Blogs on the eco-crisis
Transnational corporations, seeking profitable solutions to a post-oil world, are driving a change of land use that will outstrip all previous agricultural revolutions. It will bring billions of acres of land into new mono-cultures, pushing the planet’s water and soil resources beyond their limit. If allowed to continue, it will further intensify social inequality, hunger and global warming and inevitably lead to wars over land and water. The plans made by the US, China, India and the EU to create 15% of their energy needs from bio-fuels, have created a gadarene rush for profits across the globe. Food crops such as maize, sugar cane, palm oil and oil seed rape, instead of feeding the world’s growing population, are being switched to ethanol production to run cars. US farmers expect to sell 20% of the maize crop for ethanol this year.
The Indian government plans 35m acres (140,000 sq km) of bio-fuel crops and Brazil as much as 300m acres (1.2m sq km). Indonesia plans to increase palm oil production from 16m acres (64,000 sq km) now to 65m acres (260,000 sq km) in 2025. Much of it will be grown on recently-deforested land. Nowhere is the transformation going to be greater than in Southern Africa where there is much greater political and financial support for bio-fuel production than there ever was for food for people to eat. As much as 1bn acres (4m sq km) of land could be converted to bio-fuels and China, Brazil, and EU nations are investing in irrigation, cultivation technologies and production.
All of these activities will intensify carbon emissions. Soil that is currently lying fallow, as scrub, bush or jungle, acts as a carbon sink. Bringing it into production means it will start emitting carbon dioxide instead. Irrigating the new crops will deplete water resources. Sugar cane in Brazil evaporates approximately 2200 litres for every litre of ethanol produced. The kinds of intensive growing planned can only be achieved by the application of nitrates, increasing the level of these in soil and water. African communities currently relying on lake fishing face starvation as stocks die off. Aerial spraying of weed killer will threaten an area’s existing subsistence agriculture. And yet, all of these reckless developments are likely to be listed under the Kyoto protocol’s clean development mechanism. This is currently being changed to speed up the approval process for industrialised countries to fund bio-fuel projects in Africa to offset their own emissions targets.
Already world food prices are rising steeply because of a combination of poor harvests resulting from climate change and the sale of food crops for bio-fuel. The UN World Food Programme says the price of food aid increased 20% in just a year. Food prices in India have risen 11% in a year, in South Africa by nearly 17%, and China was forced to halt all new planting of corn for ethanol after staple foods such as pork soared by 42% last year. In the US, where nearly 40 million people are below the official poverty line, the Department of Agriculture recently predicted a 10% rise in the price of chicken. The prices of bread, beef, eggs and milk rose 7.5% in July, the highest monthly rise in 25 years.
Only global capitalism, with its mono-culture of profit, could create a situation where the government-sanctioned response to dealing with climate change is a series of corporate-driven measures that will actually intensify emissions and at the same time threaten millions more people with hunger. Ending the corporate control of resources worldwide has to be the priority in order to create the conditions for a sustainable future.
The sharp rise in the price of oil to almost $80 a barrel, coupled with evidence that production is nearing or is already at its peak, is a dangerous indicator of the unsustainability of the global market economy. As oil runs out, the corporations are expanding production as if there was no tomorrow, with dire consequences for the rest of us. They will diversify into other sources of energy only if they are tradable as commodities – like oil is - and facilitate profit-making in the production and sale of commodities. This is already creating its own set of problems. A switch to using corn and wheat to create biofuels like ethanol, for example, is having an impact on food prices throughout the world. There have already been riots in Mexico following a sharp rise in food basics, and the trend is now revealing itself in the major capitalist countries. Over 20% of the maize crop in the United States is used for the production of ethanol. The knock-on effect on the price of wheat on the international markets is "only headed one way," says agricultural accounts at Deloitte. The firm also predicts that the era of cheap food that has lasted since 1945 is coming to an end. There is always the nuclear option, of course, which is the one that New Labour favours for Britain. This in turns creates massive storage and other problems, especially for those living near nuclear plants.
Some environment campaigners and groups hope that as oil runs out, the economy will contract, less carbon dioxide will be emitted, global warming will ease and, lo and behold, problem solved! This is dreamland, unfortunately. A more likely scenario is that oil prices will continue to rise, food prices will soar, unemployment will grow as energy supplies dry up, the financial system will become unstable and more resources wars, like the one in Iraq, will develop. Addiction to oil and the use of private cars comes with capitalism. The system is based on individual/family units with one or more cars for work and leisure. The "American" model has become the global model, sweeping Latin America, China and India. There has to be another way. The nature and reason for production of commodities has to undergo a fundamental transformation, beginning with immediate action to address energy supplies and climate chaos. An action plan could include:
- an immediate halt to car production; existing models to be made more fuel efficient and use other forms of fuel; introduce social ownership and use of cars
- reserving oil for essential transport which benefits humanity – for example, shipping and food production
- setting an upper limit on the number of air miles flown in and out of Britain; supporting campaigns fighting airport expansion
- a complete overhaul of public transport – reducing prices, bringing rail and air back into public ownership and using dial-a-ride to get people to hubs so they can get to work
- heating homes with gas or locally-produced renewable electricity sources; bringing energy companies back into public ownership
- using resources currently spent on wars, nuclear weapons for researching alternative fuel and power systems
- recycling on massive scale at all levels of production and consumption
- a curb on long-distance transport of food, and a switch to not-for-profit production of food and other commodities.
All these need to be agreed and implemented by local, regional and national democratic bodies in a direct challenge to the status quo of corporate madness and business-friendly governments.
Paul Feldman, communications editor
13 July 2007
Hundreds of thousands of acres of land, whether in the UK or elsewhere on the planet, will be needed to feed a giant bio-ethanol plant to be opened near Hull by a joint company set up by BP and Associated British Foods. The company claims fuel production is separate from food production and "the impact on food prices is likely to be negligible". But production of bio-ethanol and biodiesel, from vegetable oils such as soya or palm, is already having an impact on the cost of food and on the environment. There have been demonstrations in Mexico, where the maize crop is being sold off for ethanol, pushing up the price of flour. And in China the cost of pork, the main protein source for ordinary people, is rising because feed is being used for bio-fuel. In Indonesia, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cambodia, Malaysia, Uganda and many other places, crucial CO2 absorbing rain forest is being cut down to make room for palm oil plantations. One fifth of the US corn crop is now used to make ethanol and a study by Goldman Sachs has found that the price of a unit of energy from biofuels has risen to that of petrol.
Roger Higman, campaign co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth, said he would like to see mandatory requirements on companies involved in biofuels to ensure that their crop production was sustainable, whether in the developing world or in the UK: "We are neutral (!) on this kind of proposal [from BP and ABF] because we support green fuels, but you have to be careful because you could destroy the British countryside and the habitat for wildlife with the intensive growing of wheat." Being “neutral” on this proposal just about sums up the problem facing the mainstream green movement. They have hitched their wagon to the capitalist star, believing – in the face of all the evidence to the contrary – that sooner or later governments will regulate the corporations, and the corporations will deliver a profitable approach to tackling climate change. But starting with Kyoto and right up until the recent G8 summit, what governments have done is wash their hands of the problem and hand it over to the market. And the market is, of course, the place where global corporations like BP go to make profit, not to make the world a better, or more sustainable, place.
Meanwhile, people in south Yorkshire are digging their belongings out of the mud and of course, the poorest of them have no insurance. And this is nothing compared to the impact of recent floods in India and Pakistan. And in Greece, Italy and Romania, heatwaves are killing people and animals and destroying harvests. We are running out of time, and on tomorrow’s climate change demonstration members of A World to Win will be arguing that we must get far beyond asking the government to improve its Climate Change Bill – particularly since ministers have already made clear to the Commons environmental audit committee that they have no intention of changing it at all. Grain, the sustainable farming group, in a report out today, has denounced what it calls agrofuels for causing “anti-life devastation”, adding: “It is abundantly clear that we can only halt climate change by challenging the absurdity and the waste of the globalised food system as organised by the transnational corporations.” That is why AWTW advocates the development of a mass movement to transform the political state, the system of land ownership, and the economic drivers for production. Only a not-for-profit democracy can tackle climate change and develop into a holistic system for stewardship of the planet and its eco-system.
Penny Cole, environment editor
29 June 2007
As predicted, a rise in temperatures is causing a surge in cases of dengue fever. There are signs that climate change, combined with rapid urbanisation, could make 2007 the worst ever year for this low-profile serious health risk. Classic dengue — known as "bonebreak fever" — can cause severe flu-like symptoms, excruciating joint pain, high fever, nausea and rashes. More alarming is that a deadly hemorrhagic form of the disease, which adds internal and external bleeding to the symptoms — is becoming more common, especially in South America. South East Asian nations are battling a massive increase in the disease, and the cause is not in doubt: "The threat of dengue is increasing because of global warming; mosquitoes are becoming more active year by year and their geographical reach is expanding both north and south of the Equator," said Lo Wing-lok, an expert in infectious diseases. "Even Singapore, which is so affluent and modern, can't exercise adequate control," Hong Kong-based Lo added. The number of dengue cases in Singapore last month was nearly three times that in the same period a year ago. Indonesian experts warn that 2006's record 106,425 cases could easily be overtaken. Neighbouring Thailand had more than 11,000 cases of dengue fever and 14 deaths by this month, up 18% from the same period of 2006. In Malaysia, 48 people died from dengue during the first five months of the year, health officials said, up 71% percent from 2006.
