Thursday, November 29, 2007

A layman's view of global warming and climate change

by Eric Trevett

IT IS CLEAR that something fundamental is happening to the climate of our planet: glacial fields are melting at both the Arctic and Antarctic; there are unprecedented periods of drought in Australia, tornados of great intensity and huge floods in Louisiana and Mexico on a scale never witnessed before and the permafrost of Siberia is thawing out.
Not long ago people like George Bush and the former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, denied there was any climate change at all. They have since had to abandon that point of view. A more sophisticated argument being put forward by some is that the climate change is a natural development. Climate changes like these have occurred before, like the one that caused the demise of the dinosaurs.
It follows there is nothing to be done to counter this natural process. Fortunately that defeatist view that justifies passivity and inaction fails to take into account the ability of human beings to influence and to some extent change their environment, while at the same time embracing and harmonising with the forces of nature.
Scientific analysis is that the prime reason or the climatic changes has been and still is the continuing build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Much of it comes from industry: power generation, motor cars, lorries and aircraft, which use fossil fuels. There was a comparatively small amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before the industrial revolution but over the past 200 years there has been a massive build up of it and it has induced a process of global warming, which in turn promotes climate change.
If allowed to continue unabated the future will indeed be bleak and it is not an exaggeration to say that the survival of the human species itself could be problematic.
Having identified the problem and achieved broad acceptance, a top priority should be given to cutting the emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
There is still much to do to actively achieve this. Britain’s record is not very good in that struggle to date. According to the Independent emissions have increased by three per cent over the past 10 years.
Former Prime Minister Blair spoke a lot about facing up to the dangers of global warming but it will take more than good speeches and changing a few electric light bulbs to resolve the problem.
In a way the shortage pf oil and the escalating price of fuel, together with the tax, insurance and maintenance are forcing increasing numbers to make their journey to work by train, even though train fares are exorbitant, for many it is still cheaper than going by car. We should be actively demanding the renationalisation of the railways to reduce fares as a basic part of creating an integrated transport system.
In regard to the harmful emissions from aircraft, it would not be too much of an inconvenience if all internal flights were stopped and with the development of rail links to major cities in Europe a number of international flights could be cancelled or replaced.
We should also add our voice to oppose the building of additional runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and so on. Of course to have a fully integrated transport system it would be necessary to nationalise the air travel industry, and while we are at it the road haulage concerns as well.
Of course under capitalism there is no chance of achieving an integrated transport system; yet this is basic for the effective tackling of climate change.
As a result of the climate changes it is clear that crises from flooding in some areas and drought in others and the encroachment of the sea over areas of land, it would be difficult to produce sufficient food to ensure an adequate supply. Therefore the temptation to divert land currently producing food crops in favour of crops for fuel production should be opposed.
It goes with out saying that the efforts to build up our defences against rising tides should combine with fresh efforts being made to desalinate water at an economic price for irrigation purposes and, if possible, for drinking water as well. On the nuclear issue, there should be more effort to explore the possibilities of using nuclear fusion, which eliminates the problem of radioactive waste.
The human species is facing a crisis different from and greater than it has ever faced before. Unfortunately big business will combine to put its thirst for profit above its concern for people’s wellbeing. People like George Bush fight for the vested interests of the likes of the oil industry. They stand in the way and in opposition to what is literally a struggle for survival. It is instructive to remember the rearguard action the tobacco companies put up in denying there was any link between smoking and bad health.
The fight for a healthy environment makes the struggle for socialism more important than ever before. Like the systems of slavery and feudalism that preceded it, capitalism is now standing in the way of the economic and cultural development of humanity.
This crisis cannot be resolved by market forces – nor by government at a local level. It must be addressed at central government and international levels.
I would welcome a debate from readers in the letters page of the New Worker.