Global Warming: Capitalism Threatens the Planet

Capitalism is killing the planet. The answer should be staring every environmentalist in the face: get rid of capitalism!

Submitted by Internationali… on November 3, 2018

From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its holders, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. (Marx)

In 2015 195 countries signed up to The Paris Agreement, a non-binding treaty aiming to keep the global average temperature rise to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”. The signatories commissioned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to produce a report comparing the probable impacts of a 1.5°C global warming with 2°C and assessing what it would take to keep to the lower level. The report came out in October and synthesises all published research to 15th May 2018. However, the official version is not as written by the scientists who authored it. The final wording is the outcome of political negotiations and is heavily redacted. We know from leaks that the US was one of the governments intent on watering it down.

The full report makes it clear that the consequences will be severe even if the 1.5°C target is met. It also states that, “there is a very high likelihood that under current emission trajectories and current national pledges the Earth will warm more than 1.5 degrees above targets set in Paris ...” This was cut from the final report. Also omitted was the verdict that if countries make the cuts they say they will then the world is on course for a 3°C warming by 2100. And if they don’t, global warming could go as high as 7°C!

This latest IPCC report only confirms the complete inadequacy of the Paris Agreement and the huge gap between words and necessary action if the planet is going to be able to sustain human civilisation or any life at all. That Agreement fails on all four counts that scientists and environmental groups agree need to be met, namely:

1. Catalyse immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions

These cuts, or “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) were drawn up by governments, based on what they were prepared to deliver, not on what scientists think is needed. They go nowhere near far enough. For instance, aviation and shipping emissions, which are as large as the emissions of Britain and Germany combined, were not even included. Meanwhile, Australia’s blatant refusal to phase out coal by 2050 to keep emissions within the Paris target highlights the absurdity of expecting each capitalist power to put the survival of the globe before its own national (profit-making) interest. The world’s biggest coal exporter said it would be “irresponsible” to comply with the IPCC recommendation to stop using coal to generate electricity. Instead the government’s priority is to cut domestic electricity prices, not greenhouse gas emissions, which have risen for four consecutive years! Coal generates two-thirds of Australia’s electricity and earned it a record A$61bn in exports in the 2017-18 financial year. In China, slowing ‘economic growth’ has led the government to withdraw emission curbs on heavy industries only recently introduced to reduce disastrous levels of air pollution. Can’t let difficulty breathing affect profit-making.

2. Provide adequate support to “developing nations” for transformation

According to the International Energy Agency, transformation to a fossil-free world will require $1,000bn per year by 2020. Around two-thirds of this, $670bn, will need to be spent in “developing nations”, requiring a significant transfer of finance from North to South. The big capitalist countries hold just 10% of the world’s population but produce around 60% of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere.

However, the Paris Agreement only commits to “mobilising” $100bn per year by 2020, to cover not just emission cuts but also adaptation (see 3, below). The definition of “mobilise” is deliberately broad, to include loans, private finance, grants with strings attached, and re-allocation of aid budgets. There is even talk of calling money sent home by migrants working in richer countries a form of climate finance, and counting it in the total “mobilised” by the US, France, Germany, etc. In short, the proposed funding is totally inadequate, when it’s not a complete fiction. It is totally dwarfed by the estimated $5,300bn a year governments spend on direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels.

3. Deliver justice for impacted people

According to the UN Environment Programme, on top of an annual $670bn needed for emissions cuts by 2020, vulnerable countries will need another $150bn per year for adaptation measures to protect them from the worst impact of climate change. The UN’s $100 billion put forward represents less than 15% of what is formally needed!

The large capitalist powers are the biggest polluters but the idea that they should make a commensurate contribution to a solution has been watered down at the behest of the US and others. The Paris deal just says that “developed countries” should “take the lead” on providing finance, as part of a “shared effort” by all parties.

