Global Warming Report to March 2008 NC

BY: Marc Brodine| April 18, 2008
Global Warming Report to March 2008 NC

Download the audio of the report here.

Global Warming Is Here To Stay
Almost every day, there is more news about the current impact of global warming—from 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 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. The current world rice crisis is linked to the massive drought that Australia is suffering, likely in part due to global warming.

Global warming is more than an inconvenient truth. Understanding the root causes of global warming and most other major environmental problems can lead to revolutionary truth. Or the results from ignoring those root causes will be much more than inconvenient.

Global warming is one crucial aspect of the environmental problems humanity is experiencing. Some urge us to look at global warming as if it was a separate problem and the “most important issue of our times.” While serious action is needed right now on global warming, we make a mistake if we look at this issue by itself, separate from other crucial environmental problems, and separate from issues of economics, social justice, and capitalism.

Humanity is part of nature, and relies on the rest of nature for survival. We depend on the natural world for food, water, oxygen, raw materials, beauty, many medicines, and for a climate that stays within boundaries compatible with human life. Our survival as a species depends on maintaining a balanced relationship with all natural systems, including climatic ones. Our production, agriculture, housing and other construction, must take the needs of natural systems into account. We can’t 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. There are finite amounts not just of minerals and fossil fuels, but also of useable water and of land suitable for agriculture. When we deplete the soil, we deplete our ability to grow food. When we cut down rainforests, we cut down trees that absorb carbon dioxide and recycle water back into the atmosphere. When we drain rivers dry to irrigate crops, we temporarily solve a food problem by creating a water problem, which in the longer run creates a bigger food problem.

Nature is also not a bottomless pit into which we can endlessly dump any and all waste. For example, there are now two plastic and waste “soups” floating in the Pacific, accumulated over decades, which together are more than double the size of the continental U.S. We can’t just keep dumping waste.

Increases in scientific and technological knowledge have enabled people to tap into natural systems, resources, and bounty, but we have been acting as if our increased ability to produce goods based on what we take from nature could continue without limit. But there are real limits to human control over nature.

Though Marx and Engels well understood, especially in connection with agricultural systems, that increased capitalist exploitation of nature would deplete the resources humanity needs for survival, later Marxists often thought that endless increases in production were possible, were the next step in “man’s triumph over nature.”

But we can’t triumph over nature. We can only understand natural systems better and work with those natural systems and within their limits. Once we overwhelm any crucial natural limits, we harm the very nature on which our survival depends.

Global warming and related climate change are not the only environmental problems which threaten the quality of human life. The collapse of important fisheries due to over-harvesting, the degradation of the soil which grows the food we need, the increased water stresses, the depletion of non-renewable resources, the extinction threats to many species, the worldwide spread of persistent organic pollutants which harm the human reproductive and immune systems, rapidly accelerating desertification, increasing air and water pollution in spite of several decades of efforts to control them, all are threats to developed human existence and all must be addressed. To focus on global warming to the exclusion of these other problems is self-defeating.

We have to use our dialectical materialist outlook to understand natural systems, and appreciate that just as political and economic systems accumulate small quantitative changes over long periods but eventually reach a point where a qualitative transformation takes place, the same is true of natural systems. We don’t want any natural systems to transform to a new state that is inhospitable to humanity, so we have to learn nature’s tipping points and avoid them.

Even the best-case global warming scenario will require serious action and difficult changes, will require major efforts to mitigate the effects, especially on developing countries, will require the transformation of how we grow, produce, and distribute food, consumer goods, energy, and housing, and will require, in the long run, socialism.

While the worst affects from global warming are decades away at least, continuing business as usual will guarantee disaster sooner, and will make the worst disasters unavoidable. Greenhouse gases accumulate, so every bit we continue to add makes solving the problem in the future much harder and more expensive. We are seeing plenty of bad results already. Nature is giving us urgent warnings: the rapid melting 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 destructive that centuries will be required to restore these forests, widespread droughts such as the current one in the Southeast U.S., and many, many others.

Action is needed now if we are to avoid driving the world’s climatic systems beyond thresholds necessary for sustainable developed human life. We have to use the next ten years to begin making major changes in energy production, transportation, reforestation, water use, preventing desertification, and many other changes. Prudently reducing climate-change risks requires that carbon dioxide emissions be declining globally by 2025, and be declining rapidly by 2050. To accomplish this requires us to start now.

The last twenty-five years, however, have seen changes in the wrong direction. Denying the existence of the problem, speeding up the burning of fossil fuels, increasing globalized transport of goods, building more highways and less mass transit, deregulating industry and finance, decreasing the role of government programs that benefit people, the spread of McMansion developments and urban and suburban sprawl, accelerated cutting down and burning of forests, have all resulted in speeding up our rush to destruction of the environment we depend on.