South America is facing a similar epidemic after 16 years without the disease. The deadly hemorrhagic form of dengue fever is increasing dramatically in Mexico, and experts predict a surge throughout Latin America fuelled by climate change, migration and faltering mosquito eradication efforts. Overall, dengue cases have increased by more than 600% in Mexico since 2001. It accounts for one in four cases in Mexico, compared with one in 50 seven years ago, according to Mexico's public health department. There's no drug to treat hemorrhagic dengue, but proper treatment, including rest, fluids and pain relief, can reduce death rates to about 1%. But the region’s hospitals are ill-equipped to handle major outbreaks, and officials say the virus is likely to grow deadlier, in part because tourism and migration are circulating four different strains across the region. The rapid growth of cities has added to the crisis. They are accompanied by large areas of slums where the absence of proper sanitation is a factor in the outbreak of dengue fever. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of the world's leading climate scientists, predicted that climate change would cause an upsurge in dengue. The globalisation process means that the fever is transported around the world by tourists and business travellers. Meanwhile, world leaders, compromised by corporate interests, sit back as if the planet had time on its hands to tackle climate change. The outbreak of dengue fever shows that the very opposite is true.
As torrential rains continue to sweep across South China and Bangladesh, Sir David King, the UK government's chief scientist told a committee of MPs that global warming has already altered the climate and the country will have to prepare for extreme weather such as heat waves and "torrential downpours". Flash floods in Britain are likely to be the biggest immediate problem caused by climate change, he warned. In China, roads have been turned into rushing rivers, flooding cities, towns and villages in the provinces of Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Jiangxi and Fujian. The death toll has risen to at least 76 and three-quarters of a million people have been forced from their homes, with rain forecast to continue to the end of the week. Nine million people are affected by the worst flooding in 50 years. In some areas the torrential rain has triggered land and mudslides, destroying crops, roads and houses. Meanwhile, some northern regions of China are being hit by heatwaves, with temperatures in parts likely to reach 40 degrees. And to add to the country’s predicament, the glaciers which feed China's great waterways, the Yellow River and the Yangtze, are beginning to melt. The Chinese government says the glacier area around Mount Everest has shrunk by some 21%. In the short term, glacier melt will increase flooding downstream, but in the long term it will lead to drought as the source of the great rivers of Asia dries up.
In Bangladesh, predicted to be among the countries worst affected by global warming, heavy rain caused further havoc in the port city of Chittagong on Tuesday where rescuers have recovered at least 87 bodies but more feared missing following the biggest storm in decades. Officials and witnesses said the deaths were caused mostly by landslides and the collapse of ramshackle dwellings in the city of nearly 5 million. The flooding was so extensive that survivors were having difficulty finding dry ground to bury the dead. A Chittagong survivor said Monday's landslides struck so quickly that nobody had time to react. "The hills just came crushing down on us," one said. "It looks like we are living in a ghost city," a rescuer said. "Never before in my life have I confronted such a calamity," said another. Millions living on the banks of other rivers are also threatened. In Australia, where the ‘thousand-year’ drought led Prime Minister John Howard to threaten a ban on irrigation for farming and to ‘hope and pray for rain’ in April, a major storm has battered the east coast for days, causing the worst flooding in the Hunter Valley for 30 years, beaching a coal ship and flooding coastal towns. In Tajikistan, Central Asia’s poorest country, temperatures have risen and glaciers are melting - causing floods, pollution, disease, landslides and migration. Tajik glaciers provide water for the whole of Central Asia.
Just in case you think this is someone else’s problem, a report this week said London’s flood defences would only cope for another 20 years and that £20 billion would have to be spent to keep rising sea levels at bay. In the meantime, having announced the world’s highest profits earlier this year, Exxonmobil continues to fund the climate change denial industry - to the tune of $22 million since 1998. And while the rest of us are trying to reduce energy use, the company is counting on global oil consumption rising by 50% by 2030. Despite all the talk at the G8 and elsewhere, there can be no action on climate change until the grip of the corporations is broken.
Gerry Gold, economics editor
13 June 2007
Two statements, one in Washington and the other in Stansted, yesterday restated the gap between rhetoric on climate change and doing something about it. President Bush issued a vague call for 15 nations to agree targets by 2008 for cutting greenhouse gases but categorically rejected a binding treaty. In any case, America has still not signed up to the 1997 Kyoto protocol! In Stansted, campaigner Paul Stinchcombe, said: "Global warming is a threat of such gravity that we must make decisions now to dramatically reduce emissions, not increase them incrementally."
Apart from his mate Tony Blair, Bush’s hot air didn’t impress anyone. Pressure groups who concentrate on getting governments to take action on climate change were scathing. "This is a transparent effort to divert attention from the president's refusal to accept any emissions reductions proposals at next week's G8 summit," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust in America. "After sitting out talks on global warming for years, the Bush administration doesn't have very much credibility with other governments on the issue," Clapp added. Tony Juniper, head of Friends of the Earth, said: "This is a deliberate and carefully crafted attempt to derail any prospect of a climate change agreement (at the G8 summit). The prospects of him getting this to some form of conclusion in 18 months are extremely slim. Basically we should see this as a delaying tactic to keep the climate change issue off his back in terms of any real decisions until he leaves office (in early 2009)."
Meanwhile, the public gallery at Endeavour House at Stansted was packed for yesterday's opening day of the public inquiry into the Essex airport's future. British Airport Authority, which owns the airport, is appealing against a decision by Uttlesford District Council to refuse permission to expand the airport. Michael Humphries QC, representing BAA, said that the plans, which would increase the number of passengers using the airport from 25 million to 35 million a year and the number of journeys from 241,000 a year to 264,000 a year, were in line with government policy. He cited the recent New Labour white paper on transport, which identified an "urgent need" for extra runway capacity in the South-east. So much for this government’s commitment to fighting climate change.
Thomas Hill, QC, representing the council, said that there were 3,700 listed buildings and 75 conservation areas in Uttlesford, as well as the 1,000-year-old Hatfield Forest. He accused BAA of being "in denial" about the environmental impact of its plans. Another organisation in denial is the GMB trade union. It is supporting the appeal on the grounds that the expansion would create 5,000 new jobs. Just like Bush and Blair, the GMB leaders are opposed to any measures that might threaten the capitalist mantra of economic growth at all costs.
So who is going to take action on climate change? Not the G8 leaders meeting in Germany next week, nor the corporations that are painting themselves green while continuing to plunder and pollute the planet. Stansted is only one of many examples in Britain and around the world where people are prepared to challenge corporate power and greed. Transforming these actions into a movement that has its aim the creation of alternative, democratically-controlled, not-for-profit production and distribution systems is the next challenge.
Paul Feldman, communications editor
1 June 2007
New scientific evidence of the multiple mounting effects of global warming had little visible impact on the 2,000 representatives of 166 countries at two weeks of United Nations talks in Bonn now drawing to a close. Janos Bogardi, director of the United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security said that increasing global temperatures and land degradation are forcing more people to migrate, creating a wave of environmental refugees. And a new report from Christian Aid predicts that at least 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050 as the effects of climate change deepen an already burgeoning global migration crisis. Birds, disoriented by erratic weather, are also changing migration habits and routes to adjust to warmer winters, disappearing feeding grounds and shrinking wetlands. "Species that adapted to changes over millennia are now being asked to make those adaptations extremely quickly because of the swift rise in temperatures," said Robert Hepworth, executive secretary of the UN’s migratory species convention. And a report from the Global Canopy Programme shows that deforestation is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse emissions worldwide. This puts this activity second only to electricity generation in its contribution to global warming.
The most optimistic result expected from Bonn is that the UN delegates will all gather again for a new round of talks in Bali in December. This “decisive” meeting is intended to launch negotiations on a new set of rules for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. But many delegates in Bonn say they have become gloomier about the chances of a start of formal negotiations in Bali. The Kyoto Protocol is the only global accord on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but it lapses after 2012 and was rejected by the United States in 2001 as economic suicide because it is not binding on booming emitters China and India. Experts say negotiations on the post-2012 agreement are expected to take at least two years, and must start this year to avoid any gap between Kyoto and the new regime. In response to the snail’s pace discussion, top scientists called this week for leaders of the world's rich nations to cease squabbling over global warming and take urgent action instead. The science academies of the Group of Eight (G8) - Britain, the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy - as well as five major developing nations South Africa, India, China, Brazil and Mexico made the call ahead of a G8 summit in Germany next month. But in advance of the June meeting, the US has requested changes to the draft declaration on climate change to eliminate targets for reducing greenhouse gases and delete language stressing the need for urgent action.
