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Global warming: a Socialist perspective

Introduction

According to the defenders of capitalism and the "free market", including "New Labour", socialism in general and marxism in particular is all but dead and buried. However before they begin the wake it may be instructive to examine one of the main environmental problems created by the free market, namely global warming. Global warming has been described as the greatest disaster facing humankind, not to mention a myriad of other species!
Global Warming - A Socialist Perspective

Introduction

According to the defenders of capitalism and the "free market", including "New Labour", socialism in general and marxism in particular is all but dead and buried. However before they begin the wake it may be instructive to examine one of the main environmental problems created by the free market, namely global warming. Global warming has been described as the greatest disaster facing humankind, not to mention a myriad of other species!

The question is, are the predictions correct and more importantly, if they are, can the capitalist system find a global solution?

What is Global Warming?

Global warming is a consequence of the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect involves, as the name suggests, the trapping of solar heat within the lower reaches of the earths atmosphere by greenhouse gases, rather like greenhouse glass. In normal circumstances it is essential to the maintenance of most life on this planet. Without the naturally occurring greenhouse effect global temperature would be about 34oC colder than it is at present. The major greenhouse gases are Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and water vapour. The normal decay of organic matter ,in forests and grasslands, releases about 220 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere which currently accounts for about 95% of total emissions. This CO2 is re-cycled by dissolving in the oceans and through the process of photo-synthesis into further plant growth. There is a fine balance between the atmosphere, the oceans, ocean currents and climate, a process which is still little understood. The other 5% of CO2 emissions is produced by human activity, the majority of which is accounted for by the burning of fossil fuels. This addition, over and above the natural cycle, has resulted in a 30% increase in atmospheric CO2 levels over the last 200 years. This has caused an increase in averaged global temperatures of between 0.3 and 0.6oC over the last hundred years or so. So what, you may ask, why is half a degree centigrade anything to get agitated about? Firstly this increase is averaged over the whole planet and represents a massive amount of additional retained energy. Secondly the effects of increases in atmospheric temperature are varied, some areas have become colder and wetter, others hotter and drier. Thirdly the rate of fossil fuel consumption has been exponential. Six of the ten warmest years globally recorded since records began in 1860 occurred in the 1990's, the other four occurred in the late 1980's! Study of deep ice cores and deep sea sediments suggests that century to century variations of CO2 recorded this century have rarely been approached over the last 10,000 years. Also over this last century sea levels have risen, depending on location, by between 10 and 25 centimetres.

The problem with large scale burning of fossil fuel, such as coal and oil, is that CO2 locked into these fuels over many millions of years has been released over a mere instant in relation to its period of geological formation. The natural sinks such as the oceans and growing vegetation are not capable of absorbing it. Adding to the problem is the high level of de-forestation occurring now.

The increase in average global temperatures already recorded may not be the total effect of the 30% increase in CO2. "Transport lag" may be occurring. A good analogy of transport lag is taking a shower. If you put your hand under a shower and decide it isn't hot enough you increase the flow of hot water. A period of time elapses before the full effects of your action is felt. This lag on a much different time scale may be happening with the increase of atmospheric CO2. Even if burning of fossil fuel was stopped immediately the effects of current CO2 levels might not appear for many decades to come. Ice core studies do indicate that historical levels of CO2 at the current level, many thousands of years ago, relate to appreciably higher global temperatures than we are currently experiencing. A recent report examined the phenomena of the melting polar ice caps. An area of arctic sea ice the size of Holland is disappearing every year. The average thickness of the arctic ice cap has shrunk from 3.1 metres in 1970 to 1,8 metres today. Scientists have suggested that this process could drastically affect ocean circulation and may seriously disturb the Gulf stream. Ironically Britain could face another ice age as a result of global warming!

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation responded to the problems of global warming by setting up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, involving some 2000 scientists from around the world. The IPCC has predicted that further increases in globally averaged temperatures of 1 to 3.5oC will occur by the year 2100 (others have predicted a 5oC rise by 2070). As a result of this increase, global sea levels are expected to rise by a further 15 to 19 cm. Regional weather patterns will become seriously disrupted. Britain, it is predicted, will become warmer and wetter with increased storms. Other areas of the world are likely to become desertified, still others will experience extremes of heat and flooding.. Many of the recent freak weather events throughout the world may be a portent of much worse to come.

