The fatal survival-kit of man in jeopardy

Climate change and wars

As the ugly war in Ukraine drags on, with more lives lost and atrocities (apparently) committed, energy and food prices hit yet more highs.  The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN publishes a monthly global price index.  The FAO Food Price Index reached yet another record high of 159.3 points in March, up 12.6% from February.

FAO Food price index

Oil and gas prices are also near all-time high levels.  In Europe, gas prices hit a record €335 per megawatt hours, and at that level, it is now cheaper for some power stations to burn coal rather than gas even when the cost of carbon permits is taken into consideration.  Europe wants to follow NATO’s bidding and cut back on Russian energy imports.  The irony is that some countries, like Italy, say that will need to burn more coal, in order to burn less Russian gas.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) posed the dilemma in relation to global warming and energy needs, given the Ukraine war and the sanctions against Russia.  “The faster EU policy makers seek to move away from Russian gas supplies, the greater the potential implication, in terms of economic costs and near-term emissions,” the IEA said, in a report.

Can the circle be squared: ie getting more energy supply to reduce prices, while still trying to reduce fossil fuel production to lower greenhouse gas emissions?  “We are determined to limit [Vladimir] Putin’s capacity to finance his atrocious war,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter. And then went on to say: “The EU must get rid of its dependency on fossil fuels”. At first sight, these two aims might be compatible.  Cutting back on fossil fuel energy from Russia will reduce energy use and lower carbon emissions, no?  After all, clean energy, says Christian Lindner, finance minister of Germany, should be considered the “energy of freedom”. So the German government plans to cut its dependence on Russian energy imports by accelerating renewables and reaching 100% ‘clean power’ by 2035.  But in the same breath German Chancellor Olaf Scholz accepted that, in the short term, it has little choice but to continue buying gas and oil from Russia!

COP26 in Glasgow contained an agreement to draw down fossil fuel production, even though there was a fierce argument that broke out over whether coal should be “phased down” or “phased out”. COP26 president Alok Sharma. “Countries are turning their back on coal,” he said. “The end of coal is in sight.” And yet, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine , far from declining, coal use globally surged to record levels this last winter, causing emissions to rise, while clean energy installations fell below the levels needed to reach climate targets.  In the US, coal-fired power generation was higher in 2021 under President Joe Biden than it was in 2019 under then president Donald Trump, who had positioned himself as the would-be saviour of America’s coal industry. In Europe, coal power rose 18 per cent in 2021, its first increase in almost a decade. Economist Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford university, says the shift away from fossil fuels has rarely looked more complicated. “The energy transition was already in trouble — 80 per cent of the world’s energy is still from fossil fuels,” he said.  “I expect that in the short term, the US will increase oil and gas output and EU coal consumption could increase”.

This conflict of aims by ‘the West’ comes at a time when global warming and climate change are reaching a ‘now or never’ tipping point, where the Paris target to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C cannot be met.  In presenting the latest IPCC report on climate change (which supposedly outlines ‘solutions’ to mitigate global warming and meet targets), UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres commented: “The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership (by governments) is criminal.”  By this he meant that the 198 countries which had gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 Climate Change Conference last November were failing to hit any of their (already inadequate) targets for emission reductions. So global temperatures look set to barrel past 1.5ºC degrees limit above 1850 industrial levels.  Instead, the world faces a 2.7C temperature rise on current climate plans, the UN warned.  Current pledges would reduce carbon emissions by only about 7.5% by 2030, far less than the 45% cut that scientists say is needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C.

And it’s not just reducing current emissions that is necessary, but also cutting back on the already accrued levels of carbon in the atmosphere. It’s a stock problem because many gases are long-lived. Nitrous oxide can stay in the atmosphere for 121 years, methane for 12 years. Carbon dioxide’s lifetime cannot be represented with a single value because the gas is not destroyed over time, but cycles through the ocean–atmosphere–land system. Some carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years and the melting of the glaciers could release into the atmosphere previously trapped carbon.

Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, bluntly explained that: “human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability.”  While “some development and adaptation efforts have reduced vulnerability,” he continued, “the rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt.”  Co-chair of the IPCC working group, Hans-Otto Portner, spelt it out: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well being and the health of the planet.  Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

Lee made it clear what he thought should be done immediately. “The time to stop the exploration of fossil fuels, which are destroying our planet, is now. Half measures are no longer an option,”  But just stopping fossil fuel exploration is precisely that – a half measure.  That’s because to meet the Paris agreement, the world would have to eliminate 53.5 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each year for the next 30 years. 

The problem is that it is ‘the West’: the mature capitalist economies, that have built up the stock of dangerous carbon and other gases in the atmosphere over the last 100 years which are doing the least to solve the climate crisis.  About one-third of the current stock of greenhouse gases has been created by Europe and one-quarter by the US. Yes, China and India are the first- and third-largest emitters today. But measured in terms of emissions per head of population, they are around 40th and 140th, and measured in terms of their stock per capita, they are one-tenth of the level of Europe.  And ironically, the main contributors to carbon emissions stock benefit from global warming as these mature capitalist (imperialist) economies are mainly in cold climates.

The countries of the ‘global North’ (Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Japan) are responsible for 92% of total emissions that are causing climate breakdown.  Meanwhile, the Global South – the entire continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America – are responsible for only 8% of ‘excess emissions’. And the majority of these countries are still well within their fair shares of the emissions boundary, including India, Indonesia and Nigeria.  To make matters worse, the impacts of climate breakdown fall disproportionately on the countries of the global South, which suffer the vast majority of climate change-induced damages and mortality within their borders.  

ŵLancet report

 But a recent research paper in the journal Nature found that G20 countries spent$14tn on economic stimulus measures during 2020 and 2021 — but only 6 per cent of this was allocated to areas that would cut emissions. Investment bank Morgan Stanley reckons to achieve sufficient emissions reduction would cost about $50trn.  About $20 trillion of cumulative investments will be required to switch out of fossil fuels. Solar, wind,and hydro will require $14 trillion of investment to deliver 80% of global power by 2050 and electric vehicle take-up will require $11 trillion to build the factories and infrastructure and develop battery technology. Biofuels, like ethanol, could be important for future global transportation alongside hydrogen and could eventually spread to aircraft, but to develop this would require a further $2.7trillion of investment. Carbon capture and storage could play a critical part in the energy transition but a further $2.5 trillion is needed for development.  Compare the $50 trillion price tag to the barely $100 billion that it has taken six years for countries to scrounge together.

Yes, greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced in some countries and there are technical solutions available.  Alternative renewable energy costs have come down 85% over the last ten years. But coal production must be cut by 76% by 2030.  And oil/gas infrastructure projects must be stopped. The current flow of finance is dramatically insufficient to boost renewables and manage fossil fuel reduction. Funding for all this change is miniscule compared to the task. 

And a switch to ‘clean energy’ won’t be enough, especially as mining and refining alternative fuels and systems also require more fossil fuel energy.  All the batteries, solar panels and windmills in the world won’t lower fossil fuel demand in the near term. Internal combustion vehicles – commercial and passenger – use plenty of steel, but electric vehicles use a wider variety of more expensive metals. For example, the average internal combustion passenger vehicle uses less than 50 pounds of copper, whereas a Tesla uses about 180 pounds of copper wound up in its electric motors. Additionally, the batteries essential to electric vehicles rely on materials like lithium and nickel, which require intense electric and chemical outlays to process.  All this means more fossil fuel production to mine more metals.

I have discussed before why market solutions like carbon pricing and carbon taxes will not deliver the required reductions in emissions. Market solutions will not work because it is just not profitable for capital to invest in climate change mitigation: “Private investment in productive capital and infrastructure faces high upfront costs and significant uncertainties that cannot always be priced. Investments for the transition to a low-carbon economy are additionally exposed to important political risks, illiquidity and uncertain returns, depending on policy approaches to mitigation as well as unpredictable technological advances.” (IMF). To save the planet and all species who live on it cannot be achieved through market pricing mechanisms or even more clever technology.  Remember clever science gave us vaccines and medicines to save lives in the COVID pandemic, but it was capitalism and pro-capitalist governments that still allowed the pandemic to happen and were unable to stop around 20m ‘excess deaths’ globally.

