‘‘An important biological species is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat: Humankind,’’ said departed Fidel Castro, the architect of Cuban revolution, in his 5-minute speech at UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 12 June 1992. ‘‘The forests are disappearing. The deserts are expanding. Billions of tons of fertile soil are washed every year into the sea. Numerous species are becoming extinct….everything that contributes to underdevelopment and poverty is a flagrant violation of the environment’’, he added. Almost thirty years have rolled by. But the situation instead of being abated, has worsened so much so as to trigger a panic button. Extreme weather events of unprecedented intensity in every corner of the globe, starting from severe tropical cyclones, record breaking droughts, cataclysmic floods and widespread as well as prolonged wildfires, with catastrophic impact on millions of people’s life, health and livelihood, and staggering economic losses, have brought home a rude warning of what global warming and climate change has in store for humanity, if left unaddressed. According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 90 per cent of disasters are now classed as weather and climate-related. As the world limps ahead under the crippling impact of Covid-19 with endless suffering and untold tragedies, the enormity of damage and destruction, the huge toll the rapid climate change has already taken on people’s lives, health, and most of all their livelihoods amidst all pervasive unemployment, insecurity and growing poverty, is indeed mindboggling. Even the biggest climate sceptics cannot deny that climate change due to global warming, air pollution and allied causes is a harrowing reality.
IPCC report reveals the gravity of the crisis
Now, on the eve of 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) slated to be held in Glasgow, UK, from 31 October to 12 November 2021, 1st part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report has been published. To quote some of its principal observations: ‘‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.’’ …‘‘… sea level is committed to rise for centuries to millennia due to continuing deep ocean warming and ice sheet melt, and will remain elevated for thousands of years… Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe…each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850’’…. Cautioning that global surface temperature is slated to rise to 1.5 degree C in the next two decades as against present 1.1 degree of warming compared to pre-industrial level (due to greenhouse gas emissions already accumulated in the atmosphere) it stressed : ‘‘There will be an increasing occurrence of some extreme events unprecedented in the observational record with additional global warming, even at 1.5°C of global warming…From a physical science perspective, limiting human -induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reduction in Methane (CH4) emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality’’. The message of the IPCC report is loud and clear: On the choices of humanity today depends the future of the planet, the future of human civilization.
Devastations being brought about by climate change
To cite a few examples of the havoc being wreaked by climate change, in cool-climate British Columbia of Western Canada temperatures soared up to an incredible 49.6 degrees Celsius this July during an unprecedented and prolonged heat wave. And wildfires of unprecedented magnitude burned for months simultaneously in North America, Northern Siberia (one of the coldest place on earth associated with permafrost) and the entire Mediterranean region, including Turkey and Greece. Of late, huge wildfires, fuelled by prolonged heat waves and droughts have been sweeping through entire townships at times, leaving people barely time to flee, while plumes of smoke reach even far away countries. Millions of people are tormented by severe drought conditions in different North Eastern countries of Africa, including strife-torn Ethiopia. Again, extreme rainfall of unprecedented intensity has led to cataclysmic floods across continents in last July alone; even in temperate Europe a lingering rainstorm snuffed out hundreds of lives in Belgium and Germany, devastated valleys and turned small rivulets into raging torrents that toppled houses and swept away cars. Hurricane Ida after devastating Louisiana’s power grids, knocking out electricity to more than 1 million customers in the sweltering heat, moved on to besiege New York City. Flash floods from torrential rains led to serious infrastructural damages, flooding subway tunnels trapping many residents in basements or in submerged areas there. Hundreds of people were killed in China’s Henan province where four days of severe downpour dumped a whole year’s rainfall in some places while the extreme intensity of a rainstorm in its capital, Zhengzhou, brought torrents of floodwaters pouring into subways making many commuters stranded neck-deep and some were drowned before help could arrive. In our country, too, tormenting and persistent heat, series of super-cyclones and tornadoes, deadly thunder storms and excessive rains as well as flash floods in rapid frequency have caused havoc entailing huge loss of life and property as well as crop production. Record breaking landslides in the Himalayan range in Uttarakhand as well as Western Ghat hills in Goa have disrupted life, blocked communication and also took away many precious lives. While ocean levels are estimated to rise by the end of the century (2081-2100) –– relative to 1995-2014 –– in a high emission scenario, according to IPCC report, one shudders to think of the havoc this will create for people in coastal cities already faced with problems of erosion, mindless urbanization and devastating floods, or what the further impact of ingress of salt water will have on agriculture in the coastal regions.
