Big nations fiddle while climate heats up, poor starve

July 26, 2011

You don’t need a weatherman to know the wind has blown in another year of disasters: record flooding of the Lower Mississippi River, a record Texas drought, a record Arizona wildfire, the worst fire season in U.S. history. This comes after 2010, the planet’s hottest year in history, which brought record flooding in Pakistan and Australia, and record heat in Russia, all of which slashed the year’s grain harvest. “The term ‘100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year,” declared Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, last December.

It is no coincidence that the world food crisis of three years ago is roaring back. All this year, the UN’s Food Price Index has been higher than ever before. Droughts and floods are already making an impact on food production, and as temperatures rise, yields tend to fall. That is amplified by other factors.

In mid-June–while fires were raging, flood and tornado survivors were trying to put their lives back together, nearly a billion people struggled with chronic hunger, and scientists issued reports on climate change’s perils–the world’s governments met in Bonn, Germany, for yet another UN Climate Change Conference. One and a half years after the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit’s collapse revealed the hollowness of capitalist states’ negotiations, they keep going through the motions, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The negotiators’ rhetoric of “common but differentiated responsibilities”–between developed (industrialized) and developing countries–cannot hide the ever-growing greenhouse gas emissions, and the disparity of costs and impacts hitting the poorest countries hardest.

Over 60% of emissions cuts by 2020 are likely to come from developing countries, according to Oxfam. At the same time, they are also more vulnerable to harmful effects of global warming, and yet what little is being spent to adapt to these effects is mostly within the richest countries.

While the negotiators in Bonn spun their wheels in preparation for another hollow summit at the end of the year in Durban, South Africa, another meeting in Lima, Peru, told the tale of the dangerous road the rulers are taking. The week after the Bonn conference, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) held a meeting on geoengineering–that is, large-scale manipulation of the planet to modify the climate. This extremely dangerous course looks more and more likely to be taken as the capitalist system fiddles with fruitless negotiations and pathetically inadequate national and local reforms, essentially giving up on achieving effective emission reductions. If trapped in a burning house, you will take any desperate measure to save your hide, but it would have been better to put out the fire before it spread, instead of pretending that it didn’t exist.

Over 100 organizations, from Via Campesina to the Dogwood Alliance, signed a letter to the IPCC protesting the meeting, pointing out, “International peasant organizations, indigenous peoples, and social movements have all expressed outright opposition to such measures as a false solution to the climate crisis.” They objected to the exclusion of independent organizations, to the treatment of geoengineering as scientific and not political, and to the influential roles the meeting gave to scientists with financial interests in geoengineering.

The Bonn meeting too drew much criticism from social movements. Brazilian Indigenous, environmental, peasant and social justice groups issued a letter demanding that Brazil’s government reject market mechanisms as instruments to reduce emissions, such as REDD, which allows developed countries to count as reductions certain programs that claim to reduce deforestation in developing lands–their effectiveness is questionable, but they tend to turn forests into plantations and expel the traditional inhabitants.

A gathering of African groups issued the statement, “Stand up for Africa! Stand up for climate justice!” As against the industrialized countries embarking on the “destruction” of the Kyoto accord on climate change, they called for its extension, minus the market-oriented loopholes, along with a series of demands for “just transition” to new “systems and methods of production and consumption.”

One thing the movement deeply needs is to connect its calls for a new system of production and consumption with social revolution as the only way to achieve it, both in the deepening of ongoing revolutions in the Arab lands and in the need for social revolutions worldwide. Up to this point, the word “revolution” has too often been used by environmentalists as a bogeyman to scare the capitalists into doing something serious about the food crisis and climate change.

–Franklin Dmitryev

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