In the last three years global carbon dioxide emissions have barely increased and they were slightly lower last year. However, the impact of existing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be disastrous. The last time they were at this level was around three million years ago in the Pliocene. Then Global temperatures are estimated to have been 3 to 4°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. Sea levels were around 25 metres higher than current sea level. This would mean that large areas of Lagos and the Niger Delta would be submerged by the sea.
We need a complete change of direction if the world as we know it is not going to be destroyed. Increasing global temperatures, by up to two degrees, is already causing untold misery to millions of people especially in Africa and across the Global South. Continuing to burn carbon fuels could lead to the global catastrophe of an eight degree increase in temperature. The longer the move away from carbon takes to happen, the more difficult will be the environmental problems that future society will have to face.
Marx “unearthed the fundamental contradiction between the social metabolism of capital and the universal metabolism of nature” – the metabolic rift. We need a return to the ideas of the Communist Manifesto – redistribution and democracy to provide a decent sustainable life for all. We need a return to the classical Marxist tradition and a clear break with further calls for national economic development and faster growth. Rather we need an emphasis on reducing inequality and moving away from economic growth, at least within a carbon-based economy. This is essential to overcome the metabolic or ecological rift between human society and the natural environment which it is a part of.
The counter revolution in Russia led by Stalin in the later 1920s and the 1930s led to emphasis on socialism in one country and national economic growth and development rather than redistribution of existing wealth. This approach was accepted by the leaders of the newly independent African states in the 1960s. Then, it appeared obvious that economic growth was the necessary priority to provide the conditions for a decent life for all Africans. Over the last three decades many areas of Africa have seen significant economic growth, but also a major rise in inequality, made worse by the dominance of neoliberalism. This and a growth in the adverse effects of global warming mean that most Africans continue to suffer in poverty, violence and in many cases war.
In Africa today there is enough wealth, the problem is that it is distributed so unequally and the poor are increasingly suffering the effects of climate change. The left needs to recognise this change and move from an emphasis on the need for further growth to demands for more equality. We need more progressive taxation and greater provision of free social services for all. We also need to demand a global move away from the carbon-based economy that is having such a detrimental effect on the lives of so many Africans.
Marxists and socialists should be more concerned with climate change (and other examples of the ecological rift) and inequality rather than national economic development. As an example, we should be making demands along the following lines:
1. Enforce a complete moratorium on all new facilities for extracting coal, oil or natural gas.
2. Close down all power-plants running on such fuels.
3. Draw 100 per cent of electricity from non-fossil sources, primarily wind and solar.
4. Terminate the expansion of air, sea and road travel; convert road and sea travel to electricity and wind; ration remaining air travel to ensure a fair distribution until it can be completely replaced with other means of transport.
5. Expand mass transit systems on all scales, from subways to intercontinental high-speed trains.
6. Limit the shipping and flying of food and systematically promote local supplies.
7. End the burning of tropical forests and initiate massive programmes for reforestation.
8. Refurbish old buildings with insulation and require all new ones to generate their own zero-carbon power.
9. Pour public investment into the development and diffusion of the most efficient and sustainable renewable energy technologies, as well as technologies for carbon dioxide removal.
We need to keep the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole! Can the climate movement grow by several orders of magnitude, gather progressive forces around it and develop some viable strategy for projecting its aims through the state — all within a relevant time frame in this rapidly warming world?
by Drew POVEY
It is a tall order, to say the least. But in the words of Daniel Bensaïd… ‘any doubt bears on the possibility of succeeding, not on the necessity of trying.’