Speaking at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told delegates that “…addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink”, saying “we face a stark choice – either we stop it, or it stops us. We are digging our own graves.”
The warning is indeed stark, and the UN Secretary General has science on his side. Research by climate scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Institute indicates that if global warming rises above 2°C (relative to the pre-industrial era), sea levels could rise by several metres, submerging many coastal areas around the world.
Arctic summer sea ice and permafrost will disappear, which will further accelerate global heating by releasing methane, which is eight times more toxic than carbon dioxide, resulting in the extinction of up to 30 percent of the species that currently exist and increasing the chances of a sudden collapse of the earth’s ecological systems.
Guterres is right to say that we face a stark choice. But his analysis doesn’t go far enough. ‘We’ are not ‘addicted’ to oil. This is not a lifestyle issue, and ‘we’ are not all in this as equals. The US military emits more greenhouse gases than Portugal or Sweden. If the Pentagon was a country its emissions would make it the world’s 55th largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Similarly, according to a 2017 report,100 huge companies have been responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1998. But to focus only on these enormously destructive polluters would be to miss the most important point.
Capitalism as a system is based on over production and continuous growth. This requires the consumption of fossil fuels, which results in growing emissions of greenhouse gases that threaten to bring about global social and ecological catastrophes, on an even greater scale than those that are already evident. Only a social change to production for need rather than for profit can bring any hope of positive and substantive environmental change.
In terms of hope, the stakes are so enormously high and the projected outcomes of ‘capitalism as usual’ are so terrible that, that people will either react with despair or apathy and accept the pseudo ‘lifestyle’ and market-based ‘solutions’ offered by all shades of pro-capitalist opinion.
However, another world is possible. The alternative is to replace the Capitalist system and establish Socialism to save the planet and life on earth.