Hot Enough for You?

by Michael Livingston

Forget about the TV images of snowstorms in Indiana! Forget about how cold you may (or may not be) at this moment! What matters is global mean temperature. And the data for 2004 are downright scary. 2004 had the fourth highest global mean temperature since data were first collected on a planetary scale in 1861. (Thank you, British imperialism.) The ten hottest years have all occurred since 1991, with the five hottest years all occurring in the last seven years.

December was just filled with holiday cheer. In other holiday news, about 20% of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed by pollution and global warming, with another 50% damaged, but not beyond saving (Minneapolis Star Tribune, p. A22, 12/10/04). While coral reefs are extremely beautiful, they also provide economic benefits worth about $375 billion per year and, most importantly, are an essential component of the oceanic food chain. In plain English, fewer reefs mean fewer fish and less seafood.

In mid-December environmental ministers from 80 countries met in Buenos Aires to discuss climate change. Now that Russia has approved the Kyoto Protocol, the protocol is set to take effect in mid-February. In Buenos Aires, the U.S. government again reiterated its opposition to the protocol and said that Washington will not participate.

Also at the Buenos Aires meeting, the Inuit announced plans to seek a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the U.S. is threatening Inuit existence by refusing to curb greenhouse gas emissions (New York Times, p. A3, 12/15/04). A favorable ruling from the Inter-American Commission would give the Inuit a legal basis for suing U.S. corporations and the U.S. government.

The Inuit have considerable reason to be worried. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), an international scientific report released on November 24, showed that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet—the ice is melting and the tundra is thawing. The melting ice will result in extinction of many species (such as the polar bear) and global flooding. But that is only the beginning. Methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty times more potent then CO2 in terms of trapping heat, is stored in the frozen tundra in the form of clathrates. As the temperature rises, the methane can be released into the atmosphere, leading to run-away global warming far worse than that caused by the increasing CO2 levels. It is estimated that there are 400 billion tons of methane locked in the Arctic, enough to create a burning hell on earth. Such an event occurred before, at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago when 94% of all marine species went extinct.

While the efforts of the Inuit are to be applauded and supported, they are not enough. What is needed is a revitalized environmental movement that relies on a mass action strategy and political independence from the ruling class parties. The ruling class, after all, is a Capitalist ruling class. Their power and position in the social order depends on the continued exploitation of the planet and the peoples of the planet. It should be obvious to all that our environmental crisis is not caused by a lack of scientific knowledge, but by the abuse of the planet (and of scientific knowledge) by capitalism.

In an irony almost too ghastly to contemplate, a number of corporations and countries view the melting of the Arctic as an opportunity for profit, opening up areas for oil exploration and shipping routes (New York Times, p. 4, Week in Review, 10/10/04).

Only a revolution can stop this madness; a revolution that builds a sustainable and democratic socialist world order. Such a revolution must be carried out in the advanced capitalist countries and on a global scale. In Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder Lenin observed that it is easier to make a revolution in a backward country like Russia than in an advanced country like Britain or the U.S. But it is also true, Lenin pointed out, that once made in an advanced capitalist country, the revolution is much more likely to succeed. Our tasks are not easy. But then, few things that are important ever are.

The author can be reached at

January 1, 2005