The most apocalyptic predictions, such as James Lovelock’s prediction in Rolling Stone of six billion dead in this century, end up convincing people we can’t solve the problem so we might as well give up. That doesn’t help build the movement to accomplish what we actually can.

The problems are speeding up, are exceeding the “consensus” predictions of a few years ago. We must take immediate action, or else the problems and the changes will become increasingly difficult and expensive. We have to sound the alarm without being alarmists.

Key to worldwide effective action to slow greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the worst impacts on poor people and developing countries, is fundamental change in policies and priorities in the U.S. The U.S., along with Australia, has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions, much more than Europe, and exponentially more than Asia and Africa. 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. starts to make the necessary changes to become part of the worldwide efforts to mitigate and slow global warming, and to adapt to the consequences.

We should always note that 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.

This report can’t go into great detail about all aspects of human-caused climate change, it is just an introduction. To develop a deeper understanding, you will need to do your own study. At the end of the report are recommendations of websites and books.

Global Warming
The world, on average, is getting hotter—2005 was the hottest year on record, and 23 of the hottest 24 years on record have happened since 1980.

Global warming threatens to transform the earth’s climatic systems, and transform them in ways that threaten humanity. While there are many environmental problems we must address, global warming by its very nature affects most systems on which humans depend, and threatens to create worldwide change that is profoundly hostile to human society.

A few words about terminology: some early “skeptics” pushed the use of “climate change” to get away from the phrase “global warming” as part of their PR response to the growing alarm. However, global climate change is actually more accurate. Even though global warming is one of the main underlying reasons for climate change, there are many changes happening in addition to warming trends. 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 world’s climatic systems. Also, the warming we are already seeing is not distributed evenly, with much more of the warming happening in the arctic regions.

There are also many terms used to make the point that human activity is causing most of these changes. “Human-caused”, “Anthropogenic,” “The Holocene,” all just mean that industrial, agricultural, and transportation systems created and used by humans are pushing nature’s systems out of their normal ranges. In other words, this is not some unstoppable natural process beyond human control—it is caused by human activity and can be at least significantly slowed by changes in human activity (or can be made worse if we continue to accelerate the rate at which forests are cut down and fossil fuels are burned). We can also call this “rapid, socially-induced climate disruption.”

Briefly, global warming is caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere resulting 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 sun’s heat, resulting in warming of the atmosphere, the land, the oceans. The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor. While there is some natural variability in the amount of these gases, carbon dioxide concentrations are on track to double the amounts present in the atmosphere before the industrial revolution. How soon this happens depends on human activity.

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. 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 cause of the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the last 250 years has been emissions from fossil fuels and from deforestation. Currently, the world depends on fossil fuels for over 80% of all energy.

Greenhouse gas accumulation causes global warming, and in turn global warming causes changes in many linked natural systems. Glaciers and ice sheets melt faster, seasons change with warmer temperatures happening sooner and lasting longer, snow packs decrease and melt before summer, and sea levels rise due to warmer water expanding. Because warmer water evaporates more rapidly, more water vapor goes into the air, trapping more heat, and some areas experience increased rainfall. However, the incidence of drought also increases.

There are already increases in the amount and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, additional stresses on water systems and 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 zones.

Already, the summer ice melt in the Arctic is decades ahead of predictions. The fabled “Northern Passage” is soon to be a reality during the summer months. Ice and snow reflect much of the sun’s heat back into space, and when massive amounts of ice melt, the exposed water absorbs more heat, intensifying the effects of global warming. Since the ice in the Arctic floats, that melting doesn’t increase sea levels. But melting in the Antarctic and of the Greenland glaciers threatens sea level rises of not a few inches but of many feet. There are serious worries that major sections of the Antarctic ice shelves may melt, break off, and hence accelerate the increase in sea levels. This likely isn’t going to happen this year or even next decade, but unless we take action now, we guarantee that it will happen. With billions of people around the world living in low lying areas near oceans, this could make our problems much worse much faster.

Sea level increases threaten the water supplies of millions, even from less than one inch of increase. For example, since higher ocean water leaks into aquifers, salt water infiltrates into the fresh water supplies that people use for drinking. This is already happening in Florida, in the Caribbean, and in some Pacific island nations. As well, though the total sea level rise thus far is not yet an inch,  that impacts two to three feet of shoreline in many places.

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 isn’t an accident; it is a result of rampant capitalism which gains short-term profits from the lumber, beef, and soy bean industries.