Moreover, as the Arctic has warmed up at twice the global rate, hitherto unheard-of thawing of permafrost (below the surface; containing huge amount of locked up carbon) in vast expanses of north-eastern Siberia and northern Canada, etc., apart from causing damage to buildings and infrastructure, is destroying livelihoods, eco-systems and throwing up a host of serious problems, including release of greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2.
Moreover, as Russia warms 2.8 times faster than the global average, the thawing of Siberia’s long-frozen tundra is releasing greenhouse gases. It needs to be remembered that a gigantic amount of carbon and methane has been locked up in thawing permafrost has been further amplified, in recent years, with ground sinking below the houses, pipelines, storage facilities etc. In some places age old mammals and plants getting exposed and rotting in some places, while craters from methane explosions have been found in others, so much so that scientists have begun to speak of methane bomb threat.
What causes greenhouse gas emission and why is it harmful
Before proceeding further, it might be useful to have a look at why greenhouse emission is harmful and triggering climate change. As we all know, glass allows visible light to pass through (that is why it is transparent), but blocks infrared radiation which is the invisible electromagnetic radiation which carries heat. Thus, if something is covered by glass, it can absorb the visible component of the radiation from the sun. It then becomes hot and in turn emits infrared radiation. This infrared radiation cannot pass through the glass, and so the space inside the glass cover traps the energy from the sun. Any object is stated to be in stable temperature if the energy absorbed by it is equal to the energy emitted from it.
Greenhouse gases (GHG) may be viewed like a transparent blanket spread around the Earth. It lets through the sun’s rays (short waves) that heat up the earth, but absorbs some of the extra heat that the earth radiates back into space (infrared radiation) trapping extra energy. The earth thus becomes warmer. Briefly this is global warming. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is by far the dominant greenhouse gas which is mainly responsible for global warming. Though methane (CH4) is an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, it is present in much smaller quantity and is short-lived, (maximum 10 years). On the contrary, CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a long time. It can, therefore, affect the climate long into the future. According to the IPCC report, the concentration level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen to an annual average of 410 ppm – the highest in 2 million years – (as against a level of roughly 280 ppm prevailing at pre-industrial times). And concentration levels for methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the highest in 800,000 years.
Human induced build-up of CO2 comes mainly from the use of fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas, while methane is emitted by agriculture (esp. cattle breeding), extraction and transport of gas and human waste. Nitrous oxide which is mainly produced in agriculture from use of nitrogen fertilizer, despite its seemingly negligible quantity, is gaining more attention nowadays, as it is a much more potent GHG than CO2 and also stays in the atmosphere for a long time. Not only has the latest IPCC report unequivocally pinned the increase of greenhouse gases on human activities but has also provided the relevant figures for it. Without going into further details it may be said that the natural forces are shown to play only a relatively very small role in it as yet.
Incidentally, there is a layer of Ozone gas (O3), Ozone layer high up in the stratosphere that plays a vital role in protecting humans and plants from harmful ultra violet rays. Ought, however, not to be confused with the ground level Ozone, a component of smog created by aerosol pollution which is extremely hazardous for human health (with India being one of the biggest polluters).
GHG emission is also a contributing factor in creation of hole in stratospheric Ozone layer which, however, does not per se cause global warming. But both global warming and Ozone depletion have a common cause: human activities that release excessive pollutants into the atmosphere so much so as to alter its composition. What is worrying the scientists is not only the magnitude of global warming but the pace at which it is happening. Put in simple terms, remedy lies in immediate arrest of rapid emission of greenhouse gases. The World Meteorological Report shows that from 1990 to 2020, radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – by long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 47%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase. The numbers are based on monitoring by WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network.
Summits to reduce global warming and air pollution
Not that there has been dearth of global summits to address the issue. In the late 1980s, in the backdrop of scientists’ voice of concern over global warming trend, strong public opinion and people’s movements asking for action, the World Meteorological Organization and UN Environment Programme set up the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change) to assess scientific information related to climate change, which was endorsed by the UN General Assembly. Negotiations began in 1991 under the auspices of United Nations to formulate an international treaty on global climate protection. Those negotiations led to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). The Convention was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, and it entered into force in March 1994.
