Most recently, the 27th United Nations Conference on Climate Change 2022, better known as COP27, met at the luxurious Sharm el Sheikh beach resort, by the Red Sea, in Egypt.
“Politically correct” conclusions and recommendations will surely emerge, but without any practical effects. Why? Because those who really lead the world -who are not just a few well-paid employees from international organizations- have no intention of modifying the present pattern of capitalist accumulation and, therefore, of production and consumption.
In other words, they don’t have the least intention of losing a penny. Even if it means sacrificing the planet… it seems there are no alternatives. The mending and patches of these conferences may, perhaps, help clean their consciences, but it will not stop those capitals from profiting at a rapid pace, regardless of the cost. They exploit the working class and the planet Earth: the former is inexhaustible; the latter is not.
The problem does not lie in “climate change”, presented as a natural phenomenon, but rather in the present socioeconomic model.
We must remember that now, in 2022, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of a report that sounded an alarm for dominant capitalism: “The limits of growth.”
The report, written by a group of 17 scientists coordinated by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers, had been commissioned by the Rome Club to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Its conclusions were alarming because they revealed the unsustainability of capitalism in the long term, and the impossibility to continue with such a fabulous pattern of consumption, which ends up pillaging the planet we inhabit, turning it uninhabitable.
The report, considered “scandalous” by the establishment, was intended to be neutralized. Observations by experts clearly pointed out that in order to continue that reckless course of production and consumption, Humanity would reach a catastrophic situation, probably with no return, in less than a century
The system, which continued to produce and consume outrageously, began finding partial solutions, patches, oxygen to breathe a little more, but it did not touch -nor does it look like it will ever touch- the very foundations which are the real causes of the ecological disaster we are in.
Conferences such as the one now meeting (it is number 27!) do not go to the structural causes. As one local leader in Central America said about international cooperation -a valid comparison, all differences are taken into account, with these summits- they “scratch where it doesn’t itch”. As was said earlier: these are cold water towels, “lukewarm solutions for very hot problems.”
There is no “climate change”. This phrase has now become popular in reference to what is happening to our planet and its tremendous ecological transformations. That way of pointing out what is at risk is a distraction and a sly euphemism to avoid saying what must be said clearly. There is no “change” in the climate, as if that were simply a natural, spontaneous modification, due to meteorological factors, as if we were going from one ecological era to another.
There is, in any case, a situation that reminds us of what happened 65 million years ago with the crashing of a meteorite in what is now Chicuxulub, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, causing the disappearance of 75 percent of all forms of existing animal and vegetable life, including dinosaurs which we use in the form of petroleum: there is a spectacular and sudden ecological transformation! At that time, due to a natural incident, and now due to a way of production of a society that evidently is not viable or sustainable.
The growing lack of drinking water we are suffering, the degradation of the soil, the toxic chemicals which are flooding our planet, the endless desertification, global warming with fatal consequences such as the melting of icebergs or glaciers, the narrowing of the ozone layer, the negative greenhouse effect, the enormous mountains of plastic garbage, most of which ends up in the oceans, the atomic waste which no one knows what to do with, all of these constitute a problem of global dimensions which nobody can avoid and which does not imply a natural “climate change” -the euphemisms intend to reduce the size of these facts- but rather reveal the human disaster at stake.
Right now, the entire planet’s population is suffering a profound social and political catastrophe which crudely shows the limits of capitalist production patterns. The yearning for profits by businesspeople who, for example, prefer devastating an entire forest because it is good business, regardless if it causes desertification and lack of water, has led us to this catastrophic situation. We, the common people, the ordinary persons who do not make decisions that mark the march of history and consume whatever companies dictate to us, through advertising bombardment, are not guilty of all of this.
If the large majorities all over the planet, due to globalization and the uniformity of taste and fads which have been imposed upon us, endlessly use plastic products, and throw-away batteries for the endless paraphernalia of electronic instruments all over the place, if they are driven to irrational consumption promoted by the venomous strategy of programmed obsolescence (producing products so that they deteriorate quickly and must be replaced by other similar ones), responsibility for the disaster at stake is not personal, one of “bad” citizens who do not know how to take care of their planet, their common home.
