Global Warming Report to March 2008 NC
First, thanks to the committee which helped put this report together: Sam W. from the national, John B. from Illinois, Dave Z. from Washington State, Len from Connecticut, and myself. Second, thanks to those who took the time to read through the compete reportbut if you have that report in front of you, dont try to follow along, since it is cut it almost in half to allow more time for discussion.
Global warming is not just an inconvenient truth. The result of ignoring the root causes will be much more than inconvenient. Or else understanding the root causes and other major environmental problems can lead to revolutionary truth.
We make a mistake if we look at global warming by itself, separate from other crucial environmental problems, separate from issues of economics, social justice, and capitalism.
We depend on the natural world for food, water, oxygen, raw materials, energy, beauty, many medicines, diversity of animal and plant life, and for a climate that stays within boundaries compatible with human life. Our survival as a species depends a balanced relationship with all natural systems, including climatic ones. We cant have a healthy humanity without a healthy natural world.
Nature is not a bottomless mine from which we can endlessly extract whatever we want or need. Nature is also not a bottomless pit into which we can endlessly dump any and all waste.
Increases in scientific and technological knowledge have enabled people to utilize more natural resources, but we have acted as if our increased ability to take from nature could continue without limit. But there are real limits to human control over nature.
Marx and Engels understood that increased capitalist exploitation of nature would deplete the resources humanity needs for survival. However, later Marxists often thought that endless increases in production were possible, were the next step in mans triumph over nature.
But we cant triumph over nature. We can only understand natural systems better and work within their limits. Once we overwhelm crucial natural limits, we harm the nature on which our survival depends. We can either work with nature or nature will work against us.
As dialectical materialists, we understand that everything is connected, that everything is going through a process of constant change, and that quantitative changes lead to qualitative ones. Just as political and economic systems accumulate small quantitative changes over long periods but eventually reach a tipping point, the same is true of natural systems.
Climate change is not the only threatening environmental problem: others include the collapse of important fisheries due to over-harvesting, degradation of the soil, increased water stresses, depletion of non-renewable resources, extinction threats to many species, worldwide spread of persistent organic pollutants which harm the human reproductive and immune systems, rapidly accelerating desertification, increasing air and water pollution. To focus on global warming to the exclusion of these other problems is self-defeating. We dont want any natural system to transform to a new state that is inhospitable to humanity. We cant separate ourselves from nature; we are part of nature and dependent on it. We have to learn natures tipping points and avoid them.
Even the best-case global warming scenario requires immediate action and difficult changes, requires major efforts to adapt to the impacts, requires the transformation of how we grow, produce, and distribute food, consumer goods, energy, and housing. We must take immediate action, or else change will become increasingly difficult and expensive. We have to sound the alarm without being alarmists.
Nature is giving us urgent warnings: rapid melting and thinning ice in the Arctic, accelerating desertification, increasingly destructive storms like Hurricane Katrina, deadly heat waves like Summer 2003 in Europe, wildfires including some in the western U.S. so intensely destructive that centuries will be required to restore these forests, widespread droughts such as the current one in the Southeast U.S., and many others. The problems are speeding up, are exceeding the consensus predictions of a few years ago.
Prudently reducing climate-change risks requires that carbon dioxide emissions be declining globally by 2025, and be declining rapidly by 2050.
The last twenty-five years in the U.S., however, have seen changes in the wrong direction. Denying the existence of the problem, speeded up burning of fossil fuels, increasing globalized transport of goods, more highways and less mass transit, defeating all attempts to increase fuel efficiency by law, deregulating industry and finance, decreasing the role of government programs that benefit people, spreading McMansion developments and urban and suburban sprawl, accelerated cutting and burning of forests, have all resulted in speeding up our rush to destruction of environmental resources we depend on.
