The climate red alert

Image: Magda-Ehlers


The political and economic system we live in does not produce climate change by accident, but by design, rewarding big polluters and resource extractors with super profits.

The UN Secretary-General declaring the climate scientists' report a "red alert for humanity" is a critical wake-up call. The evidence of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPCC) speak for themselves: the five warmest years in recent history resulted in a tripling of sea level rise and the global retreat of glaciers and sea ice.

But it's also nothing significantly new. Scientists are striking an urgent tone because they've been issuing the same warnings for decades - while serious action on our warming world has not materialized. Oil giant Exxon predicted climate change in the 1970s – before spending decades publicly denying the existence of such changes.

The political and economic system we live in does not produce climate change by accident, but by design, rewarding big polluters and resource extractors with super profits.

This is our historic legacy. In the UK, imperial-era fortunes were made from the oil of places like the Persian Gulf, where Britain sponsored an anti-democratic coup in the 1950s to preserve British profits. Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). AIOC later became British Petroleum (BP), which continues to pump hundreds of millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caspian. And much of the world's fossil money is managed by financial institutions in the City of London, which specialize in managing oil profits.

Around the world, governments continue to act on behalf of these fossil fuel networks, even as they claim to be taking climate-friendly action. Boris Johnson even copied the language of the Green Industrial Revolution that we in the Labor Party developed. But he copied only the words, not the actions. In June, the UK Climate Change Committee demonstrated that, on its current course, the government will fail to meet even its own woefully inadequate targets.

On 1 May 2019, as Leader of the Opposition, I successfully moved a parliamentary declaration for Britain to declare a climate emergency – making ours the first parliament in the world to do so. I was, and still am, convinced that the Labor Party and our movement must take the climate and environmental crisis very seriously.

If this system remains unchallenged, we can expect a rapid increase in the floods, droughts and wildfires that devastated Australia, Siberia, Canada, East Africa, California and much of Europe last year. Intense storms have increased by two-fifths this century. The worst are three-quarters stronger than they were in the 1950s, and hurricanes, which happened only rarely, are now common.

But it's not just the physical consequences of these events we should be concerned about; so are the political consequences. In Greece, austerity, deregulation and the abandonment of the fire department have increased the impact of the horrific fires in Evia. In Texas, earlier this year, the state allowed power companies to raise the price of emergency power, leaving people with unpayable debt.

And from the United States to the European Union, governments are investing in surveillance technology and military equipment to target the refugees that environmental crises help to create. The billions they are spending on new troops and drones in the Mediterranean is money that is not being spent on a green transition, instead it is all going into the pockets of a frontier military industry and surveillance heavily tied to the fossil economy. The British parliament is currently debating a draconian Nationality and Boundaries Bill aimed at making it illegal to save refugee lives at sea – putting Britain at odds with the universal law of the sea.

With military budgets skyrocketing around the world, the most powerful countries are gearing up for conflict, not cooperation, to deal with the climate emergency. These false solutions will add to all our suffering; but, as always, they will favor the rich few while punishing the many people – be it people who have fled their flooded homes in England or fled drought and war in North Africa.

But it doesn't have to be that way, and our reaction should be one of hope rather than fear. Climate scientists can tell us with forensic precision what a temperature rise of 1,5 or 3 or 5 degrees will do to sea levels, water scarcity or biodiversity. But the reason they can't predict what that increase will be is because it's impossible to predict the choices we'll make next. Those, as the IPCC report reminds us, are still up to us.

And if we stand up to the powerful, removing the systemic incentives to burn the planet for quick profits, we can do things differently. That means workers everywhere mobilizing for a global Green New Deal at this year's COP26 that takes carbon out of the atmosphere and puts the money back in workers' pockets, while tackling injustice and inequality in the Global South. There is no city anywhere that does not benefit from green public transport, or reforestation, or local renewable energy, or jobs in the green industries of the future.

From climate change to poverty and inequality, to our dangerous collective failure to vaccinate the poorest countries against COVID-19, we are living the consequences of a system that puts billionaires first and the rest of us last. The climate and environmental crisis is a class issue. It is the poorest people in working-class communities, polluted cities and low-lying island communities who suffer first and most heavily from this crisis.

But we still have the power to change that. In 2019, schoolchildren striking for climate action captured the imagination and attention of people around the world overnight. If they can do it, so can we. Our response to the climate “red alert” must be to work in our communities, in politics, in schools and universities, in our workplaces and with our unions to demand and achieve a livable planet – and a system that puts human life and the well-being first.

*Jeremy Corbyn is a member of the English parliament. He was Leader of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition in the UK House of Commons from 2015 to 2020.

Translation: Read Marxists Collective for the magazine Jacobin Brazil.


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