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Empty gestures in the face of climate change

Latest warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show the extent of damage already done to our planet through the excesses of global capitalism. The IPCC have confirmed that it is now very unlikely (which means they are 90% certain) that the rise in average global temperatures can be kept below 20C. If temperatures rise by more than 20C we will start hitting the threshold when catastrophic climate change starts to kick in, with millions facing the dangers of drought, hunger and flooding. This is the shocking point we have reached and yet the major economic powers continue to squabble about a few targets as if there was plenty of time to play around with.

The IPCC’s warning only highlight New Labour’s puerile gestures of trying to make people think they are doing something when all along their market-state policies promote greater commodification to open up new opportunities for profit at the expense of the environment. This is typified by Gordon Brown’s recent announcement at New Labour’s sad excuse of a conference to “make Britain a world leader in tackling climate change”.

The implications of this support for global capitalism can be seen in the New Economics Foundation’s Chinadependence: The second UK interdependence report, which shows the UK second only to the United States in the consumption of natural resources and goods. Not only does it repeat the well-know fact that if everyone consumed resources at the rate of the United States we would need five planets to support this, it also implies (without using the actual words) that global capitalism’s unrestrained drive for growth is responsible for accelerated climate change.

This is indelibly linked to the corporations moving production to countries like China as they are motivated to cut production costs and increase profits (by extracting greater surplus value from a cheaper workforce). This is driving China’s growth in carbon emissions, although its per capita emissions are still well below those of Europe. But with one coal-fired power station opening each week, China will soon catch up and overtake the rest of the world.

Expert/pundit Jonathon Porritt (chair of the government’s own Sustainability Development Commission) seems happy to criticise Brown and his glove-puppet Chancellor Alistair Darling’s pre-budget statement as “crabby incrementalism”. Darling announced small changes in climate taxes and an “environmental transformation fund”. But what Porritt - a great believer that capitalism can provide a future of wealth, equity and ecological integrity - doesn’t want to acknowledge is that these proposals reflect what’s in the Climate Change Bill – hot air plus smoke and mirrors!

In Running a Temperature: an action plan for the eco-crisis, A World to Win shows that capitalism and climate change are inextricably linked and provides a clear and alternative framework for human existence beyond capitalism. To meet the deadlock we find ourselves in we need to move on in history, from a globalised world capitalist system, to a concept of local stewardship acting in a not-for-profit way in the interests of global society.

Stuart Barlow
19 October 2007

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