Key to worldwide effective action is fundamental change in policies and priorities in the U.S. The U.S. is directly responsible for about 25% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, and indirectly responsible for more from industry and transport geared to the U.S. market. The U.S. has been the main force blocking mandatory international action. The Bush administration, rather than increasing funds for research, has cut those funds, as if by not knowing how bad the problem is we can wish it away. The world requires that the 2008 elections result in political change in both the presidency and Congress so that the U.S. becomes fully part of the worldwide efforts to slow global warming and to adapt to the consequences.
It is not the U.S. in general that is causing the problems, it is the policies of the Bush administration, of the U.S. energy monopolies and their record-breaking super-profits, and the policies and practices of many other transnational corporations.
Capitalism is using the natural world as an experimental hot house, playing with the future of humanity for short-term profit. We cant risk finding out the absolute limits of environmental support systems by passing those limits and creating a world profoundly more inhospitable to human life, and it is foolish to do so for the profit of a few.
Global Warming Almost every day, there is more news about the current impact of global warmingfrom thinning ice sheets in the Artic, from the huge sections an Antarctic ice shelf that is collapsing, from more signs that spring is coming earlier on average in many places (and some places are simultaneously experiencing more intense winters), from studies that show the dead zones in the oceans of the world expanding, to the latest from Jim Hanson, NASA scientist and prominent climate researcher, who now thinks the world has already passed significant tipping points and we must cut carbon dioxide emissions much faster as a result.
Global warming threatens to transform the earths climatic systems, and transform them in ways that threaten humanity. By its very nature, global warming affects most systems on which humans depend, and threatens to create worldwide change that is profoundly hostile to human society.
The world, on average, is getting hotter25 of the hottest 26 years on record have happened since 1980.
Global warming is caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from burning fossil fuels, emissions from industrial processes, and burning trees and other plant material that stores carbon. These gases concentrate in the upper atmosphere and trap more of the suns heat, resulting in a general trend of warming the atmosphere, the land, and the oceans.
Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from many kinds of transportation, from coal-burning electricity-generating plants, from burning wood, from lights, from heat escaping our buildings, and from many other human activities. Currently, the world depends on fossil fuels for over 80% of all energy. Human activity also contributes when we decrease the ability of the trees, plant life, and soil to absorb carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. The main causes of the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the last 250 years have been emissions from fossil fuels and from deforestation.
Even though global warming underlies climate change, many changes are happening in addition to warming. More intense weather events, more rainfall in some places and less in others, more snow in some places alongside glacial melting, and changes in ocean currents, are a few examples of the complex changes taking place in the worlds climatic systems.
Industrial, agricultural, and transportation systems created and used by humans are pushing natures systems out of their normal ranges. This is not some unstoppable natural process beyond human controlit has been caused by human activity, can be slowed by changes in human activity, or can be made worse if we continue to accelerate the rate at which carbon dioxide is spewed into the atmosphere.
Global warming causes change in many linked natural systems. Glaciers and ice sheets melt faster, seasons change with warmer temperatures happening sooner and lasting longer, snow packs melt early, and sea levels rise due to warmer water expanding.
There are already increases in the amount and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, additional stresses on water systems, and stresses on agricultural systems from changes in weather patterns, in rainfall, and in seasons. There is a consistent 50-year upward trend of major flooding on all inhabited continents, sharp increases in major wildfires, and increasing premature deaths from heat, disease, and drought. Crop yields are dropping in both the tropics and in more temperate zonesfor example, the current rice crisis is affected by this.
Ice and snow reflect much of the suns heat back into space, and when massive amounts of ice melt, the exposed water and land absorbs more heat, intensifying the effects of global warming. Melting in the Antarctic and of the Greenland glaciers threatens sea level rises of not a few inches but of many feet. This likely isnt going to happen this year or even next decade, but unless we take action now, we guarantee that it will happen, destroying the homes and cities of billions of people.
Sea level increases already threaten the water supplies of millions, even from less than one inch of increase. Since higher ocean water leaks into aquifers, salt water infiltrates the fresh water supplies that people use for drinking. This is already happening in Florida, in the Caribbean, and in some Pacific island nations.
