Human societies have created the bases of our survival, sustenance and advancement through the use of our natural resources in production with rudimentary tools and rising levels of science and technology. Yet in no time in history has environmental destruction been systematically brought about in most parts of the world.
The people of the world face today global poverty, economic wars and environmental crises. They are confronted by an escalating, more rapacious and vicious campaign of plunder by monopoly capitalism. This aggravates the already devastated and polluted natural environment.
The massive dumping of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere by the operations of monopoly capitalist firms in the energy industries, manufacturing, transportation, industrial agriculture, mining, construction, etc. is now generating climatic changes that are causing massive devastation and loss of human lives around the world.
The unprecedented rise in GHG emissions coincided with the onset of the capitalist system at the industrial revolution and its attendant intensive use of machines, fossil fuels for transportation and energy. The anarchic, wasteful and pollutive capitalist production for profit has put our world into the brink of destruction. Under a system where profit is the primary objective of social production, the environment and our ecosystems are reduced to being a source of raw materials and dumping grounds for wasters.
Plunder and pollution of the environment have made victims of poor communities many times over. These are the same communities that are also the most vulnerable to environmental backlashes, which come in the form of floods, droughts and other occurrences triggered or heightened by the prevailing imbalances in the ecosystem. Women and children shoulder the greater cost of these circumstances because of wider risks to their health, and added complications to their productive and reproductive functions.
The trend of rapid environmental changes both at the global and national level is expected to bring about even more massive devastation and loss of human lives in the future. It is clear from the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, and subsequent studies, that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea levels.
The increase in global surface temperature has made the past decade and a half the warmest years since the 1850s. An increase of 0.75 degrees Celsius in the past century was observed over the world. Rates of sea level increase have leaped from an average of 1.8 mm annually (from 1961) to 3.1 mm/yr (from 1996). The rate of shrinking of ice cover in the Arctic was observed to be 2.7 % per decade, which more than double in summer to 7.4 %. Recently, the Northwest passage was clear throughout the Arctic circle. Increased incidence of intense tropical cyclones and sea level rise has been observed putting coastal areas at risk.
The climate has been altered by changes in greenhouse gases (GHGs), aerosols, land-cover and solar radiation input. It was clear in the Nobel Prize winning report of the IPCC that GHGs have increased due to human activities with an increase of 70% in the last 3 decades. CO2 emissions have increased 80% in the same period.
While global warming has already brought extreme impacts on livelihood and survival, especially on vulnerable communities, “free market” globalization policies have opened up the rest of the world to the unhampered entry, control and exploitation of raw natural resources and of people by monopoly capitalist banks and firms. Atrocious campaigns of wars of aggression have been waged especially by US monopoly capital to expand its economic territory and gain direct or tighter control of land and natural resources.
Systematic and unabated deforestation through rampant industrial logging has multiplied at ever increasing rates. The destruction of the world’s forests has also led to the conversion of agricultural plantations for export-oriented crops, farms for cattle raising or monoculture tree plantations. The relentless extraction of mineral ores and wanton destruction by mining multinational corporations (MNCs) in Asia Pacific, Latin America and African countries that are naturally endowed with rich mineral deposits persists while they leave massive environmental destruction and pollution, widespread landlessness and displacement, loss of livelihood, distortion of local culture, and rampant human rights violations to the peoples of these regions in their wake.
Asia, which holds more than half of the world’s population, has less than 36% of the world’s water resources and almost half of the population in developing countries are exposed to polluted water sources. The contamination of air, water and land brought about by products and production processes mainly from the industrial and manufacturing plants of MNCs continue. These large-scale factories remain the top contributors of significant pollutants such as toxic and hazardous wastes in the world.
More and more underdeveloped countries (including India and China) have also become major dumping grounds for the wastes of industrial countries. The dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes are mounting and alarming. Additionally, chemicals and obsolete technologies proven to be harmful to the environment and/or human health and that are already banned in the industrial countries are continually foisted on underdeveloped countries.
The occupation of Iraq by the US (and the ‘Coalition of the Willing’) has given the latter direct control over the vast oil resources of Iraq and has consolidated US domination over the world’s oil resources. After toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the US has gained more political foothold in Central Asia and South Asia and further access to the oil and gas resources in these parts of the world. The US launched its “second front against terrorism” targeting the Philippines, Indonesia and Southeast Asia — a region known for its oil, natural gas and other natural resources. It has unceasingly undermined the government of Venezuela, which has the biggest oil resources in Latin America and is continuously expanding its influence in other Latin American countries (Colombia) and several African countries to tap potential oil and other mineral resources.
Foreign direct investments in energy all over the world are increasing and control over these resources are transferred from nations to a few energy companies. Even the technologies needed for the use of alternative energy in solar and wind are limited to industrialized countries. The drive for biofuels has raised concerns over its long-term sustainability and actual contribution to climate change. Large tracts of forests have been lost in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia due to conversion of forests to oil-palm plantations and more biofuel plantations have been earmarked in other countries like the Philippines.