With the world’s diplomatic negotiators relying on capitalist solutions to a planetary emergency resulting from the profit-driven growth of that very same capitalist system of production, it seems easier - to paraphrase the contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek – to contemplate the end of the world than consider a small change in the political system. Frustrated citizens in the UK and elsewhere are taking the initiative into their own hands. A lengthening list of towns, villages and cities are joining the Transition Towns movement setting out to design a lower energy and more resilient future. Its inaugural conference is set for 31 May. But they too will need to confront the relentless logic of expansion that drives global corporations if the unraveling catastrophe is to be curtailed. A World to Win’s Running a Temperature offers a programme for doing just that.
Gerry Gold, economics editor
18 May 2007
It is hard for consumers and employees to evaluate the truth of claims that companies make about their green credentials. For example, Tesco, which says it is eco-friendly, is sending CDs and DVDs on a 1,400 mile trip to exploit a tax loophole. Discs are packed up in a warehouse in west London and sent to Zurich. Switzerland is outside the EU, and by re-importing from there to the UK, Tesco can avoid charging VAT. Sainsbury’s insists that respect for the environment is one of its five business principles, but this week it was selling asparagus imported from Peru and Thailand as if they never heard of air miles. News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch announced this week that within four years his company will be "carbon neutral". Measures include switching to solar-powered golf carts at Fox’s Hollywood studios and a plan to use renewable energy in the studio that produces the TV series 24. But News Corporation, which controls a large chunk of the world’s media, is also bidding to buy the New York stock exchange. Readers, viewers, and employees might feel that owning the US share casino will determine where News Corporation stands in the global conflict between profit and the planet’s future. News Corp has joined the Climate Group, one of the capitalist clubs springing up to develop "the climate change business". Members include BP, Alcan, HSBC, Starbucks and the notorious Severn Trent water company. Its website offers a list of schemes members can use to offset their own emissions, most of them profit-making ventures registered under the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism.
Carbon offsetting has become a way for some of the world’s most polluting companies to establish new profit centres. In return for a certificate claiming that they are cleaning up some part of their operation, a polluting company can sell credits to a carbon offset scheme.Readers may recall that in the Wizard of Oz , the scarecrow wanted a brain and was given, instead, a certificate. Well the principle here is much the same. For example:
- the Chhatisgarh iron works in India is selling credits for claimed improvements in its coal-fired operation which continues to spoil farmland, displace villagers and contaminate water supplies
- in Ecuador peasants are losing money on a contract they signed to maintain trees planted to offset a Dutch coal-fired power station
- in Maharashtra, India, wind farms are displacing farmers. One of News Corporation’s first ‘green’ actions was to buy carbon offsets from Indian wind farm companies
- around Mount Elgon in Uganda, villagers are forcibly kept out of a "national park" established by a Dutch foundation and the Uganda Wildlife Authority to plant "offset" trees.
The main result of Kyoto, with all its pious claims, is that the principle of polluter pays is being replaced by the polluter gets paid. Global corporations carry on emitting CO2, but charge premium prices for products they claim are environmentally friendly. And most of their claims to be green are based on buying cheap carbon credits from companies many of whose operations are destroying land and communities. Whilst contraction and convergence principles could play a useful role within a new global environmental agreement based on democratic control of politics and the economy, carbon offsetting has no useful role. It is a substitute for action to reduce emissions and a smokescreen behind which the global corporations are continuing business as usual.
Penny Cole, environment editor
11 May 2007
Measures to cut harmful emissions over the next three decades will determine the future of the planet. That’s the stark statement in today’s third report of the UN international panel on climate change (IPCC). Previous reports have focused on the science of climate change and the likely impacts. This final report focuses on measures - or mitigations - that can be taken to save humanity from the worst, most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures. The panel says it is "technically and economically" feasible to stabilise greenhouse emissions - but only if countries are prepared to pay the extra costs of transforming everything from energy supply networks to agriculture to waste. But the report has a fatal flaw – it is written entirely from the standpoint that there is no alternative to the status quo and ignores the fact that the global market economy is the primary source of global warming. Even last year’s Stern report published by the Treasury ackowledged that global warming was the most significant example of market failure. The IPCC’s proposals would not only leave capitalist production methods intact – in fact they would create new opportunities for profit making. Some measures are simply high-risk gambling with the future of humanity. For example, the report calls for a major expansion of nuclear power, even though the carbon consumed building such power stations can never be recovered in its working life, not to mention the terrible pollution caused by uranium mining. Safety issues are ignored. New Labour is scheduled to publish proposals to speed up planning rules so nuclear power stations can be started in two to three years, with powers to overrule local objections.
The IPCC report also proposes massive expansion of GM agriculture for bio-fuels, even though this will have a disastrous effect on food supplies. And it will be the poorest people who suffer – for example in Mexico the cost of tortilla flour has already increased by 400% due to competition for corn from bio-fuel manufacturers. This kind of intensive agriculture would lead to clearing of rain forests and higher emissions from manufacturing fertilisers. It is not a mitigation but an exacerbation. Unproved technologies such as carbon capture, which could be useful as a stop gap, could be dangerous on a large scale. If any of the stored carbon escaped from underground stores such as oil fields it could trigger runaway global warming. And the oil corporations, with their terrible record on safety, are likely to be in charge of this profitable activity. Greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 70% since 1970 – coinciding with corporate-driven globalisation - and will rise by between 25% and 90% over the next 25 years under "business as usual". Combining untried technologies, nuclear power, bio-fuels with incentives for business will not succeed in halting climate chaos. The truth is that a system founded on the continuous expansion of production of goods and services for profit, with credit-fuelled consumption patterns, is simply unsustainable. We need to build a mass, democratic movement in favour of structural changes to the way things are produced and consumed. It means ending dependence on the bottom line, and adopting green, co-operative, not-for-profit production across the globe. We need to challenge all the assumptions that sustain the system including the idea that art, music and performance must be put at the service of profit and big business sponsors. At tonight’s Revolutions Per Minute gig at The Cross Kings in London, musicians, comedians and DJs will be demonstrating that change in practice as they unite against climate change. Come and join us there!
Propelling new commodities into the profit-focused system of production that caused the climate crisis in the first place is like seeking the cure by doubling the disease. The gadarene rush to bio-fuels is perhaps the most destructive of this self-defeating approach to global warming. There are now two competing types of buyers in the agricultural commodity markets – those interested in food and those interested in fuel. From 2000 to 2005, world production of ethanol and bio-diesel tripled. One of the consequences has been higher food prices. Earlier this year, tens of thousands of poor people marched in Mexico City to protest against a 400% increase in the cost of tortilla flour, resulting from increased demand for corn to make ethanol. In Europe, farmers are planting oilseed in preference to barley, because subsidies are higher for rape which can be made into bio-diesel. The price of beer and beef will rise as a result. Cuban leader Fidel Castro has called the shift to bio-fuels a form of genocide. He was joined by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in warning that rich countries will buy up the food crops of poor nations to meet their energy needs, threatening millions with starvation. Both were critical of the deal struck recently between the presidents of Brazil and the United States to increase the output of ethanol as an alternative to fossil fuels. George Bush has pledged to cut America's petrol use by 20% by 2017 by switching to ethanol and the EU states plan to switch at least 10% of transport fuel by 2020.
Giving land over to producing fuel has other dire consequences too. For example, this week Professor Bill McKelvey, head of the Scottish Agricultural College, told a conference that only more intensive farming could prevent soaring food prices, and even shortages in the UK. Demand for bio-fuels and increasing market competition for food from countries like China, where meat consumption doubled in the last decade, will lead to higher prices, or perhaps even shortages, of imported food, he remarked. And, he argued, with thousands of acres of agricultural land turned to desert in southern Europe, due to climate change, more intensive use of remaining land is inevitable. In other words to resolve the crisis driven by a system of profit-focused, intensive farming and industrialised food production we need - more of the same. Madness! More of the same illnesses too, as scientists are warning that cars run on ethanol could be as damaging to humans as petrol-driven vehicles. Professor Mark Jacobson, at Stanford University, used a computer model to compare the effects and found an increase in ozone that can inflame the lungs and impair the body's immune system, whilst still producing cancer-causing compounds. Governments and the transnational corporations they serve are using human society as a vast laboratory to test these new commodities. Producing them will speed up the destruction of forests, the exhaustion of agricultural land, pollution and destruction of water supplies and add to global hunger. There is now an urgent need to remove the power to take decisions affecting the future of people and the planet away from the transnationals and their client governments. As Running a Temperature, an action plan for the eco-crisis published by A World to Win, concludes:
Penny Cole, co-author Running A Temperature
"…It is time to move from a globalised world capitalist system to a concept of local stewardship in the interests of global society. To achieve this we will need to challenge the political and moral support for capitalism as the organising premise of society."
