Measures to cut harmful emissions over the next three decades will determine the future of the planet. That’s the stark statement in today’s third report of the UN international panel on climate change (IPCC). Previous reports have focused on the science of climate change and the likely impacts. This final report focuses on measures - or mitigations - that can be taken to save humanity from the worst, most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures. The panel says it is "technically and economically" feasible to stabilise greenhouse emissions - but only if countries are prepared to pay the extra costs of transforming everything from energy supply networks to agriculture to waste. But the report has a fatal flaw – it is written entirely from the standpoint that there is no alternative to the status quo and ignores the fact that the global market economy is the primary source of global warming. Even last year’s Stern report published by the Treasury ackowledged that global warming was the most significant example of market failure. The IPCC’s proposals would not only leave capitalist production methods intact – in fact they would create new opportunities for profit making. Some measures are simply high-risk gambling with the future of humanity. For example, the report calls for a major expansion of nuclear power, even though the carbon consumed building such power stations can never be recovered in its working life, not to mention the terrible pollution caused by uranium mining. Safety issues are ignored. New Labour is scheduled to publish proposals to speed up planning rules so nuclear power stations can be started in two to three years, with powers to overrule local objections.
The IPCC report also proposes massive expansion of GM agriculture for bio-fuels, even though this will have a disastrous effect on food supplies. And it will be the poorest people who suffer – for example in Mexico the cost of tortilla flour has already increased by 400% due to competition for corn from bio-fuel manufacturers. This kind of intensive agriculture would lead to clearing of rain forests and higher emissions from manufacturing fertilisers. It is not a mitigation but an exacerbation. Unproved technologies such as carbon capture, which could be useful as a stop gap, could be dangerous on a large scale. If any of the stored carbon escaped from underground stores such as oil fields it could trigger runaway global warming. And the oil corporations, with their terrible record on safety, are likely to be in charge of this profitable activity. Greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 70% since 1970 – coinciding with corporate-driven globalisation - and will rise by between 25% and 90% over the next 25 years under "business as usual". Combining untried technologies, nuclear power, bio-fuels with incentives for business will not succeed in halting climate chaos. The truth is that a system founded on the continuous expansion of production of goods and services for profit, with credit-fuelled consumption patterns, is simply unsustainable. We need to build a mass, democratic movement in favour of structural changes to the way things are produced and consumed. It means ending dependence on the bottom line, and adopting green, co-operative, not-for-profit production across the globe. We need to challenge all the assumptions that sustain the system including the idea that art, music and performance must be put at the service of profit and big business sponsors. At tonight’s Revolutions Per Minute gig at The Cross Kings in London, musicians, comedians and DJs will be demonstrating that change in practice as they unite against climate change. Come and join us there!
Penny Cole, environment editor