Climate chaos and capitalism

From the new September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Climate chaos and capitalism

Climate chaos takes an ever increasing toll. In this year of extremes: the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is at a record low; July was the hottest month on record for the U.S.; almost 80% of U.S. agricultural land is in a drought comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl; this year is on track to break the record of acres burned in U.S. wildfires, including the two most destructive fires ever to hit Colorado and the two worst in New Mexico.

World grain reserves will decline for a third year as the U.S., Europe and India suffer drought. Corn and soybeans are at record prices, with other grain prices likely to rise. Yet 40% of U.S. corn is destined for fuel production rather than food or fodder. The world food crisis that began in 2007 is still with us and threatens to worsen again, increasing both suffering and revolt.

Both extreme heat and extreme storms have increased. The heaviest rainstorm to strike Beijing, China, in over 60 years caused floods and led to the deaths of more than 70 people.

In the latest weather disaster to hit The Philippines, monsoon rains flooded Manila, submerging half the city and killing 60 people. This follows last year’s Tropical Storm Sendong, also known as Washi, which killed 1,268 people in The Philippines–characterized by massive flooding on a level that had been predicted but was dismissed by government as “too alarmist.”

Nowhere is the political system more delusional than the U.S., where Obama and Romney are busy accusing each other of being too slow in extracting every last drop of oil and coal.

On the global level, the Rio+20 conference repeated the sham of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20 years ago. Incredibly, climate change was not one of its main themes, though it was central to the 1992 Earth Summit. Thousands of people protested inside and outside the summit, pointing out that the “green economy” theme, like the theme of “sustainable development” that was in both summits’ official names, is a cover-up for new forms of capitalist accumulation and displacement of more people from the land.

The location of the summit in Brazil brought to mind another ominous record: the 106 people killed in 2011 in environmental struggles–environmental activists, Indigenous people, peasants, workers. Many such struggles are directly related to climate change:

Eight days of the Coal Export Action in Helena, Montana, Aug. 13-20, with hundreds of participants, led to 23 arrests in civil disobedience.

On Aug. 17, members of the Tar Sands Blockade blocked bulldozers in Texas to resist TransCanada’s construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian tar sands.

First Nations in British Columbia, Canada, are fighting the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry tar sands bitumen to the Pacific. Stewart Phillip, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president, warned they will fight the pipeline with legal means and “on the land itself,” including blockades.

The same dynamic keeps happening. Projections by scientists are dismissed by politicians, ideologues, and other corporate representatives as “alarmist,” or even as some sort of conspiracy. Nothing is done to prevent disaster or to prepare for foreseen events. Then the projections turn out to be true. Yet the deniers keep spouting their nonsense, and it keeps getting better coverage than the science, whose uncertainty is played up. In reality, the general trend is that the scientific projections have been found to be too conservative–not “alarmist” enough. But those who represent the movement of capital keep undermining action, pushing us toward a more and more perilous future. Until we can abolish capital, we will have no chance of avoiding climate chaos.

–Franklin Dmitryev

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