Since the mid-80’s, I have said and written that unless the course the world is following is changed, capitalism will steer humanity into environmental crises, the one worse than the other. This has led to me often being called a “doomsday prophet”. Now the magazine The New Scientist has presented a review of the coming, major environmental crises; and I must admit that I have been a bit mistaken: Things are looking worse than I thought and the tempo has increased!
The International Disaster Database records all natural disasters in the world, and this graph shows growth from 1900 to 2011, before the figures from the extreme year, 2012, are ready. Source: www.emdat.be
In 2010, several cities in Russia were grilled by temperatures of approximately 40 ° C. People died by the scores; yields were reduced by 25%, more than a million hectares were scorched and the economic losses were roughly $ 15 billion (1% of GDP).
In 2011, the eastern parts of USA and Canada were hit by severe blizzards. In the same year, Italy experienced at least four extreme rainfalls; in Genoa, Cinqueterre, Sicily and elsewhere; experiencing up to 580 mm of rain in less than a day. 2012 will go down in history as a year with very extreme weather, with thousands of local heat records in the USA and Australia, plus the monster storm Sandy that hit parts of Haiti, New Jersey and New York.
Do not believe that the spells of extreme cold that parts of Europe have experienced in recent years, contradict global warming. On the contrary, they are a consequence of global warming: Researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute have found the cause of the sudden extreme cold periods in Europe. The warmer ocean put pressure on the jet stream system, changing its balance, and then extreme cold air can break in quite unexpectedly, says director of the intitute Jan-Gunnar Winther.
Earlier in 2012, record crops were expected in the USA, since farmers planted and sowed more than ever before, to take advantage of rising prices. Instead crops fell due to drought and record heat. Britain had a different problem: crops fell due to heavy rain. Australia has had a record drought and extreme heat in October–November 2012, ie before summer. All this will most likely lead to a new surge in food prices of the kind we witnessed in the autumn of 2010.
The international report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 2007, assumed that if the global temperature rose 1.5 ° C or more above pre-industrial levels; more heat and higher CO2 levels would increase yields, at least in temperate zones. Crop failures were only expected with a temperature increase of 3.5 ° C . But now we are already witnessing crop failures with an increase of only 0.8 ° C in global temperature. Last year, scientists from Stanford University in California studied the global production of wheat, corn, rice and soybeans – crops that provide three-quarters of humanity’s calories. They found that “the average output is now more than 1 percent lower than it would have been without heating”.
Rising sea levels
The melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets has increased the sea level by 11.1 millimeters since 1992. This is a fifth of the total increase needed to threaten low-lying areas in the world, according to a new study. These measurements of ice loss are the most accurate to date.
The researchers have concluded that Antarctica is melting, but Greenland is where melting really has accelerated. According to the study, in the 1990s an estimated 55 billion tonnes melted annually; now 290 billion tonnes are melting annually.
Previously, one believed that it would take centuries before Greenland would begin to lose significant quantities of ice. Now the ice is melting so fast that sea levels may rise by one meter before 2100.
Of all the CO2 we pump into the atmosphere, only a half stays there. The rest is absorbed by the land masses and the oceans. But the ability of soil and water to absorb decreases the more the temperature increases. Instead, land and sea will eventually begin to release CO2.
The 2007 report of the IPCC, included estimates of such feedback, but no models to date have included the possibility (or danger) of the permafrost beginning to release some of the huge carbon quantities that are encapsulated on the seabed or in frozen landscapes. But now researchers from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, and Russia have demonstrated that the permafrost is starting to thaw. This will lead to the climate changing faster than climate models have warned of up to now. At the climate conference in Doha negotiators received a report warning about the current changes in the permafrost.
If we stopped emitting increasingly more CO2 tomorrow, we would stand a good chance of preventing a serious increase in temperature. But the opposite is happening. Annual emissions fell, albeit slightly, in 2008 when the financial crisis was at its worst, but afterwards, the emissions increased even faster than before. Emissions rose by 5.9% in 2010 and 3.2% in 2011.
Is the IPCC “alarmist”?
Some vocal critics claim that the IPCC grossly exaggerates the dangers of global warming. But serious research shows the opposite. After the 2007 IPCC report we have seen:
- The measured CO2 emissions are close to the worst case scenarios of the IPCC. And the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing ten times faster than in any period during the last 22,000 years.
- Sea levels are rising faster than the IPCC predicted. In fact, they are rising 80 % faster than the average rate in the IPCC models. IPCC warned of an increase in the sea level of 18-59 cm by 2100. But today, this forecast is regarded as too low. IPCC did not expect any significant melting in Greenland and Antarctica, but now, the measured melting is swift, particularly in Greenland.
- The sea ice in the Arctic is melting much faster than the IPCC had presumed in 2007. The amount of old sea ice is being reduced much faster than the models forecasted.
