U.S. government: Greatest obstacle to international action on global warming
Capitalism stands in the way of climate change remedies
By the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL)
MAY 31, 2013
View the complete issue.
Emissions of greenhouse gases rose to record levels in the first decade of this century, according to a panel of top climate scientists summarizing climate change research since 2007. Currently, global temperatures are 0.8 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels, and concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has grown by 140 percent over the same period. These trends obstruct the stated goal of keeping global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius through 2030.
Carbon dioxide concentrations at this level are contributing to noticeable changes in weather patterns. In 2012, a record heat wave hit the United States. Temperatures reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit in Nebraska, an expanding drought engulfed 60 percent of the mainland, severely damaging grain production, and the monstrous Hurricane Sandy caused huge damage and loss of life up the Northeast corridor.
In the past decade, Europe has seen record temperatures accompanied by drought; in 2003, some 30,000 people died during an extreme heatwave.
Global warming will most negatively affect poor people in both underdeveloped and advanced capitalist countries. A 2007 scientific report predicted that millions in Africa could face water shortages by 2020, leading to a 50 percent drop in agriculture in some countries. By 2080, global warming could increase the number of hungry people in the world by anywhere between 140 million and 1 billion, depending on how much greenhouse gas is emitted into the air over the next few decades. Additionally, malaria, diarrhea diseases, dengue fever, tick-borne diseases and heat-related deaths are predicted to increase with global warming.
Climate change — rising global temperatures due to human-caused carbon emissions — illustrates the need for global cooperation rather than competition. After all, carbon emissions produced by one country do not only create damage in that one country. And the devastation wrought by climate change, famine, drought and destructive storms will have an impact on the entire planet. Shouldn’t we all be taking action to prevent this crisis from getting worse?
But everything depends on the class character and class outlook of the governments in question. This is why the United States is the biggest obstacle to progress on curbing the emissions that cause global warming.
Kyoto protocol never ratified by the United States
The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty that sets binding obligations on industrialized countries to reduce emissions. The United States signed but has not ratified the protocol. Since Kyoto in 1997, the United States has continued to block progress in international meetings to avoid the imposition of binding targets for reduction of emissions, while attempting to shift the blame for out-of-control emissions to developing countries by pointing the finger at China.
For instance, as revealed in WikiLeaks cables, in December 2009 at the 15th Session of the Conference of the Parties to UNFCCC in Copenhagen, the United States used bullying tactics to prevent the adoption of binding targets. The two-week meeting was supposed to be the culmination of a process set in motion in Bali in 2005, in which parties to UNFCCC agreed to conclude negotiations on a new global deal by 2009. Highlighting the growing alarm over the effects of climate change, 110 leaders of countries had attended the conference by its conclusion.
As has now been revealed by the leak of these cables, many poor countries were victims of bullying and bribery as the United States used its power to force other countries to support the so-called Copenhagen climate accord, a non-binding statement that does nothing to stop the perilous course of continued global climate change. (Fidel Castro, Humanity’s Right to Life, PSLWeb.org, Dec. 16, 2009)
According to an article in the British newspaper The Guardian, “The U.S. diplomatic cables reveal how the U.S. seeks dirt on nations opposed to its approach to tackling global warming; how financial and other aid is used by countries to gain political backing; how distrust, broken promises and creative accounting dog negotiations; and how the U.S. mounted a secret global diplomatic offensive to overwhelm opposition to the controversial ‘Copenhagen accord,’ the unofficial document that emerged from the ruins of the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009.”
Why won’t the U.S. government go along with binding targets for emissions reductions?
Developing nations, such as China and India, are blamed by the United States for the deepening crisis. But, in fact, the United States, with just 5 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for 25 percent of greenhouse gases, the most of any country.
The primary source of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions is the consumption and burning of fossil fuels. The bulk of these come from energy industry emissions and from the use of private automobiles. The energy and auto industries have fought to oppose any controls on carbon emissions because this would cut into their profits.
Meanwhile, developing countries bear more than nine-tenths of the costs of climate change, including an annual death toll of 300,000 from weather-related disasters, and economic losses amounting to $12 billion per year.
‘Expand or die’ will kill the environment
Capitalism—the economic system shared by most countries at the conference—is driven by the quest for short-term gain. “Expand or die” is a primary mantra.
In the relentless competition that characterizes the system, no individual capitalist—or capitalist government representing the interests of its “own” capitalist class—is willing to accept a plan that would put it at a relative disadvantage vis-á-vis other capitalists. Capitalists in the United States want to be free to create as many emissions as they want in their pursuit of ever-increasing profits. Thus, the United States will go to any length to stymie any international agreement that would impose binding targets, especially an agreement that puts the onus for reducing emissions on the richest nations, those that created the crisis in the first place through unfettered capitalist development.
It is high time for these destroyers of the planet to be put out of commission and for global capitalism to be replaced with a rational, planned socialist economy that will put the needs of people and the planet first.
Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.