If we don’t act soon, the longer-term impacts will be even more serious. In part, greater accumulations of greenhouse gases will lead, in incremental, linear fashion, to more of the same—higher sea levels, greater changes in rainfall, larger areas experiencing drought.

But some affects will come from the way that the systems of the natural world are all linked together, and from some systems transforming to a qualitatively different state. 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 is melted. 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.

Some systems will transform to new states. For example, most of the rivers in Asia are fed by the melt from glaciers in the Himalayas. As those glaciers melt faster, at first this will result in more water in those rivers and increased flooding. But eventually, as the glaciers disappear, most of the water that over 1.2 billion people depend on will disappear. This will directly threaten human life as well as crucial agricultural systems, and may happen as soon as the middle of this century.

Around the world, all but a few glaciers are melting, and most are expected to vanish within a few decades, with predictable consequences for water supplies, hydroelectricity generation, and irrigation. But there will be other effects. In Alaska already, since the weight of the melting glaciers is so much less, there is increased earthquake activity. We can expect other such indirect results from global warming.

Increasing water stresses in many regions have the potential even in the short-term to foster conflict and war—the UN says that this is a major contributing factor in Darfur, for example.

So there are numerous reasons to start decreasing how much greenhouse gases we add through human activity. The longer we delay making changes, the more expensive and difficult those changes will be.

As well, global warming makes other environmental problems worse. Drought conditions are worse, which causes water to be drawn from underground aquifers, lowering the water table, depleting the aquifer many times faster than it is being replaced, turning water in some areas into a non-renewable resource. As increasing heat expands the Tropics, tropical diseases are spreading as well, such as malaria, the #1 public health problem in the world already. Desertification is rapidly increasing, taking land needed to grow food for the world’s rapidly expanding population out of production, decreasing our potential food supply right when we need more food.

The effects of global warming are not distributed evenly across the globe. Temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctic are rising much faster, three or four times the worldwide average. Changes in rainfall will inundate some agricultural areas while increasing drought in others, and areas already affected by drought will face more—in sub-Saharan Africa, in northwestern China, in the U.S. Midwest. Many scientists warn of the threat of escalating extinction of many animal species, alongside the potential for explosive growth of destructive insects.

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. Water is connected to land is connected to agriculture is where human sustenance comes from. Global warming increases heat, but it also stresses water systems, agricultural systems, and human life. We can’t separate ourselves from nature; we are part of nature and dependent on it in innumerable ways. We also understand that there is a cumulative aspect to environmental problems—for example, paving land for one new highway doesn’t pose a huge risk, but all of the paving, asphalt, and construction together cause huge problems of run-off, erosion, destruction of wetlands, water contamination, less land for food, and less photosynthetic surface to absorb carbon dioxide.

Capitalism is using the natural world as an experimental hot house, playing with the future of all humanity for short-term profit. We can’t risk finding out the absolute limits of various environmental support systems by passing those limits and creating a world profoundly more inhospitable to human life.

This brief description is inadequate to explain the scope and nature of the numerous environmental problems humanity faces. I urge you to read and study in more detail than is possible in a short report, to learn in more depth about the connections between global warming, other environmental problems, social and economic inequality, injustice, and how all these are linked together in an indissoluble whole.

In general, there are only three options resulting from the climate change challenge:

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 serious action, the more human suffering will occur.

We Can’t Profit Our Way to a Solution
Many people are already concerned about global warming. You can find many books, newspaper and magazine articles, a few documentary movies, and it is playing a larger role in electoral debates and platforms.

However, most of the discussion blames individual consumption or overpopulation, and most of the solutions proposed are limited to market “solutions” like the various cap-and-trade schemes, or technological fixes that will supposedly magically save us.

Since we can’t wait for socialism everywhere before we take action on global warming, we need a mix of immediate actions that includes government action, and steps that involve the market as well as steps that take us away from 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 doesn’t mean that Communists become advocates of profit, just that we recognize the need for immediate action; we are realistic about how immediate action can happen in the U.S..

We need technological innovations, since we need to change many of the ways we get and use energy, for example. Technological change is a necessary element of many of the programs and changes we need, even though we recognize that there is no single “technological fix” that can solve the problems for us. We need new technological tools, but we also need social, political, and economic change to go along with new technology.

While there is some profit to be made for some corporations at the present, fundamentally, capitalism cannot solve our environmental crises, of which global warming is a major part.

Capitalism is based on creating increased profits and intensified exploitation. Capitalism is based on restlessly and relentlessly seeking ever-expanding markets and production of commodities, on turning more and more of human life and activity into commodities, on calculations of short-term profit, on the anarchy of production, and on growing capitalist globalization. All of these aspects of capitalism are causes of the environmental crises we are experiencing.

