The international summit on climate change in Paris began earlier this week, with negotiations starting a day earlier than planned on Sunday, November 29th. And while all the diplomats and Heads of State met with one another, the city and the world at large were beset with protests by environmentalists and anti-capitalists indicting the fossil fuel industry for its destruction of the planet and the complicity of the world’s governments.
This meeting comes as we begin the final countdown in regards to our climate. Unless carbon emissions are lowered to zero by the end of the century at the latest, our planet’s temperature average will be 2 degrees celsius greater than the pre-industrial average, a temperature unprecedented in the last 100,000 years. With the amount of carbon already released into the atmosphere, the temperature will already reach 1.6 degrees celsius more than pre-industrial levels in the next 30 years.
The effects of releasing so much carbon and other pollutants into our atmosphere has already led to a much more volatile climate, with severe weather such as hurricanes, blizzards, floods, and droughts becoming more frequent. Fragile states and economies who face these pressures are collapsing at faster rates than ever before. The most devastating conflict of our day, the Syrian Civil War, was preceded by record-breaking droughts that caused massive crop failure. Farmers were dragged into poverty, and many were forced to move to urban areas already starved for resources thanks to refugees from the Iraq war. Certainly, the situation would have been far less likely to explode had their not been such a large unemployed, impoverished population dissatisfied with their government.
When it comes to trying to fix this massive disaster created by capitalism, Governments have been slow to respond, even with the threat of further instability and catastrophe hanging over them. Previous summits have been foiled by conflicts between rich and poor states over who should foot the bill for the clean energy production of the third world. Nevermind the fact that the capitalist groups responsible are only taking part in fixing this problem where they can turn a profit. Bill Gates and the group of private sector investors he’s put together will probably come out of this summit looking like heroes, overshadowing all the voices who point out how the private sector and the profit motive were to blame in the first place, and that solving the problem of climate change while keeping our existing capitalist system is only delaying the next inevitable environmental crisis.
Had many of these companies been forced to pay to fix the damage they had done, they would not even be profitable. If we had indeed forced them to do just that, perhaps the problem of climate change could have been avoided. But instead, it appears that the taxpayers of the world are the ones who will have to pay to save it from a crisis which disproportionately affects the poor and people who had nothing to do with the fossil fuels industry, such as those who live in low-lying Polynesian islands.
The truth of the matter is that it was a small group of oligarchs have brought our planet and everyone in it to the very brink. The decisions made by CEO’s in the energy sector affect everyone, and yet they cannot be held even remotely accountable for them.
Perhaps the governments of our world will be able to unite in this last moment of desperation to divert complete catastrophe, even if rough times will continue. But if we want to prevent more potentially apocalyptic environmental disasters from happening in the future, we must remove the barrier between political decisions and economic decisions, especially economic decisions that affect our environment. Only in a democracy with a well-educated populace and significant direct power over industry, can these harmful actions be reliably prevented.