To stop global warming, we don’t need just clever new technology, we need to phase out old fossil fuel technology.  And we need a global plan to steer investments into things society does need, like renewable energy, organic farming, public transportation, public water systems, ecological remediation, public health, quality schools and other currently unmet needs.  Such a plan could also equalize development the world over by shifting resources out of useless and harmful production in the North and into developing the South, building basic infrastructure, sanitation systems, public schools, health care.  At the same time, a global plan could aim to provide equivalent jobs for workers displaced by the retrenchment or closure of unnecessary or harmful industries.  But such a plan requires public ownership and control of fossil fuel companies and other key energy and food sectors.  Without that, there can be no plan.

As the war in Ukraine rages on, we should be reminded that the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are the military.  The US military is world’s single largest consumer of oil, and as a result, one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.  The Pentagon’s greenhouse gas emissions annually total over 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. If it were a nation state, the US military would be the 47th largest emitter in the world., with emissions larger than Portugal, Sweden or Denmark.

And the US military is expanding all the time to protect US interests in oil and fossil fuel resources around the world. The Cost of Wars Project found the total emissions from war-related activity in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria to be estimated at more than 400 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide alone.  Thus global warming and fossil fuel exploration, production and refining are inextricably linked by military spending. Wars and increased spending on arms are not just killing people and destroying lives and homes, but also adding to the climate disaster that is engulfing humanity globally.  World peace would not only save lives and livelihoods, but also contribute to saving the planet and nature.

From Michail Roberts blog

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The submerging market debt crisis


Russia: from sanctions to slump? February 27, 2022 In «marxism»

Oil, the rouble and the spectre of deflation December 8, 2014 In «capitalism»

From Poroshenko to Putin – it’s all downhill November 10, 2014 In «capitalism»

33 thoughts on “Climate change and wars”

