"Despite calls to 'save the planet' and the recent boom in 'climate activism,' few countries have launched a program aimed at radically reducing carbon emissions."
As the ecological crisis deepens and leads us to the famous "tipping point" - which brings us closer to a planetary catastrophe - they try to convince us that the "greening" of the world economy will lead us away from a very dark future. Somehow, against all logic, we have adopted a collective faith in the willingness of governments and big business to do the right thing. The carbon footprint will be drastically reduced thanks to a combination of market ploys and magic technologies. And as greenhouse mitigation progresses smoothly, the ruling forces will be able to go back to doing what they do best: indulging in their religion of unlimited accumulation and growth.
This beautifully adorned setting turns out to be the most depressing and paralyzing of all great illusions. And nowhere is their influence stronger than where the biggest environmental villains live: the United States.
The pompous 2015 Paris Agreement was sold as the great hope, but it would be more accurate to define it as a well-intentioned exercise in futility, something that the prestigious climatologist James Hansen dismissively defined as "a hoax without proposals for action, only promises." In Paris, the 200 participating members proposed the 20/20/20 formula: reducing carbon emissions by 20 percent, increasing renewable energy sources by 20 percent, and increasing overall energy efficiency by 20 percent. Theoretically, that would keep the average global temperature less than 2 degrees (ideally 1.5 degrees) above the pre-industrial level.
The problem is that all the objectives are voluntary and there is no mechanism that enforces their fulfillment. Under the Paris Agreement, each nation (currently the 187 signatories) determines its own plans, establishes its own results and reports on its initiatives for carbon mitigation. The reality is that none of these countries have made progress in implementing goals consistent with the 20/20/20 prescription, and most of them are very far from that goal. Although President Trump has withdrawn the US from the Accord, its carbon footprint turns out to be no worse than that of other large emitters (China, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada or Mexico).
Despite the fact that many nations have increased their use of clean energy, the increase in global economic growth has led to a parallel increase in carbon emissions: 1.6 percent in 2017, 2.7 percent in 2018, and Even greater increases are anticipated for 2019. The fossil economy is moving at full speed: oil and gas extractions have reached historic records and are not expected to decline. Even with a significant increase in renewables, such as that seen in China, India, the US and Europe, a steady increase in the carbon footprint is expected from theincrease total of economic growth and energy consumption. The 10 most polluting countries currently account for 67 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and little change is in sight.
Recently, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), a body that could hardly be called radical, projected that by 2030 the global production of fossil fuels would more than double the amount we should consume if we want to reverse warming global. In other words, the Paris accords were empty of content. The UNEP report concluded, extrapolating the emissions data of the eight most polluting countries, that "humanity" is advancing on a suicidal path towards ecological disaster marked by temperature increases of four degrees or perhaps more.
In any case, even if the major nations met the 20/20/20 targets, little would change. In reality, the sum of all the commitments made in Paris would not keep the temperature below the increase of two degrees (or more) in the coming decades. Global consumption of fossil fuels linked to increased growth would negate such efforts, so that existing carbon mitigation strategies would be illusory. In fact, many applied observers believe that it is too late and that, laden with the burden of a legacy of political failure, we are heading straight for planetary disaster. Waves of climate protests around the world are trying to increase public outrage, but these protests (and earlier ones) have yet to generate the kind of cohesive political opposition capable of reversing the crisis. We are trapped in a cycle of futility, a psychological immobility that David Wallace-Wells calls "climate nihilism" in his book "The inhospitable planet." (1). The massive protests that take place in such an environment do not automatically translate into a change in the system, not even in far-reaching reforms such as those associated with the differentGreen New Deals.
In the view of writers like Wallace-Wells, we are trapped in a world that is moving inexorably toward a four or five degree rise by the end of the century, if not earlier. This author concludes stating that "if the next 30 years of industrial activity trace an upward arc similar to that of the last 30 years, entire regions will be uninhabitable by current standards." The ecological cataclysm will devastate large regions of Europe, North and South America. In this scenario, the world economy will suffer such destruction that Karl Marx's famous crisis theory will appear lukewarm. Wallace-Wells adds: "A three degree warming will unleash suffering greater than that experienced by human beings throughout millennia of tension, conflict and all-out war."
