Global Warming: A Capitalist Crime against Humanity

by Michael G. Livingston

In a report issued to Congress, the Bush Administration has finally admitted that global warming is occurring and that human activity, namely the production of greenhouse gases, is the cause. (See ďU.S. Report, in Shift, Turns Focus to Greenhouse Gases,Ē The New York Times, 8/26/04, p. A16). Well, duh! The scientific evidence (for both global warming and its causes) has been extremely strong since 1995. In that year the U.N.ís Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a summary of the research carried out by over 2,000 climate scientists from 100 countries. Data summarize by the IPCC showed that global warming was real and that other explanations, such as sunspots or natural variation in climate, could not explain the increasing temperature.

Since 1900, the average temperature on the planet has gone up one degree Fahrenheit. The increase in temperature, in turn, is caused by the production of greenhouse gases from human activities such as driving cars or running a coal-burning power planet. CO2 is the most commonly generated greenhouse gas, but not the only one. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, heating the planet beyond what would normally happen. The historical baseline of CO2 for most of the last 10,000 years was around 280 parts per million. The current level is 379 parts per million and accelerating. Even if we stopped producing greenhouse gases right now, the climate would continue to warm for a time.

If you donít think one degree Fahrenheit is much, think again. The weather around the world is getting hotter and more extreme. Of the 18 hottest years recorded by humans, 17 have occurred since 1980. The hottest five-year period in human recorded history was from 1991 to 1995. Glaciers are melting, icecaps are disappearing, and the number of draughts, floods, and heat waves is increasing, as are the number of hurricanes and tornados. If our production of greenhouse gases continue the average temperature will increase from between 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years. In which case, the world we know would be fried.

A recent study published on-line in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines the impact of this kind of warming on California. Using detailed computer models to predict the changes under four possible medium-range scenarios. The news is bad folks. Northern California and in-land from the coast will experience greater warming than the southwest part of the state, with temperatures of many inland cities equal to the current temperature of Death Valley. The number, intensity, and duration of heat waves will increase, especially in Los Angeles, as well the number of heat induced deaths. Water stored in snow packs will decline substantially, as will stream inflows to reservoirs. About 85% of Californiaís residents will face water shortages. Californiaís agricultural crops will suffer and the extent of alpine and sub-alpine forests will diminish a great deal. Say goodbye to California wines and Redwoods.

While Bush has done absolutely nothing over the last four years (except deny that global warming was occurring), the Kyoto Protocol would not have been much better. Kyoto calls for industrial countries to cut their emissions by 5.2% below 1990 levels by the year 2012. What is needed to stop continued warming, according to climatologists and biologists, is a 70% reduction in the use of all carbon fuels in the next 20 years. Kyoto would get us nowhere near that goal. Of course, doing something would be a whole hell of a lot better than doing nothing. But it would not have been enough. Only a very radical change in society and the economy can save us from the collapse of our civilization and the massive die-offs that typically go along with the collapse of a society.

Global warming is not just one environmental issue among many; it is one of the greatest threats facing our species. Global warming is not caused by an individualís negligence, but by the very structure of industrial capitalism. It is a capitalist crime against humanity. And those who do nothing, or next to nothing, in the Democratic and Republican parties, are criminal co-conspirators.

September 2, 2004