Monday, August 3, 2015

Climate Change and Capitalism

By Stephen Perkins

During the 21st century, global warming and climate change, has become one of the foremost issues in the consciousness of much of the general population, including workers and young people. People of all ages and from different backgrounds are concerned not only about what will happen in the future but the impact on the environment during the present day and how it affects our quality of life. In this context, it is important to further examine problems related to climate change, its causes & effects and possible solutions both in terms of changing our individual lifestyles and through increased involvement in social movement(s). And from a political perspective, what is the role of political parties such as the Green Party in transforming the situation?

First, let’s take a look at some of the recent statistics and facts about climate change. 9 out of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred between 2000-2014. And so far in 2015, the average temperature has been 1.53 degrees above the 20th century average. Having said this, it is important to note that in response to external forces, the climate can simultaneously change not only in the direction of warming, but cooling as well, depending on location and other variables. Many climate change deniers will use this as evidence that the planet is not warming, but there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

What causes temperature changes? The factors which contribute to those changes include greenhouse gases, radiation and carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, the sun is not a recent cause of climate change. In fact, the depletion of the ozone layer has actually resulted in a cooling of the stratosphere. If the sun was a factor, the stratosphere would be getting warmer, not cooler.

There are many effects of global warming. These include: rising sea levels accompanied by coastal flooding; temperature extremes; Artic ice melting; the greening of the Sahara; and ocean acidification. Eventually, global warming will lead to decreased production of food and malnutrition due to crop failure. It will have a negative impact on health and well-being, leading to shorter life expectancy and diminished quality of life.

So what can we do to reverse the effects of global warming? Is it is possible to reverse its effects? On this question, being cynical about the possibility of changing society will have disastrous consequences. Instead, we need to either stop, start or continue doing whatever it takes to improve the situation. 

As individuals, we can change our lifestyle. This might include having fewer kids or not having kids at all. Maybe, those of us who live in cities can stop driving so much and walk, bike, take the bus or use the subway to get around. We can get involved in community gardens where we grow our own locally produced, organic produce. We can also recycle and compost, buy less “stuff” and re-use and/or barter items. We can replace obsolete household objects with energy efficient appliances. There are many ways we can take ownership of our lives and promote Green values.

But this won’t be enough. We also have strongly advocate for solutions to the environments problems on a societal level. We need to reduce greenhouse emissions, practice energy conversation as well as invest in reforestation and sustainable energy.

Carbon emissions, which currently exceed 400 parts per million and are rising, need to be at or below 350 parts per million. Once they  get to 450 parts per million, there will be a 2 degree – 4 degree increase in temperature, which will result in coastal flooding and the displacement of many people who live in cities built near oceans.

According to Peter Schwartman, a climatologist who is the Department Chair of the Environmental Studies program at Knox College in Galesburg, Il., a city council member in Galesburg and a member of the Green Party, “the obstacles [toward preventing global warming] are not technological, rather [they] lie in the political economy of real existing 21st Century global capitalism . . . Only a transnational movement for peace and justice can put this Dinosaur in the Museum of Prehistory where it belongs."

Where can serious minded activists on this question turn to advocate for solutions? The Green Party is at the forefront of the movement to transform the political landscape in the U.S.  The Green Party has developed a platform called the Green New Deal. In essence, the Green New Deal would provide jobs to everyone who needs one by heavily investing in energy efficiency, conservation and clean, renewable energy. It would be funded by initiatives such as the Financial Transactions Tax, cuts in military spending and ending corporate subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

While it is true that many Republicans are climate change deniers, Democrats have failed to take decisive action themselves. The Obama administration has promoted policies which increases off-shore drilling and furthers environmental degradation. They also have increased domestic production of oil so they can export it to the highest bidder. Despite the fact that during a part of Obama’s administration both houses of Congress were controlled by Democrats, he failed to attempt and pass climate change legislation.

The Green Party, however, has consistently been at the forefront of this issue. They will continue to provide leadership on the issue where the corporate-controlled Democrat and Republican parties either don't do anything or represent the interests of the fossil fuel industry.

And other environmental organizations like Greenpeace and Rising Tide are also stepping up to the plate and addressing the issue through direct action and civil disobedience. In the case of Greenpeace activists in Portland have recently suspended themselves from a bridge, protesting Shell's offshore drilling in the Artic. Meanwhile, Rising Tide is building a coalition of environmental organizations and individuals who will be engaging in direct action and acts of civil disobedience in advance of the Paris Summit talks on Climate Change in December. 

I am optimistic about the future and the opportunities which lie before us to reverse course on the effects of both climate change and capitalism. Ultimately, by planning the economy democratically instead of depending on the market's addiction to making money as fast they can, we can successfully preserve the human species ability to continue to live on this planet.

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