In addition to "industrial activity," Wallace-Wells could have mentioned the even more problematic area of food and agriculture: that will be the weakest link in a system in crisis. Today, 80 percent of fresh water is used for agriculture and livestock, and half is used for meat production. We live in a world in which about 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce a kilo of beef and 685 liters for a liter of milk. Half of all arable land is dedicated to pasture, and it does not seem that this amount will decrease with the industrialization of new countries. The carbon footprint of agriculture for animal feed could reach 30 percent of the total, or even more, if we consider its use of fossil fuels. Since more than 2 billion people are currently seenprivate of adequate water and food, it would be necessary to seriously consider the serious unsustainability of capitalist agribusiness.
Despite calls to "save the planet" and the recent boom in "climate activism," few countries have launched a program aimed at radically reducing carbon emissions. For governments and business elites everything remains the same. In his book "Climatic Leviathan"(2)British Marxist writers Geoff Man and Jonathan Wainwright lament: “The possibility of achieving rapid global carbon reduction that mitigates climate change is over. The world elites, at least, seem to have abandoned it, if they ever took it seriously. " Instead they seem to have opted for aPolitics of adaptation to a planet in continuous warming.
The same corporate giants that dominate the global economy are the ones making the decisions that affect the green future. Currently, and according to Peter Phillips in "Gigants"(3)The 385 transnationals that dominate the world system are valued at $ 255 trillion, and much of that money is invested in the fossil fuel sector. The United States and Europe own almost two-thirds of that amount. No more than 100 companies are responsible for at least 70 percent of all GHG emissions. At the top of this pyramid, 17 financial giants run the economy of the capitalist world. To date, there are no signs that the caciques of fossil capitalism are willing to deviate from their historically destructive course.
Today, America's tech elites talk a lot about cutting their carbon footprint, a move that would obviously benefit their corporate image. The executives of Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook seem eager to launch their own green crusades. They routinely tout that green technology is the way to mitigate carbon emissions. Jeff Bezos has stated that Amazon will get 100 percent of the energy it needs from alternative sources by 2030. Other tech oligarchs appear to promise a carbon-free economy in response, at least partially, to escalating worker protests.
Another beautiful illusion: the tech giants and the oil giants, in fact, have decided to advance closely associated. Apparently, the idea of "going green" does not prevent Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others from benefiting from their contribution to those other giants (Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, etc.) being able to locate better, cheaper and more efficient locations. to drill and dofracking. Big technology can supply them with what they need most: spaces in the cloud, artificial intelligence, robotics, and geological and meteorological information. These tools have been especially useful in exploiting the shale oil fields of Canada and the United States. Referring specifically to ExxonMobil, Bezos stated that "we need to help them rather than vilify them." Which means 50,000 barrelsdiaries more shale oil for just one of the climate busters.
While the businesses of Google, Microsoft and Amazon are going from strength to strength, the discontent of the workers flows, manifested through protests and strikes directed not only against the hypocrisy of the climate but against other “collaborations” with the police forces, the border security agencies, intelligence operations and, of course, the Pentagon. Another fantasy of large technology companies is carbon capture and storage, a project considered very problematic both technically and economically.
The stubborn reality is that by 2040 the world will consume a third more energy than it is today, and that probably 85 percent of that energy will come from gas, oil and coal. The subsoil contains fossil fuels worth many trillions of dollars. Business logic dictates that this incredible source of wealth must be used to the full, regardless of the “green” goals that may be set in Paris or at the Madrid COP.
At the same time, reputable economic projections indicate that in 2014 China will lead the world economy, with a GDP of 50 trillion dollars, followed by the United States, with 34 trillion dollars, and India, with 28 million. Presumably, these nations will have more wealth than the rest of the world as a whole. And, what is most daunting, thetwo leading nations will possess more wealth (and control more resources) than the total of what currently exists on the planet. What implications will this terrifying scenario have for energy consumption? And for the alteration of the climate? And for social misery? For agriculture and food shortages? For the wars for resources and militarism, what is supposed to be the cause and effect of these wars? Can the Paris Agreement, the Madrid COP or other summits that follow it - or any New Green Deal - substantially change the trajectory of such a savagely unsustainable system?
With the climate crisis worsening and no effective counterpower on the horizon, what we desperately need is an entirely new political imaginary that will finally succeed in freeing the world from the dominance of transnational corporations.
(1) The inhospitable planet, Wallace-Wells, David, Debate, 2019.
(2) Climatic Leviathan, Mann, Geoff and Joel Mainwright, New Library publishing house, 2018.
(3) Giants: The Global Power Elites, Phillips, Peter, Seven Stories, 2018.
By Carl Boggs
Translated for Rebellion by Paco Muñoz de Bustillo