Following the work of the IPCC the leading industrialised countries eventually agreed in principle to reduce their 1990 levels of CO2 by an average of 6% by 2010, the "Kyoto Agreement". They have yet to ratify this agreement, most of the opposition coming from the USA. Large US corporations including the oil, coal and heavy energy users have formed various "scientific" front organisations in an attempt to rubbish the evidence on global warming. The work of the IPCC is now considerably hampered by a lack of funding. Despite the fact that the levels of CO2 reduction proposed at Kyoto will only slow global warming (it is estimated that a 50% reduction of CO2 is needed), it was agreed that a credit scheme would operate, the details of which would be decided at a later date. Under the credit scheme countries like the USA could purchase the unused agreed CO2 emissions of other countries, or pay other countries to plant trees to absorb CO2 on their behalf. Japan is proposing just such a tree planting programme with Australia. In reality the planting of trees can only be a temporary solution. Once the trees mature and shed leaves or die the CO2 they have absorbed will begin to be released back into the atmosphere.

The bottom line is that the major capitalist countries are unable to deal seriously with the problem of global warming.

International Solution Required

All the predictions of future CO2 levels are based on the assumption that the disparity of consumption between western capitalism and the underdeveloped world will continue, more or less, well into the future. Apart from the obvious inequality, this is an unlikely scenario. Countries such as India are developing their industries at a considerable rate and are, not surprisingly, unwilling to curb their development in order to solve the problems created by western capitalism over the last two hundred years.

The USA produces nearly 25% of total world emissions of CO2. If the rest of the world produced per capita emissions equal to the USA then global levels of atmospheric CO2 would double every decade! The effects would be catastrophic.

World capitalism is locked into the use of cheap fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Even the very limited Kyoto agreement has turned into a farce. The world cannot wait for the major capitalist countries to find an alternative some time in the distant future.

The problem of global warming can only be solved at an international level. The burning of fossil fuels must be drastically curbed and ultimately abandoned by about 2050. This can only be achieved by the public ownership of the major energy providers and users. Allied to this must be a revolution in the provision of cheap or free public transport. We must see an end to the gross waste of energy that characterises the current production process. An end to planned obsolescence, where products are designed for a limited life, is essential. Given current technological developments, the ability to produce products that last almost indefinitely, is entirely feasible. This can only be seriously considered if production is based on social need rather than profit. A massive investment in research and development of alternative and non-invasive energy sources and public transport on a world scale is essential.

Public Ownership of Major Energy Providers and Users

In Britain we must demand of a Labour government the re-nationalisation of transport, water, gas and electricity as the first stage of a planned energy policy. All energy consumed by industry must be monitored. Local companies must open their books on energy use. The workers in the industries together with local residents, consumer groups, environmental groups, local trade unions and other interested groups must be represented on a local environment committee overseeing the use and choice of energy in every area with the remit to stop energy wastage in all its forms. Design and production methods would come under particular scrutiny.

The transport of goods by road must be seriously curtailed. Apart from being major emitters of fossil fuel based CO2, commercial road transport produces a number of other serious pollutants. The publicly owned railways must be granted a monopoly on long distance transport of goods. Companies requiring exceptional movement of goods by road, other than to and from the local railway freight yard or within their local area would be required to apply for special permission from the local environment committee.

Conclusion

At an international level the need for an equitable division of labour involving a planned economy, that produces for social need, utilising all the latest technology is the only real solution to the current problem of global warming. This would release humankind from the drudgery of wage-slavery and release the latent talents of 3 billion people. Marx once suggested that the world faces the choice of "socialism or barbarism", global warming gives Marx's words a new sense of urgency.

Colin Penfold
No Offense, But... 18.Jun.2005 10:03

Roland

The Russians, in their communist and capitalist guises, have contributed and still do contribute mightily to global warming, as does The Peoples Republic of China. Socialism, per se, is not the magic elixer that will fix the planet's environmental woes.

Excuse me, Colin 18.Jun.2005 12:29

Mike stepbystpefarm <a> mtdata.com

You need to make a better case.

It is NOT enough to say that the industrial civilization that arose under capitalism caused the situation we now find ourselves in --- global warming, immanent exhaustion of the fossil fuel and water which financed the overshoot far beyond sustainability.