20 April 2007
Buried over the holiday period, when the media was more interested in New Labour’s disastrous attempt to spin the Iranian hostage story, was another devastating report on climate change. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was clear that "the poorest of the poor in the world - and this includes poor people in prosperous societies - are going to be the worst hit" by climate change. Despite last minute watering down of its contents, the second IPCC report this year described the regional impacts of climate change. China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States were all blamed for changing the scientific conclusions in the report, with some of the scientists walking out of the all-night drafting session in disgust. The report forecasts that climate change will affect the health of millions of people, increase malnutrition, disease, injuries and deaths (from heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts). Some 29,000 observational data sets were looked at during the preparation of the report, which confirmed that the increase in regional temperatures over the last 30 years have had discernible impacts on both physical and biological systems. Over the next 40 years, people in seasonally dry and tropical regions will face increasing droughts and hunger as the productivity of crops decreases, with up to a 30% decrease in water availability. At the same time, more severe storms will increase the risk of floods. Water availability will also decline in places like Lima in Peru, where people rely on water supplies from glaciers and snow.
Up to 30% of the world's plant and animal species could become extinct even with a global average temperature rise of 1.5 to 2.50C , which is now virtually certain. The progressive acidification of oceans will have continuing negative impacts on marine shell organisms, with warming seas increasing coral bleaching and mortality. It is expected that net carbon uptake by terrestrial sinks will peak before 2050, after which they will weaken or go into reverse, feeding global warming. The poor in the developing world, especially those in coastal and river plains, will suffer most from a range of regional impacts. In Africa, up to 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress by 2020, with agricultural yields reducing by up to 50%. Fish resources will decrease as lake-water temperatures increase and rising sea levels will affecting densely populated low lying coastal regions. In Asia, Himalayan glacial melt will initially increase flooding. But by 2050 decreased river flows will result in reduced freshwater availability in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia, affecting more than a billion people. Crop yields in Central and South Asia will decrease by up to 30% by 2050, while the heavily populated mega-deltas in South, East and Southeast Asia will face increased flooding. In Latin America , the tropical forests of the eastern Amazon will be replaced by savannah, and semi-arid vegetation will be replaced by arid-land vegetation by 2050, with significant bio-diversity loss and species. Increased salinisation and desertification of agricultural land will result in decreased crop productivity and declining levels of livestock. On small islands, people will be especially vulnerable to coastal erosion of beaches from rising sea levels and increasing inundation from extreme storm surges. Coral bleaching will negatively effect fishing resources. By 2050 both Caribbean and Pacific islands will find that fresh water availability will not be met from annual rainfall. The picture is stark. As globalised capital continues business as usual, pouring out ever increasing quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in its search for increasing levels of profit, the world's poor are paying the price through increased risks of starvation, drought, disease and death from flooding. The nub of the problem is that global capitalism needs to be replaced with a not-for-profit ecological approach to the economy, based on producing enough for all and not more profits. You can read more about this approach in Running a Temperature, published recently by A World to Win.
10 April 2007
Set targets, then rely on the market economy, an expanded nuclear industry and personal sacrifices to make them work. This is what lies at the heart of the government’s Climate Change Bill. All the evidence says this won’t wash when it comes to carbon emissions. Only recently, New Labour’s own inquiry, the Stern report, described global warming as the biggest market failure of all time. Relying on an expanded carbon trading market, which may include tradable personal "footprints", will make no serious impact on climate chaos. New Labour came to power in 1997 pledging a 20% cut in emissions by 2010. Not only has this target been missed, emissions are actually higher and continuing to rise. This is the reality of a global market economy dominated by the operations of profit-seeking transnational corporations, which nothing must be allowed to disturb. While Friends of the Earth and other lobby groups were falling over themselves in a rush to praise New Labour, others were more cautious. Edward Hanna, senior lecturer in climate change at the University of Sheffield, was unimpressed, saying: "(It) doesn't go far enough fast enough to confidently combat the significant threats posed by human-induced global warming. I fear that as we are closing the stable door, the horse has already bolted." Even Christian Aid, said the final legislation would have to be "significantly stronger".
In fact, a recent report by Christian Aid points out UK-quoted transnational corporations are responsible for far more of the world's CO2 emissions than they would like us to think. Christian Aid tried to find out whether leading companies were reporting their CO2 emissions in relation to their direct and indirect activities. It is hardly surprising that only one-sixth of them bothered to disclose their direct emissions to Christian Aid. These alone amounted to 285.83 million tonnes CO2 which were emitted both in the UK and across the rest of the world. Christian Aid estimated this figure would increase to 477.35 million tonnes when the emissions from those who did not respond were included. This is equal to more than half of the UK's national emissions. The fourth annual report of the Carbon Disclosure Project found less than a quarter of the top companies were able to provide data for even direct emissions to an acceptable standard. The situation is even worse in respect to smaller companies, where only 10% were able to provide data on direct emissions! As Christian Aid, points out there is massive under-reporting of carbon emissions even in relation to companies' operations under their direct control.
But as the report discovered, the UK's global footprint extends well beyond its borders, through companies' supply chains spreading out across the rest of the world. Over a third of the top 500 companies reported their emissions were taking place in developing countries. Christian Aid estimated the extent of indirect emissions to be 911.06million tonnes. This makes the combined total for direct and indirect emissions from FTSE100 companies 1,388 million tonnes, two-and-a half times the UK national total and more than 5% of global emissions. These emissions are making a significant contribution towards global warming and climate change, with millions of the world's poor paying a heavy price. It also exposes the myth that all it will take to solve global warming is a change or shift in individual consumer choices. It is clear that capitalism's driving force, unrestrained profit growth, is responsible for the climate crisis we are facing and the globalisation of capital has intensified the problem. No amount of corporate social responsibility reports, or the provision of "transparent" emissions data, will alter the fact that we need to replace these planet destroying transnational corporations with not-for-profit companies. Only then can we evolve truly sustainable operating practices based on needs, both for people and the planet, rather than profit. In that context, New Labour’s proposals are more state "greenwash" than substance. You'd be better off reading Running a Temperature, a real action guide to the eco-crisis, which A World to Win published recently.
In the world of Channel 4 it’s probably called balance. Tonight, George Monbiot is given air time to expose the sham that is the New Labour government’s "commitment" to cutting carbon emissions. Later this week, Channel 4 is broadcasting the "Great Global Warming Swindle", in which alleged experts will claim that the world’s scientific community is lying about the causes of global warming. As we know from the "Big Brother" experience, Channel 4 is not averse to ratcheting up viewing figures by getting the contestants to mouth offensive, some would say racist, comments. But there is more to the "Great Global Warming Swindle" than meets the eye. Behind this programme is one Martin Durkin. In 1997, Durkin, then from the TV company Kugelblitz, made a three-hour series for Channel 4 called "Against Nature", which targeted environmentalists, presenting them as "the new enemy of science" and as comparable to the Nazis. Environmentalists were responsible, the series argued, for the deprivation and death of millions in the Third World. Channel 4 had to broadcast a prime-time apology after the Independent Television Commission ruled that interviews with contributing environmentalists had distorted or misrepresented their known views.
The "Great Global Warming Swindle" will undoubtedly follow the same, right-wing, pro-business line. As Monbiot noted at the time of the 1997 "Crimes Against Nature", the essential links were to a network then centred on the magazine LM, formerly known as "Living Marxism", which was published by the "Revolutionary Communist Party". As Monbiot explained at the time, the assistant producer Eve Kaye, was one of the principal co-ordinators of the RCP/LM. Though Durkin denies any link with LM, "Against Nature" precisely follows the organisation’s line. The series starred Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University and LM's most influential thinker, and John Gillott, LM's science correspondent. Monbiot says: "’Against Nature’ followed the agenda laid down by LM: that greens are not radicals, but doom-mongering imperialists; that global warming is nothing to worry about; that ‘sustainable development’ is a conspiracy against people; while germline gene therapy and human cloning will liberate humanity from nature." Durkin was then commissioned by Channel 4 to make yet another business-friendly programme, this time in defence of genetic modification for Channel 4's Equinox' series. "Modified Truth: The Rise and Fall of GM" was broadcast on March 20 2000. It presented GM food as perfectly safe and vital to feed the world’s starving people.
The LM group, notorious for denying and covering up atrocities during the civil war in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, are exceptionally well placed in establishment circles. Their reactionary views dressed up in pseudo left-wing clothes are simply adored by Channel 4 and others. Leading member Claire Fox, for example, is a regular on BBC’s "The Moral Maze". She is director of the so-called Institute of Ideas. Furedi regularly turns up in the columns of The Times. The organisation LobbyWatch notes: "Former RCP members control much of the formal infrastructure of public communication used by the science and medical establishment. They hold key positions in Sense About Science , the Science Media Centre, the Genetic Interest Group, the Progress Educational Trust, Genepool and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. They have used these positions to promote the interests of pharmaceutical and biotech companies and to dismiss the concerns of the public and non-governmental organisations." LobbyWatch points out that given most of the people who have taken these posts do not have a background in science, "colonisation of these bodies is unlikely to have happened by chance’." Enough said.