  1. Richard SmithChina’s per capita emissions surpassed those of the EU in 2014 and are cutrently half the level of the US with a GDP just two-thirds as large. China’s current emissions are 1/3rd of world total. On current trends, China will become the world’s largest cumulative emitter in abut 20 years. See my book, China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse (Pluto 2020).Reply
    1. michael robertsYes as both China and India are the fastest growing economies based on fossil fuel industries and little environmental control until recentlyReply
    2. rogeriomaestriHow many miles of railroads has the US built in the last 50 years? Which country leads the construction of electric cars today? Which country has taken the most people out of the poverty line in recent years? Which country does wages increase more than productivity?
      It is easy to criticize countries that seek to get out of poverty, while the “so-called developed” countries simply export their pollution and IMPORT CO2.Reply
  2. Jack RasmusExcellent piece. Especially on the futile role of the market. Capitalism is clearly losing its war with Nature. The coming global recession 2023 (maybe even late 2022) will exacerbate the climate crisis even more. Tipping point will come no later than 2035. Us imperial aggression plus climate Cris plus accelerating exploitation and inequality will result in historic crise of capitalism within next two decades. The so-called ‘left’ is totally unpreparedReply
    1. Richard SmithYes, an excellent piece. But it’s not enough to suppress fossil fuel consumption. The only way to drastically suppress emissions in the schorl time frame we still have available is to suppress production across most of the economy — the military, useless luxury goods, disposable repetitive consumption goods from plastic junk to IPhones, cars etc. See eg, and
    2. Antonio‘‘The next global recession in 2023 (perhaps even in late 2022) will further exacerbate the climate crisis. The tipping point will come no later than 2035. US imperial aggression plus the climate crisis. plus the acceleration of exploitation and inequality will result in a historic crisis of capitalism in the next two decades. The so-called ‘left’ is totally unprepared.”
      The precision of his date of the historical crisis of Capitalism in 2035 is very striking and interesting. May I ask what data or arguments you base the precession of that date on? I will tell you, for what it is worth, that my own calculations, included in a theory of the revolutionary cycle, give a date of the “historical crisis” of Capitalism between 2040 and 2050.
      All the best,Reply
    3. jlowrieThe so-called ‘left’ is totally unprepared” Agreed! It prefers to refight the old battles of the Bolshevik Revolution. Marx himself damned as reactionary French socialists refighting the French Revolution.Not for the first time, I point out that there is no such institution as ‘bourgeois democracy.” All current states are oligarchies; the opposite of an oligarchy is a democracy i.e. where those without resources rule, for the government is selected by lot. Time for the left to advocate democracy, though in my experience Leninists are even more adverse to institution than some of my conservative acquaintances!Reply
      1. kartheekpolitical democracy is not sufficient.US already hijacked democracy for itself[democracy vs authoritarian] .
      2. vkYour analogy is not apt because Marxism-Leninism (Soviet Marxism) is the only form of Marxism that survived in the 21st Century, in the form of China and (to a much lesser and much more degenerated extent) Vietnam.So the debate is not over for the simple fact it literally is not over. We still live in the era of 1917.
  3. vkThere’s a conspiracy theory among the Greens that, in face of environmental collapse, the capitalist class will peacefully give up power (“greed”) and start to use their resources to build a sustainable society. In other words, they’re betting survival instinct will be stronger than capitalism.I think they’re wrong. Green will never be the new Red.Another problem with the Greens is that they’re essentially a First World political movement. The problem here is that it is easy to convince your electorate from the First World that the Third World should give up their own economic development in the name of the environment, but hard to convince them they should consume less. So they’re caught in an imperialist vortex, where they can only be popular when they advocate for the subjugation of the Third World. Hence, e.g. those crazy theories that state China is actually causing almost all the new pollution in the world, therefore only China is the problem (and not the gluttonous lifestyle of the peoples of the First World, who consume the products produced in China in the first place).Reply
    1. Henry Rech“Hence, e.g. those crazy theories that state China is actually causing almost all the new pollution in the world, therefore only China is the problem (and not the gluttonous lifestyle of the peoples of the First World, who consume the products produced in China in the first place).”Ask the Chinese what they would think if the glutinous peoples of the First World stopped consuming Chinese goods.Reply
      1. blaise“Ask the Chinese what they would think if the glutinous peoples of the First World stopped consuming Chinese goods.”If you’re talking about the actual Chinese and other third world people, they’d wholeheartedly approve of it. Are you implying they wouldn’t? It baffles me how western leftists can subscribe to this eco-fascist notion that third world development requires first world populations’ semi-feudal parasitism on its resources.
