Flooding in Brazil 2020. Source: CGTN
By Rufus Tyler
"State of the environment and the Socialist versus the Capitalist response to It".
This article will discuss the extent of the problem by covering two main points:(a) Anthropogenic (man-made) climate change and its adverse effects and (b) the effect of global warming on crops and commodities, and how it affects the working class.
It will then address both the capitalist response: the high-tech, and the market-driven solution as well as the Green movement's reaction before concluding with the Socialist stance on the issues
I'd like to focus mostly on climate change, as opposed to other topics like resource depletion and pollution. Climate change is, in itself, a vast, sprawling issue so I will do my best to cover some examples that are representative of the situation at hand - while keeping in mind that any article like this can only begin to scratch the surface of the problem.
Humans have known about man-made climate change since the nineteenth century. SVANTE ARRHENIUS (Ahr-renius) was a Swedish physicist. According to Wikipedia in 1896 "he was the first to use basic principles of PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY to calculate estimates of the extent to which increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide increase the Earth's surface temperature. These calculations led him to conclude that human-caused CO2 emissions, from fossil-fuel burning and other combustion processes, are large enough to cause global warming." Basically, he was the first person to work out, scientifically, that human activity would warm the planet through an increase in the GREENHOUSE EFFECT.
Arrhenius (born 19th of February 1859 – died 2nd of October 1927) was one of the founders of physical chemistry and was also the first Swedish Nobel laurate in 1905
According to NIWA, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research: The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth's surface. When the Sun's energy reaches the Earth's atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases.
Physical chemistry uses physics to learn about chemicals from levels that can be seen by the naked eye down to the smallest measurable particle.
Physical chemistry uses physics to study chemical systems. It studies them at macroscopic, atomic, subatomic, and particulate levels. It looks at concepts like motion, energy, force, time, thermodynamics, quantum chemistry, statistical mechanics and dynamics. Physical chemistry is not the same as chemical physics. Physical chemistry is mostly a macroscopic or supra-molecular science. The majority of physical chemistry concepts relate to bulk properties rather than to molecular/atomic structure alone.
Simply put, people have been aware of climate change for over a century. As much as some lobby groups would like to pretend otherwise, anthropogenic climate change is a fact. The effects of climate change include disruptive weather patterns worldwide, such as:
LONG TERM DROUGHT
In Central America long-term drought has resulted in large-scale emigration. While most of the American media is happy to portray the "Migrant Caravan" as some sort of bogeyman, few news stories mention that existing poverty and exploitation in Central America is being made worse by an ongoing drought. In ScienceDaily.com on March 14th, 2019 an article headed "Central American kidney disease epidemic linked to occupational heat exposure" stated that: 'For two decades, Nicaragua and El Salvador have seen increasing mortality from an unusual form of chronic kidney disease (CKD), also called Mesoamerican Nephropathy (MeN)Nephropathy means kidney disease or damage. The disease has disproportionately affected sugarcane and other agricultural workers, and appears to be unrelated to traditional kidney disease risk factors such as diabetes.' This marked increase in kidney disease is due to agricultural workers being exposed to higher temperatures. The drought has also made planting a risky business - peasant farmers often go into debt to buy seed and fertiliser. If the crop fails due to drought, the farmer will still be on the hook for the loan. This financial pressure pushes many to move to the cities or abroad - some of these people have joined the "Migrant Caravan".
The South West United States has also experienced droughts and wildfires brought about by climate change.
"The Southwest is already experiencing the impacts of climate change. The region has heated up markedly in recent decades, and the period since 1950 has been hotter than any comparably long period in at least 600 years""The decade 2001-2010 was the warmest in the 110-year instrumental record, with temperatures almost 2°F higher than historic averages, with fewer cold air outbreaks and more heatwaves."(National Climate Assessment 2014) In the future, more flights will be grounded because of higher temperatures. Sixty American Airlines regional flights, of between seventy and ninety passengers, were grounded. The following year, 2018, American Airlines changed its operating guidelines to accommodate higher temperatures. (azcentral.com)
These rising temperatures have forced commercial aircraft manufacturers to change their operations manuals to take into account these rising temperatures.
According to "aviation.stackexchange.com" the Beechcraft King Air B200 commuter aircraft has the following limitation:
Max Outside Air Temperature Limitations
Sea Level to 25,000 FT pressure altitude: ISA (International Standard Atmosphere) + 37° C
These limitations are given in the AFM (AIRCRAFT TRAINING MANUAL), and compliance is required.