Capitalism privileges profits over people, short-term speculation over long-term sustainability, privileges exploiting nature, workers, and consumers over mutually sustaining relationships, privileges rapid depletion of raw materials and resources over investing in changing industrial processes, and prioritizes paying the least amount possible for raw materials and energy inputs and waste disposal outputs.

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.

Humanity can no longer afford the current energy systems, the current industrial system, nor the current agricultural system. And we especially can’t afford the rich and their transnational corporations. We can’t afford their profits, we can’t afford their short-sighted focus on short-term profits, and we can’t afford their attempts to dominate the political process.

International 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.

Globalization in part means capitalists chasing the cheapest wages, but the chase is made possible by cheap transportation that don’t include the costs of the resulting pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and resource depletion. If they had to pay the full costs of these so-called “externalities,” exporting jobs and factories wouldn’t be so profitable. But the market won’t force corporations to pay those costs, only governments, international treaty action, and mass pressure and action can do so.

One of the big problems with the free-market fundamentalism infecting public discourse is promotion of the idea that the market and capitalists respond to human need, that they seek to make a profit from fulfilling needs. But this is an illusion. Markets respond to money and opportunities to make more money, not to human need. There are obvious massive human needs, but because capitalists don’t think they can make money, or as much money, addressing them, those needs go unmet. All the calls for “creative capitalism” can’t and won’t change the basic nature of the system; rather, these are efforts to save the system from its own excesses, to divert people away from understanding the need to fundamentally transform our economic, industrial, and agricultural systems.

Global climate change throws the short-comings of capitalism into sharp relief. We can’t ultimately profit our way out of the crisis, we can’t “market solution” our way out of the crisis, and we can’t leave solutions up to those who profited most from creating the problems and who benefit most from business as usual.

One of the fear tactics that climate change deniers use is to proclaim that taking action against carbon dioxide will cause an economic crisis, and destroy jobs. This is a scheme to undercut the support for taking serious action. However, even in the short term, taking action will create millions of new jobs, will create new economic activity. There will even be profits in new and developing industries. In the long term, economic development that doesn’t 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.

Some industries are particularly resistant to change—auto, trucking, oil, natural gas, plastics, large-scale construction. Because it will decrease profits, will require investment of large amounts of capital to change these industries in basic ways, these industries resist and delay necessary change, and seek to use public relations and advertising to buy their way out of the bind that increasing public awareness puts them in—often called “green marketing.” The oil industry, for example, was the main funder of “climate change skeptics” for the last several decades. British Petroleum now advertises itself as “BP: we’re not an oil company, we’re an energy company.”

What we need is not merely some minor adjustments in production, transportation, and advertising, we need fundamental reconstruction of industry so that energy is utilized more efficiently, so waste energy is captured and used, so pollution isn’t created in the first place, and so renewable energy is used 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 rather than the biggest cars which make the most short-term profit, 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 manufacturing and highest short-term profits.

We need fundamental changes in our agricultural processes, so more food is grown closer to where it is sold and consumed, so that there is much more organic agriculture and less reliance on fertilizers, pesticides, and transportation over thousands of miles, so that genetically modified seeds and crops don’t bankrupt farmers, instead using natural seeds that can reproduce, so that less mechanized industrial-scale farming, more labor-intensive farming, and smaller scale farming replaces agribusiness monoculture. More use of grains to directly feed humans rather than to constantly increase beef production will help—this would be a more efficient use of nutrients, produce less methane, ease water and soil stresses, and help slow rainforest destruction.

Such major changes in how we live, move, produce, grow, and market can’t be made based primarily on profit considerations. They require long-term planning, massive investment in redesigning and re-engineering systems of all kinds, 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 in scientific knowledge of integrated ecological systems, and on the known long-term dangers of continuing humanity’s distorted imbalance with nature.

False solutions
There are some capitalists who are taking advantage of global warming to promote their own profit, sometimes at the expense of real solutions. For example, the nuclear industry claims that because nuclear generation of electricity doesn’t generate carbon dioxide emissions, we should stop protesting construction of nuclear power plants, clear away legal obstacles, and subsidize their industry. They don’t discuss the carbon dioxide and other pollutants released from the construction of nuclear power plants, nor the emissions from transporting construction materials, nor the massive amounts of water required to cool the reactors. Nor do they mention that there are no solutions to the problems of nuclear waste, which would increase with more nuclear power plants. Nor do they mention the health threats to miners and their families and communities.

As well, increasing the production of nuclear fuels and by-products increases the danger and likelihood of nuclear terrorism. Along with preventing more nuclear power plants, we should eliminate nuclear weapons entirely, a point which can build unity between the peace and environmental movements.

