Climate Change: the Facts - a Review
The TV programme Climate Change: the Facts presented by David Attenborough on BBC1 on April 18th was a wake-up call to us all. Attenborough declared, “right now we are facing our greatest threat in thousands of years.” The threat to the planet earth comes from climate change and the ills associated with it.
Capitalist industrialisation has been powered by the burning of fossil fuels. Coal, oil and gas have been hundreds of millions of years in the making. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. But that’s not the end of it. Burning fossil fuels has produced a blanket of emissions (the most important of which is carbon dioxide) over the earth - causing a greenhouse effect.
We have wild and dramatic climate fluctuations which could, increasing over time, make the planet uninhabitable for humans. So:
· 20 of the warmest years on record happened in the last 22 years
· Greenland’s ice sheet is melting five times faster than it was 25 years ago.
The bare facts are illustrated with dramatic pictures of huge ice sheets melting and crashing into the sea. This means sea levels rising to dangerous levels. The there are the forests cut down all over the world, for the land to be used for intensive farming. But trees capture carbon, and represent one of our best defences against CO2 emissions and climate change.
Particularly harrowing was the footage of piles of flying foxes in Australia which had expired because of the heat wave. While 350 were saved, 11,000 died. Then there were genuinely scary shots of two people in California trapped in their car in the middle of a forest fire.
Is this the price we pay for industrialisation? It is the price we pay for capitalism. Capitalism is unplanned and runs for profit. Capitalists are concerned only with their own interests and only in the short term. If a factory produces goods for sale, and pollution as a by-product, the capitalist gets the money for the goods sold but doesn’t have to pay for the pollution. It’s off the balance sheet, so it doesn’t count for them. But it’s a real cost, and we pay it.
The game was given away during the programme. Fossil fuel companies are some of the biggest, most profitable and most rapacious capitalist corporations on earth. They employ highly paid PR people to lie to us about the effects of their activities, just like the tobacco companies did a generation ago. And they have their advocates in high places. Donald Trump is shown calling climate change “a hoax ... a money-making industry.” Don’t expect capitalism or the capitalist political establishment to provide the solution to the climate emergency.
The last twenty minutes of the programme is devoted to answers, and it’s the weakest part of the programme. The onus is put on us as individuals to do our best. And we should. Apparently less single use plastic has been used since the 2017 programme Blue Planet, also fronted by national treasure Attenborough. Blue Planet showed heartbreaking pictures of Albatross chicks who were starving because their parents fed them plastic floating on the surface of the oceans, thinking it was squid. But there are limits to what aware individuals can achieve in trying to clean up the planet. The most important decisions that affect the environment are taken by capitalist firms.
Is there any sign that the agribusinesses turn forests into barren fields care about what they are doing to the future of the next generations? All they care about is profit now. That is the capitalist way. In addition to ploughing up or burning down forests such as the Amazon which are important carbon sinks they deprive indigenous peoples of their ancestral lands and sometimes murder them. All of this to produce crops such as soy which were not even part of our diet till a generation ago.
Nor is the problem due to a lack of imagination. Human beings show endless ingenuity. The wind, the waves and the sun will be there forever, potentially offering free energy. One problem is that we need a steady supply of energy with a reserve, despite the vicissitudes of the weather. The answer is to store energy in batteries. We already have improved battery technology such that there is a battery powered aeroplane capable of crossing the channel. It will get better and better.
Innovation alone will not prevent the looming climate emergency. Human ingenuity such as this will have to be channelled. Under the present system it will not be applied unless and until it is cheaper and more profitable than burning fossil fuels. Air transport will continue to squander fossil fuels and pollute the planet till then.
As Attenborough declares, “if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.” To prevent that needs planning.
This climate emergency is a problem of the entire system. And we do not control the workings of the system. The big six energy companies will bring catastrophic climate change closer as long as they are allowed to. As private firms they are socially irresponsible. They should be renationalised. Private building firms will continue to build homes with inadequate insulation because that is cheaper. They must be ordered to adhere to standards laid down by the government. If they do not do so, they should be taken over. All this is part of planning for the emergency that threatens.
The Tory government is no part of the solution. It is part of the problem. It is in the pockets of big business. Some of their MPs even voted against the Climate Change Act 2008, setting targets to limit carbon emissions.
Labour is committed to reducing carbon emissions dramatically and realises that requires drastic action. The Party is edging towards a ‘green new deal’, recognition that work that is essential to secure our future also involves creating good climate jobs. Last year Jeremy Corbyn declared, “I can announce today that Labour will kickstart a green jobs revolution. Our programme of investment and transformation to achieve a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 will create over 400,000 skilled jobs, based here and on union rates, bringing skills and security to communities held back for too long.”
School children protesting against the inertia of the powers that be are right to revolt. It’s their future, after all. Attenborough ends on a hopeful note. “There is still time if we act now with determination and urgency.” We would all like to believe that. But it won’t just happen. We need to be aware of the present danger and fight for a fundamental socialist change in the way our economic affairs are ordered.