Practically speaking, this limits aircraft operation of any kind—including takeoff and landing. Takeoff would not be authorized at sea level above 52°C, or at 5000 ft pressure altitude above 42°C.'
This means that the aircraft would not be safe for take-off above 52०C. The Indian heatwave this year has already recorded temperatures of 50०C. 'The thermometer hit 50.6०C in the Rajasthan desert city of Churu on Saturday, the weather department said.' (Phys.org)
In Europe, Coldiretti, an Italian agriculture association, states that last season, the olive harvest fell 57 percent, a 25-year low. At this rate, the group said, the chance of losing (possibly forever) Italian extra virgin olive oil is very real and “will have disastrous effects on the economy, jobs, health, and the countryside.” David Granieri, chairman of Unaprol, Europe’s largest olive oil producers’ union, is citing the harsh weather associated with climate change as one of the primary culprits. Additionally, a pathogen spread via insects took down many of Italy’s olive trees in Puglia in 2018.(fodors.com)
The fall in olive oil production is also due to a pathogen, The Xylella fastidiosa pauca bacterium, which is 'spread by plant-sucking insects such as the meadow froghopper. The bacteria restricts the flow of sap within the tree and so chokes its extremities' (Wikipedia). I put it to you that the spread of the disease is helped by warmer temps.
BBC News on June 30th, 2018, reported "lettuce growers in the UK warn there is an imminent shortage". The previous year on February 3rd, 2017, the same source said that bad weather in Europe been to blame for "a shortage of broccoli, tomatoes, salad peppers and aubergines." as well as actual rationing of lettuces at supermarkets across the country that winter.
Last year Ireland suffered a fodder and silage shortage. On July 24th, 2018, "Independent.ie" stated: 'Hay and straw prices have almost doubled as livestock farmers warned it could take Ireland 18 months to recover from the miserable winter followed by the record-breaking summer drought.' 'Straw bales (4x4) are now fetching €30 each – a near doubling of the €17 price many farmers had shelled out for straw in 2017. It is estimated that straw yields are now back by around 40pc nationwide.'(yields are down by 40 percent)
Even Scandinavia has been affected by drought. According to "thelocal.se": "Swedish authorities warn of a repeat of last year's water shortage if the dry weather continues. And some areas already have a hosepipe ban in place. After a dry and hot summer, and not enough snow in the winter, groundwater levels are below normal in Sweden. The shortage affects both larger repositories, which provide water to those connected to the municipal water networks, and smaller ones from which those with their own well get water."(April 25th, 2019)
People normally associate Europe with being a green place so these sorts of prolonged spells of dry weather seem ominous to me. This is only the beginning: the new normal will be more arid. The threat of desertification looms large in Southern Europe.
THE WEAKENING OF THE SUMMER MONSOON IN SOUTH ASIA:
Rainfall from the Asian summer monsoon has been decreasing over the past 80 years, a decline unprecedented in the last 448 years, according to a new study "Anthropogenic Aerosols Cause Recent Pronounced Weakening of Asian Summer Monsoon Relative to Last Four Centuries" (Yu Liu, Wenju Cai, Changfeng Sun, et allia, Huiming Song, Kim M. Cobb, Jianping Li, Steven W. Leavitt, Lixin Wu, Qiufang Cai, Ruoshi Liu, Benjamin Ng, Paolo Cherubini, Ulf Büntgen, Yi Song, Guojian Wang, Ying Lei, Libin Yan, Qiang Li, Yongyong Ma, Congxi Fang, Junyan Sun, Xuxiang Li, Deliang Chen, Hans W. Linderholm)
The study basically says that greenhouse gases increase temperatures but man-made aerosols reflect sunlight providing a localised cooling effect. This effect is the opposite of what would be expected. Cooler air carries less water vapour than hotter air, causing less rainfall. About half of the world's population depends on the South Asian Summer monsoon for water - in most of India, it provides about eighty percent of the year's average precipitation. The monsoon can happen anytime between June through September. In the northwest, it can last for fifty days before withdrawing (Wikipedia). It looks like human activity is delaying and weakening the monsoon.
