The reason the ecosystem is dying is not because we still have a dryer in our basement. It is because corporations look at everything, from human beings to the natural environment, as exploitable commodities. It is because consumption is the engine of corporate profits. We have allowed the corporate state to sell the environmental crisis as a matter of personal choice when actually there is a need for profound social and economic reform. We are left powerless.— A Reality Check from the Brink of Extinction
Quotes About Copenhagen Climate Summit 2009:
“The governments which moved so swiftly to save the banks they have bickered and filibustered while the biosphere burns.” — George Monbiot
If the climate were one of the biggest capitalist banks, the rich governments would have saved it.— Venezuelan President’s Speech on Climate Change at the Copenhagen Climate Summit
. . . the mine is dark … But when I walk through the Tan — something — shaft, in the dark, I can touch with my hands the leaves on the trees, and underneath … where the corn is green … There is a wind in the shaft, not carbon monoxide they talk about, it smell like the sea, only like as if the sea had fresh flowers lying about … and that is my holiday. — Emlyn Williams’ The Corn is Green (In the current darkness of this Liaise Fair Capitalist Orwellian Society, I can walk through the darkness and see where “the corn is green” — I can still imagine in the words of, John Lennon, ‘Imagine all the people Living life in peace’ and in harmony with nature. And I am not a dreamer! — Roland Sheppard)
From the 09/24/UN Climate report: CLIMATE CHANGE SCIENCE COMPENDIUM:
A thin veneer of atmosphere, soil, and water covers the surface of the planet. That is the envelope supplying most of the raw material we need to live. Energy from the Sun, with some residual energy still within the planet’s core, feeds Earth’s dynamic systems that cycle materials within the envelope. Earth System scientists are investigating the energy and material fluxes that determine the systems’ dynamics to better understand climate change.
Accelerated shrinking of mountain glaciers on every continent, rapid reduction of Arctic sea ice, disintegration of floating ice shelves, and increased melt rates of Earth’s three Ice Sheets—Greenland, West Antarctic, and East Antarctic—provide compelling evidence of our changing climate.
Over the last five decades, the world’s oceans have been subjected to fishery overharvesting, seafloor damage from bottom trawling, and habitat loss around margins from coastal development schemes. Climate change further threatens oceans with higher temperatures, increased acidification, and altered circulation and nutrient supplies.
Since the compilation of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, serious and irreversible changes in Earth’s Ecosystems due to anthropogenic activities are increasingly recognized with greater confidence and better quantification of the processes.
A variety of actions are under discussion to manage the challenge posed by climate change: cutting emissions, reforestation, and geoengineering are a few. Some of the possible actions are not only important, but necessary, for any chance of success—but no single action is sufficient on its own.
The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses. — An Earth First! Rallying Cry, originally popularized by singer Utah hillips
The above graphs demonstrate the rapid rise of Greenhouse Gases in the past decade. As Mano Sigham states in his blog, “These sharp increases in greenhouse gas concentrations are clearly correlated with rapid increases in the rate of industrialization and energy consumption within the two last centuries. It seems to me that while individual changes in behavior (such as using less stuff and reusing and recycling more) are important, they must be accompanied by concerted international governmental actions to reverse the trends.”
James Hansen, head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, calls for a sharp reduction in C02 limits. …. He argues the cut is needed if ‘humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed.’
(Most of the Science in this essay has been confirmed by a recent lecture by James Hansen, which can be found here. )
Preface to 1999 Article
In The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man, Friedrich Engels wrote:
. . . Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. …
In December 1999, when I first wrote my essay Whither Humanity? (The Environmental Crisis of Capitalism), there were some doubters, on the left, about the science of the article. However, the essay has held up quite well in the past eight years. Since that time , we now know that “Carbon dioxide rates have been accelerating — that the rate of increase in carbon dioxide emissions has more than doubled since the 1990s”!
Some of my critics on the left, who have claimed that Global Warming was a ‘natural phenomenon’, that increased solar activity was the cause of global warming, rather than predominately caused by Capitalist production. Studies of the sun’s activity, for the past two decades. have sent this concept to the dust bin of history.
In 1985, the Sun did a U-turn in every respect. It no longer went in the right direction to contribute to global warming. We think it’s almost completely conclusive proof that the Sun does not account for the recent increases in global warming.
An article in the February 2008 Journal of The Geological Society of America, GSA Today, Are we now living in the Anthropocene?, states that:
Sufficient evidence has emerged of stratigraphically significant change (both elapsed and imminent) for recognition of the Anthropocene — currently a vivid yet informal metaphor of global environmental change — as a new geological epoch to be considered for formalization by international discussion.