Some time soon, humanity will officially become a city-dwelling, not a rural, species. UN figures for urbanisation published in the State of the World 2007 report, show that more than 60 million people are added to the planet’s cities and suburbs each year. Most of them are moving into poor areas in developing countries. The report says that unplanned urbanisation is taking a huge toll on human health and the quality of the environment, contributing to social, ecological, and economic instability in many countries. The centrifugal pull of cities is a key feature of the development of global capitalism. But while the market economy pulls people into cities, it does not meet the social costs of having them there, or the environmental costs of reckless unplanned development. It is left to over-stretched urban governments, to work out how to develop and run cities that are not a blight on the planet’s ecology and a nightmare for their inhabitants.
The publication this week of the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s climate change action plan could have been a clarion call, offering a lead to the cities of the world, whose combined power could truly expose the inaction of national governments and galvanise populations into action. Unfortunately, the mayor’s plan does no such thing. It says nothing about removing cars from the capital, relying instead on the regressive congestion charge. There is nothing in the plan criticising business or the way production for profit abuses resources and drives climate change. And while it recognises the potential for new technologies to reduce emissions - for example creating power from waste without incineration – these are left as pious hopes for some unnamed future. The emphasis is on increased "efficiency" measures combined with some cash to help needy Londoners insulate their homes. The mayor’s plan calls on the government to deliver "a small number of key national regulatory and policy changes". These centre on introducing market mechanisms like carbon pricing, which is capitalism’s fantasy "solution" to climate chaos. The mayor, who is constantly inviting businesses to build yet more gigantic offices in London, even hopes that the capital might become a home for the emerging global carbon market as a result!
This touching faith in technology, business and the New Labour government to reduce carbon emissions is totally misplaced. As the plan admits, the UK is the world’s eighth largest emitter of carbon dioxide. London is responsible for 8% of these emissions. Taking economic and population growth projections, London’s emissions are projected to increase by 15% by 2025. Only drastic and immediate action that disrupts business as usual can reverse this situation and prevent the Thames from breaking through the barrier at Greenwich and flooding vast areas of the capital. Here are some of the things the report could have said:
- cars will be banned from central London as an emergency action
- supermarkets and big stores will have to find alternatives to the wasteful use of massive lorries for deliveries
- no more out-of-town shopping centres will be built
- commuters can park for free around London before catching public transport
- the mayor will invest in car pools to discourage private car ownership
- fares will be slashed on rail, Tube and bus to encourage public transport use
- plans will be made to preserve what’s left of local shops and high streets from the global corporations
- campaigns will be launched against further airport expansion and for upper limits on the number of flights in and out of London
- no more gigantic office blocks will be built in the City of London
- the City’s resources, currently used for speculation, should be used to fund solar panels and local combined heat and power supplies.
Cities are certainly part of the problem at present, but by mobilising populations to bring about real social and political change, they can be transformed. Running a Temperature, which was published recently by A World to Win, outlines how this can be achieved.
Penny Cole, co-author Running a Temperature
2 March 2007
Those who, despite all the evidence, live in hope that pressure on governments will produce action on climate change are in a difficult bind today. The European Commission’s decision to water down plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars demonstrates once again that corporate interests will always win out in Brussels (and every other capital, for that matter). Intense pressure from car manufacturers ensured that the EC backed down on its plans to enforce a 25% cut in carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 2012, and instead set a target of a 12% reduction. By 2012 new cars sold in Europe must on average emit no more than 130 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre (g/km CO2). This target is, in fact, considerably weaker than a target the EU set in the mid-1990s calling for new cars to emit on average 120g/km by 2012.
As Jos Dings, of the European Federation for Transport and Environment, explained:
"The Commission has proposed to weaken an 11-year-old climate target for new cars just five days after the global scientific community warned policymakers to take serious and urgent action on climate change."
The EFTE said that transport is the only sector which has increased its C02 emissions in Europe in the last 15 years. For example, in 2005, the UK had the fourth highest average emissions of the EU15 countries. To meet the 2008 target in the UK, average emissions from new cars must fall by more in the next two years than they have in the last nine years. It is simply not going to happen.
The commission’s proposals were due to be made two weeks ago, but were postponed at the last minute in order to heal a split on the issue within the 27-member European Union. While some Eurocrats favoured tougher measures, political leaders decided otherwise. German car manufacturers wrote to the commission warning of factory closures and job losses and other corporations like Ford and Toyota piled on the pressure. Then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, vowed to fight moves to impose a compulsory cap on vehicle CO2 emissions. The result is the half-baked set of proposals which will have no effect on climate change.
In the end, putting the words "green" and "cars" in the same sentence is a nonsense, whatever fuel efficiencies are achieved. Manufacturers live or die by year-on-year increases in sales because, naturally enough, raising total profit is what motivates production. As things stand, whatever comes out of the EC, we will still end up with more cars clogging the highways, polluting towns and villages.
This is simply not acceptable, nor sustainable. A real plan to tackle the ecological crisis requires a shift away from car dependency towards cheaper (or even free) public transport, moving jobs closer to where people live and a comprehensive reorganisation of economic life in favour of not-for-profit production. Some will say that this is an impossible task, given the dominance of the global corporations and the political elites they effectively sponsor. Better to go on lobbying governments and encouraging individual actions in the hope that rational argument will win the day. The EC decision on emissions shows, however, that this approach is rooted in fantasy. We might as well face the fact that the capitalist system will not and cannot solve the ecological crisis which it itself is responsible for creating. The new publication Running a Temperature, published by A World to Win, outlines practical alternatives and solutions that take us beyond the failures and restrictions of the market economy. Get yourself a copy and start building the momentum for the radical, revolutionary change that the situation demands.
Paul Feldman, communications editor
8 February 2007
On the face of it, the politicians and business leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos appear to be powerful enough to do something effective about climate change. The corporations represented at the Swiss ski resort by more than 800 chief executive officers have a combined turnover equivalent to around a quarter of world production. When they talk about climate change, they should have the power to change things. But while the agenda reflects concerns about climate chaos, a closer look at the agenda reveals what keeps the CEOs awake at night. The corporations are worried about the "increasingly complex web of rules" as "policy-makers struggle to slow environmental degradation", and will be doing all they can to offset the threat of any "constraint on profitability". One debate will ask "what will motivate the global marketplace and if we can make green pay - for the investor, for business and for the planet?" Note the order of priority. The debate will discuss three motions: 1) Nuclear energy and clean coal are the only viable alternatives to oil 2) markets are superior to regulation in leading corporations towards ‘greener’ operations 3) A global carbon tax will do more harm than good.
That’s not to say that the world’s leaders are indifferent to the promise of rooftop wind turbines and solar-powered bus shelters to fleets of vehicles fuelled by biomass. Nor do they ignore the certain rise in temperatures (anywhere from three to six degrees Celsius) which will severely affect weather patterns, sea levels and water availability, thereby destabilising economies and societies. But the answers are a foregone conclusion – the market will sort it all out. It’s not up for discussion. From mercury pollution taxes to deposit refund systems for car batteries and emissions trading, market-based instruments are the only boxes to be ticked. However, following Stern’s conclusion that climate change is the result of a catastrophic market failure, those at Davos are forced to acknowledge that new approaches are needed – but still within the profitability model that is the driving force of the global capitalist economy. So a session headlined "Hurricanes, Heatwaves and High Seas" will ask: "What are the barriers to mitigating investment risk? What business opportunities can adaptation create? Are financial services firms profiting or losing money from the fear of climate change?"
In partnership with Davos, the BBC has launched a world debate on its website to "explore the sea change in public pressure for environmental sustainability, and why some leaders (and not others) are willing to take risks". The BBC is asking: "1) Who is forcing the urgency of the climate change debate: the politicians or the public, especially the younger generation? 2) Are governments and political leaders prepared to take the decisive measures to ensure trends capped and reversed? 3) Do governments have the skills and capacity to start doing what is needed?" The WEF agenda, with its emphasis on profits and markets, has answered the questions. To wait for Davos (or any subsequent international gathering) for solutions is about as effective as waiting for Godot. The WEF shows once more that corporate power is simply not sustainable and is the barrier to action against global warming. As a result, it falls to ordinary people in each country to create a new, alternative economic and political framework as the only viable way to tackle climate chaos.
Gerry Gold, economics editor
24 January 2007
Market madness and climate chaos
A day after British climate scientists warned that a resurgent El Nino and persistently high levels of greenhouse gases are likely to make 2007 the world's hottest year ever recorded, New Labour demonstrated its unsurpassed talent for rhetoric on climate chaos. Environment minister Ian Pearson even went so far as to accuse low-cost carrier Ryanair of being "the irresponsible face of capitalism". On closer scrutiny, Pearson’s exclusive statement to the New Labour-worshipping Guardian is all hot air, which itself probably adds to atmospheric warming in the process. What has upset Pearson is that the major airlines seem less than enthusiastic about joining the European Union’s proposed new market for airline carbon emissions. Scheduled to start in 2011, it would involve airlines buying and selling rights to pollute. Behind Pearson’s bluster is the fact that extending carbon trading to airlines will make no impact whatsoever on climate change. The airlines will go on flying and those passengers who can afford to pay any extra charges will do so. In any case, Pearson’s outburst hardly squares with the announcement in December by transport minister Douglas Alexander that British airports will be allowed to keep growing. Alexander rejected growing protests by local communities anxious about noise, pollution and traffic.
