Global Warming and the Kyoto Agreement

Global warming is arguably the greatest single threat facing humanity. Yet US president George W. Bush appears largely oblivious to the problem, denying the evidence that is growing at an alarming rate. Regular reports from the 3000 scientists involved with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been issued over the past number of years. Over this period their refined climate model has consistently increased the projected effects of global warming. So why is President Bush in a state of denial? Colin Penfold looks into the interests of the multinational corporations that underly the present impasse.

Global warming is arguably the greatest single threat facing humanity. Yet US president George W. Bush appears largely oblivious to the problem, denying the evidence that is growing at an alarming rate. Regular reports from the 3000 scientists involved with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been issued over the past number of years. Over this period their refined climate model has consistently increased the projected effects of global warming. The latest report issued in July 2001 has concluded that their previous prediction, in 1996, for the average rise in global temperature by 2100 needs to be doubled. The latest evidence from IPCC suggests that present levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), the major greenhouse gas, have not been exceeded during the last 420,000 years and probably not during the last 20 million years! The present rate of increase is unprecedented during the past 20,000 years. All records, maintained since the mid-nineteenth century, for average global temperatures have been broken in the last 20 years. Six of the ten hottest on record occurred in the 1990s and the other four in the 1980s. The effects are already apparent throughout the world. Disruption of normal weather patterns with hurricane winds, catastrophic flooding and drought are now being regularly reported. The latest report predicts even more devastating effects for much of the world. By 2025 over 5 billion people throughout the world will be suffering severe water shortages while Northern Europe will suffer increased flooding. Diseases such as malaria and cholera will rise dramatically with urban areas suffering the most. We tamper with the delicate balance between land, sea and ocean at our peril.

So why is President Bush in a state of denial? The fact that some of his biggest backers are the multinational oil companies may have a lot to do with it. The US government is pursuing a policy of (big) business as usual. The emphasis is on securing crude oil supplies to continue the spiralling consumption of fossil fuels. Currently the United States, with less than 5.5% of the world's population, is responsible for 25% of world CO2 emissions. Yet both Bush and Clinton have had the temerity to demand that developing countries such as India and China amongst others make a significant contribution to reductions in CO2. Bush has emphatically rejected the 1997 Kyoto protocol, proposing instead a voluntary system with the developing nations making bigger sacrifices. He has torn away the fig leaf with which the leaders of Europe, Japan and eventually a reluctant Bill Clinton covered themselves by accepting the protocol. Kyoto is little more than a sop to the environmental lobby. The original proposed reductions of CO2, about 6% on 1990 levels, were never going to do more than marginally slow the increase in global warming. The renewed protocol, announced with much hype by European ministers, which Bush still refuses to ratify, agreed on 23rd July 2001, sets a derisory reduction in CO2 of 1-3%. Compare this to the 60-80% CO2 reduction that most serious climate scientists insist must be achieved if global warming is to be halted.

Can global warming be reversed? It has been argued that so-called clean technology may be the answer. Scrubbing flue gases from power stations will certainly remove a considerable amount of sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, but nothing can remove carbon dioxide from the environment except to return it to a form of carbon, which would consume more energy than that usefully released during combustion. The same arguments apply to "clean" car engines. The reality is that international capitalism is inextricably linked to cheap oil-based technology and as George W. Bush has amply demonstrated, is incapable, at least for the foreseeable future, of dealing with the problem of global warming. Unfortunately time is not on our side. Fossil and ice core records indicate that the current level of atmospheric CO2 is associated with considerably higher global temperatures than we are currently experiencing. The latest IPCC report also predicts a long term continuation of global warming even if CO2 emissions ceased immediately. We are likely to be in a time lag where the effects of current CO2 levels have not yet fully materialised.

Green organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have played a very significant role in alerting the world to the dangers of global warming, but they do not, at present, provide a realistic alternative beyond the sphere of capitalism. Global warming requires a global solution. For starters the international public ownership of the major oil companies is of decisive importance. The same is true of the energy producers. The Labour government in Britain must bring back into public ownership the electricity production and distribution industry, not run by some ex-captain of industry as was often the case in the past, but the workers in the industry and elected consumer representatives. Next to fossil-fuelled electricity generation the fossil-fuelled internal combustion engine fitted to virtually all motor cars produces massive amounts of CO2. The provision of a cheap or even free and effective publicly owned transport system is an essential part of any strategy to reduce global warming and to bring an end to the increasing gridlock on the roads.

The world has to break away from the insane methods of capitalist production with its concomitant enormous waste of energy. Capitalist production is driven by profit not social need. We must end the philosophy of so-called "planned obsolescence" which ensures that products have a limited life in order to guarantee the profits from future production. Modern science and technology could be directed to production for social need. The latest materials discovered by science could be utilised to produce commodities of almost indefinite life-span. Under a planned, publicly owned and controlled economy, research and development could be re-directed to social production opening up the enormous potential currently stifled by the profit system. The other major effect of such a change would be to free workers around the world from the constraints of wage slavery. Despite the enormous growth of productivity under capitalism, daily hours worked have hardly changed. This is a direct consequence of the capitalist mode of production.

Future generations will not thank us for fudging the problem of global warming. An international plan of production and energy conservation is essential and global capitalism will never fulfil that role. The abolition of global capitalism and its replacement by global socialism should not be consigned to the file marked "utopia", it must be realised very soon if the future well-being of our planet and its inhabitants is to be assured.