The recent wars of aggression of the US and its allies have not only increased the production, sale and use weapons of mass destruction but have also caused the massive destruction and contamination of human property, health and environment (i.e. use of depleted uranium, etc.) in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-ravaged countries. Forest clearings and land conversions necessitated by continued military exercises in different parts of the world led by the US pollute the environment and the destruction of natural habitats. Toxic wastes from current and previous US military bases continue to wreak ecological havoc in the surrounding areas. US military joint exercises bring with them not only direct US military aggression but the dangerous weapons and waste from these activities.
The United States is currently the number one producer of GHGs, emitting more than 28% of all the historical GHGs emitted since 1840 worldwide. About 84% of US GHG emissions arise from the petroleum-related energy and electrical power sectors. The US is also the biggest processor and unregulated user of oil and petroleum products all over the world.
Yet the US government has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty signed by 169 countries which aims to reduce global levels of carbon dioxide and five other GHG emissions by 5.2% from their 1990 levels. It is also the US that remains adamant in refusing to commit to long-term and rapid reductions of emissions in the ongoing negotiations for new commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen.
Primary emitter countries such as the US and G8 countries have the principal responsibility to change their production activities and consumption of energy for genuinely sustainable solutions to the ecological crisis. At the same time, they must also bear the cost of reducing GHGs and building the capacity of vulnerable communities in poor countries to withstand climate change impacts which they have caused. Developing countries still require adequate energy and infrastructure for the basic needs and social development of their people, hence, should not be denied genuine sustainable development and must not be forced to carry the burden of meeting carbon emission reduction targets for the world while industrialized countries refuse to do so.
Instead of pursuing comprehensive mitigation of their emissions by engaging in changes in social production, industrialized countries use carbon offset mechanisms and emissions trading projects that offload the burden of carbon mitigation and reduction towards developing countries. These distort development activities in these countries while maintaining the unsustainable patterns of consumption and production activities of industrialized countries. Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and carbon trading effectively marketize carbon emissions and essentially shuffles around responsibility to curb emissions.
International financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank (WB) and other regional banks are becoming more aggressive in pushing for “free market” and business-friendly false solutions to climate change related problems. Programs such as the Climate Investment Fund of the WB do not differ from their previous so-called development projects that have violated human rights, displaced communities, destroyed the environment and supported militarization in the past. These initiatives of the IFIs also give them leverage to influence the outcome of the UNFCCC negotiations in Copenhagen to provide new opportunities for profit-making by monopoly capitalist firms who want to take advantage of the climate crisis.
These include proposals such as massive geo-engineering solutions that do not address the root cause of the emissions and instead push untested and unproven but potentially profitable technologies without due consideration of their ecological and social consequences. On the other hand, personal and individual reduction of carbon emissions such as shifts to compact fluorescent light bulbs and switching to biodegradable products are mere token responses and short-sighted if they are not framed within larger political and economic conditions which have vastly accelerated the rate of global warming. In any case, poor communities would not have the capacity to engage in these actions unless their immediate economic and social problems are first addressed.
Indeed, climate change already aggravates other environmental problems that poor communities have to face as a result of imperialist globalization’s ever increasing destruction of our ecology. It is no longer a question that human activity has produced dangerous climate interference but on how to avoid catastrophic effects that could affect more than half of the world’s population that are most vulnerable to climate change. Industrialized countries should commit to real targets and not shift the burden to underdeveloped countries. The capacity of local communities to respond to disasters should be strengthened. Community-based disaster response, monitoring and mitigation should be undertaken and livelihood should be provided for those who are vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Great advances have been made in information technology, robotics, genetics, agriculture, and medicine, yet are not being applied towards solving fundamental problems of humankind, such as the breakdown of health systems, famine and hunger, ecological destruction, and social decay and disintegration. Instead, unbridled monopoly capitalist globalization has opened up third world resources for the use of TNCs extracting raw materials while leaving their pollution and emissions to the host communities.
The rapid destruction of the environment is a direct result of the rapid, unchecked appropriation of the world’s resources for the benefit of a few. Increased pressure for the quest for wealth places increased pressure on the environment and environmental destruction. The poor, who are most vulnerable, are subjected to these environmental impacts while trying to provide subsistence-level production for themselves. Existing environmental and social problems aggravated by global warming will not abate until the plunder of the world for monopoly capital’s greed for profits end.
In order to preserve the world’s intrinsic and practical value for human development, we need to fundamentally reorient production and consumption based on human needs rather than for the boundless accumulation of profit for a few. Society must take collective control of productive resources to meet the needs of sustainable social development and avoid overproduction, overconsumption and overexploitation of people and the environment which are inevitable under the prevailing monopoly capitalist system.
We have seen how communities throughout the world have remained resolute and determined to struggle for their rights and defend their natural resources because it is not only their present but also their future at stake. The oppressed peoples and nations are more determined than ever before to wage revolutionary struggles for national liberation and democracy and look forward to this socialist future. As the imperialist powers scrambling to preserve global capitalism, we, the people, must struggle harder and be more effective in waging militant anti-imperialist struggles for greater freedom, democracy, social justice, development, ecological sustainability, solidarity and peace.
To arrest climate change, we need to put an end to this systematic plunder of the environment for the superprofits of corporations in industrialized countries. To arrest climate change, we need to organize and defend our future against this parasitic and moribund system. To arrest climate change, we need to end monopoly capital’s dominance over our lives and build a socialist future.
Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Chairperson, International League of Peoples’ Struggle. This statement was issued on 7 December 2009.