In August 2003, Europe was hit by a severe heat wave. In parts of France temperatures were around 40 ° C seven days in a row. So many people died of heat that the refrigerated warehouses near Paris were filled with dead bodies. A study from 2008 shows that about 70,000 died of the heat. Most, but not all of the victims, were old and sick.
The droughts in Russia in 2010, in India in 2011 and in the United States and Australia in 2012 have been much worse than the heat wave in France in 2003. According to the World Bank approximately 55,000 people have died because of the heat wave in Russia. 11,000 died, just in Moscow. (Download the report, Russia discussed on page 13)
When it gets too hot, people get health problems. They get problems with their kidneys and hearts, and naturally, they also work less effectively.
The factual basis for action is overwhelming
The more data we get, the more they confirm what we already have known for a long time, and not only that, reality surpasses the forecasts.
So why isn’t anything being done?
The reason is obvious. The exploitation of nature is inextricably linked to the interests of capital. It is the pursuit of maximum profit that is the driving force of the oil, coal and gas industries and all the other industries that are connected to them. Exploitation is extremely profitable and gives the 1 % enormous profits. To stop the ruthless exploitation is the same as attacking capitalism’s basic mechanisms. The idea of a “green capitalism” is and will remain an illusion.
We are not doomed to disaster. It is still possible to do a lot, in order to avoid the worst damage. But because big capital and its politicians have managed to sabotage all necessary measures for the past thirty years, humanity is in a bit of a hurry.
There has been no lack of warnings. There have been many proposals as to what can be done. The politicians and their patrons know what they are doing. They’ve received the documentation and the warnings. So there is no reason to forgive them when they, in Doha, have sabotaged all necessary measures for 18th time. (The Doha meeting is called COP 18, because it is the eighteenth meeting since the climate talks began in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.)
The so-called Kyoto 2-accord agreed upon in Doha does not match up with the challenges.
“This is not where we wanted to be at the end of the meeting, I assure you,” said Nauru foreign minister Kieren Keke, who leads an alliance of small island states. “It certainly isn’t where we need to be in order to prevent islands from going under and other unimaginable impacts.”
The Kyoto 2-accord is a complete failure when it comes to avoiding serious global warming. It is business as usual with a little icing to save faces.
Lester Brown’s Plan 4.0
Lester R. Brown is a person who knows the world’s environmental problems best. He is the founder of the Worldwatch Institute and has written, or co-authored over 50 books on the global environment. In Plan B 4.0: mobilizing to Save Civilization he appeals to world leaders to implement a transition to a sustainable economy with the same power and speed as if mobilizing to war.
Plan B is an alternative to the business as usual model that world leaders, in reality, follow today. Brown sees that the time of small and gradual reforms is over. One must act and one must act quickly.
The plan consists of four main points with subsections:
1. To reduce net CO2 emissions by 80 percent before 2020
- to increase energy efficiency dramatically across the world
- to invest in the massive development of the global renewable resources
- prohibiting deforestation and plant billions of trees
- to move from an economy driven by oil, coal and natural gas, to one that is primarily driven by wind, solar and geothermal energy
2. To stabilize the population at 8 billion or lower
This target has been set because Brown does not think the world will reach the forecast of 9.2 billion that UN demographers have calculated, because the overwhelming majority of the 2.4 billion new world citizens will be born in countries and areas where resources for survival will be scarce. He believes that the choice is between mass deaths and family planning and prefers the latter.
3. Eradicating poverty
- Combined with giving women better health care and the opportunity for family planning, a higher standard of living is a key to achieving a lower birth rate.
- A higher standard of living helps poor countries to become a part of the international community and enables them to contribute to climate stabilization.
- Eradicating poverty is the only humane solution. One of the main criteria of a civilized society is that it shows concern for others.
4. To restore and protect the natural systems which ensure the existence of mankind
- preserving topsoil
- prohibiting deforestation
- promoting reforestation
- reviving fisheries
- making a global effort to protect and rebuild the groundwater through radical improvement of water productivity
Brown believes that this must be carried out with the same determination that USA showed when it was thrown into war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
During war mobilization of this kind market mechanisms are set aside. A centralized, state-controlled economy takes command. Projects are not evaluated according to short-term profitability, but according to strategic priorities. If necessary, private capital is expropriated and put under military control. This is what happened to the Norwegian Merchant Navy during the war.
Brown’s plan is fully workable and it (or something similar) should certainly be implemented.
It has only one catch: To follow the plan is the same as attacking the interests of capital, to put the interests of the human race before the maximization of profit. Brown’s plan is a proposal to go for the greatest social upheaval in the history of mankind. And he’s absolutely right.
This means overthrowing capitalism as fast and as effectively as possible.