Kevin Smith, a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, has tracked the evolution of the emissions’ markets and concludes: "Market-based mechanisms such as carbon trading are an elaborate shell-game of global creative accountancy that distracts us from the fact that there is no viable ‘business as usual’ scenario." In any case, the schemes become distorted in favour of the major corporations to the disadvantage of competitors and less developed economies. Smith points out that the corporations’ "corrosive influence" on the existing European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) meant that governments massively over-allocated emissions permits to the heaviest polluting industries. Market analyst Franck Schuttellar estimated that in the scheme's first year, the UK's most polluting industries earned collectively £940m in windfall profits from generous ETS allocations. Smith says:
"Such schemes allow us to side-step the most fundamentally effective response to climate change that we can take, which is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. This is by no means an easy proposition for our heavily fossil fuel dependent society; however, we all know it is precisely what is needed. What incentive is there to start making these costly, long-term changes when you can simply purchase cheaper, short-term carbon credits?"
Back to the Meteorological Office’s warning that there was a 60% probability that 2007 would break the record set by 1998, which was 1.20 degrees over the long-term average. "This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world," the office said. The reason for the forecast is mostly due to El Nino, a cyclical warming trend now under way in the Pacific Ocean. The event occurs irregularly - the last one happened in 2002 - and typically leads to increased temperatures world-wide. While this year's El Nino is not as strong as it was in 1997 and 1998, its combination with the steady increase of temperatures due to global warming from human activity may be enough to break the Earth's temperature record, said Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research unit at the University of East Anglia. The least society can do in these circumstances is take immediate action to slash carbon emissions along the lines suggested by A World to Win.
Paul Feldman, communications editor
5 January 2007
One day, people of the planet Earth will examine the records for 2006 and see it as the year climate chaos really took off. They will read about the data provided by members of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) just before the end of that year and look back in wonder and anger at the international paralysis in the face of overwhelming evidence about global warming.
The WMO reported that the global mean surface temperature in 2006 was estimated to be +0.42°C above the 1961-1990 annual average, while since 1976, the global average temperature had risen sharply, at 0.18°C per decade. Canada experienced its mildest winter and spring on record, the USA its warmest January-September on record and the monthly temperatures in the Arctic island of Spitsbergen for January and April included new highs with anomalies of +12.6°C and +12.2°C, respectively. Persistent extreme heat affected much of eastern Australia from late December 2005 until early March with many records being set (e.g. second hottest day on record in Sydney with 44.2°C on 1 January). Several parts of Europe and the USA experienced heat waves with record temperatures in July and August. The July European-average land-surface air temperature was the warmest on record at 2.7°C above the climatological normal. In England it was the warmest autumn since official measurements began - records in central England go back to 1659.
Long-term drought continued in parts of the Greater Horn of Africa including parts of Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania. At least 11 million people were affected by food shortages; Somalia was hit by the worst drought in a decade. Severe drought conditions also affected China. Millions of hectares of crops were damaged in Sichuan province during summer and in eastern China in autumn. Significant economic losses as well as severe shortages in drinking water were other consequences.
In northern Africa, rare heavy rainfall in the Sahara Desert region of Tindouf produced severe flooding in February, damaging 70% of food stocks. Again in October and November, the Great Horn of Africa countries experienced heavy rainfall associated with severe flooding. The worst hit areas were in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Somalia underwent its worst flooding in recent history; some places have received more than six times their average monthly rainfall and hundreds of thousands of people have been affected.
Landed tropical cyclones caused more than 1,000 fatalities and economic losses of US$10bn in China, which made 2006 the severest year in a decade. Typhoon Durian affected some 1.5 million people in the Philippines in November/December 2006, claiming more than 500 lives with hundreds still missing. In the eastern North Pacific 19 named storms developed, which is well above the average of 16. On 25 September, the maximum area of the 2006 ozone hole over the Antarctic was recorded at 29.5 million km², slightly larger than the previous record area of 29.4 million km² reached in September 2000.
The year 2006 continued the pattern of sharply decreasing Arctic sea ice. Including 2006, the September rate of sea ice decline was about -8.59% per decade, or 60,421 km² per year.
Looking back, people in every country will be glad that they decided to take action themselves when their leaders proved incapable of protecting the earth’s eco-systems. In dislodging the corporate and political elites from power, and replacing the anarchy of the global market economy with sustainable forms of production and exchange, the people of the planet had acted just in time.
Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups are disappointed that the measures announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown in his pre-budget statement fail totally to address the eco-crisis in any serious way. Economists have predicted that even proposed tax increase on flying and driving will fail to influence consumer behaviour. An angry Tony Juniper, FoE director, said that Brown "continues to tinker at the margins" and added: "The Stern review set out that urgent action is needed ... But the chancellor's response has been feeble."
So once again, the environmental movement’s campaigns for urgent action fail to find a place on the New Labour agenda. No surprise there. But wait – there’s always the prospect that the government is planning to boost the carbon trading market, which is the preferred solution of the Stern report anyway. Yet, according to a new independent study by Larry Lohmann, for the Corner House research group, carbon trading is a disaster already happening. His major report says that "as in so many areas of contemporary social life, a vague ideology of market effectiveness and market inevitability is concealing a regressive, confused, contested and environmentally dangerous political and technical project". His report shows how that in order to function, greenhouse gas trading creates a special system of property rights in the earth’s carbon-cycling capacity. Lohmann adds "pollution trading is a poor mechanism for stimulating the social and technical changes needed to address global warming" and that the "attempt to build new carbon-cycling capacity is interfering with genuine climate action". And, of course, it avoids the discussion about the need to move away from fossil fuels.
Lohmann’s report exposes how in current trading schemes, including US pollution trading programmes, the Kyoto Protocol and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, wealthy countries and corporations get emission rights for free. The US acid rain programme, for instance, handed out sulphur dioxide emissions rights free of charge to several hundred large industrial polluters. The Kyoto Protocol dispensed greenhouse gas emissions rights to 38 industrialised countries who were polluting the most already. The first phase of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, "donated" carbon dioxide emissions rights to 11,428 industrial installations. " In other words, like rights to many other things that have become valuable – oil fields, mining concessions, the broadcast spectrum – rights to the earth’s carbon-cycling capacity are gravitating into the hands of those who have the most power to appropriate them and the most financial interest in doing so," concludes Lohmann.He hits the nail on the head. Property rights – the right to private ownership of both the means of production and pollution – lie at the heart of climate chaos. Global capitalism has not only created the eco-crisis with its wanton destruction of resources in the name of profit, it also blocks any solutions that pose a threat to its rights to private ownership and profit. These rights are, of course, not natural. They were seized by early capitalism and reinforced in legal terms by the bourgeois state that emerged in the 19th century. These property rights, as well as the political system that maintains them, are an absolute barrier to ending climate chaos. They should be traded in for a new model based on co-operative ownership and an economy producing for use and not profit.
With just a few days to go, the United Nations climate change conference in Nairobi is stalled. As delegates gathered for the second week of talks, there was no sign of setting goals for a Kyoto Treaty Mark II after the present one expires in 2012. India, China, Brazil and other developing economies are reluctant to talk about carbon emission cuts while the developed economies continue to pump out greenhouse gases like CO2 as if there were no tomorrow, which is exactly what will happen one day if things remain as they are. Not that the original Kyoto treaty has had much effect, with figures showing a sharp upturn in global greenhouse gas emissions in the past five years. Dr Mike Raupach, chair of the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of researchers who compiled the latest figures, warns that emissions are spiralling out of control. "This is a very worrying sign. It indicates that recent efforts to reduce emissions have had virtually no impact on emissions growth and that effective caps are urgently needed," he said. Australia and the United States are not even party to Kyoto I, of course. Given the impossibility of getting growth-hungry corporations to stop pumping out products and waste, attention is already turning from reducing emissions to ways of dealing with the impact of climate change. This hopeless approach is known as "adaptation". Even here there is disagreement between rich and poor nations. Western nations want control of a fund to help poorer nations adapt to climate change to lie with a body tied to the World Bank, while developing countries understandably want to decide themselves how funds are allocated.
The stalemate at the talks is in stark contrast to what is going on in the real world. The fact that the meeting is in Nairobi only reminds delegates that climate change will hit the African continent hardest hit, and lives have already been wrecked as failing rains kill livestock and destroy the livelihood of millions. According to research commissioned by the charity Christian Aid, the people most likely to be wiped out by devastating global warming live only a few hundred miles away from the conference venue. These are the three million pastoralists of northern Kenya, whose way of life has sustained them for thousands of years but who now face eradication. Hundreds of thousands of these seasonal herders have already been forced to forsake their traditional culture and settle in Kenya's north eastern province following consecutive droughts that have decimated their livestock in recent years. The experts in Nairobi say the region's highest mountains – Kenya and Kilimanjaro – will lose their glaciers, leading to the drying up of most of the rivers emanating from the two mountains. They also say that many coastal areas, including much of the infrastructure in East Africa and elsewhere on the continent will be submerged if governments, industry and the society do not take concrete steps to reverse the ongoing changes in the climate.