Others present their own industries as solutions when at best they are only a small part of the much bigger program needed to address global warming and carbon dioxide emissions. For example, the coal industry wants the federal government to subsidize research and development of carbon capture and sequestration, since coal is relatively plentiful at present. If carbon dioxide emissions can be captured and stored underground, they claim this will solve any problems of increased carbon dioxide. They advertise it as “clean coal” and sponsor Democratic presidential debates, in order to fool and divide the forces for change.

Carbon capture and sequestration needs to be researched as one part of a comprehensive program. But no one knows if carbon sequestration will work, or if leaks will completely defeat the purpose. Also not admitted are the extra costs involved in treating the coal before burning, in capturing the carbon dioxide, or in maintaining storage, all of which decrease the efficiency and increase the costs. So while this may be one small part of a program, it is not the panacea which the industry proclaims in their search for government subsidies. We can’t eliminate coal energy plants in the short term, and coal miners are not the enemy, but coal is also not a long-term solution to our energy problems, and is a pretty poor short-term solution as well. Much of the energy humanity uses fifty years from now will come from electricity generating facilities built between now and then, and the more of these that are coal based, the more difficult our problems will be.

Other false solutions have to do with various approaches which blame the victims—it is all the fault of individual choice, so the only solution is to change individual choices of consumers, who have only themselves to blame. But consumers, workers, and poor people don’t 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 nature’s sustainability.

Some “climate change skeptics” note that there are more deaths in the world from cold than from heat, so we should factor that in as a “benefit” from global warming. But they use a linear analysis that ignores the scope and nature of the changes ahead, discounting deaths from increased extreme weather events, from expanding disease zones, from dislocations due to rising sea levels, from starvation due to changing seasons and decreasing crop yields, from desertification and increased water stress.

Others want to blame population increases as the root of the problem. While restraining population increases is indeed part of a comprehensive program, if we cut the world’s population but continue the same economic and production systems, the crises would still happen. We can’t separate out any one contributing factor and make that the be-all and end-all of causation. Separating population from how things are produced, from who benefits most from maintaining business-as-usual, who decides, and who uses wealth and power to escape the problems, leaves us with only hopes for magical market solutions or magical technological fixes.

Sometimes environmental problems are explained using gross averages, which end up concealing as much as they reveal. Figures for “average per capita energy consumption” used to compare the “carbon footprint” of people in different countries conceal huge class differentials in both energy use and decision-making power. Averaging my personal energy footprint with that of Bill Gates or Donald Trump doesn’t provide much useful information, but it can be used to blame everyone who lives here for causing problems that only the 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 seek to place the blame and burden on workers and poor people. They seek to profit from human suffering. They have vested interests in continuing to profit from business-as-usual.

With the current recession/depression fears, we will now hear again that “we” have to get the economy moving again before even thinking about doing anything about global warming. It is too expensive to do anything; “we” can’t afford it. But putting the market and profit first is a major part of what got us into this fine mess. More of the same is a recipe for greater disaster.

Partial Solutions
Biofuels are often touted as a solution to increasing oil prices and increased burning of fossil fuels. However, biofuels from corn, which Bush is promoting, end up driving the cost of food higher and increasing hunger. Already there has been a “tortilla crisis” in Mexico as a result. Biofuels from waste matter, as in Brazil from the stalks and leaves from sugar cane, don’t drive up food prices. However, burning biofuel adds to greenhouse gases, though not as much as fossil fuels. So biofuels from waste matter help, but they are not “the answer.” At best, they slow down the problems, a worthwhile goal but not a solution. A massive increase in biofuels from food crops means solving an energy problem by creating a food problem, which is short-sighted and counterproductive.

Similarly, “Cap and Trade” market programs advocated by Al Gore and many others, at best will slow the rate of acceleration of greenhouse gas emissions. As a solution, they fail. As one small aspect of a comprehensive program, such market-based policies can contribute and buy time, but by themselves, without more fundamental transformation in our industrial processes and our energy consumption, they are illusory and serve to delay more basic solutions.

The cheapest, fastest, cleanest, surest source of emission reduction is to increase the efficiency of energy use in buildings, industry, and transportation—higher fuel efficiency standards, capturing wasted energy, insulating buildings to use less energy in the first place. 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.

We do need technological solutions, but unless they are combined with changes in the economy, in production, in energy generation and use, in transportation and limiting globalization, they will be sterile and ineffective.

For example, there is now a company that is using nanotechnology to print solar cells on a kind of film, which they claim is cost-competitive with other methods of generating electricity. This may be a very significant development, but unless there are subsidies to enable families and communities to install this new technology, its application will take a long time and hence be less effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than it could be. Technological change has to go hand-in-hand with social change to make the most difference.

