The authors of a new guide to tackling climate change, Running a Temperature, are going all out to win Richard Branson’s $25m prize for finding the most cost-effective way of extracting one billion tonnes from the atmosphere each year. They invite readers and others to join them in developing their proposal, which has been given the provisional title “Composting Capitalism”, at a meeting on February 20th. The aim is to demonstrate that the simplest, cheapest and most straightforward method of removing huge quantities of greenhouse gases is by getting rid of the wasteful, reckless system of corporate-driven, profit-motivated, capitalist production. For example, by enabling the employees of Richard Branson’s group of companies to take them over and run them on ecological lines, we could put a stop to his own “greenwash” approach to climate change. The billionaire boss last year pledged the profits from Virgin air and rail, over the next 10 years, to combating rising global temperatures. But this turned out to be little more than an investment fund for another branch of his empire. Virgin Fuels will focus on biofuels, a very profitable business, where demand is rising at around 25% per year - but a disaster for the environment. By 2010, 5% of sales at all UK petrol stations will have to be of renewable energy, a lucrative opportunity for Virgin Fuels and investors like Morgan Stanley, who last year pledged to invest £3bn in biofuels and carbon trading. From orangutan reserves in Borneo to the Brazilian Amazon, virgin forest is being razed to grow palm oil and soybeans to fuel cars and power stations in Europe and North America. Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation, says palm oil is one of the most environmentally damaging commodities on the planet: "Once again it appears we are trying to solve our environmental problems by dumping them in developing countries, where they have devastating effects on local people."
One thing is for sure, Bush, Blair, Brown and Branson will continue to focus solely on such market-led, profit-driven initiatives when they claim to be tackling climate change. Joining Branson at the launch of his latest initiative, former US Vice President Al Gore said: "We're not used to thinking of a planetary emergency, and there's nothing in our prior history as a species that equips us to imagine that we, as human beings, could actually be in the process of destroying the habitability of the planet for ourselves." But this is not true! Human beings have faced annihilation since the development of nuclear weapons. And the world wars of the 20th century were another form of self-destruction. Alongside that has gone the wholesale destruction of indigenous peoples, species and ecological systems that has been a feature of the whole of capitalism’s development. Global warming threatens all humanity, but it is still a capitalist-created crisis, spinning out of control as a result of corporate-driven globalisation. Branson’s prize only reinforces the problem while creating new opportunities for business. Plans to extract carbon have to be “commercially viable” and, of course, there is no question of any actual reduction in emissions. Branson’s fleet of planes will continue to criss-cross the oceans, emitting carbon safe in the knowledge that someone, somewhere else is hoovering them up! Set free from this capitalist straitjacket, humanity will have no problems in developing workable solutions to climate change. But to get our foot on that road, we need to reject government and corporate greenwash and start developing social, economic and political alternatives. This project needs substantial resources. If Mr Branson would like to give us $25m for our excellent ideas, it would give the campaign to compost capitalism a real boost! (Did I hear someone say “dream on!”)
Penny Cole, co-author Running a Temperature