Facing the Climate Catastrophe

The catastrophic potential to the people and all living things on Earth of climate change has long been recognised by the scientific community, and it was as a result of scientists bring this issue into public discussion that we have the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),  the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the seemingly interminable fruitless meetings of the UNFCCC to progress beyond Kyoto and solve the problems generated by civilisation built on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

However, over this period the resolution of the dilemma posed by the heating of the World has been left very largely to the political elites, guided by the principles of  Neo-Liberal economics. Largely excluded from the debate have been people from not only the scientific disciplines but also scholars of history and sociology.

More recently some scientists e.g. James Hansen have entered the economic debate and proposed economic measures within the framework of Neo-Liberal economics, a framework based on market economics. However the last year has seen a change in the voice of scientists, as firstly they see an acceleration of the heating of the planet with dire consequences already upon us, and then the failure of economics to reverse the rise in greenhouse gas emissions. The dramatic decline in the Arctic ice, with the prospect that Summer ice could vanish from the polar sea within two years has prompted the scientists who lead the Arctic Methane Emergency Group to call for a “war room” to lead an urgent effort of geo-engineering to restore ice necessary to return some stability to the World’s weather systems and prevent run away catastrophic global heating from methane release. They do not advocate geo-engineering as a solution to the longer term issues of reducing energy use, slashing fossil fuel use and social transformation.

The Arctic scientists are not alone in using the language of war and stepping outside the confines of economics and moving into the lessons that history has for us. Others are calling for the nations to be put on a “war footing” to tackle the climate challenge.

But, in this age what is a war footing and how could it transform the struggle to save life on Earth? I can think of three disparate countries which appear to me to have been on a permanent war footing since as early at the 1950’s. The most obvious is the USA which has naval fleets and war bases around the World and has intervened militarily in all continents bring death and destruction to millions of people. Then there is the State of Israel and thirdly the Republic of Cuba.

The USA war footing has shifted over the decades, from the reliance on mass conscription in its war on VietNam, to the imprisonment of millions of its people and the use of advanced technology based measures of surveillance, control and destruction. Israel continues universal conscription of Jews, combined with hi-tech and nuclear weapons, both from the USA and locally sourced to advance its expansion in Palestine.  Many may not see the USA and Israel as on a war footing as they look at the apparent freedoms of commerce and expression and movement. Moreover their war footing to support their commerce and industry has been a major factor in raising the use of fossil energy.

Cuba is a very different story. As a small isolated country facing the ever present threat of invasion from the USA, and also every year destructive hurricanes, the organisation of the country could better be described, not as being on a war footing, but on a total war footing.

Total War

So what does a total war economy look like? Lets look at some extracts from “Total War” in Wikipedia:

“United Kingdom

Before the onset of the Second World War, the United Kingdom drew on its First World War experience to prepare legislation that would allow immediate mobilization of the economy for war, should future hostilities break out.

Rationing of most goods and services was introduced, not only for consumers but also for manufacturers. This meant that factories manufacturing products that were irrelevant to the war effort had more appropriate tasks imposed. All artificial light was subject to legal blackouts.

… children were evacuated from London and other cities en masse to the countryside for compulsory billeting in households. In the long term this was one of the most profound and longer-lasting social consequences of the whole war for Britain. This is because it mixed up children with the adults of other classes. Not only did the middle and upper classes become familiar with the urban squalor suffered by working class children from the slums, but the children got a chance to see animals and the countryside, often for the first time, and experience rural life.

The Wiki article goes on to consider the war economies of major belligerents noting that both USA and Japan moved to a total war footing, including universal conscription of men aged 18 to 30 years and mobilising women as production workers in the USA, and conversion of automobile factories to building tanks while in Japan nationalizing industries. Their economies also came much closer to the Soviet model of a command economy.

Germany, on the other hand waged war until 1942 , handicapped by ideological restraints, firstly their concept of Blitz Krieg, a fast victory, rather than a protracted conflict and the notion of keeping women at home.