“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
This unity between many movements and many struggles is the road to victories for the environmental movement, as opposed to the failed strategy of seeking funding from major corporations and limiting struggles to legislative and legal efforts, rather than incorporating those legal and legislative efforts with broad coalitions, demonstrative action, community organizing, civil disobedience, public education, and other forms of struggle. “Green marketing,” greenwashing, and various advertising/labeling schemes are not the solution.

Solving the serious environmental problems that confront humanity requires a broad-based, majority movement. Environmental issues are growing in importance. For example, in the recent elections in Australia, changing Australia’s global warming policies was one of the crucial issues which resulted in progressive change. There is a growing majority consensus about the necessity of addressing major environmental problems.

In the 2008 U.S. elections for President and Congress, environmental problems are intertwined with the headline issues of the Iraq War, health care, and the economy. Like the other major problems, our environmental challenges cannot be solved without ending the war, because otherwise the necessary funds will not be available.

We should be among the advocates of the importance of environmental issues. Public awareness and knowledge are growing, especially among young people. This has already forced changes in the Bush administration’s public posture, though behind the scenes they continue to delay and postpone. Within the environmental movement, there is growing awareness of the need for alliances and coalitions, of addressing issues of poverty and inequality as part of how we address global warming, of building a mass movement capable of implementing change. The role of the environmental movement is undergoing a transformation, from an over-reliance on legal and advocacy strategies, to a more active engagement in the political process and in coalition-building with labor and other movements.

Even some in churches that have been part of the right-wing evangelical political movement are beginning to deal with the climate change issue. This offers new potential for unity between religious activists from different religious and political points of view, causing shifts in consciousness in many parts of the public including some who previously supported the ultra-right. This is one example of how environmental issues can help transform U.S. politics.

Environmental justice movements are tackling the disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation, toxic pollution, and waste disposal on people of color, poor people, and their communities. Many years ago, Love Canal brought this problem to public attention, but there are increased rates of cancer, asthma, other respiratory problems, and birth defects in many places—in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” for example, and a similar concentration near Houston. These disasters are not unfortunate accidents, they are the result of governmental and corporate policies. Urban communities are affected by being the sites for fuel depots, waste landfills, garbage collection and processing facilities. People who live near bus barns suffer from sharply increased rates of asthma.

Environmental issues are not environmental issues alone, they connect to issues of class and race, poverty, working class power, community democracy, public policy, and many other issues. It is part of our job to learn and teach these connections, and to organize multi-issue coalitions which can tackle them.

Many cities and states are already starting efforts to decrease emissions and increase mitigation and adaptation efforts—from California’s efforts to impose higher fuel-efficiency standards to Chicago’s green rooftops program. Many cities and states have already adopted greenhouse gas reduction goals, even as the Bush administration continues to delay any U.S. commitment to international action and enforceable treaties. This little-noticed shift in U.S. political culture is important for many reasons, putting cities and states in advance of the Federal government, not waiting for federal action to initiate positive programs.

There is a growing movement among architects, designers, and even some developers to “build green.” If most building over the next few decades adheres to higher standards for insulation, energy efficiency, and use of renewable materials,  that will make a significant contribution.

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. Many unions are demanding that candidates they support address global warming along with other issues of concern to workers. Many unions and workers understand that the corporations that attack the environment also attack workers rights, workers health, and unions.

There are increasingly coalitions between unions and environmental groups, “Blue-Green” coalitions, and projects like the Apollo Alliance.  The pacesetter for these joint efforts is the “Blue-Green Alliance” between the Sierra Club and the Steelworkers Union, which is putting out 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 include the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, many environmental groups and coalitions, some major businesses, and some governmental bodies, such as the city of Minneapolis. The conference had many attendees from unions including the Service Employees, the Communication Workers, Operating Engineers, and the UFCW.

The AFL-CIO has recently issued an environmental jobs program. The Longshore union (ILWU) is participating in the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, another intersection between the labor and environmental movements. Efforts are being made to organize port truckers, who are forced to spend hours idling their trucks while waiting for cargo, creating significant pollution and wasting gas.

Roger Toussaint, head of the NY Transit Union, went to the UN Bali Conference last fall representing many unions. John Sweeney told the UN Summit on Climate Risk recently that “The Global Labor movement is proud to have been among those who called for decisive action in Bali . . . Global warming means global depression, food and water shortages and drowned cities. I have stood in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and seen that future.” While the AFL-CIO’s efforts have been a bit contradictory, including lobbying against mandatory limits on greenhouse gases, the union movement is in the process of adopting a more advanced policy on global warming issues.

