G8 to Earth: Drop dead
A World to Win News Service.
The July G8 meeting held in L’Aquila, Italy, was a summit of shame in many dimensions.
On dealing with starvation in Africa and elsewhere in the oppressed countries, one of the event’s key claims to be something other than a conclave of the world’s top plunderers, this G8 talkfest did little more than re-promise the same aid money it pledged at the Gleneagles G8 meeting four years ago and failed to deliver ($15 billion) plus a last-minute sweetener for appearances’ sake ($5 billion). Those 2005 promises would not have dealt with the structural problems of countries whose economies are subordinated to and crushed by the imperialist world market, but this contemptuous “regifting” (recycling of old presents) added insult to injury. It was touted as an achievement by U.S. President Barack Obama. According to UN statistics, the number of malnourished people in the world has been rising for the past two years and will top 1.2 billion people this year.
On Iran, the G8 accomplished the trick of performing two criminal acts at once: it both failed to condemn the Islamic Republic’s bloodthirsty suppression of protests and at the same time threatened it with further economic sanctions and worse if it refused to give in to U.S.-led demands. This, too, was promoted by Obama. The following week, all 168 passengers died in the crash of a worn-out Iranian airliner – a dramatic example of who is harmed by such sanctions.
The most publicized aspect of this G8 was its communiqué on global warming. Far from representing anything positive, future historians may point to it as an indication of the criminal madness of today’s world system. This is an issue on which many people hoped Obama would break with Bush-era policies. Yet led by Obama himself, the meeting blatantly rejected meaningful action.
It’s true that the L’Aquila summit gave lip service to the scientific consensus that a rise in average world temperatures of more than 2° Celsius is likely to produce dangerous conditions for people and the planet. What did it propose to do about it? It set an “aspirational” (non-binding) goal of halving carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050. Obama and the other G8 leaders pretended that this time they’ve changed and really recognized and begun to deal with the problem. There are a number of reasons why this is much less of an advance than it seems: ……
• Although for a long time former U.S. President George W Bush stubbornly refused to recognize that there is a problem of climate change caused by human activity, in the end he did and issued a call for exactly the same goal. So what’s different about Obama? Isn’t this the same kind of “regifting”?
• The greenhouse gases produced since the early 19th century have raised global temperatures about .8 degrees. Many scientists believe that the amount of those gases already in the atmosphere could double that temperature increase even without any additional carbon emissions at all. So even if the G8 goal were met, it would not be sufficient.
• The 2050 goal, 41 years from now – when most of the G8 leaders present will be dead – is too late. The summit refused to adopt the intermediate goals demanded by climate activists for 2020, in other words, soon enough to matter and to be held accountable for.
• What’s supposed to be new in this year’s G8 resolution is that as part of achieving a 50 percent overall cut in global emissions, it called for the rich countries to cut theirs by 80 percent. But the G8 call deliberately failed to specify the baseline against which those levels will be measured. (Its communiqué says, “compared to 1990 or more recent years”.) Is this cut to be 80 percent compared to gas emission levels in 1990, or from now? Since carbon emissions have soared in the past 20 years, especially in the U.S., the difference is huge. Again, when you crunch the numbers, what’s new here?
• While the G8’s promises would be criminally insufficient even if they were met, there is no reason to believe that they will. Obama’s requested legislation before the U.S. Congress aims to reduce emissions by 5-6 percent over the next decade compared to 1990. On the level of promises, Europe has done four times better – but the EU as a whole has fallen behind previous pledges (even while enjoying the advantages of exporting its polluting industries).
• Obama insisted that third world countries, particularly China and India, are equally a part of the problem. To this end he organized and chaired a joint conference of the G8 and five of the world’s most industrialized third world countries. This is passing the buck: the U.S., with five percent of the world’s population, accounts for 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The average Indian produces a 10th of the greenhouse gases of the average European, and a 20th of the average American. What right do the U.S. and Europe have to blame anyone else?
• Further, for what market – and for the enrichment of what capitalists – is the industrialization of China and other Asian countries taking place? Germany has shipped whole steel mills that used to darken its skies to China. There they are used to build up a manufacturing capacity that supplies American and European-owned retail chains around the world. The West is just exporting its soot to the third world. The problem is the global economic and social system, not a conflict between green Europe and the U.S. and dirty China and India.
Nowhere does the nature of the capitalist system’s approach to the potential global warming catastrophe stand out more vividly than in the widely touted gimmick of issuing companies carbon gas emission credits so that instead of eliminating pollution, they can buy and sell pollution credits as a further source of enrichment. The experience in Germany, where this market is particularly developed is a good example: some of the country’s biggest companies have made huge amounts of money in this market, while Germany – piously painting itself as being on the cutting edge of greenness – continues to be one of the developed world’s worst polluters. If some smaller European countries like Switzerland have become cleaner, it’s because they export more money capital rather than finished goods compared to Germany.
Obama and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to deal with the widespread disappointment with this year’s G8 global warming communiqué by calling it a good step forward to more progress at the December 2009 Copenhagen world climate change summit. Given how bad L’Aquila was, it’s not impossible that Copenhagen will do – or at least say – something better. But now that we can’t blame the G8’s do-nothing attitude on Bush’s stubbornness, L’Aquila is an illustration of what we can expect from the imperialist system no matter who leads what government. In fact, it’s a good indication of the limits imposed by the workings of the capitalist system.
To put it briefly, the potential powers of humanity’s productive forces and knowledge cannot be focused on human needs (including saving the planet) because of the existing economic and social relations: the capitalist system, which means the dictates of capital in economic terms and the political dictatorship of the capitalist class, and the imperialist division of the world into monopoly capitalist countries and the nations they dominate.
A 5 February 2007 AWTWNS article explains in more depth the economic constraints preventing capitalism from being able to respond to global warming in a way commensurate with the danger. It concludes: “Dealing with this kind of potential catastrophe will require the experience, thinking, creativity, efforts and sometimes sacrifice of the human race as a whole in all its billions around the world. No one could argue that such a thing is even conceivable under the present economic, social and political system that holds the globe in its grip.
“Development and greenhouse gases do not have to be synonymous. Many scientists and environmental activists have explored the concept of sustainable development – an economy that can increasingly meet human needs without destroying the planet we live on. If society – eventually all of human society worldwide – were run not according to the principles of capitalism but those of socialism, why couldn’t planning whose highest goal was the emancipation and welfare of humanity and its environment create an economy to serve these ends? Why would humanity have to put up any more with the wastefulness and destruction imposed by capitalism? And what would prevent such a society from devoting the necessary resources to prevent or at least lessen the impact of natural catastrophes?”