Growth and Destruction

The reality of life in the recent past was one of overlapping crises—Covid-19, a deep economic recession, climate change and its related effects, the dehumanisation of persons of colour and brutal oppression of minorities and Dalits, just to name a few. All of these and more are fundamentally related to attempts by capital to despotically control all of nature, including human beings for the purpose of extracting whatever surplus value it can. This despotic control has reached a point where it can be said without exaggeration that capital has become hostile to the continuance of life on Earth. This is especially clear in the case of the ecological crisis that capitalism faces and in one of its most pressing manifestations, Covid-19. Their swan song of growth is actually destruction of the planet earth.

In 2020 as wildfires raged across Australia at an unprecedented rate, seeming to signal an urgency in preventing further climate change, many in the world paid lip service to the threatening ecological crisis that is clear to soon envelop the world in catastrophic change—rising temperatures, glacial melting, rising sea levels, increasing drought in some regions, loss of biodiversity, increasing scarcity of clean water, etc. Earth’s average temperature has increased about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, most of which has occurred in the past 35 years, with the six warmest years on record taking place since 2014. Globally, sea levels rose about eight inches (about 20 cm) in the 20th century. Scientists predict that the effects on human communities will be profound and will likely include temperature increases which could by 2070 rise to levels that will make about 19% of the Earth uninhabitable by humans, droughts in many parts of the world that will disrupt local and international food chains, leading to at the very least, regional famines; increasing water shortages that could lead to regional conflict; increased transmission of infectious disease; and the flooding and submersion of low-lying coastal areas. All of the above are likely to increase conflict as well as create new climate refugees seeking basic survival. Moreover, those who will likely see the greatest negative effects of climate change are those least able to mitigate those effects due to poverty among many other factors.

The basic story of climate change is a familiar and a non-controversial truth. The increased use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution has led to atmospheric degradation. These fossil fuels, which took thousands of years to create, have been burned for their energy and released into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. With more carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the Earth has been getting warmer since greenhouse gases reduce the amount of heat that can escape the atmosphere into space.

While the above is relatively uncontroversial, there are at least two prominent theories of why humans have caused climate change. One argues that the current age is one of the Anthropocene, meaning that human beings as such are having a large enough effect on the climate to represent an entire era of environmental history. In brief, this theory is problematic as it posits abstract human beings outside of any particular mode of production as the cause of climate change. This theory follows the logic of capitalism which argues that human beings have always been egoistic and acquisitive and rules out the possibility of a different type of social relations as human nature is unchanging and unchangeable.

The Glasgow conference COP26 was the first deadline for presidents and prime ministers to hand in their Paris Agreement homework. The problem is, reducing fossil fuel exploitation involves a confrontation with the wealthiest, most entrenched monopoly corporations in human history. In truth there was not much to cheer about the outcomes of Glasgow conclave. For all practical purposes climate breakdown is now a hard reality.
A total of 88 m barrels of oil were produced per day globally in 2020. The pandemic didn’t really affect fossil fuel production. What is more, a total of 7,741,600,000 tonnes of coal were produced globally in 2020. Despite pandemic-related lock-down coal production globally is higher today than when the gavel was struck to mark the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016. It may be a bone-chilling news to the climate crusaders that there remains 1,074,108,000,000 tonnes of proven coal reserves around the world.

If anything, after the Glasgow showbiz the nuclear energy lobby is now doubly encouraged to hawk their idea of ‘safe and clean’ nuclear power. Who bothers about global warming and climate and ecological disaster? Nobody. For the powers that be it is business as usual everywhere, ‘Glasgow’ or no ‘Glasgow’.


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Vol 54, No. 25, Dec 19 - 25, 2021