Forest fires in recent years have a more intense, longer fire season. Fires are spreading to hitherto unaffected areas. CBC.ca explains that 'We have to learn to live with fire'
2.5 million hectares of land is charred every year. Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, predicts that will double. 'Canada is, on average, experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, according to Canada's Changing Climate Report.
The study, commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada and released last month, found that Canada's annual average temperature over land has warmed 1.7 C since 1948 — with higher rates seen in the North, the Prairies and northern B.C.''These parts of the country have been some of the hardest hit by wildfires in recent years, Flannigan points out, and that may signal a trend toward longer and more destructive seasons in these areas as a result of climate change.' CBC Radio · Posted: May 20, 2019
So those were some examples of the negative impact of climate change but who are the people who are being impacted by climate change?
It is clear that the effects of climate change disproportionately affect the poor and working class. The drought in Central America has displaced peasants. Hotter average temperatures have destroyed some coffee plantations - bringing with it a fall in income for peasant farmers. In the future, coffee shortages could make it a luxury item, priced out of range for most consumers. The same fate could befall chocolate.
The end result would be that average, everyday people in western countries would have to stop consuming these things. The farmers who used to grow it would fare even worse: their livelihood is gone and they have no option but to migrate. As migrants they face discrimination and hardship - searching for a better life could get them killed - by criminal elements, by hazards like falling off a moving train, or they could even end up dying in custody.
I'd like to mention Mesoamerican Nephropathy again - this is a relatively new disease that's being made worse by climate change.
Rich people are unaffected - they will simply pay higher prices for the commodity. The price increase may even be a boon to them - more expensive means more prestige in their eyes, plus the right investments could mean a healthier portfolio.
Global warming also contributes to sea-level rise. Again, the rich can either build seawalls or they can pack up and move. Only the poor are forced to deal with the problem where they live.
Earlier this year, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation predicted that the grain harvest will be thirty million tonnes short of demand. They said that they don't expect any rise in prices because current stocks should be enough to cover the shortfall. It's important to remember that the "Arab Spring" of 2011 was kicked off by a rise in the price of wheat.
The drought in Europe is putting farmers under pressure - it's mostly the smaller producers that suffer - large multinationals have the resources to weather the storm. Another possible outcome is that things like olive oil may become too expensive for the average consumer.
If the monsoon fails, the consequences will be devastating. India produces most of its own food at the local level (something like ninety percent). These farmers would have no crops if the monsoon fails, city dwellers would have no food. The farmers are already some of the poorest people in India, if their livelihood is taken away by the lack of rain; they will have nowhere to turn. What these folks would do in such an event is anybody's guess.
Forest fires affect the poor more than the rich - the rich can hire their own private firefighters, they can move to another property, they are insured. Another thing that will get worse over time is respiratory disease. It is mostly working-class people that will be affected - people who work outside are most at risk. The rich, as always, have other options: they can stay inside with their air-purifiers or they can go on holiday until the worst of the smog is over. Another thing is, low-income neighbourhoods are affected the most by air pollution from industry and traffic.
So what is society's response to this crisis?
Some turn to technology. They believe in unproven technologies like Carbon Capture or geo-engineering. Seeding the atmosphere with sulfates (Sulfates occur as microscopic particles (aerosols) resulting from fossil fuel and biomass combustion. They increase the acidity of the atmosphere and form acid rain. ) could provide a cooling effect, but it would cost over a billion dollars a year, every year. There are unknown side-effects: if it rains in one place, that may take the rain away from some other place. Using sulfates could change the colour of the sky from blue to something more whitish.
Carbon Capture is an industrial process that plucks carbon (in the form of CO2) from the atmosphere and turns it into a liquid, which is then injected deep into the earth. It is very energy-intensive. There's no proof that once stored the carbon will stay there - it may well leak out. Another thing is that this process does not scale well - it works in small quantities but it is expensive and for it to work we would need to build enough facilities to offset the emissions from more than a century's worth of carbon. Picture every oil well, every fossil fuel power plant, but working in reverse. It is a building project of an unprecedented scale, there's no political will to do it because there's no profit in it.
One more thing that carbon capture has going against it is that capitalists are already planning to re-use the captured carbon - some research has been done looking into using the carbon as a fuel source. If we capture the carbon and then re-use it, we will be right back where we are at the moment.