Since, the first “gulf War” in 1991, and the wars since 1999, the results of capitalist production and its wars for ever greater profits; the pollution of the world by capitalism has already had catastrophic effects — Global Warming is just one of these.
Worldwide, from the Katrina catastrophe in New Orleans, to the famines in Africa, destruction of rain forests, imperialism has been like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, waging War, Famine, Pestilence and Death upon humanity.
One example of this is the unprovoked war against Iraq, by the United States, which has left environmental ruin upon that country and the rest of the world.
Wars have once again become nuclear wars. The use of depleted uranium, first in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria, has now polluted the earth’s atmosphere with radiation, from the use of these horrific weapons.
In her article, The Queen’s Death Star, Lorent Moret wrote:
The use of Uranium weapons in Gulf War II has resulted in contamination of Europe. Evidence from the measurements of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), Aldermaston, Berkshire, UK,” reported the Sunday Times Online (February 19, 2006) in a shocking scientific study authored by British scientists Dr. Chris Busby and Saoirse Morgan. The highest levels of depleted uranium ever measured in the atmosphere in Britain, were transported on air currents from the Middle East and Central Asia; of special significance were those from the Tora Bora bombing in Afghanistan in 2001, and the “Shock & Awe” bombing during Gulf War II in Iraq in 2003.1 (The result of this increased radiation will be an increase in the cancer epidemic throughout the world.)
Even more catastrophic than war has been the rapid increase in Global pollution and Warming, these changes are taking place around the world at an alarming speed.
The Oceans now contain vast “plastic soups” of waste floating in the Ocean. The northern Pacific Soup is growing at an an ever increasing rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States! Further depleting the natural resources for the sustainability of the human species.
As the forest decline and the oceans get polluted, the Earth is losing its natural urban sinks.
An ominous discovery that was reported in the journal Science, is that Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, a crucial “carbon sink” into which 15 percent of the world’s excess carbon dioxide flows, is reaching saturation and soon may be unable to absorb any more carbon dioxide, allowing more CO2 to be pumped into the atmosphere. “The last time ocean chemistry underwent such a radical transformation”, Caldeira said, “was when the dinosaurs went extinct.
One result of this CO2 saturation will the lowering of the pH of the oceans endangering the coral reefs. According to the above article, “if CO2 emissions continue at their current pace, the pH of the ocean is expected to dip to 7.9 or lower by the end of the century — a 150% change.”
In Siberia and Alaska, for instance, the permafrost is melting, releasing methane, and further accelerating the warming process. Methane in the Earth’s atmosphere is a powerful greenhouse gas, “ when Siberian permafrost melts, carbon buried since the Pleistocene era is bubbling to the surface of lakes, and dissipating into the atmosphere as methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide”.
According to an August 11, 2005 article from the New Scientist news service article, Climate warning as Siberia melts4 states:
The world’s largest frozen peat bog is melting. An area stretching for a million square kilometres across the permafrost of western Siberia is turning into a mass of shallow lakes as the ground melts, according to Russian researchers just back from the region. The sudden melting of a bog the size of France and Germany combined could unleash billions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The news of the dramatic transformation of one of the world’s least visited landscapes comes from Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Tomsk State University, Russia, and Judith Marquand at the University of Oxford. Kirpotin describes an ‘ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming’. He says that the entire western Siberian sub-Arctic region has begun to melt, and this “has all happened in the last three or four years”. What was until recently a featureless expanse of frozen peat is turning into a watery landscape of lakes, some more than a kilometre across. Kirpotin suspects that some unknown critical threshold has been crossed, triggering the melting. Western Siberia has warmed faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with an increase in average temperatures of some 3°C in the last 40 years. The warming is believed to be a combination of man-made climate change, a cyclical change in atmospheric circulation known as the Arctic oscillation, plus feedbacks caused by melting ice, which exposes bare ground and ocean. These absorb more solar heat than white ice and snow. Similar warming has also been taking place in Alaska: earlier this summer Jon Pelletier of the University of Arizona in Tucson reported a major expansion of lakes on the North Slope fringing the Arctic Ocean. The findings from western Siberia follow a report two months ago that thousands of lakes in eastern Siberia have disappeared in the last 30 years, also because of climate change (New Scientist, 11 June, p 16). This apparent contradiction arises because the two events represent opposite end of the same process, known as thermokarsk. In January, 2010, Experts said that methane emissions from the Arctic have risen by almost one-third in just five years (2003-07) and that sharply rising temperatures are to blame.