Some environmentalists condemn the labor movement and workers in general for being somehow “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. 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.

It is essential that the movement for environmental progress be coupled with demands for environmental justice and for green jobs, retraining, expanded unemployment insurance, and health care for all.

International Injustice, International Action
The effects of global climate change are international but uneven. Many of the earliest effects most sharply impact developing countries, and hit poor and working people hardest. Less industrialized counties have fewer resources to adapt. However, it is the industrialized countries which are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions and for the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere due to past industrial activity. The industrialized countries have done 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, in human life, in degradation of the environment, in challenges to agricultural systems, are the masses in Africa and Asia, Central America and the Caribbean and Pacific island nations, already living 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. The debt has sucked money from these countries to the international banks, decreasing the ability of these countries to adapt to changes for which they are not responsible.

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 also support efforts to get the major developed nations to make serious contributions to a fund to protect the rainforests from devastation by compensating developing countries for lost revenue and the costs of enforcement. The forces driving deforestation are deeply embedded in the economics of food, fuel, timber, trade, and development.

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. Cuba’s 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 what international cooperation can achieve, and examples of ways around the world market by barter and exchange that provide real solutions rather than profits.

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 turned down over $90 billion in proposed development projects for environmental reasons. They have just upgraded their environmental agency to a full Environmental Ministry with enhanced monitoring and enforcement authority. China has a higher standard 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. They are engaged in experiments with environmentally sound new cities, with rooftop gardens, with mass transit. They are beginning to phase out plastic bags.

On the negative side, rapidly increasing automobile use is increasing demand for highways, for oil, for parking lots, and this defeats some of their positive efforts. Some Chinese economists calculate that the benefits from huge increases in economic activity are canceled out by the costs of air and water pollution, of desertification and soil degradation, by increased water stress, and by the increased health problems resulting from air and water pollution. 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). There are large-scale projects being contemplated to change rivers, build dams, and increase monoculture industrialized farming. China still opposes any mandatory restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, providing cover for the Bush administration’s similar position. And while China has fairly good environmental laws on the books, they are widely ignored due to insufficient funding for enforcement.

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 out of hand.

Developing countries including China correctly point to the legacy of imperialism, and to the emissions now and in the past of the industrialized countries. For example, the Netherlands, where the social-democratic government is taking serious action to prepare for rising sea levels, has the resources to do so in part because of its role in creating poverty and deforestation in Indonesia.

But however just the complaints of the developing countries are, nature is letting all of humanity know in no uncertain terms that the development path which the U.S. and Western Europe took is not a realistic, sustainable, or scientific option. We need both to change production in the developed countries, and to create a new path for sustainable development for the developing ones.

To achieve global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, a formal, binding, enforceable global agreement is essential. China and the U.S. have to sign on—and our main responsibility is to fundamentally change priorities here in the U.S.

Our Party has a role to play in winning our international movement to understand the need for action, the need to have this issue as part of their program. While some Parties are developing their understanding and program to address global climate change, such as our Party, the Canadian, Cuban, and Chinese Parties, many others 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.

A Communist Program to address Global Warming, as well as the broader environmental challenges we face—People and Nature Before Profits
A comprehensive approach involves ameliorating the causes and adjusting to the changes that are coming even if we stop carbon dioxide emissions right now. Such a program, building on our existing CPUSA Environmental Program, should include:

Change Congress and the White House in 2008
Support the creation of millions of “green jobs.”
End war and militarization, starting with the war in Iraq
Nationalize the energy industry
Cap and tax carbon dioxide emissions
A Manhattan Project to increase renewable energy, to increase the efficiency of solar, wind, and biomass generation of electricity, and to decrease costs per unit
Crash program of conservation, which could seriously cut greenhouse gas emissions very quickly, buying the world time for more permanent solutions
Expand the U.S. National Park and National Forest systems and fully fund them
Revitalize the U.S. railroads to replace much truck traffic
Increase required fuel efficiency standards
Public investment in mass transit rather than more highway construction
Work to end urban sprawl, stop paving over the land. This will save land from excess construction, will create more plant life to absorb carbon dioxide
Public works green jobs programs and public investment in transforming industry, agriculture, and transportation, in environmental clean-up programs, in reforestation including in urban areas, in noxious weed eradication, in revitalizing wetlands
Build more affordable housing, with adequate insulation as part of a conservation program
National program to retrofit existing buildings with adequate insulation—one quick way to create jobs and to decreased carbon dioxide emissions
Large-scale scientific research efforts in climatic science, preparation for and mitigation of global warming effects
Ratification of the Kyoto Accords and full participation in the negotiations for a follow-up treaty that includes mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions
Eliminate most international debt
Contribute to a fund to compensate countries for ending deforestation
Share solar and other sustainable energy technology with developing countries
Democratic Values
More democratic control of economic decisions and priorities

Socialism is the main solution, if we integrate socialist theory with current scientific knowledge about the limits of natural systems—socialist economic planning has to include planning for the needs of natural systems.

