“This could be the coolest summer of the rest of your life”, reads the headline of a recent Vox article, posted on 6 July, the same day the Earth experienced its hottest day ever according to the U.S. National Center for Environmental Prediction. The symptoms of global warming are appearing everywhere.
Canada is experiencing a wildfire season like never before. Huge blazes have reduced more than 10 million hectares of forest to ash. They have surpassed the North American record of almost 2 million hectares destroyed during the 2020 Californian fires. More than 120,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes under a blanket of smoke.
The fires began to appear as early as May this year. Summer as we know it is getting longer, keeping the soil and the fallen plant debris drier for longer and creating huge loads of tinder.
There was no reprieve across the Atlantic as the heatwave hit Europe. Ground temperatures of up to 60C have been recorded in some locations across Spain. Nine countries across the Mediterranean are now ablaze.
Last year, an EU study estimated that more than 60,000 people across Europe died due to heat. This year is likely to be even worse. The vulnerable will be particularly at risk—the elderly and those who cannot afford to keep the air conditioning running.
The changing climate is not just producing heatwaves, but weather extremes. Residents of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region are only just recovering from severe flooding, which claimed fourteen lives and left 36,000 people homeless.
“Six months’ worth of rain fell within 36 hours across Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy’s most important agricultural regions”, the Guardian reported.
The floods were preceded by a drought that had dried out the land, reducing its capacity to absorb water. More than 305 landslides were caused by the latest floods, which in turn either damaged or closed off 500 roads.
Yet, in the face of this catastrophe, the so-called leaders of our society—politicians, billionaires and government bureaucrats—seem to be on another planet. According to a 2021 Al Jazeera investigation, approximately 200,000km of oil and gas pipelines are planned for construction globally in coming years—costing a staggering USD$1 trillion.
There is too much money to be made from fossil fuels for those in charge to change course. The “big five” oil and gas companies—Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP and TotalEnergies—made a combined profit of USD$200 billion last year alone. The rest of the industry made another USD$200 billion. For capitalists there is a relentless drive to “grow the business”. Apparently, USD$55.7 billion last year—or around USD$6.3 million profit taken every hour—was not enough for Exxon.
There are better ways to spend $400 billion, such as transitioning to renewables or repairing ailing healthcare systems. Instead, the money is going straight into the pockets of the wealthiest in our society to fund their private jet and super yacht acquisitions.
The entire global system of capitalism relies on the extraction of oil and natural gas to keep the wheels of profit turning. It’s not only the sale of these carbon-emitting resources, but they also provide the fuel for almost every other industry.
Perversely there are opportunities to profiteer from the changing climate. The latest boom in the industry has been north of the Arctic Circle, where permafrost, or soil that is usually permanently frozen, is rapidly melting due to rising temperatures. In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the undiscovered gas are in the Arctic region.
The changing Arctic landscape is an ecological disaster, but it is stimulating the expansion of fossil fuel projects in the U.S., Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. Projects such as ConocoPhillips’ Willow 30-year oil drilling lease or the new $45 billion LNG megaproject in British Columbia, green lit by Biden and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, seek to take advantage of the new opportunities opened up by collapsing ecosystems.
The grotesque logic could not be clearer. Amid an ecological crisis of its own making, and which threatens the existence of human society as we know it, capitalism continues to profiteer even from the symptoms of the crisis.