Permafrost in Siberia.Methane emissions from the Arctic Permafrost increased by 31% from 2003-07, figures show. Photograph: Francis Latreille/Corbis
As quoted in the New Scientist:
In this process, rising air temperatures first create ‘frost-heave’, which turns the flat permafrost into a series of hollows and hummocks known as salsas. Then as the permafrost begins to melt, water collects on the surface, forming ponds that are prevented from draining away by the frozen bog beneath. The ponds coalesce into ever larger lakes until, finally, the last permafrost melts and the lakes drain away underground.
The following article, GLOBAL WARMING: Early Warning Signs, goes into the effects of warming in the Region, gives us a glimpse of what is happening, the article states:
The Asian region spans polar, temperate, and tropical climates and is home to over 3 billion people. As the climate warms, many mountain glaciers may disappear, permafrost will thaw, and the northern forests are likely to shift further north. Rapid population growth and development in countries like China and India will put additional pressures on natural ecosystems and will lead to a rapid rise in the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere unless steps are taken to curtail emissions.
- 1 Llasa, Tibet — Warmest June on record, 1998. Temperatures hovered above 77F for 23 days.
- Garhwal Himalayas, India — Glacial retreat at record pace. The Dokriani Barnak Glacier retreated 66 ft (20.1 m) in 1998 despite a severe winter. The Gangorti Glacier is retreating 98 ft (30 m) per year. At this rate scientists predict the loss of all central and eastern Himalayan glaciers by 2035.
- Tien Shan Mountains, China — Glacial ice reduced by one quarter in the past 40 years.
- Southern India – Heat wave, May 2002. In the state of Andhra Pradesh temperatures rose to 120F, resulting in the highest one-week death toll on record. This heat wave came in the context of a long-term warming trend in Asia in general. India, including southern India, has experienced a warming trend at a rate of 1F (0.6C) per century.
- Nepal – High rate of temperature rise. Since the mid-1970s the average air temperature measured at 49 stations has risen by 1.8F (1C), with high elevation sites warming the most. This is twice as fast as the 1F (0.6C) average warming for the mid-latitudinal Northern Hemisphere (24 to 40N) over the same time period, and illustrates the high sensitivity of mountain regions to climate change.
- Taiwan – Average temperature increase. The average temperature for the island has risen 1.8-2.5F (1-1.4C) in the last 100 years. The average temperature for 2000 was the warmest on record.
- Afghanistan – 2001 – Warmest winter on record. Arid Central Asia, which includes Afghanistan, experienced a warming of 0.8-3.6F (1-2C) during the 20th century.
- Tibet – Warmest decade in 1,000 years. Ice core records from the Dasuopu Glacier indicate that the last decade and last 50 years have been the warmest in 1,000 years. Meteorological records for the Tibetan Plateau show that annual temperatures increased 0.4F (0.16C) per decade and winter temperatures increased 0.6F (0.32C) per decade from 1955 to 1996.
- Mongolia – Warmest century of the past millennium. A 1,738-year tree-ring record from remote alpine forests in the Tarvagatay Mountains indicates that 20th century temperatures in this region are the warmest of the last millennium. Tree growth during 1980-1999 was the highest of any 20-year period on record, and 8 of the 10 highest growth years occurred since 1950. The 20th century warming has been observed in tree-ring reconstructions of temperature from widespread regions of Eurasia, including sites in the Polar Urals, Yakutia, and the Taymir Peninsula, Russia. The average annual temperature in Mongolia has increased by about 1.3F (0.7C) over the past 50 years.
- Chokoria Sundarbans, Bangladesh – Flooded mangroves. Rising ocean levels have flooded about 18,500 acres (7,500 hectares) of mangrove forest during the past three decades. Global sea-level rise is aggravated by substantial deltaic subsidence in the area with rates as high as 5.5 mm/year.
- China – Rising waters and temperature. The average rate of sea-level rise was 0.09 +/- 0.04 inches (2.3 +/- 0.9 mm) per year over the last 30 years. Global sea-level rise was aggravated locally by subsidence of up to 2 inches (5 cm) per year for some regions due to earthquakes and groundwater withdrawal. Also, ocean temperatures off the China coast have risen in the last 100 years, especially since the 1960s.
- Bhutan – Melting glaciers swelling lakes. As Himalayan glaciers melt glacial lakes are swelling and in danger of catastrophic flooding. Average glacial retreat in Bhutan is 100-130 feet (30-40 m) per year. Temperatures in the high Himalayas have risen 1.8F (1C) since the mid 1970s.
- India – Himalayan glaciers retreating. Glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating at an average rate of 50 feet (15 m) per year, consistent with the rapid warming recorded at Himalayan climate stations since the 1970s. Winter stream flow for the Baspa glacier basin has increased 75% since 1966 and local winter temperatures have warmed, suggesting increased glacier melting in winter.