  4. Richard SmithBut suppression of production on anything like the scale necessary would Require a wholesale transition to a mostly publicly owned democratically planned ecosocialist economy.Reply
    1. michael robertsI agreeReply
    2. Michael BallardWe should socially own and democratically manage the wealth we produce and that which lies in natural resources so that we can have the power to distribute it on the basis of need and live in harmony with the Earth. The problem is that we aren’t in motion to establish production for use and need based on living in an ecologically sustainable way. The immense majority are socialised to think inside the box of the social relation of Capital. Few, very, very few are saying that we need to change the mode of production from the wage system to a system without the buying and selling involved with the commodification of wealth. Note how all the authorities measure doing something about global warming using the abstraction of money. The market realists will always complain about how much doing something to actually stop the planet from warming is going to cost some astronomical pile of cash. This is a major cop-out brought to you by bourgeois thinking, the ruling mindset of our time no matter where you live on the Earth.What is money anyway? Isn’t it just a crude measure for the amount of socially necessary labour time embodied in a commodity? Didn’t we all learn and digest that observation after reading the first chapter of Volume I of CAPITAL?Why can’t we apply socially necessary labour time to establish ways to produce the energy we need without producing CO2? We passed the point of no return, 350 ppm, back in 1987. We’re at 418 ppm now and growing. Clearly, we are on a toboggan ride to ecocidal collapse. And still we argue about market solutions to the problem. Talk about social amnesia, we’ve got it bad and that ain’t good.Reply
      1. Wal BuchenbergGood arguments – but…
        our capitalists also have strong “arguments”: they provide us with wages – the basis for our existence, even if we ourselves have created these products that we get back as “wages”.
        What arguments do leftists, anarchists, socialists and communists have? Lots of words – but they can’t even tell who is enemy and who is (potential) friend. There is slashing and stabbing everywhere among leftists, anarchists, socialists and communists. As long as that remains, our “arguments” are not convincing.
        If we few folks cannot agree on a few essential questions with those who think differently, how can we then convince the mass of wage earners that they can decide for themselves, without economic and political coercion, on their own responsibility and voluntarily, what and how much should be produced and what not?
        Wal Buchenberg, Hannover
      2. mandmWal, the characteristic failure of many “western marxists” to actually be marxists can be attributed to their racialized unwillingness to see and understand what Marx did in the mid 19th century: that capitalism has been from its beginnings a global system, and that social/ecomic condtions in any particular nation is a function of its economic/political position in the capitalist global order.Wage earners at the center of the imperial system are just beginning to awake to this fact because their condition is approaching that of the working populations in the periphery–many of whom, paradoxically, seek refuge from imperial violence by fleeing to the imperial centers.They have stories to tell, but not to blind western marxists…
      3. Mike BallardGood arguments – but…the bourgeois buy our labour power for its market price (aka ‘wages) because, like pork and beans, it is a commodity, a commodity which produces more commodities for sale with a view to profiting its owners–who aren’t its producers. The producers remain, relatively powerless, pawns in the political games of the bourgeoisie. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, no matter the ruling class regime governing any particular political State. CO2 ppm reached 350 ppm in 1987. They’re around 418 ppm now. Climate change and wars are inevitable under class rule.
    3. vkEcosocialism is just a chic/academic/sophisticated form of millenarianism.Like I said: the Greens do not have any problems convincing their constituencies the Third World should be kept down; their problems arise when they have to start to tell them the First World should consume less.True socialism would consume much more energy and natural resources than capitalism. The difference is it would do so in a much more sustainable way (there’s no such thing as perfect sustainability, humanity will eventually be extinct, the question is when).Reply
      1. mandmEcosocialism is neither chic, nor academic, nor sophisticated (in your derrogatory sense). Nor has it anything to do with militarized “Green Party” politics. It just happens to be true. Roberts is right here about how to go about it without punishing newlly developing nations. If by “millenarianism” you mean a return to a sustainable, metabolic relation with nature rather than “mastery” of her and premature extinction, I’d agree with you, but you tend to make a suicidal religion of Technology. Get a little old fashioned, Down South MLK proletarian, communist religion, and wash it down with some William Morris and Winstanley.