Then the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention was held from 1 to12 December 1997, in Kyoto, Japan. It resulted in an international agreement involving 169 countries for combating global warming that came out as an amendment to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) known as Kyoto Protocol. The protocol asked the member countries to adopt policies and measures on mitigation and report progress periodically. In other words, it set binding emission reductions for developed countries and voluntary reductions for developing countries that were supposed to get the help of finance and technology transfer to do so. After a complex ratification process, the Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. A provision for ‘flexible’ mechanism, or carbon trade, was included into the Protocol as CDM. In brief, by this, countries or individual companies who would have reduced emissions more than the target fixed for them could sell their surplus reduction while those who would not meet their target could buy these (calculated in equivalent of CO2 metric tonnes). Many companies in developed countries have found that the cost of reducing emission is less if they ‘buy’ emission reductions from developing countries. But US imperialists refused sign the Kyoto treaty, not to speak of agreeing to reduce emissions, as long as developing countries did not do likewise! However, many others endorsed the protocol. India has ratified the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in 2017.
And in 2009, when new emission reductions were on the cards at the Copenhagen Summit (COP 15), US manipulations did away with binding emission reductions for the developed countries and putting pressure on the developing countries to make commitments for emission reductions. Thus, for all practical purposes, US dumped the Kyoto Protocol, clearly in deference to savage market interests by the industrial tycoons and in particular the oil lobby, which had orchestrated a ferocious media campaign to discredit climate science and scientists, and mounted an international campaign by employing think tanks to ‘prove’ with facts and figures that global warming was a hoax, a conspiracy mired in dirty politics.
After the ill-fated Copenhagen summit, 196 Parties again met in Paris on 12 December 2015 at COP 21. There was an agreement that to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. To better frame the efforts towards the long-term goal, the Paris Agreement invited countries to formulate and submit by 2020 long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS).The Paris Agreement was a legally binding international treaty on climate change. But the agreement did come into effect on schedule in 2020 without a rulebook. Again, another UN climate change conference (COP24) was held from 2 to 15 December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. The EU and its Member States took part as parties to the UN climate change convention. Here too, there was no consensus on finance and transparency. Now, it has to be seen what comes out of the Glasgow conference.
What is hindering consensus on containing greenhouse gas emission?
By far the majority of greenhouse gases are emitted by sources in energy production and transportation sectors (especially automobiles) that are concentrated in developed imperialist-capitalist countries. But the rulers of these rich countries have so far shown no concern about their own emissions. Instead, they pointed at increasing emissions from the relatively less developed or developing countries. Friction has been evident in the debates over which actions by the developed and developing countries should be undertaken, on what schedules, and which parties should pay incremental costs for mitigation measures. The developing and less developed countries generally have argued that the financial burden of change should be borne by the developed countries, which are mainly responsible for current atmospheric change due to human activity.
Imperialism-capitalism is responsible for global warming
But, it has to be understood clearly that the problems, at root, are not to be found in development of technology or industrial progress. They are to be found in the very structure of present day society, in the basic motivation of economic activity, i.e. of capitalism. To make the point clear we need to look at the international initiatives taken in this regard and the attitude expressed by the governments of various countries.
Right from day one, the imperialist US regime has been trying to dodge the issue of global warming under one pretext or the other. Notwithstanding providing lip service at times to the all-important questions of reversing the trend of increased global warming, the Pentagon rulers, as chieftain of world imperialism-capitalism thriving on the hunger and ruination of the global people, ensured that any tangible proposal to effectively combat the menace of climate change did not materialize. US imperialist rulers for long had doggedly refused to acknowledge growing scientific evidence about the dangers of global warming and climate change. In fact, they had been slashing environmental standards and protections at the behest of the powerful oil barons like Exxon Mobil and some think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute.
These quarters of vested with an ulterior motive had been campaigning to downplay the risks of climate change. Though under pressure of people’s movements, they later were forced to accept that the phenomenon of global warming is caused by ‘‘man,’’ and there is need to undertake necessary preventive measures. But, still, differing on binding goals of remedial measures, former US President Donald Trump quit the Paris agreement later on to register US disagreement on the issue. So, despite US President Biden’s big promises, it remains to be seen whether US imperialism and its cohorts have changed their stand in favour of adopting appropriate measures to stop GHG emission and other activities contributing to environmental pollution and global warming.