The call to “be careful” with the environment which has been made in recent years makes the common consumer feel responsible for the ecological catastrophe, almost creating a sense of guilt, one of being “criminals” against nature, closing the faucets, recycling garbage, using burlap bags and not plastic ones when buying foodstuffs, using a bicycle whenever possible instead of motor vehicles and a long etcetera.
The true cause lies in a completely unsustainable pattern of production and consumption, which has been imposed and against which purely personal reactions (“I don’t drink Coca-Cola!”) have absolutely no impact at all. All conducts of citizen responsibility are praiseworthy and there is Greta Thunberg -now “a bit out of date”- as a media icon of the pretended rescue of the planet. What must be stressed is that those praiseworthy actions contribute very little to avoid pollution, no more than one percent.
POTABLE WATER RUNS OUT
If drinking water runs out, it will be because 1) industry consumes around 90 percent of its global existence and not by domestic consumers and 2) because there is unequal distribution and access with ignominious waste for some (a US citizen consumes an average of 100 or more liters daily), while there is shameful scarcity for others (one liter daily for a citizen of Sub-Saharan Africa).
What actually happens is that there is greater pressure from the capital on goods and natural resources to be commercialized and thus increase capitalist production and sustain its “economic growth” (that of the companies, of course).
Throughout the 20th century, but especially in the last few decades, this trend has grown. With the expansion of capitalism in its neoliberal phase since the end of the 1970s and its expansion worldwide, natural resources have been subjected to greater pressure by large transnational corporations.
The unleashed search for energy sources and strategic minerals for priority industries (in many cases: military) marks this tendency. If, until today, the wars were about oil, now they could be about water, or strategic elements such as coltan or the so-called “rare earths”: 17 elements in the periodic chemical chart that contain unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties, indispensable for today’s cutting-edge technologies: scandium, yttrium, plus the 15 elements of the lanthanides group: lantana, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, etc.).
Capitalism’s endless search has disastrous effects on the environment: acute worsening of climate transformations (torrential rains and severe draughts, ever more violent super hurricanes, extreme temperatures), which cause natural phenomena of enormous magnitude and social and economic disasters. The hyper-consumerism imposed by the capitalist system will not be solved with superficial palliatives, such as recycling, separating garbage, or promoting a so-called “green conscience”, like not using straws to consume soft drinks.
The real problem, the original contradiction which is causing all of this is the capital’s voracity, which destroys everything for profit without taking into consideration future damages or the large popular majorities.
The wild capitalist system, euphemistically called “neoliberalism,” violently imposed during the last decades of the 20th century, (“There is no alternative,” said British Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher: or capitalism, or capitalism!) introduced absolute dominance of finance capital over the productive process.
Today, global capitals which move from one banking paradise to another without any regulations mark the system’s pace. If the perspective of a new power center, such as China or Russia, opposes it -with positions that do not transcend capitalism, but that introduce multi-polarity, not actually in existence, manipulated in authoritarian ways by Washington- the possibility of a war among giants, which could be nuclear and devastating for Humanity, exists. So, that is why Ukraine exists as a battlefield, contributing the dead bodies. And, at any moment, it could be Taiwan.
In its expansion process, neoliberal capitalism, basically Western style (US and European), creates a dispute over land and natural resources among the large corporations that control that expansion, on one side, and the communities and people who receive the goods necessary for their existence, on the other. That is why, the capitalism-nature contradiction becomes evident in the struggles of people who defend their ancestral territories against the multinational mining companies, who invade those lands without any regard, destroying everything in their way (oil and mining companies, extensive farming destined to bio-combustion, taking land cultivated for food, detouring rivers for companies to generate electricity).
For example, in order to obtain one gallon of bio-combustion fuel (used in capitalist countries in the prosperous North), based on sugar, corn or oil palms, two thousand liters of water are needed (water stolen from the impoverished South). And, to produce that, lands destined to food production are sacrificed, so those hungry people will desperately march North, thus creating a vicious circle with no way out within the limits of capitalism.
Let’s not be confused or fall into a mea culpa situation that will take us to no real solution: the so-called “climate change” is a disaster caused by capitalist voracity which does not stop in its unleashed search for profits. Saving polar bears from extinction could be very nice, but, beware, don’t let the trees block your view of the forest!
Let’s hope COP27 is good for something, but it probably will not be.
By Marcelo Colussi
Argentinean university professor, political analyst and columnist.
The opinions expressed in this article are the exclusive responsibility of their author.