Deforestation in the Amazon, in Indonesia, in Northern Canada, and in Siberia, is accelerating right at the time we should increase the amount of land devoted to forests. This isnt an accident; it is a result of rampant capitalism.
Greater accumulations of greenhouse gases will lead, in incremental, linear fashion to higher sea levels, greater changes in rainfall, larger areas experiencing drought.
But impacts also come from the way some systems transform to qualitatively different states. For example, permafrost across much of the far north is starting to melt, and locked in that permafrost are massive amounts of methane, which are released once the permafrost melts. This means that the natural world could release more greenhouse gases on top of what human activity does directly, intensifying and speeding up the results.
Another example: most of the rivers in Asia are fed by glacial melt from the Himalayas. As those glaciers melt faster, this will first result in more water and increased flooding. But as the glaciers disappear, most of the water that over 1.2 billion people depend on will disappear. This directly threatens human life as well as crucial agricultural systems, and these glaciers may disappear as soon as the middle of this century.
We can expect other indirect results from global warming. Many scientists warn of the threat of escalating extinction of many animal species, alongside the potential for explosive growth of some destructive insect species. In Alaska, since the weight of melting glaciers is so much less, there is increased earthquake activity. Increasing water stresses have the potential even in the short-term to foster warthe UN says that this is a major contributing factor to conflict in Darfur.
Global warming makes other environmental problems worse. As increasing heat expands the Tropics, tropical diseases spread, such as malaria. Desertification is rapidly increasing, taking land out of production which is needed to grow food.
The climate change challenge leaves only three options: Mitigation (to reduce the causes) Adaptation (to adjust to the adverse affects), and Human suffering. The less mitigation and adaptation we do and the longer we delay, the more human suffering will occur.
We Cant Profit Our Way to a Solution Much discussion of global warming blames individual consumption, and most of the solutions proposed are market solutions like the various cap-and-trade schemes, or technological fixes that will supposedly magically save us.
We cant wait for socialism before we take action on global warming. We need a mix of governmental laws, steps that involve the market, and steps that take us past a strictly market approach. We may find some temporary allies among capitalists who expect to make money from producing solar panels, for example, even as we recognize that fundamental solutions require socialism. This doesnt mean that Communists become advocates of profit. However, we have to be realistic about how immediate action can happen in the U.S.
Technological innovation and change are necessary elements of what we need, even though there is no single technological fix. We need new technological tools and ways to capture useable energy, but we also need social, political, and economic change to go along with new technology.
There are direct human costs of capitalism, rooted in the exploitation of human labor for profit, but there are also serious environmental costs. Capitalist production, agriculture, and distribution exploit the natural resources we depend on, in an ever-speedier race to catastrophe.
Capitalism is based on creating increased profits and intensified exploitation, on restlessly and relentlessly seeking ever-expanding markets and production, on turning more of human activity into commodities, on calculations of short-term profit, on the anarchy of production, and on growing capitalist globalization.
Capitalism privileges profits over people, short-term speculation over long-term sustainability; it privileges exploiting nature, workers, and consumers over mutually sustaining relationships; it privileges rapid depletion of raw materials and resources over investing in changing industrial processes; and it prioritizes paying the least amount possible for labor, raw materials, energy inputs, and waste disposal outputs.
Humanity can no longer afford the current energy systems, the current industrial system, the current agricultural system. We especially cant afford the rich and their transnational corporations. We cant afford their short-sighted focus on short-term profit, and we cant afford their attempts to dominate the political process.
Transnational corporations and their owners did the most to create the problem, benefit the most from the way things are, and are among the main obstacles to the changes humanity needs.
Global climate change throws the short-comings of capitalism into sharp relief. We cant ultimately profit our way out of the crisis, we cant market solution our way out of the crisis, and we cant leave solutions up to those who profited most from creating the problems and who benefit most from business as usual. We cant trust green marketing or greenwashing such as ads for clean coal, or the ad I saw last night that proclaimed think green, think Waste Management.
