Wednesday, 23 September 2009



Climate change is already with us. Temperatures are increasing, polar ice caps melting, glaciers retreating, sea levels rising, biodiversity being lost, food production being threatened, water scarcity spreading.

Extreme weather - storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves - is occurring more frequently. It's going to cost a lot of money to put it right - but who's going to pay?

A new United Nations report says that climate change is "the outcome of a gigantic market failure." But the capitalists, who are responsible for this failure, are trying to avoid paying the true cost of emitting the greenhouse gases and want to make sure that society (ordinary working-class families) picks up the bill.

The consensus amongst climate scientists is getting bleaker. 90% of them, in two recent polls, do not believe that the world can reach emissions targets that will keep global warming to an "acceptable" two degrees this century.

That is even though "acceptable" still means millions of people, particularly in poorer countries, falling victim to more violent weather and crop failures such as the looming famine in Ethiopia and the dying livestock in Kenya's drought.

According to some analysts, the additional spending needed to build new flood defences, transport water for agriculture, treat an increase in the range and severity of diseases, and replace buildings and other infrastructure affected by rising temperatures or water levels, could easily cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year or more.

Such costs now don't seem quite so high in the light of the trillions of dollars spent bailing out the banks and the international finance system. Ordinary working people are expected to pay for this through tax rises, benefit cuts, public spending cuts and rising unemployment. Similarly, if the capitalists have their way, they would pass on the cost of rescuing capitalism from climate change.

Left to themselves, big industries will always put profits for shareholders above any notion of social responsibility. Privately owned power stations will produce electricity in a way that gets the biggest profits for its shareholders.

Danish multinational Vestas Wind Systems closes down the UK's only wind turbine manufacturing plant, destroying 600 jobs, to move elsewhere in the world where profits are greater.

Instead of rationally and rapidly reducing emissions through safe, non-polluting methods, governments want failing market mechanisms such as 'carbon taxes'. These taxes could feature high on this December's UN climate change conference agenda, which is discussing a successor to the (extremely weak) Kyoto treaty.

No major party stands for renationalisation of energy, or transport, or the public ownership of the resources necessary to construct low carbon producing houses - that party has yet to be built. Without the ability to direct the country's resources and rationally plan how to tackle the urgent problems of climate change, solutions won't materialise.

Dave Nellist, CWI England and Wales

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