Revolution #220, December 19, 2010
Cancun Climate Talks:
The Do-Nothing Agreement and the Planetary Emergency
On December 11, UN talks on climate change ended in Cancun, Mexico. Like the talks held in Copenhagen a year ago, the Cancun summit moves the world no closer to seriously dealing with the pressing environmental emergency on this planet. (For more on the Copenhagen talks, see "Copenhagen Climate Summit Accord: A Crime Against the Planet," Revolution #187, December 27, 2009.) At the last minute, an agreement was announced in Cancun. This article is not able to get into a full analysis, but it is clear that this agreement does not fundamentally move toward stopping the danger of climate change.
Earth's ecosystems and humanity face a multifaceted environmental emergency—the destruction of forests and other natural habitats; extinction of species; acidification of the oceans and wiping out of ocean life; pollution and degradation of water, air, and soil. Climate change is a leading edge of this emergency, interacting with and making worse the other factors. Climate change is already occurring and threatens to become unstoppable.
In his recent book EAARTH, author and activist Bill McKibben presents an extremely sobering and frightening picture of the changes already occurring, and the more extreme changes to come:
- A spokesperson for the National Snow and Ice Data Center said new data is "reinforcing the notion that the Arctic ice is in its death spiral."
- Water sources for billions of people are disappearing as the vast melting of glaciers in Asia and South America picks up speed. When these glaciers are gone, they're not coming back.
- Climate change means more devastating storms. According to the New York Times, "the last thirty years have yielded 4 times as many weather-related disasters as the first three quarters of the 20th century combined."
- The oceans are more acidic (from sucking up carbon dioxide) than at any time in the last 800,000 years, which endangers ocean life. One researcher said "coral reefs will cease to exist as physical structures by 2100, perhaps 2050."
- An article in Science magazine said the last time carbon levels in earth's atmosphere were this high, 20 million years ago, sea levels rose 100 feet and temperatures rose as much as 10 degrees.
- A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study showed that "changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than a thousand years after carbon dioxide emissions are completely stopped."
Cancun and the Future of Earth
If humanity does not protect and preserve the fast-vanishing natural ecosystems and address the causes of their destruction, we will very likely witness before long a qualitative unraveling of the natural world on our planet. The climate situation cries out for immediate action to massively cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But the Cancun agreement does nothing but pledge that countries will make emissions cuts. A statement from Friends of the Earth says the agreement's "embrace of the 'pledge-based' paradigm, with rich countries polluting however much they like, could lead to a future in which temperatures rise by up to nine degrees (Fahrenheit) according to a recent UN analysis. This would devastate human civilization and the natural world."
In the midst of the Cancun talks, Wikileaks released U.S. diplomatic cables, which revealed how the U.S. threatened and bribed countries to adopt the 2009 Copenhagen accord. The Copenhagen agreement included voluntary cuts in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of 5 percent below 1990 levels, which is criminal when scientific studies say cuts of 50 percent or more are actually needed. This deal was engineered at the last minute by the U.S. and a few others and then rammed down the throats of the rest of the world. The leaked cables show that the U.S. used the promise of paying money to oppressed countries in a "green fund" for helping them deal with climate change to both bribe and blackmail them to support Copenhagen. U.S. officials discussed with European officials how to "neutralize, co-opt or marginalize unhelpful countries" such as Venezuela and Bolivia.
These revelations make it even clearer that the future of earth's ecosystems can't be left in the hands of the U.S. and other powers, who have repeatedly proven incapable of doing anything but using talks such as those at Copenhagen and Cancun to pursue their own interests at the expense of the natural world and humanity. To hope that real efforts on climate change can come from such a system is complete illusion. This capitalist-imperialist system is not only incapable of solving this problem—left in its hands, there is no other path but unraveling environmental catastrophe that will set the course of things on this planet for generations and potentially thousands of years.
But there is a way out! The needed basic technology, knowledge, and science exists to combat the problem of climate change, and there is potentially a tremendous desire latent among the world's people that could be mobilized, but is being blocked by this system. We need revolution and a new state power to generate all these potentials in the way they must go.
Most importantly, there is a plan for a radically different approach, contained in "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development" outlined in Revolution newspaper's April 18, 2010 special issue on the environment.
But the reality of potential environmental catastrophe has to be faced upfront, and we don't have much time. We need to develop massive resistance against the capitalist assaults on the environment, and this must be part of building a movement for the one thing that has a shot to save the planet—communist revolution that would set up a new socialist state power.
This system and those who rule over it are not capable of carrying out economic development to meet the needs of the people now, while balancing that with the needs of future generations and requirements of safeguarding the environment. They care nothing for the rich diversity of the earth and its species, for the treasures this contains, except when and where they can turn this into profit for themselves... These people are not fit to be the caretakers of the earth.
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
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