Taking action will create millions of new jobs, will create new economic activity. In the long term, economic development that doesnt destroy the environment is essential for our continued survival. Economic development that prioritizes the quality of human life over the amount of goods or the amount of profit requires socialism.
We need more than minor adjustments. We need fundamental reconstruction of industry, to utilize energy more efficiently, to capture waste energy, to prevent the creation of pollution, and to use renewable energy to the maximum extent possible. We need major reorganization of our transportation systems, so that trains are used for transporting goods rather than trucks, so that affordable hybrid and electric cars are manufactured, so that mass transit is funded over more highway construction, and so that fewer goods are transported around the world in service of the cheapest wages and highest short-term profits.
We need fundamental changes in agriculture, so more food is grown closer to where it is sold and consumed, so there is more organic agriculture, so there is less reliance on fertilizers and pesticides. We need less mechanized industrial-scale farming. Instead, we need more labor-intensive, smaller scale farming to replace agribusiness monoculture. This too will create more jobs.
Such major changes in how we live, move, produce, grow, and market cant be made based primarily on profit considerations. They require long-term planning, massive investment in redesigning and re-engineering, collective input, husbanding resources, social investment in research for long-term sustainability, and major conservation efforts. Capitalism is incapable of such transformation, and market-driven changes are incapable of setting correct priorities for people. We need democratic decision-making based on the latest scientific knowledge of integrated ecological systems, and on the known long-term dangers of continuing humanitys destructive imbalance with nature.
Various approaches blame the victims. Supposedly the only solution is to change individual consumer choices, since people in general are claimed to cause the problem. But consumers, workers, and poor people dont have any say in energy plant construction, in decisions about trade or plant relocation or job export, in deciding on tax subsidies to polluting industries like the oil industry. The biggest problems are not caused by individuals but by the way the system privileges short-term profits over human need and over natures sustainability.
Others blame population increases as the root of the problem. While restraining population increases is part of a comprehensive program, if we cut the population but continue the same economic and production systems, the crises will still happen.
Sometimes environmental problems are explained using gross averages, which conceal as much as they reveal. Comparing the carbon footprint of people in different countries conceals huge class differentials in both energy use and decision-making power. Averaging my personal energy footprint with that of Bill Gates or Donald Trump doesnt provide much useful information, but can be used to blame everyone for causing problems that only capitalists are responsible for.
In any class-divided society, the rich and powerful use their wealth and power to escape the consequences of any crisis. They place the blame and burden on workers and poor people. They profit from human suffering. They have vested interests in continuing to profit from business-as-usual.
With the current recession, we hear again that we have to get the economy moving before thinking about action on global warming. It is too expensive to do anything; we cant afford it. But putting profit and the market first is a major part of what got us into this fine mess. More of the same is a recipe for greater disaster, as is delay.
Partial Solutions Biofuels are often touted as a solution. However, biofuels from corn, which Bush promotes, drive food costs higher. Already there has been a tortilla crisis in Mexico as a result. Burning biofuel adds to greenhouse gases, though not as much as fossil fuels. A massive increase in biofuels from food crops means solving an energy problem by creating a food problem, which is short-sighted and counterproductive, and will contribute little to solving global warming.
Cap and Trade market programs will at best only slow the rate of increase of greenhouse gas emissions.
The cheapest, fastest, cleanest source of fast emission reduction is to increase the efficiency of energy use in buildings, industry, and transportationhigher fuel efficiency standards, capturing wasted energy, insulating new buildings to use less energy in the first place and retrofitting existing buildings. Many of these will not only save energy and cut emissions, they will save money and reduce other kinds of pollution. However, the longer these steps are delayed, the higher the cost.
More nuclear power plants and supposedly clean coal are not the solution either, though those industries are promoting government subsidies and tax incentives, using global warming as an excuse for more profits.
Solutions which ignore the class divisions in society can at best only postpone the worst impacts of global warming and of an unsustainable economic system.
