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'Citizens must lead' on climate chaos

The upcoming G8+5 summit in Japan has climate change high on the agenda, apparently. The original eight countries have been widened to an unprecedented extent to include other major economies, no doubt in an attempt to pass the buck or find new reasons for the G8's failure to take action.

For according to a study published yesterday, none of the G8 countries are implementing enough measures to be considered in line with the target to keep the rise in global temperature below 2°C. The "G8 Climate Scorecards", compiled by environmental group WWF and insurance group Allianz, said even the best performers - Britain, France and Germany - had not taken adequate action to back the goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The US, Canada and Russia had simply failed the test altogether. Their joint appeal to the G8 for action was that it made “the best business sense in the long run”.

The same message about making money out of tackling climate change came from business consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers. A new PWC report called on politicians to stop talking and start acting. Richard Gledhill, head of climate change services at PWC, said: "Governments in all major economies must demonstrate their political will to establish a well functioning global carbon market that puts a price on carbon emissions. That will send the right economic signals to investors and consumers to deliver the new technologies and changes in behaviour required to combat global warming." [emphasis added]

The fundamental problem with both reports is that the corporations themselves have driven climate change to its crisis point today. The sharp rise in emissions over the last 30 years coincides precisely with corporate-driven globalisation, with its ravaging of resources and growth mania.

Some people like eminent climate scientist James Hansen are clear about the reasons for inaction. In a 20th anniversary presentation of his 1988 warning to the US Congress he puts it plainly:

“Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming. CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.” He added: “If politicians remain at loggerheads, citizens must lead.”

But, having shone the spotlight on profit-hungry corporations, Hansen’s chess-board proposal for “blocking” fossil fuel corporations with a carbon tax with 100% of the income to be shared amongst the population lets the guilty parties off the hook. That’s because his application of the scientific method doesn’t stretch to the economy. If it did, he’d soon find that the system behind the dynamic of corporate growth drove the lies about global warming and drives the agenda at the G8 which will once again yield no concrete action.

Citizens must undoubtedly lead, but that leadership must be guided by a conscious understanding of the essence of the crisis: the failing global system of resource-hungry, environmentally-destructive capitalist corporations. What’s so urgently needed is the greatest social change since the dawn of civilisation. The shift to local production that must accompany the reduction in energy consumption needed to limit climate change means eliminating the profit from production, taking all fossil fuels into social ownership and switching from resource exploitation to careful stewardship.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
4 July 2008

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