THAT IS TRUE. But unfortunately it's not so simple to go from that reality to you claim that "socialism" will CURE the problems. And that's true EVEN were it the case that problems would not have arisen under "socialism" (though why industrial civiclization under socialism whould necessarily have been eny less exploitive of the environment is unclear). Your problems in logic are ......

a) Removal of a cause does NOT necessarily imply a cure for damage already done. For example, if it turns out that the sustainable human population of this planet is only 2 billion (I'm not saying this is so, it's a "just suppose" example) and true that the overshoot to 6 billion was caused by capitalism is does NOT follow that adopting socialism causes the problem to go away. You are still stuck with the problem of 4 billion too many.

b) You have no GOOD reason to suggest that industrial socialism would not be just as bad as industrial capitalism. Certainly there was little difference in the vision of "progress" of Man over Nature in the 19th century.

PLEASE -- This is NOT an argument against socialism, just agaisnt expectations that adopting socialism would solve any of our problems unrelated to that of inequitable distribution. If we have additional problems caused by our (perhaps unwise, short sighted) "decision" to allow our consumption and numbers to grow far beyond possible sustainability we should not expect THESE problems to be solved as well.

And yes I understand, you have "faith". A faith that ALL problems are cuased by inequitable distribution, it's your "religion". But that YOU "believe" is no good reason for others to do so.

Socialist? 18.Jun.2005 12:53

WSPUS wsppdx@yaoo.com

And how would nationalization of the energy industries, etc be a good first start? this isn't socialism or marxism, but just a very crass social-democratic state capitalism. The problem lies in that nationalized industriies still need to function within the capitalist system, maintain supplies, loans, create surplus-value/profits. Nationalization- as we see in France- doesn't lead to cleaner energy, just corruption and hiding of information scandals and the selling of nuclear technology to dictatorships.

Our sister party in the UK published the following in 1947 about nationalized mines in the UK:

 http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/centenary/miners(1947).pdf

in which it shows that nationalization does nothing for the workers, only gives a new set of bosses.

Now the Workers International League, who published the original article, must be either hopelessly naive or willingly lying about the benefits of nationalization. Either way in no way is this a socialist anaylsis of energy.

BTW: it was Rosa Luxemburg who said the choice was socialism or barbarism, not Marx.


STOP STUDYING THE REASONS! 18.Jun.2005 17:30

Messenger

It matters not, at this point in time, who or what or how it could have been averted. It was not averted and probably would not have been much helped by any other form of government!

No one....not even the best scientists in the world knew what the eventual outcome of global warming would be till Broecker put it all together in 1996.
You cannot fault capitolism for it's instinctual progress. Forget about that and look to the future ......which we may not have much of.

Focus on the problem ahead....getting the stinking government to move for change.

Worrrd to messenger 18.Jun.2005 20:04

WSPUS wsppdx@yahoo.com

My arguement is the government won't do anything because it violates the logic of the system. That's why Reagan, Bushes 1&2 and Clinton have done nothing to stop global warming. It is not in their interests even as they gamble with ours.

That is why Colin's and the WIL's perspective is so pernicious. The only solution is to get rid of capitalism, ASAP.


No offence 18.Jun.2005 20:12

Red neck

No offence
But one of the big dilemmas for the Soviet Union in the 80s was the realization that the age of cheap energy and resources was over. That even the seemingly endless resources of that state had limits and pollution had severe conciseness. Keep in mind that even with waste and incompetent of the Eastern Block it was still FAR more efficient in its use of resources than capitalist countries. I would disagree with the assertion that "Nationalization- as we see in France- doesn't lead to cleaner energy" even with its heavy dependence on nuclear (which is just superficially cleaner) it still is immensely more efficient and cleaner than say, the USA. France has implemented policies that we can only dream about here.
The sort of corruption seen in France doesn't hold a candle (pun intended) to the sort of outlandish fraud and mindless waste of say, ENRON. Even corrupt bureaucrats have too at least pretend to follow rational pollicies. Capitalist are only concerned with optimizing profits the rest is just PR and politics.

No offence taken 18.Jun.2005 22:15

WSPUS wsppdx@yahoo.com

Redneck,

Where did you get the figures that the USSR's nationalized energy system was more efficient than the western countries? The USSR, et al. did provide cheap energy, because they cut on all sorts of other factors such as pollution, environmental degridation, health and safety issues. Those "externalized" costs would need to be factored in, eg Chernoble. How does a Swede's cancer problems factor into the cost of Russian energy?

