the process already in train, this scenario would result in the worst possible conditions for agriculture. The worst effects would be in Africa, Asia and South America, but no country is immune as farmers from Europe and America can testify.
But the opposite of action to halt emissions is happening; Lloyds of London estimates more than $100bn will be invested in extraction and shipping in the Arctic in the next five years.
Writing these blogs, one begins to feel a bit like the Trojan prophetess Cassandra who was locked up as a madwoman by fellow citizens for warning them the war with the Greeks could only end in disaster.
But so be it – the truth can always bear repeating, which is that without system change we cannot begin to start to slow and then reverse climate change. If the corporations are permitted to start operating in the Arctic, the consequences are unthinkable.
Solutions are tantalisingly within reach – from permaculture, perennial grains, recycling of waste products to support organic farming, to abandoning fossil fuels in favour of locally-planned renewable energy strategies, and, in the case of the Arctic, leaving the fossil fuels and minerals in the ground!
But capitalism cannot permit this approach. As Bolivian climate strategist Pablo Solon puts it:
In this race to the top, capital needs to colonize territories and natural resources, decrease the cost of human labour, develop new technologies and promote new financial, investment and trade rules that allow capital to have more and more profit.
As a result, capitalism has already, in Solon’s words, "reached and surpassed the limits of the Earth system". To redress the damage, and to have a future for humanity, we must move to a model where humans work in harmony with nature and that means that the absolute supremacy of growth and profit must be overthrown.
26 July 2013