So, as far as I can see, the technological solution to the environmental problem is a sham - mere window dressing that will allow the ruling class to keep on doing "Business as Usual". It is greenwashing that will permit them to continue fleecing the workers as the world burns.
Greenwashing is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as "Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image."
Capitalism has also come up with Carbon Credits (more on that later) - they remind me of the derivatives responsible for the 2008 global recession. That is they don't seem to be reality-based; it's a solution on paper only.
It looks like capitalism has reduced the greatest crisis ever faced by mankind into an externality.
The damage to the environment is nothing more than an externality to the bourgeois. An externality is anything that has a cost that isn't borne by the capitalist- that is, say anything bad or detrimental that the capitalist doesn't have to pay for. Externalities are things like:
- pollution, for example: of the water supply, air; it includes indirect results of pollution like the increased incidence of lung and respiratory disease and the concomitant shortening of the average lifespans of affected groups.
- environmental damage or deterioration, for example, deforestation, open cast mining and its tailings; this includes more intangible things like “What is the cost of decreased biodiversity? What are the ethical considerations of changing the look of the landscape? Should the current generation be allowed to make irreversible decisions for generations yet to come?” All these questions have a cost.
- the dispossession of the proletariat, peasant or indigenous groups example: logging or mining companies destroying the livelihood of indigenous tribes when they cut down the forest. In the Amazon, before roads are built, the negative human impact on the forest is limited to areas near navigable rivers - mostly some logging and mining operations. Once road construction opens up an area to commercial interests, logging intensifies to clear-cutting. Finally, the ranchers move in to complete the process: the forest has no chance of regenerating and the people who lived there have nowhere to go.
Other things like a company making employees buy their own uniforms instead of providing them would be a way of turning a business expense into an externality. Capitalism reduces the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced to a mere externality: something someone else has to pay for or fix.
Working within the existing power structures is not the answer. For example the Green Party tries to fix the problems that capitalism has brought about by turning to capitalism for the solution. The result is weak and ineffectual: things like Carbon Credits end up benefiting companies by allotting them a share of pollution they then are allowed to either emit or trade for a profit. Recent campaigns here in New Zealand for getting rid of plastic bags at the supermarket, or getting rid of plastic straws, have been nothing but greenwashing and a distraction; these campaigns shift the burden from capitalists and their companies to the individual. The individual is powerless to stop what is a societal problem.
In short, the bourgeois state's parliamentary democracy, with its careerists and compromised ethics, has no means to solve the problem. There is no political will because there is no private profit in changing anything.
As we can clearly see the Capitalist response has not only helped create climate change but it hasn’t adequately addressed the issue. So what is the appropriate Socialist response? In Defence of Marxism provides us with an insight into this issue.
Kevin Harriman & Kevin Nance said that:
"Our ideas are a reflection of material reality, not the other way around. Therefore, to truly effect a fundamental change, we must change the material conditions and structures of society, not merely change our ideas."
And that is the key difference between their approach and our approach. Our way requires deep, fundamental change to the way things are run now - real, physical action that will manifest itself physically in an improved environmental outlook - grandiose talk and profiteering will change nothing.
In "Global Warming: a Marxist perspective" (July 6th, 2012) Chris Burrows wrote:
"...global warming is not just a scientific issue, but a class issue.
The impacts of global warming fall disproportionately on the poor. The effects will manifest themselves in lots of ways: more expensive foods, a shortage of water, less fertile soil, and more extreme weather. Those who will suffer (and already are suffering) as a result are ordinary working and middle-class people, peasant farmers – in short, everyone except the super-rich, who can always up sticks and move to a more pleasant climate.
The dialectical nature of climate change is a striking confirmation of the philosophy of dialectical materialism developed by the founders of scientific socialism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In his unfinished book The Dialectics of Nature, Engels provides us with an explanation of dialectical materialism: "the transformation of quantity and quality - mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes - development through contradiction or negation of the negation."
The jetstream's all out of whack because of climate change. The differential between hot tropical air and cool arctic air is lessening and that is causing the jetstream to meander across the globe, bringing with it cold snaps like the "Polar Vortex" and the "Beast From The East".
In conclusion, we can draw the conclusions that climate change affects those least responsible for it the most. Capitalism can only provide facile answers. And, the only effective response to this problem will be a concerted societal effort to end the profit motive, and to move towards a needs-based system. In short, Socialism is the only way to address the challenges posed by global climate change.