What this means for the work of Communists
Too often we have looked at environmental issues as one more in a long list of things we ought to be doing something about but can’t. We’ve approached environmental issues as if that meant dropping what we are currently doing to switch to a different movement, a different organization. But the reality is that whatever struggles we are already involved in have an environmental side, and these aspects are only going to increase in importance.

We have to integrate environmental issues into our current work, and recognize the interconnections between environmental struggles and other issues. It is part of the job of Communists to take care of the future in the struggles of today.

Environmental issues are part of all 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. Many groups of workers will be impacted by changes in production, transportation, and other dislocations brought about by environmental problems.

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. As well, there are additional disastrous environmental impacts from military waste, from land degraded due to training maneuvers and spent shells, from the use of depleted uranium, to mention a few.

Creating a sustainable economy that doesn’t degrade our environment is an important aspect of the youth movement—protecting the earth for young and future generations. Movements and organizations that find ways to address growing environmental crises will attract youth, who understand that it is their future and that of their children that is most at stake.

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 to ameliorate those impacts. Environmental struggles are about maintaining beauty and uncontaminated nature in part, but they must also address the real-world impacts where people work and live, how this adds additional stresses on top of exploitation and oppression, resulting in degraded health and destroyed potential.

While it is a mistake to blame all environmental problems on individual choices, we do need to encourage changes in personal habits and practices, and make those changes ourselves. Changes in individual habits, consumption, car use, recycling are all necessary, though they are not sufficient.

Other aspects of our role include working to get 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. There are sections of the environmental movement we naturally connect to—organizations that fight environmental racism, coalitions between unions and environmental groups, sections of the peace and solidarity movements that are already conscious of the human and environmental devastation of war and the need to transfer funds from war to human service and environmental programs.

We need to reject anti-immigrant arguments that blame “illegal immigrants” for environmental problems—it is the corporations which deserve the blame. Another link is that the walls being built on the U.S./Mexico border are very environmentally destructive, harming wildlife and vegetation as well as human rights and cooperation,

It is a mistake to think that understanding and acting on environmental problems can be left to “someone else.” We all have to learn more, become more engaged and involved, and explain how capitalism is a major obstacle to the real, long-lasting solutions humanity needs.

We recognize and applaud the efforts that both the PWW and PA have made to increase coverage of environmental issues, including PWW coverage of the UN-sponsored Bali Conference, of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, and PA’s publication in the magazine and online of articles about climate change and Marxist philosophy and about the health affects of global warming.

Our work needs to include revitalizing our Environmental Commission, continuing to increase our coverage of environmental issues in the PWW and PA, including environmental demands in our election program, and revising and reissuing a third edition of our Environmental Program.

The NC adopted this report and passed the following motion:
1. Encourage clubs to have educationals based on this report over the next year.
2. Instruct the National Board to reconstitute an Environmental Commission.
3. Prepare educational materials such as a PowerPoint presentation on CD to assist clubs in their educational work on this issue.

Additional Materials

There is a growing body of literature on global warming, climate change, and related environmental problems. The list below provides places to begin to learn and understand more.

“The Dialectics of Climate Change” by Marc Brodine
“The Health Effects of Global Warming” by David Lawrence
“People and Nature before Profits”, the CPUSA environmental program
The report of the Presidential Climate Action Project
(While limited by its capitalist assumptions and overdone promotion of “entrepreneurship,” this report offers a detailed plan of changes that can start right now, and can be the basis for widespread, multi-class unity for immediate action.)

Book recommendations

Hell and High Water, by Joseph Romm
Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert
With Speed and Violence, by Fred Pearce
When Rivers Run Dry, by Fred Pearce
Dirt, by David Montgomery
Eating Fossil Fuels—Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture, by Dale Allen Pfeiffer
Ecology Against Capitalism, by John Bellamy Foster
The Humboldt Current, by Aaron Sachs (especially the last chapter)

Thanks to the committee which prepared this report: Marc, Sam, Len, Dave, and John.


    Marc Brodine is Chair of the Washington State CPUSA. A former AFSCME member and local officer, he is currently an artist and guitar player. Marc writes on environmental issues and answers many web site questions. Marc is the author of an extended essay on Marxist philosophy and the environment, titled Dialectics of Climate Change.

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