Governments are determined that nothing should rock the business-as-usual scenario of the global market economy, which is primarily responsible for the climate crisis. This is unacceptable and because governments won’t act, others will have to show the way. Nairobi confirms that the political and economic elites in the major capitals are fiddling while the planet burns, paralysed in the face of vested corporate interests. A World to Win’s action plan to halt climate chaos is based on ordinary people seizing the political and economic initiative themselves. Ours is a challenging alternative strategy but at least it tells it how it is.
Although the Stern report on climate change is primarily concerned with measures that could avoid a catastrophic meltdown of the global capitalist economy, it has the merit of focusing minds on the need to act sooner rather than later. The question is: what actions are necessary and who is to carry them out? The answer to the second half of the question is obvious - not New Labour. Prime Minister Blair, while referring to global warming as the greatest challenge of them all, will restrict New Labour’s response to expanding the carbon trading market and negotiating a post-Kyoto treaty. These will not even begin to make an impact in time to stop sea levels rising and overwhelming the Low Countries, Eastern England, Shanghai, Bangladesh and Southern India, as well as Florida and New York. Hiding behind the fact that climate change is a global phenomenon should not be allowed to prevent emergency actions on a national scale that could open the way to alternative, longer-term solutions. A crash programme could, for instance:
- ban car use in congested city centre areas
- take rail and bus networks into public ownership and slash fares
- create complete networks in cites open only to cycles and motorbikes
- encourage car sharing and establish car pool schemes which people can use for free
have publicly owned and serviced cycles in cycle pools which people can take for free
ban the selling of private vehicles that average less than 60mpg immediately, and 80mpg by 2008
- encourage people to work at home or at new local network centres
- set up dial-a-ride for commuters to take them to transport hubs
- organise children into walking groups that use roads closed to traffic to get to school
- bring airlines into public ownership and set fares to reflect true costs
- bring agricultural land back into use instead of subsidising it to lay fallow
- install free solar panels where practicable in local communities
- expand wind, wave power and bio-fuel resources
- invest massively in research into non-carbon power sources
- offer financial support to developing economies to avoid any unnecessary food exports
- launch an international effort to protect the Amazon rain forest from further clearances
- ban import of soya that comes from deforested Amazon sites
- establish new systems for distributing and buying food and other commodities without unnecessary packaging, advertising and promotion
- encourage new ideas and holistic types of production, consumption and disposal of all commodities taking into account the real cost to the planet
- phase out the sale of electronic goods with built-in obsolescence
- set up a not-for profit version of e-bay which allows people to exchange existing goods and products easily
- end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and scrap Trident II to free up resources
- ban hedge fund speculation on vital commodities like wheat and corn
- take action to redeploy pension funds and other financial resources currently used as sources of speculation
Putting this crash programme into practice is clearly beyond the capacity of the existing political system. Yet without something like these actions, the catastrophe facing the planet is unavoidable. Therefore immediate steps to cut carbon emissions will have to go hand-in-hand with creating a democratic political alternative that will act while there is still time. Such a political change would create the possibility in the longer term to develop an integrated plan to tackle climate change. We need to harness all the potential that exists in science and technology, bringing it together across borders, and without interference from profit and commercial secrecy. Society could then, for example, move to not-for-profit production, improving the quality of goods so that they last for as long as possible, and building the recycling of components into the production process and pricing structures. Mobilising people to turn a looming disaster into an opportunity for social and political change would, just as importantly, inspire people in other countries to do the same and thus provide a global solution to a global crisis.
According to Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist at the World Bank, climate change represents the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. Ignoring climate change could lead to economic upheaval on the scale of the 1930s’ Depression. But his reliance on the very same market economy for solutions fatally undermines his much-trailed report into the economic consequences of global warming.
His report obscures the starker reality that the heating up of the planet is a direct and observable consequence of the expansion of capital since the industrial revolution, accelerating towards global catastrophe in the last three decades. As a result, Stern, whose report was commissioned by the New Labour government, is left with solutions that are either inadequate or beyond the capacity of the existing economic and political system to deliver. His warnings are stark enough. If no action is taken, climate change will reduce global consumption per head by between 5% and 20%, and is likely to be at the upper end of that range. In other words, everyone in the world would be a fifth poorer than they would otherwise have been. Except that these costs will not be shared evenly. The poorest countries and the poorest people in each nation, will suffer most. Failure to act would turn 200 million people into refugees as their homes will by hit by drought or flood.
Stern’s core argument is that spending large sums of money now on measures to reduce carbon emissions will bring long-term dividends on a colossal scale. It would be wholly irrational, therefore, not to spend this money. Part of his solution is taxation. Another is through rationing the amount of carbon emissions that any business - or any individual - can make. Stern’s answer to market failure is… to resort to the market with a major expansion of carbon trading, whereby you can buy and sell credits to emit CO2. Another imperative for governments is to encourage research and development on low-carbon technologies. Governments should also encourage "behavioural change", through regulation - such as imposing tighter standards on the energy efficiency of buildings - as well as educating the public about the true costs of wasting energy.
So what can we expect to happen? Anticipating the potential profits to be made from Stern’s proposals, and in an attempt to corner the market, on Friday, global investment bank Morgan Stanley announced its intention to invest $3 billion in carbon trading. New Labour’s Environment Secretary David Miliband has leapt up with his proposals to pass the cost onto consumers with a raft of taxes. He was immediately trumped by Gordon Brown’s huge enthusiasm for "massive expansion of carbon trading to tackle global warming, rather than raising billions of pounds in green taxes". Al Gore, whose global campaign to reduce climate change places virtually all the blame on consumersm, will be Brown’s newest adviser.
All this is the equivalent of waving while drowning. Time is running out – fast. The polar caps are already melting away. Extreme weather is decimating grain crops in many parts of the globe, including the US and Australia. Corn and wheat prices have risen 60% this year and these vital commodities are now increasingly the subject of control by investment speculators. Where there’s a shortage there’s always a fast buck to be made. Immediate and drastic actions to cut carbon emissions are needed right now, covering production, distribution, patterns of work, travel and consumption. These measures should point towards a complete reorganisation of economic life, putting science and technology at the disposal of society as a whole rather than shareholders and stock markets. We can’t expect or rely on capitalism and its markets, or the politicians and governments they sponsor in London and Washington, to propose these kinds of actions. To save the planet from catastrophe means taking the making of history into our own hands.
Like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, the governments of the top 20 of the world’s polluting nations are paralysed by the unfolding climate change emergency. There is little to show from two days of talks in Monterrey in Mexico, which have just concluded.
Even if countries froze emission levels tomorrow, the world still faces 30 years of floods, heat waves, hurricanes and coastal erosion, the British government's chief scientific adviser David King admitted. "Because we've raised the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere so quickly, the earth's climate system is falling behind. This is way in excess of anything the planet has known, probably for 45 million years."
Already, a roughly one degree celsius temperature rise over the past century has allowed icy Greenland to start growing barley, while farmers in Spain are battling arid conditions. Developing countries at the talks - including South Africa, Brazil and Mexico - were told to adapt for possible floods, droughts, storms and a surge in tropical diseases like malaria.
But, despite a more general recognition that the scientific evidence is irrefutable, governments failed to set any new targets. They did not even propose long-term policy on areas such as the price of carbon, taxation policy or standards which could influence investment in energy-efficient production.
Meanwhile the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change has reaffirmed where real power lies. In a new statement on global warming to be presented at their Paris conference next week they say that climate change "poses risks and opportunities to which investors and companies must respond". Tackling climate change will hinge on the investment decisions made by institutional investors.
"How quickly these institutions move their investments from high-carbon to low-carbon companies will, to a large extent, determine our success in mitigating global warming. These investors’ decisions will turn on assessments of the longevity of oil and gas fields; the ownership and control of energy supplies; the effectiveness of any regulations to control carbon emissions; the profitability of emerging low-carbon technologies and carbon capture techniques; and the willingness of consumers to change their lifestyles."
In other words, action on climate change is determined by profitability. Giving up the current dependency on carbon-based fuels hinges on profit-based decisions made by the global corporations which own the rights to them. And these corporations acting collectively wield their huge power over the governments of the world. Hence the paralysis.
It’s time to end corporate blackmail by establishing a new, more democratic political framework. Then society could reorganise the economy along co-operative, not-for-profit, self-management lines and take the immediate, drastic action required to slash CO2 emissions.
Awareness is emerging that neither the international system of carbon trading, nor myriad individual actions, nor even a combination of the two can stem the acceleration of global warming towards a predicted cataclysmic change in climate resulting from the recent period of capitalist globalisation. Concerned observers, activists and academics are now beginning to question and doubt the oft-repeated end-of-history mantra that capitalist production and the free market constitute the highest possible development of human society.