  5. Alan WoodcraftAm an ardent delighted admirer, love everything you do, have seen you in person at Marxism, must say that my attention span is limited, as I’m sure you aware information is now exponentially increasing. Have to say your adherence to theory on the primacy of declining rate of profit in complete agreement. Please economise on your word usage. Thanks alan woodcraftReply
  6. ucanbpoliticalThe problem is not the absence of technical solutions but the suffocating presence of profit. It was obvious that solar and wind were going to provide intermittent energy, therefore storage solutions would be needed. Europe has sufficient mountain ranges providing the valleys for low impact storage dams. Or High Voltage DC cables can transmit electricity 4000 km in either direction making 8000km connecting climatic and time zones. Storage dams didn’t happen because of the lobying by vested interests and intercontinental transmission lines were sabotaged by small minded nationalism.Or there is electric vehicles none of whom have interchangeable batteries therefore requiring individual charging points blocking the mass adoption of these vehicles.And while capitalism is around with expensive and unworkable carbon capture the obvious stares them in the face. Grow forests, cut down the trunks, the bury them in disused mines and quarries thereby returning carbon to the ground instead of taking it out.The problem is not technical it is political. To do all this, which society can and must, requires we remove the 3 million capitalist families with their enterarge and enforcers who stand in our way.Reply
  7. Dordi WesterlundExcellent article indeed, but I am sure that this second graph from The Lancet is wrong. Sweden is in pale yellow although nowhere in Europe is the deviation of median temperature (1980.-2020) bigger than in the upper Northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland (in each case half of the country or more).
    We are facing abrupt and irreversible climate change. It’s game over for the human race, say another 5 to 6 or so generations.Reply
  8. Wal Buchenberg“As the ugly war in Ukraine drags on…” why?
    Russia’s publicly declared war aims are for the complete annihilation of the Ukrainian state. Putin has repeatedly denied Ukraine’s right to exist. As long as Russia sticks to this goal, the Ukrainians will fight for their right to exist and for their self-determination.
    Allegedly, the NATO countries are also concerned with nothing else. This is political hypocrisy. The NATO states are shedding foreign blood in Ukraine in order to damage Russia as much as possible while remaining as untouched and undisturbed as possible. For NATO, the war in Ukraine is a proxy war and the people of Ukraine are NATO’s pawns.
    That’s why the Ukraine war is dragging on.
    How to end the Unkraine war? Buchenberg, HannoverReply
    1. mandm“Allegedly, the Nato countries are also concerned with nothing else”.Three questions: 1. “Allegedly” by whom? (by your alter ego who seems to contradict your initial statements?) 2. Regarding those initial statements: Inasmuch as Nato is an imperial military alliance under US control and not a group of countries as such, what is meant by “Nato countries”? –The “Fuck the EU” European (company) Union? 3. Wouldn’t Putin’s war aims be better understood as a response to the global imperialism’s outrageously provocative nuclear threat to Russia’s and ultimately China’s existence? Contradiction is everywhere creating doubt, but it’s clear to me that marxists should oppose innately racist Western Imperialism.Reply
    2. kartheekputin said no such thing in his essay last year or in his speech before start of war.Reply
  9. Joe GrossoWhat’s your view on nuclear energy? Imo it has to be a vital part of the transition off fossil fuels. It’s the only energy at this point that is both clean and non-remittent.Reply
  10. Gregory ArnoldVery surprised with ur statement about coal use under Biden vs Trump. Would u provide a link to the data?Also, because there seems to be no profit possible in saving the earth, Capitalism will continue to let the Earth burn. I continue to get increasingly discouraged at the number of towns around me Long Island that have stopped recycling programs because it costs the towns money…really seems like no profit, no purpose…Reply
    1. michael roberts
    2. Henry Rech“Capitalism will continue to let the Earth burn.”Doesn’t seem that this would make a great deal of sense to capitalists given this will accelerate the demise of capitalists.Reply
      1. mandmBarrry Goldwater (Godfather of Hillary Clinton, queen of chaos): “I’d rather be dead than red” (tramslation from capitalist bs: I’d rather you all be dead than red)
      2. Anti-CapitalHenry,Your reply would make sense if capitalism were a rational system, where enlightened long-term social interest governed the dictates of capital. But capitalism is no such system, not rational, not enlightened, and always magnifying short-term private interests.Really? Yeah, really. The same argument you are now making was made prior to WW2. “After all, initiating another war doesn’t make sense for the German ruling class, given the cost and the damage it will do to the German economy.”How could the rational, enlightened haute German bourgeoisie allow that vulgar Austrian to lead them to……..destruction? They won’t allow it.”Except, they did. And while millions were destroyed, the German bourgeoisie survived. That’s what they count on. They know a rich man can get through poor times better than a poor man.Destruction, even self-destruction, is just another short course in the necessary self-devaluation of capital.
  11. Friend of GrossmanGrossman’s Law… 2021, etc. free

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