China, another imperialist country after counter-revolution, is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases globally. A lot of that comes from factories that make steel, electronics, clothes and other products for the rest of the world in hubs like Wuhan and others. Though the present Chinese rulers speak of adherence to global commitment on reducing global warming, they are in fact keeping an eye on US response as US happen to be their biggest competitor in global capitalist market. European powers also verbally agree that it is high time for the agreement and Europe has to show where does it stand vis a vis positions taken by US and China in this regard. During last two decades, the rulers of imperialist Russia have gone from joking about the climate crisis to gradually accepting responsibility for responding to climate change as its effects have become more pronounced in their own country, the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter which is warming faster than the rest of the planet. India, another large imperialist power, is continuing mindless fossil fuel burning, unrestricted discharge of toxic gases in various industries and plants and such other impermissible polluting acts are poisoning the climate here.
As the poisonous tentacles of capitalist exploitation are penetrating every sphere of life and activity, while profit motive is driving the entire capitalist production system in vogue throughout the world simply for the benefit of a handful of monopolists ad MNCs, a host of climate-hostile acts on the part of the industrial houses and corporate sharks like uncontrolled use of fossil fuel, reluctance to earliest switching to green energy sources, ignoring eco-friendly running of factories, unplanned urbanization and reckless deforestation destroying biodiversity and ecological balance in its wake, are causing global warming and resulting calamities. Use of weapons of mass destruction in local and partial wars is also contributing to ecological imbalance.
Science has clear answer to global warming but capitalism refuses to heed
When science clearly spells out the measures to lessen the impact of global warming through appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures and policies, taking the need of entire societies, of human civilization into account, capitalism-imperialism today is, instead, further aggravating problem of global warming beyond measure, as can be seen, from a slew of measures taken by the bourgeois governments in corporate interest. Profit maximization and not science is the determining factor of policy making in imperialism-capitalism. Knee-jerk solutions to stave off immediate disaster are no indication of commitment to a long-term scientific solution to global warming. Moreover, changing land-use patterns, encroaching upon natural water flows and seasonal streams, mindless urbanization blocking embankments of the rivers, destroying forests and hillocks and such other actions which ruling imperialism-capitalism has been irresponsibly resorting to, are also changing the ecological pattern and giving rise to many diseases besides evicting poor people from their home and hearth. Even, leaving alone the grave threat to human life, health and millions, if not billions, of livelihoods, the question of gigantic economic cost involved and who will have to bear the cost definitely looms large before the toiling people in particular.
Motive behind some apparent positive measures by imperialist-capitalist countries
However, of late, there is an indication of adopting some positive measures in this regard, obviously not due to a change of heart of the monopolists and multinationals but because climate change mitigation is being looked upon as a new business and economic opportunity, involving the private sector just as the US imperialists first razed sovereign Iraq through incessant bombing and then bagged the order for private builders to reconstruct the country. The business of mitigation, therefore, is likely to take up a major chunk of the ensuing Glasgow negotiations. Observers are looking at the outcome of Article 6 of the Paris summit rule-book, which covered international voluntary cooperation, through which outcomes of mitigation could be traded with another party, just as builders trade development rights. Capitalism never lets go any path to make profit!
Imperialism-capitalism deterring remedial process from profit motive
The problem of the environment, more so rising global warming is indeed a problem for mankind–for the very survival of the human species. But it cannot be seen in isolation from the present social system. Why has the world been led to the precipice of such devastation? As has been stated above, despite the harmful effects being well-known, the imperialists-capitalists did not care to stop going with projects be it in the power sector, or chemicals or in any other manufacturing area lest it should mar the prospect of earning maximum profit. To grab market by outwitting the rivals is a prime feature of capitalism-imperialism. There is always an eye to cut production costs as much as possible for reaping maximum profit. Hence the capitalists invest in the type of technology that does the job as quickly and as cheaply as possible, regardless of the damaging consequences for the generations of the future. The bourgeoisie use technology for minting profit caring a fig for the greater necessities of the people. Even today, they are arguing that thrust on environmental factors would impede growth since such safeguards would make industries non-viable for operation. Cunningly, they have been counterposing the all-important question of global warming and consequent health hazard against the issue of bringing about economic growth as if the poor and have-nots, the exploited millions are benefited out of this growth. It is nothing but a euphemism for swelling fortune of a handful of exploitative super-rich by depriving the myriads of impoverished and destitute. It is world imperialism-capitalism which caused and aggravated the problem in the first place.
The international summits to reduce global warming led some people to grasp at the false hope that imperialism-capitalism would do something about salvaging the situation. The highly touted Kyoto Treaty which the imperialist-capitalist world in absence of the socialist camp held out as the solution has already proved to be a hoax since instead of mitigating the problem would only bring rise of greenhouse gases back to levels equivalent to what they were in the early-still a disastrous level of global warming.
