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Climate: Rage, Despair and Hope [Amandla 77 Editorial]

Climate: Rage, Despair and Hope [Amandla 77 Editorial]

Jonathan Neale and Amandla Editorial Collective | Amandla 77

The IPCC states clearly that climate change is “unequivocally caused by human activities.”
But can climate change be laid at the door of the whole of humanity?

Rage is the only sane response. That rage can feed despair. But if we let despair defeat hope, we are lost.

The first volume of the new United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has just been published. Everyone says it is a wake-up call. Yet there is a peculiar and ominous silence about action.

There is also another crucial silence. In the most widely read version of the Report, the 41-page “Summary for Policymakers,” the word “human” appears 79 times; by contrast, “capitalism” occurs 0 times, “colonialism”, 0 times, “corporation”, 0 times, “business”, 0 times, “money”, 0 times, and “fossil fuel” (or even just “fuel”) 0 times. 

In this report, as in so many others, the most ideological, political aspects can be seen from its silences and omissions.  The IPCC states clearly that climate change is “unequivocally caused by human activities.” But can climate change be laid at the door of the whole of humanity, or does it rather belong with that part of humanity that owns and controls, and which decides what happens to our future?

The loudest silence of  the report is on the systemic causes of climate change. The zero mentions for capitalism are testimony to that.

In reality, the culprit is not “humanity”. It’s industrial capitalism and its addiction to fossil fuels, underpinned by banks, hedge funds, derivatives and other components of the financial system seeking short-term profits. 

What the IPCC Report Says

Even so, this report indicates the scientists are showing more backbone than ever before. Partly this is because they know the news is bad. Partly it’s because the school strikes have been so big, and activists like Greta Thunberg have been so clear that all the politicians are betraying us. And partly it’s because the scientists grow angrier that nothing is being done.

The report comes out every six to eight years. The headlines this time are:

  • Two years ago the IPCC published an interim report saying it was essential to keep average global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees, not the earlier goal of 2.0 degrees. They explained in great detail why more than 1.5 degrees would be dangerous. The report now says we will probably pass 1.5 degrees in the next ten years, whatever we do. If there are no further rises in global emissions after this year (fat chance), we will pass 2 degrees by about 2040.
  • The interim report two years ago was very positive on the possibility of reducing the temperature by taking large amounts of CO2 directly out of the air. This report is much more skeptical.

Unlike previous reports, this one pays a lot of attention to the threat of feedbacks increasing the pace of warming. The one they worry about most is that the oceans, and plants and trees on land, now absorb more than half of the CO2 we put into the air every year. As the stockpile of the CO2 grows year by year, those “sinks” will absorb less of the CO2. So the same amount of CO2 emissions will heat the world even more.

If We Don’t Get Jobs

The IPCC report says that in some places rainfall will increase. But across southernmost Africa, North Africa, and West Africa the droughts will get worse. For South Africa, that means the recent droughts were a warning. For small farmers, this is a stairway down to hell.

Across Africa, the IPCC says that everywhere,  even where rainfall increases, much more of the rain will fall in torrential downpours. The soil will not absorb that kind of rain – it will just produce floods. This will be a tragedy for South Africa. For those African countries where most people live in the countryside, it will be far worse.

Imagine a South Africa where almost no one can make a living on the land. Where tens of millions of desperate ex-farmers from other African countries flood south. Imagine the hatred for the immigrants, the competition for jobs, the killings. Imagine…what is already happening. Cities without water, far more people without jobs. Imagine how the rich in South Africa will treat the poor then.

We don’t have to imagine what the rich countries will do. We have seen it with Covid. Vaccine nationalism is racist cruelty. With global warming, there will be hundreds of millions of climate refugees. Look how, with far smaller numbers, migrants fleeing parts of Africa are left to drown in the Mediterranean, or to die in the desert crossing into the US. Look how the US army will not even rescue their Afghan translators, because they are not white enough.

And all that we have asked you to imagine so far is in line with the normal changes the IPCC foresees. Without the confluence of feedbacks that will at some point produce runaway, abrupt change.  

COP 26

     The culprit is not “humanity”. It’s industrial capitalism and its addiction to fossil fuels, underpinned by banks, hedge funds, derivatives and other components of the financial system seeking short-term profits.

The annual UN climate talks will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. This year countries are supposed to agree new emissions targets for the next decade.

US president Biden promised to cut emissions by just over 40% by 2030. Everyone knew that would require massive government spending. The money was there. In 2020 and 2021, under Trump and then Biden, the US will spend $4.8 trillion on Covid-19.  That is more, in today’s prices, than the US military spent on the whole of World War Two. Austerity is over.

Biden promised $2.8 trillion on infrastructure. Climate activists hoped that would mean climate. The proposals have been cut to $110 billion a year. That includes $38 billion a year for railways, public transit, electric vehicles and clean energy. A drop in the ocean.

Biden has surrendered to the Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has just repeated its promise to keep increasing emissions until 2030. The US and China between them account for more than 40% of global emissions. That means their joint total of emissions will rise. Then what do you think the rest of the world is going to do?

The argument at the Glasgow COP will not be about how much global emissions are reduced next year. It will be about how much global emissions will be increased.

Politicians have set targets, made promises, talked about net zero in a distant future, declared climate emergencies. For twenty years we have waited for the market. The problem has got worse. And still global emissions rise each year.

We don’t need more promises and lies. We need government action that will cut emissions next year.

Create climate jobs

That means we need jobs. The logic is simple. We need to cut CO2 emissions from burning coal, oil and gas by at least 90% globally in the next fifteen or twenty years. We can’t achieve cuts on that scale by cutting our consumption . No one can take that kind of cut in the standard of living. Not in the US, or China, or South Africa.

So we need alternative energy instead of coal, oil and gas. That means we have to build enough renewable energy to provide enough electricity to power all our current uses of electricity, almost all our transport and industry, and all heating of buildings.  We need public transport instead of private cars and trucks. And we need to re-engineer our buildings to be energy efficient. These are public sector jobs, because capital refuses to invest in decarbonising except if it delivers a profitable return.

We can create climate jobs in every country in the world. We can’t have the renewable energy, public transport, etc. without very large numbers of workers.

Simple, really. Act to stop emissions now. Renewable energy, public transport now. Jobs now.

It’s the only way to stop climate change before it goes runaway. But that would be governments acting for the good of all humanity and all life on the planet. People, collectively, caring for each other.

Our leaders, drunk on neoliberalism, greed, capitalism and the market, fear such a solution, because it would transform what human beings can imagine.

What we need to do is clear. And scary. It is daunting in the face of our daily reality and our depressed hopes and dreams.

But we need millions of voices full of rage and love, screaming JOBS.

A Final Thought

We should welcome the Report as an important source of scientific insight. But we should also view it critically. It is an ideological device that in crucial ways obscures the systemic roots of climate change. So it also obscures the need for a fierce struggle of working class movements, including the crucial leadership of indigenous peoples, against capitalism and the states that protect it.

Thanks to the scientists, we know what we face. Governments have the money. We know what we have to do. We can say it in two words. Climate Jobs.

Will we win those jobs in time? We know it is possible. And if we do save each other, in the process we will transform humanity.

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