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No trading ‘fix’ for climate crisis

A new edition of Professor’s Mark Maslin’s Global Warming: A very Short Introduction offers a concise and accessible guide to the climate crisis despite its political limitations. Review by Stuart Barlow.

Professor Maslin includes the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th Assessment Report (2007) and the Stern Review, and shows how what is happening is different from what has occurred in the past, what climate modelling is predicting about the future and what we can expect to happen as global temperatures rise.

A brief history of the global warming debate is provided, demonstrating the evidence for human-induced climate change by cleverly exposing the sceptics’ arguments. Maslin points out how these arguments have affected the media’s coverage of this debate and how they have damaged the public’s perception of the seriousness of the dangers facing humanity.

Maslin points out that global warming is one of the most important issues facing us, challenging the very structures of global society, correctly arguing that solutions cannot just be technological but also need to be economic and political. He states quite firmly that the Kyoto Protocol “will do nothing to prevent global warming” and “is not significantly different from a business-as-usual situation”.

Despite seeing climate change as an opportunity to restructure global economics the book is, in political terms, mainstream in its outlook. While recognising that it is the poorest that will suffer the most from climate change, the solutions suggested do not go beyond those offered by the market.

Maslin sees the omission of carbon trading from Kyoto as a fundamental flaw in the protocol and tries to justify this view by citing the success of the 1990’s US emission trading scheme to reduce sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides from electricity generation.

Yet Larry Lohmann, of The Corner House organisation, has shown (see Carbon Trading, Climate Justice and the Production of Ignorance: Ten examples) how this only achieved modest cuts from a small number of emitters and required on-site monitoring equipment, sending details of emissions to a central database, in order to check compliance. Lohmann considers that all other such schemes have been unambiguous failures.

Maslin’s enthusiasm for carbon trading is even contradicted by Exxon Mobile’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson, who has recently been quoted (The Independent) saying that carbon trading schemes will only create vehicles for speculators, making it impossible to undertake long term planning. In addition the failure of Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism, and other carbon off-set scheme, has been thoroughly exposed in Kevin Smith’s The Neutral Carbon Myth

The limitation of the kind of market solutions supported in this book has also been highlighted with the recent fiasco of waste plastic bottles being stockpiled because the price of plastic for recycling has fallen by 50% as the result of the global economic crisis and the collapse in demand from Far Eastern buyers.

In environmental terms we need to recycle waste plastic bottles to convert them back into new plastic products to create a closed looped process. Capitalism, however, can only treat recycling plastic as a commodity to create profit, with its price determined by the market. If it falls and there is no profit in it, then it will just stop recycling despite any environmental arguments in its favour.

Unfortunately Maslin fails to recognise that it is these capitalist market principles that have been responsible for creating the climate crisis we are facing, by driving the consumption of fossil fuels to create ever more commodities to provide ever greater profits.  

The environmental movement needs to look forward to creating a more equitable world based on truly sustainable principles. This is what A World to Win proposed in its analysis of the climate crisis in Running a Temperature, with our call for the reorganisation of society on rational, not-for-profit, co-operative lines, producing sustainable goods to satisfy social needs.   

Global Warming: A very Short Introduction. Professor Mark Maslin. Oxford University Press, £7.99

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