The global summits are failing repeatedly because of imperialist-imperialist contradiction over grab of market as no one is ready to compromise on profit earning and minimizing production cost by accepting emission reductions, as the technology to do so is costly. So there has been a dilly-dallying in arriving at a consensus over such a crucial issue. It is for this reason that Fidel Castro in his Brazil speech concluded by saying ‘‘If we want to save humanity from this self-destruction, there must be a better distribution of the wealth and technologies available on the planet. … Enough of selfishness. Enough of schemes of domination. Enough of insensitivity, irresponsibility and deceit. Tomorrow will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.’’ It is also relevant to recall what great Engels had observed 138 year back, ‘‘Let us not, however, flatter ourselves over much on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries… When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons… Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws…The individual capitalists, who dominate production and exchange, are able to concern themselves only with the most immediate useful effect of their actions. Indeed, even this useful effect… retreats far into the background, and the sole incentive becomes the profit to be made on selling…we are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote, social effects of our production activity, and so are afforded an opportunity to control and regulate these effects as well. This regulation, however, requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and simultaneously a revolution in our whole contemporary social order. All hitherto existing modes of production have aimed merely at achieving the most immediately and directly useful effect of labour. The individual capitalists, who dominate production and exchange, are able to concern themselves only with the most immediate useful effect of their actions. In relation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predominantly concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result; and then surprise is expressed that the more remote effects of actions… are mostly quite the opposite in character.’’ (The Part Played by Labour in Transition from the Ape to Man)
Containing global warming inseparably linked with growing collaboration in global struggle against imperialism-capitalism
Thus, we find imperialism-capitalism stands today as the greatest hurdle for the advancement of humanity. What to speak of much needed cooperation between countries to really address the problem of global warming. Just look at the trade war that is hotting up instead, especially in the scramble for a controlling share of the new raw materials –– rare earth and critical materials needed for production of batteries that store the variable solar and wind energy, or batteries used to power anything from mobile phones to electric cars to power grids –– and a growing confrontation has developed between imperialist China and US. China today reportedly controls 70-80 per cent of the global trade of most these critical minerals (including lithium and cobalt) and leads the world’s battery cell production with a 63.2 per cent share, while the US, as reported last, is in second place with 14.2 per cent. These are the new flashpoints arising, and bode ill for peace and cooperation.
Imperialism-capitalism is leading humanity, human society towards the precipice of complete destruction in every sphere. Obsolete and rotting to the core, it needs to be overthrown as early as possible by revolution to establish social ownership of production and reorient production towards fulfilment of social necessity. That alone will be able to lift the downtrodden people from subhuman and dehumanizing living and working conditions, and involve them in the joyous and dedicated struggle to rebuild society freed from thraldom of profit motive and engage in protection of the environment, in adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.
It bears recall that more than century ago, in what a short time could the Soviet Union bring about the advancement of a most backward, war devastated country into a modern nation, a superpower, by enthusing and helping its downtrodden, illiterate, people, to change themselves and change society, to build up a new society with different nationalities bound in brotherhood, freed from exploitation, unemployment, pogroms or market crisis, and mindless drudgery. And today when such revolutionary advancements in technology have long been made that could not only mitigate the problem of global warming, but make life so much easier and beautiful, capitalism cannot even properly use these for the benefit of society because it is irretrievably enmeshed in crisis created by its own exploitative economic rule
While the sharpening contradiction between the capitalist countries, between different capitalists, different corporate houses is getting more and more revealed today, the crying need of the hour is the unity of toiling people across the globe, growing collaboration in the global struggle against capitalism.
(Sources: The thirdpole.net 10-12-18,www.boell.de/en/08-01-19, The Hindu-11-11-13, 09-08-21, 29-08-21, ABP 27-02-18, 09-08-21, 07-09-21, 08-10-21, 07-10-21, 09-10-21, Times of India 19-12-09, 18-12-09, 10-08-21, 11-08-21, Frontline 23-08-13, 15-02-19, Indian Express 18-12-18, livemint-12-08-21, The Telegraph-12-08-21, The Statesman 22-06-08, 06-07-08, 24-12-09, 04-11-14, 05-11-14, 18-11-14, 12-08-21, 24-09-09, 25-09-09, NDTV 13-08-21, scroll.in 13-08-21, Workers World- 06-09-21, unifccc.int, various issues of down to earth)