The Environmental Movement Solving the environmental problems confronting humanity requires broad-based, majority movements. Environmental issues connect to issues of class and race, poverty, working class power, democracy, public policy, taxation, private property rights, and many others. Part of our job is to learn and teach these connections, and to organize multi-issue coalitions which can tackle them.
Like other major problems, environmental challenges cannot be met without ending the Iraq War, because otherwise the necessary funds will not be available.
Unions are beginning to address global warming, beginning to resist attempts to place the burden of the crisis on the backs of their members and other working people, holding conferences and participating in coalitions. There is more cooperation between unions and environmental groups, including projects such as the Apollo Alliance. The Blue-Green Alliance between the Sierra Club and the Steelworkers Union, has an advanced program to create green jobs that has already influenced the election debate. They just sponsored a National Green Jobs Conference in Pittsburgh, with the aim of moving our country rapidly toward leadership in promoting a new green economy. Conference conveners included the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, many environmental groups and coalitions, some major businesses, and some governmental bodies.
Some environmentalists condemn the labor movement and workers in general for being backward at tackling climate change. They see workers as part of the problem, rather than seeing that workers are essential to the solutions we need. They see changes in the climate but not political changes in mass consciousness. The working class, in the U.S. and also internationally, is the only force with the potential power to create the fundamental changes we need, the only force capable of wresting power from the corporations and wealthy.
International Injustice, International Action The effects of global climate change are international but uneven. Many of the earliest effects sharply impact developing countries, and hit poor and working people hardest. Less industrialized counties have fewer resources to ameliorate the human suffering from these impacts.
However, the industrialized countries are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. The industrialized countries did the most in the past to create the problem, and are still doing the most in the present to make it worse. Yet the ones paying the highest costs are the masses in Africa and Asia, Central America and the Caribbean and Pacific island nations, many of whom have contributed the least to creating our climate change problems, who already live closest to the edge, oppressed and exploited by capitalist globalization.
This imbalance is made even worse by international debt, by the structural adjustment programs imposed on many of these countries by the IMF and World Bank.
We should support the transfer from developed countries to developing countries of sustainable technology, and funds for capital investment in sustainable agriculture, energy, and industry. We should support efforts to get the developed nations to make major contributions to a fund to protect the rainforests from devastation.
Cuba is a beacon of environmental change. With changes already underway in agriculture, transportation, recycling, oil use, etc., Cuba provides ample proof of the potential of socialism to transform the human relationship with the natural environment. Cuba also provides evidence that the necessary changes are possible, because they have already made many of those changes. Their efforts range from changing all light bulbs in the country to compact florescent bulbs (saving 75% of the electricity and decreasing carbon dioxide emissions significantly) to urban agriculture that absorbs more carbon dioxide, lessens the heat island affect of urbanization, decreases the amount of oil used to transport food, involves large sections of the population in carrying out such transformation, and saves the country much-needed money. Shifting much local transportation from cars to bikes and public transportation, shifting much agriculture to organic methods, and instituting massive recycling efforts provide world leadership. Cubas internationally recognized hurricane response efforts show that adaptation efforts can succeed in saving money, lives, animals, and other resources. Cuba has increased the amount of land which is forested from 15% to 25% over the last several decades. The cooperation between Cuba and Venezuela, and between Cuba and China, are examples of ways around the world market by barter and exchange that provide real solutions rather than maximum private profit.
China provides more problematic examples. China is continuing to experience unrestrained development and massive projects that are harmful to the environment, but also is increasing serious efforts to address environmental degradation.
On the positive side, China has recently turned down over $90 billion in proposed development projects for environmental reasons. They just upgraded their environmental agency to a full Ministry with enhanced monitoring and enforcement authority. China has higher standards for automobile efficiency than the U.S. They have massive reforestation projects underway. China is beginning to play a more positive role in international negotiations about climate change. They have committed to getting 20% of their energy from renewable resources within a few decades, and already much of the energy to heat water for homes comes from renewable sources. They are engaged in experiments with environmentally sound new cities, with rooftop gardens, with mass transit, with calculations of Green GDP.