One can see parallels with Germany’s ultimate failure and those of the USA in its many imperial “non-total” wars, from the secret bombing of Laos up to the quagmire of Afghanistan today, and similarly Israel appears to be in an un-winnable position in its quest to conquer all Palestine.

The essential elements of a total war footing include central control of decisions on what is produced and measures to ensure fair distribution of goods and services, as well as peace and order within the society. This contrasts with the situation of civil war, where starvation and injustice abound.

The Climate War – Failure and Success

The Kyoto protocol set modest targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions for highly industrialized (Annexe 1) countries. The European Union pretends that for Europe these are “succeeding”, and targeted greenhouse gas reductions are being achieved with economic growth in the EU. However the biosphere begs to differ as it posts increasing rates of rise in greenhouse gas concentrations and temperatures.

The Guardian’s analysis of 2012 concludes Kyoto to have been a failure, with partial success in meeting targets within the EU, in part due to moving manufacturing offshore and dubious emissions trading schemes but  mightily offset by emissions growth North America, Australia-New Zealand and mainland Asia.

The most dramatic reductions during the Kyoto period go uncommented. They all occurred in countries of the former Comecon trading block. All the European members vastly bettered their emission targets as their former command economies disintegrated, accompanied by grave social ills, including a sharp fall in life expectancy. A cynic might remark that ditching the command economy for the free market produces great environmental gains, yet the long standing market economies either failed or struggled to produce reductions in emissions.

One former member of Comecon stands out as a shining example of the benefit of maintaining a command economy in a time of crisis, that is Cuba. During what was known as the Special Period, Cuba lost its trading partners in Europe and with it its major market for sugar exports and supplier of oil. After a year or so of crisis, where nutrition levels dropped, reforms to transport and food production allowed the country to bounce back with resulting improvement in the health of the population, while maintaining the civilized universal health care and education systems intact. Also, Cuba although not required under Kyoto to reduce greenhouse gas emissions did just that, to the point where the WWF identified Cuba as the only country in the World with both a sustainable level of resource use and a developed civilized society.

So when scientists are calling for a “war footing” to tackle the climate, in reality they are saying market economics has failed, and as Philip Sutton explains, if it could have succeeded the time of the market has effectively passed. In place of the market dominated economy, the alternative which has demonstrated success is the socialist command economy, so in effect that is what the scientists call for. Capitalism cannot continue for long as Minqi Li and Ted Trainer explain.

But how to begin to transform society while the populace has yet to consider the prospect, and the powers that be find the notion repugnant? The short answer is “Just Do It”. The AMEG plan is the first big step, as it will demand a substantial mobilization of resources which, by necessity, must be directed by the Arctic governments, and largely if not entirely financed by the four wealthy, resource rich nations namely Canada, Norway, Russia and the USA. That means government directing resources for the greater good rather than the corporate, for collective and environmental rather than private benefit.

Let us demand the AMEG plan is implemented and as it shows results, work together to develop the means to  bring humane transformations of human society.

http://www.garnautreview.org.au/chp8.htm  – for graphs on Kyoto
http://www.europolitics.info/kyoto-targets-eu-succeeding-art344580.html  –  for EU self delusion
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/nov/26/kyoto-protocol-carbon-emissions – reality
http://www.politicalaffairs.net/cuba-reduces-greenhouse-gas-emissions/  –  Cuba
http://culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=417&Itemid=1 – Cuba
http://www.ameg.me/images/ameg-strategic-plan.pdf – Arctic Ice Plan
http://www.climatecodered.org/2013/01/if-we-need-war-footing-to-rebuild.html – Philip Sutton
href=”http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue57/Trainer57.pdf” – Ted Trainer explains need to socialize
http://ourchiangmai.com/2009/09/27/climate-change-limits-to-growth-and-the-imperative-for-socialism-minqi-li/ – as does Minqi Li