The French do have somewhat cleaner energy policy, if you believe nuckear is clean. But that choice was made because they have less coal resources than other European countries such as the UK or Germany did. It's decision was made on behalf of the interests of French capital - capital investment in French industry rather than imported coal not one was cleaner than the other.

The recent ELF Aquitaine scandal (ELF being the natioanlized French oil company) shows what level of of corruption can happen in a nationalized country. On the level of magnitude, in not only was/is bigger in France than Enron was here, it also affected many other countries on a similar magnitude.

Heres the beginning to one analyis of the scandal:

"On November 13-14, 2003, the former CEO Loik Le Floch-Prigent and 22 other former executives of France's Elf Aquitaine, plus seven other accessories, were sentenced by a French court to a few €millions in fines and no more than 5 years apiece in jail -- 14 of the accused got suspended sentences -- on charges that they had embezzled €300 million ($346.8 million) from the company from 1989 to 1993. These sentences, the culmination of an investigation that started in August 1994, determined that most of these thefts had been skimmed from secret slush funds managed out of Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein.

From our standpoint, the key fact is that these secret funds had originally been created in order to pay up to $130 million of bribes a year to senior officials in African countries like Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, Angola, Guinea, and the Congo, as well as in Venezuela, Russia, Taiwan, Central Asia, China, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

Significantly, this extraordinary global corruption eventually "blew back" to France itself, where, according to Le Floch-Prigent, Elf paid at least €5 -€20 million in bribes per year to France's leading politicians, ministers, and political parties -- not only Gaullist parties like Chirac's RPR/UMP party, and former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua's RPF, but also the Socialists and other parties."

 http://bloodbankers.typepad.com/submerging_markets/2003/11/first_world_cri.html


But we need to get back to socialist basics. Nationalized companies run exactly like privately held companies. They are all bad for workers (as shown in the post above regards the UK miners), the environment and the social health. The problem is the capitalist system, not the structure or personel of its management.


Back to the future. 19.Jun.2005 01:57

Red neck

I went to Eastern Europe after the fall and had to listen to a lot of propaganda and bitching about the pollution, so I'm a little touchy on this subject. Yes, it was deplorable, the most apparent was caused by the use of brown coal. But there wasn't any consideration that many Western industrialized and urbanized areas look very much the same only a few years before....Deindustrialization played a major role in the reducing that pollution. Socialist states used far fewer resources and used them far more efficiently, if for no other reason (there was lot of other reasons) than the lack of redundancy.
I didn't know about the ELF scandal, it's bad but still doesn't compare to ENRON. It's just a bribery/embezzlement scandal. They didn't cause rolling blackouts in France. They didn't cause an artificial energy crisis so they could profit from it. Can a system get anymore destructive than that? That is just the kind of neo-liberal "think" we're trying to get away from. Reagan/Thatcher deregulation/privatization, magic of the private sector bullshit. Nationalization isn't a cure-all but it's major step to a sane energy policy. If you want to see how nervous the capitalist get when this option is presented maybe you should be following (I'm sure you are)what's happening in Bolivia.
Frances is still making some progress, there is almost none in America.
"By 2010, one-fifth of France's energy is supposed to come from alternative sources, in line with EU guidelines that apply to all of its member states."
...And sure, I agree with a lot you're saying, at least in spirit

Future to our Backs 19.Jun.2005 09:55

WSPUS wsppdx@yahoo.com

Hey Redneck,

My point is that Nationalized industries/companies act in the same manner as privitized ones. The nationalized industries in either a social-demcratic context (UK, France) or Leninist "Socalist" State-Capitalism are capitalist entities which are bad for workers, the environment as well as societies.

The importance of the ELF scandal is that the company bribed leaders of various nations from "Socialist" China to the "Socialist" MPLA in Angola to set prices and control markets. So it's not just a corruption scandal, it's one (like Enron's black-out manipulation) of gaining control of markets and manipulating them for the profit of the company, it's executives and the politicians. I place emphasis that much of the activity takes place in the so-called "Socialist" countries.

Regarding pollution in Eastern Europe, I reasearched some on the web regarding "Brown Coal" and the coa industries of Eastern Europe at the "World Energy Council" website:

 http://www.worldenergy.org/wec-geis/publications/reports/coal/country_profiles/country_profiles.asp

Basically, brown coal "lignite" was important in some countires (most notiably Romania) but not others (Poland and Czechoslovakia). But Brown Coal is the primary coal used in Germany and is in increasing use in the US and Canada as well. The problem is that the Romanian's didn't have the equipment to dry out the brown coal so it would burn cleaner.