4. Focus on genuine, effective action rather than false solutions

The Paris agreement aims to reduce anthropogenic emissions by the second half of this century, yet a 1.5° target requires a definitive end to fossil fuel use by 2050! Plus, the deal allows for continued fossil-fuel burning “offset” by “removals” via dubious carbon capture, geo-engineering or forestry schemes. Regulations to rein in destructive industries, halt deforestation and stop mining fossil fuels are not even hinted at. And the agreement has no precedence over existing or new trade agreements, allowing firms to overturn environmental regulations when profits are threatened. In short, it is more a PR exercise than a serious plan to reduce emissions. When Trump withdrew the United States from the ‘deal’ just over a year ago, it was of little consequence. Its goals are far too little too late.

Capitalism is killing the planet. Even where a price might be put on it, the cost of cleaning up the environment is greater than the value of economic growth as measured by GDP. (Hence the agreement’s blurring over how to pay for its feeble recommendations.) The disappearance of species, toxins in food, water, air, land, indicate capitalism's ravaging of the planet. The profits capitalism makes from exploiting the working class would be negated if they had to include environmental cost in their production. No amount of climate accords, spurious recycling schemes, or whatever can reconcile capitalism’s pursuit of profit with Marx’s insight on the need to hand the globe down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. The answer should be staring every environmentalist in the face: get rid of capitalism!

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 45) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.


Noah Fence

5 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Noah Fence on November 3, 2018

The monumental problem of animal agriculture is conspicuous by its absence. Any idea about the reason for that Internationalist?

Tom Henry

5 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Tom Henry on November 3, 2018

Yes, this piece annoyed me in another way too.

Firstly, as you suggest, Noah Fence, anyone who is genuinely concerned about the ecological disaster facing us cannot ignore or dismiss industrial agriculture. It is also worth pointing out that anyone who claims to have respect for animals is not thinking hard enough if they consume factory-farmed products. There is no sound or rational argument from environmentalists, or those who claim to love/respect animals, for not becoming vegan.

Secondly, 99% of this article could have been written by any journo interested in the Paris Agreement. I would hope for a far deeper analysis. It is now becoming common knowledge that global industrialisation has led to imminent (2040 in a recent report), irreversible, environmental catastrophe. Some scientists now think ‘we’ just have to find a way to string it out as long as possible and walk towards the cataclysm with grace.


5 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by Dyjbas on November 4, 2018

This is an agitational piece published in Aurora, bulletin of the CWO. Because this is a physical publication there is a limit to how much can be said in terms of words and space taken up. So the focus is very much on the Paris Agreement. I can personally assure you it's not some anti-vegan conspiracy.

It'd be much more constructive if instead of nitpicking and looking for hidden agendas youse contributed something positively, be it a deeper analysis of the Agreement or something on animal agriculture.

Noah Fence

5 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Noah Fence on November 4, 2018


Now come on, it’s hardly nitpicking to point out the glaring omission of one of, if not the biggest problem that capitalism has unleashed upon the environment.
Excellent word though, I’ll give you that much.

Tom Henry

5 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Tom Henry on November 4, 2018

Fair play to you, Dylbas.

I certainly wasn’t - and nor was Noah Fence, I suspect - ‘looking for hidden agendas’. What kind of agenda could you have been hiding? I have no idea.

I presume that the piece is intended to agitate environmentalists? (“The answer should be staring every environmentalist in the face: get rid of capitalism!”) Have you ensured it gets to these folk? What has been the response?

But I would still say that I have read several other much more effective and affecting pieces in the mainstream press recently.

On being constructive or not:
a) If, as you imply, you had the other bases covered in your theory but had no space in your printed publication, I would suggest that you ensured your publications didn’t hamper your message by restricting what you are able to write.
b) If the piece is agitational then why is it put here, on a discussion forum of people who are basically in agreement with what you have to say already?

Lastly, the numbers of vegans in ‘developed’ countries across the world is increasing exponentially. And they will come to get you!