On the negative side, rapidly increasing automobile use increases demand for highways, for oil, for parking lots. There are large-scale projects being contemplated to change rivers, build dams, build many more coal-fired electric plants, and increase monoculture industrialized farming. China soon will pass the U.S. as the single largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions (though still far less on a per capita basis). China still opposes mandatory restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, providing cover for the Bush administrations position. And while China has fairly good environmental laws on the books, they are widely ignored due to insufficient funding for enforcement. Some Chinese economists calculate that the benefits of increased economic activity are canceled by the costs of air and water pollution, of desertification and soil degradation, of increased water stress, and by the increased health problems resulting from air and water pollution.
There is an internal debate and struggle going on within China over environmental and development issues. We need to recognize and acknowledge the complexity and real problems the Chinese face, rather than condemning them or ignoring the real difficulties they face.
Developing countries including China correctly point to the legacy of imperialism, and to the emissions now and in the past of the industrialized countries.
But, however just these complaints are, nature is letting us know in no uncertain terms that the development path which the U.S. and Western Europe took is not a sustainable option. We need both to change production in developed countries, and to create a new path for sustainable development for developing ones.
To achieve global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, a binding, enforceable global agreement is essential. China and the U.S. have to sign onand our main responsibility is to fundamentally change priorities here in the U.S.
Our Party can help win our international movement to understand this issue. While some parties are developing a global climate change program, many do not yet even acknowledge the existence of this issue as one they need to address. Our example, by focusing on environmental crises and movements, by engaging in ideological, programmatic, and practical efforts, can be an important part of winning the international Communist movement to a better understanding of and involvement in this struggle.
What this means for the work of Communists It is a mistake to think that understanding and acting on environmental problems can be left to someone else.
Too often we have seen environmental issues as one more addition to the long list of things we ought to be doing something about but cant. Weve approached environmental issues as if that meant dropping what we are currently doing to switch to a different movement. But the reality is that whatever struggles we are already involved in have an environmental side, and these aspects are increasing in importance.
Environmental issues are part of most major electoral battles, and will play bigger roles in the future.
Many unions must deal with environmental issues on the job, where workers are subjected to the introduction of new and untested chemical compounds, about 4,000 per year, many of which affect the reproductive and endocrine systems in the human body.
War is extremely destructive of human and natural environments. Ending arms sales, ending invasion and occupation, ending the militarization of space, ending the production of nuclear weapons and eliminating the ones already deployed, ending wasteful military production, ending wasteful transport of military personnel to military bases around the world, all are environmental angles to the struggles for peace, justice, and equality worldwide.
Creating a sustainable economy that doesnt degrade our environment is an important aspect of the youth movementprotecting the earth for the young and for future generations.
Environmental racism means that people of color are much more likely to live and work in the most polluted places, face the heaviest health impacts of pollution, and have the least access to methods and resources that ameliorate those impacts. Environmental struggles must address the real-world impacts where people work and live, how this adds additional stresses on top of exploitation and oppression, and results in degraded health and destroyed potential.
While it is a mistake to blame all environmental problems on individual choices, we need to encourage changes in personal habits and practices, and make those changes ourselves. Changes in individual shopping, consumption, car use, and recycling are all necessary, though they are not sufficient and though this is not our major contribution.
Other aspects of our role include getting our organizations to include tackling global warming and other environmental demands in their programs, explaining the links between environmental issues and other issues to the people we work with, explaining the ways in which the capitalist system is ultimately unable to solve global warming, and building coalitions that include environmental organizations and demands.
Proposals We recognize and applaud the efforts that both the PWW and PA have made to increase coverage of environmental issues.
We need to revitalize our Environmental Commission, continue to increase our coverage of environmental issues in the PWW and PA, include environmental demands in our electoral programs, and revise and reissue a third edition of our Environmental Program People and Nature Before Profits.
We want to place the following motion before the NC: 1. Encourage clubs to have educationals based on this report over the next year. 2. Instruct the National Board to reconstitute an Environmental Commission.