The question is why, if the Eastern European nationalized economies were more efficient, why then were they unable to clean the coal as is done in the inefficient western nationalized economies (eg the UK Coal Board)?


Up against the wall 19.Jun.2005 14:50

Red neck

The major reason is that it's very expensive, in countries who are trying to increase production and catch up with the West not to mention pay off western debt it wasn't top priority.
I'll stick to "Czech Republic" which I have the most knowledge and information Yes, lignite is widely used there and when I first arrived in Prague on some days in the winter when a front settled over you couldn't see 10 feet. A lot of that smog has been cleaned up by installing scubbers (something the US didn't do until the 70s and 80s:  http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/conserve/02.htm )that are expensive to install and operate and have their own environmental problems...And building nuclear power plants, extremely expensive and not exactly clean technology...and caused polical problems with Austria. All this has pilled more debt on an already heavily burdened country.

Czech republic is a good case study to understand the looming energy crisis were heading into:
Primary Energy Supplies in 1998
Fuel Type. %
Coal 51.3
Oil 19.9
Natural Gas 19.2
Nuclear 8.1
Hydroelectric 0.8
Other * 0.6
Total 100
1".At current production rates, mineable hard coal reserves will last more than 50 years, while mineable lignite reserves will last more than 30 years."
2. "The Czech Republic has (very) minor oil resources."
3. "In 1999, the Czech Republic consumed 337 Bcf of natural gas, with about 98% of it being imported."
4. "Dukovany power plant, which provides 19% of the nation's electricity." (Temelin is already on line)
5. "The Czech Republic is not as mountainous as its western neighbor, Slovakia, and it produces less than half the amount of hydroelectric power as Slovakia"
6."The amount of electricity produced from non-hydro renewable sources in the Czech Republic is negligible."
 http://www.geni.org/globalenergy/library/national_energy_grid/czech%20republic/EnergyOverviewofCzechRepublic.shtml

From these fact you can see the disaster we're heading into unless we get our butts in action.

Which Wall To Be Up Aginst? 19.Jun.2005 23:45

WSPUS wsppdx@yahoo.com

A couple of questions Red neck:

1) Why did the East, which you claim was much more efficient, need to catch up to the West?

2) Wouldn't the East's efficency, which you claim, allow for cleaner coal to be cheaper?

3) You state: "you can see the disaster we're heading into unless we get our butts in action." That is my question in the first place. You advocate a platform which seeks a continuation of the system which causes the problems you are fighting against. If fact you advocate a system which couldn't even catch up to minimal western standards.

Humm. Doesn't make much sense. Maybe you should work for socialism instead.


The wailing wall. 20.Jun.2005 02:36

Red neck

1. why does the North, East, South (you know I'm a southerner.) need to ketchup to the West?
2. Why does the West tear down mountains to build mountains of garbage? --- See: Successful Week of Anti-Mountaintop Removal Activity in Lexington
 http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/06/319842.shtml
3. Why can't New York , Philadelphia, Shitcago, Los Angeles or even this nation's capital (I loved how Rumsfield try to spin the violence in Baghdad in the early part of the occupation as not as bad as DC) live up to anyone's minimal standard?
Energy does grow on trees, but the kind that's needed for this industrial system grew a few million years ago.... I thought you were such a NICE, sensitive, intelligent .......

Socialists use up too much energy while wasting everybody's time. 20.Jun.2005 23:59

Better alive than red.

Wow, a socialist scientist has finally figured out how and why global warming is happening. Great... why don't you explain it all to us once again?
Innate in Marxism (socialism) is the rather biblical idea that the earth was given to humanity to be put to industrial use. I'm not going to look up the specific pages in the tomes of Marx, but any honest socialist (if one exists) will admit to this fact. Greed and consumerism do not disappear in the socialist systems and industrial socialist governments have dealt with primitives in ways nearly as harsh their capitalist counterparts do. The authoritarian impulses innate in socialism inevitably pop up and, when they do, they lead to the dominance of people as well as to the dominance of the land which once was able to sustain them. Socialism is just another form of industrial cancer. Capitalism is lung cancer and socialism is cancer of the ass. If you want to stop global warming, stop the techno-industrial system.