As mass protests fail to impress governments and proposals for reform fall by the wayside of history, there is now a growing interest in alternative ways of organising society. Inevitably and understandably there comes a re-examination of old forms and not-so-old proposals and experiments. In Market Schmarket* there is an eclectic but welcome stew of ideas. Unusually for a member of the Green Party, the author Molly Scott Cato, who is the organisation’s speaker on economics, explicitly pin-points the profit-driven capitalist economic system as the source of obesity and over-consumption; the epidemic of drug taking; global instability and war; and climate change.
Unlike many that call for various forms of regulation of corporate activity, Cato draws together a collection of ideas for solutions to some of the myriad of problems which contribute to contemporary ills. Even more unusually she (re)introduces some ideas for a society based on premises quite different from the shareholder-value, profit-driven growth which underpins capitalist social relations. She is highly critical of the campaigns to end poverty without replacing the system of exploitation at the heart of capitalism, stating: "Unless we establish an economic system that does not rely on expropriation and exploitation, no amount of aid or trade is going to end world poverty. It is worse than naïve; it is a deception to argue that it might."
Equally forthright criticism is directed at the many who want to reform the world trade system. "My view is that anybody who argues merely for a renegotiation of the rules of the WTO either grossly underestimates the power of the corporations and the governments they control, or else is deliberately deflecting our energy." Cato’s vision of a new society is formed around mutualism as expressed in the employee-owned co-operative movement, and a new system of production and distribution that balances the needs of producers, consumers and the planet. Once this new system is in place, and the copyrighting of ideas replaced with "an empowering attitude towards knowledge that privileges the rights of humanity", it begins to be possible to introduce a more rational consideration of international trade.
According to Cato, the new system begins with throwing "the profit motive out the window. In its place we will put two simple alternative objectives: the maximisation of human well being and the protection of the planet". Re-organisation of the world economy can then take place around bioregionalism, where bioregions are largely self-sufficient natural social units determined by ecological concerns rather than economics.
It isn’t hard to criticise the weaknesses in this wide-ranging and extensive assessment. We are reminded of the huge debt-enabled growth of the global corporations and the extent to which they determine the policy of governments around the world. But little is said directly to help with taking them on and dismantling their interconnected web of power relations. There’s much more of a flavour of disengaging, turning aside and establishing alternative ways of living on a small scale alongside "a tactical compromise with the money system". There is no perspective for actually challenging the power of global capitalism or, crucially, the state political system that maintains it in place. These omissions expose the weakness of the Green Party’s reformist approach to politics and economics. Nevertheless, Cato’s book is important because we as readers are challenged to consider other options, to learn lessons from history, and to begin to think about how we might organise society differently.
Gerry Gold, economics editor
29 September 2006
As the evidence for an unexpected acceleration of global warming spurs concerns of a sudden and catastrophic change, the propaganda war over climate change is reaching a crescendo. Today sees the UK nation-wide release of Al Gore's film An inconvenient truth which presents in a dramatic way a mass of incontrovertible scientific evidence about climate change. This Sunday, a training programme begins for hundreds of volunteers who will learn how to deliver Gore's message.
Earlier in the week, The Guardian printed extracts from George Monbiot's book Heat which exposes ExxonMobil's campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining climate science. And as a further step in California's programme to reduce carbon emissions, the state is suing six car makers for contributing to global warming. Billionaire Richard Branson has committed future dividends and proceeds from the sale of assets to investment in renewable energy initiatives, not least of which is his new Virgin Fuels initiative. Branson pointedly calls it the Gaia Capitalism Project.
In the USA 483,523 people, including Republican politicians, musicians, astronauts, journalists, army generals, actors and broadcasters have signed up to The Stop Global Warming Virtual March, committing to each other that "together, as our numbers grow, we will use our collective voices to demand that governments, corporations, and politicians take the steps necessary to stop global warming".
The list of actions that individuals can take is growing day-by-day: reduce air travel, use compact fluorescent bulbs, inflate your tyres, change your air filter, fill the dishwasher, use recycled paper, adjust your thermostat, buy minimally-packaged goods, buy a fuel-efficient car, plant a tree, take shorter showers.
Behind all this activity lie two narrow assumptions: 1) 'we' as consumers are mainly responsible for the climate crisis and changes in our consumption habits are a precondition for moving forward 2) on no account can actions be taken that might in any way undermine the functioning of the global market economy.
Yet the source of the acceleration in climate change is not simply the result of human activity in general. This assertion gets us nowhere fast and, of course, leaves out of the equation the underlying structures and purpose of the economic system that drive consumption patterns.
In A World to Win’s view, climate change is primarily the consequence of the last three decades of unprecedented, uncontrolled and uncontrollable expansion of competitive profit-seeking production by globalising corporations which, even as they profess their green credentials, are maximising returns to shareholders.
It is this competitive drive for expansion that requires them to plunder the planet for resources, and ruin it with waste and pollution. It is in the very nature of the capitalist system to produce ever-increasing quantities of commodities which they must sell to us, making us into ever more heavily-indebted consumers. We urgently need to break out of the constraints of capitalist production and capitalist thinking. AWTW has outlined a crash programme for recovering the planet:
- Establishing a new, more democratic political framework
- Replacing the absurd private ownership of natural resources and social products with collective stewardship
- Replacing commodity production for profit with planned production for need
- Zero-waste production under the control of the workforce in alliance with consumers, producing goods built to last
- An end to production for obsolescence and the artificial creation of new "needs" by advertising and marketing
- Life-cycle production that respects eco-systems, including humanity's
- Massive investment in solar, wind and hydro - energy, hydrogen fuel cell propulsion systems, and biofuels to replace carbon-based energy sources
- Scrapping of unnecessary transport of food and goods around the world
- Implementation of new technologies to reduce carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emissions
- Public investment in new forms of affordable public transport tailored to individual needs in both urban and rural areas
- The long-term phasing out of mass private car use and a switch to car pools. An end to mass road building programmes
- Renewal of urban settlements to make them more energy efficient, based on people having to travel short distances for work.
This is a rough guide to a different future. Join us on October 21 for a day of discussion, debate and planning about how we can turn it into reality. Time is not on our side!
Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine fleet used to point its missiles at the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Who they’re pointed out now is anyone’s guess. Probably Iran and North Korea, amongst others. We’re not allowed to know. Nor are we being told the real cost of replacing the existing Trident missile system.
It now appears that the true replacement cost is somewhere near £76,000 million – three times the figures given in most estimates. Liberal Democrats, backed by House of Commons researchers, have made the calculations based on existing information. These new figures take into account the cost of buying the missiles from the United States and maintaining the system over a 30-year period. New Labour has declined to put a figure on the cost.
Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both back the replacement of the existing system in about 2020. The decision will have to be taken soon, however, and New Labour has signalled that parliament will not get a chance to vote on Trident II. So much for the democratic process then.
Obviously, £76 billion would finance many schools, hospitals, houses and fund urgently-needed infrastructure all over Britain. That’s clearly not going to happen because all the major parties and the military back Britain’s "independent nuclear deterrent", which in fact is utterly dependent on the United States.
New Labour can’t evade accusations of hypocrisy either. While they merrily go about spending taxpayers’ money on weapons of mass destruction, no time is lost in denouncing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. No wonder the Iranian president can hurl accusations of double-standards at Washington and London.
When the Cold War ended, the major Western powers declared that there would be a "peace dividend" and the world was now safer. The only dividends in sight are those that will be paid to missile contractors who will build Trident II, while as for living in a safer world…
While the world’s major powers go about their daily business of exploiting the planet and waging wars on several fronts, there is more dire news about the impact of climate change. Scientists from the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) report that this year’s retreat of Arctic sea ice could be the most extreme since monitoring of the polar ice cap began in 1979.
The loss of permanent sea ice is "the most irrefutable evidence" that global warming is affecting the environment, says Ted Scambos, lead scientist with NSIDC.
In 2005 - the warmest year ever recorded, according to scientists - the summer extent of Arctic sea ice hit a record low, covering an area 20 percent less than the average minimum of 7 million square kilometres between 1979 and 2000. The 2006 retreat, which peaks in September, is expected to be even greater. By the end of July, Arctic sea ice covered only 8.7 million square kilometres, down from 9.1 million in 2005 and 10.1 million on average for the 1979–2000 period.
Recent satellite data shows that melting of Greenland’s massive land-based ice sheet has accelerated as well. Measurements by a US space agency NASA satellite suggest that some 239 cubic kilometres of ice is being lost per year, almost a three fold increase in melting from the 2002 to 2004 average.
Unlike melting sea ice, which floats on the surface of the water, loss of land-based ice could lead to rising sea levels with catastrophic effects, including greater risks from severe storm surges and permanent submergence of low-lying areas. Experts estimate that each millimetre increase in sea level results in shoreline retreats of approximately 1.5 metres; if Greenland’s ice sheet were to melt completely, global sea levels would rise 6.5 metres. UN experts predict that rising sea levels and environmental deterioration will displace as many as 50 million people by 2010. And that’s only the start. Meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan…
Paul Feldman, communications editor
13 September 2006