- Mt. Everest – Retreating glacier.The Khumbu Glacier, popular climbing route to the summit of Mt. Everest, has retreated over 3 miles (5 km) since 1953. The Himalayan region overall has warmed by about 1.8F (1C) since the 1970s.
- Kyrgyzstan – Disappearing glaciers. During 1959-1988, 1,081 glaciers in the Pamir-Altai disappeared. Temperatures in the mountains of Kyrgyztan have increased by 0.9-2.7 F (0.5-1.5C) since the 1950s.
- Siberia – Melting permafrost. Large expanses of tundra permafrost are melting. In some regions the rate of thawing of the upper ground is nearly 8 inches (20 cm) per year. Thawing permafrost has already damaged 300 buildings in the cities of Norilsk and Yakutsk. In Yakutsk, the average temperature of the permanently frozen ground has warmed by 2.7 F (1.5C) during the past 30 years.
- Indonesia — Malaria spreads to high elevations. Malaria was detected for the first time as high as 6,900 feet (2103 m) in the highlands of Irian Jaya in 1997.
- Philippines — Coral reef bleaching.
- Indian Ocean — Coral reef bleaching (inclues Seychelles; Kenya; Reunion; Mauritius; Somalia; Madagascar; Maldives; Indonesia; Sri Lanka; Gulf of Thailand [Siam]; Andaman Islands; Malaysia; Oman; India; and Cambodia).
- Persian Gulf — Coral reef bleaching.
- Korea — Heavy rains and flooding. Severe flooding struck during July and August, 1998, with daily rainfall totals exceeding 10 inches (25.4 cm).
- Indonesia — Burning rainforest, 1998. Fires burned up to 2 million acres (809,371 hectares) of land, including almost 250,000 acres (101,172 hectares) of primary forest and parts of the already severely reduced habitat of the Kalimantan orangutan.
- Khabarovsk, Russia — Wildfires threaten tiger habitat, 1998. Drought and high winds fueled fires that destroyed 3.7 million acres (1,497,337 hectares) of taiga and threatened two important nature reserves that are habitat for the only remaining Amur tigers.
- Bangladesh – Link between stronger El Nio events and cholera prevalence. Researchers found a robust relationship between progressively stronger El Nio events and cholera prevalence, spanning a 70-year period from 1893-1940 and 1980-2001. There has been a marked intensification of the El Nio/Southern Oscillation phenomenon since the 1980s, which is not fully explained by the known shifts in the Pacific basin temperature regime that began in the mid-1970s. Findings by Rodo et al. are consistent with model projections of El Nio intensification under global warming conditions. The authors make a strong case for the climate-health link by providing evidence for biological sensitivity to climate, meteorological evidence of climate change, and evidence of epidemiological change with global warming. The study likely represents the first piece of evidence that warming trends over the last century are affecting human disease.
- Lake Baikal, Russia – Shorter freezing period. Winter freezing is about 11 days later and spring ice breakup is about 5 days earlier compared to a century ago. Some regions of Siberia have warmed by as much as 2.5F (1.4C) in just 25 years.
- Iran – Desiccated wetlands, 2001 Ninety percent of wetlands have dried up after 2 years of extreme drought. Much of South West Asia has experienced a prolonged three-year drought that is unusual in its magnitude. Out of 102 years of record, 1999, 2000, and 2001 rank as the fifth, third, and seventh driest on record. 1999-2000 was the driest winter on record.
- Pakistan – Longest drought on record, 1999-2001. The prolonged three-year drought, which covers much of South West Asia, has affected 2.2 million people and 16 million livestock in Pakistan.
- Tajikistan – Lowest rainfall in 75 years, 2001. 2001 marked the third consecutive year of drought, which has destroyed half the wheat crop.
- Korea – Worst drought in 100 years of record, 2001. It coincided with an average annual temperature increase in Asias temperate region, which includes Korea, by more than 1.8F (1C) over the past century. The warming has been most pronounced since 1970.
- China – Disappearing Lakes, 2001. More than half of the 4,000 lakes in the Qinghai province are disappearing due to drought. The severity of the impact is exacerbated by overpumping of aquifers. Annual average temperature in China has increased during the past century, with pronounced warming since 1980. Most of the warming has been in northern areas, including Qinghai Province, and in the winter. June 200
The following organizations produced GLOBAL WARMING: Early Warning Signs:
Environmental Defense Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund
These events in Asia are typical of the numerous changes that are also occurring world wide. The greatest changes, since I wrote the essay have been at the north and south poles.
In the March /April, 2006 edition of Mother Jones Magazine the essay Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger points out some of the things that are happening to our oceans and the current pace of global warming:
Scientists are currently publishing at an unprecedented rate their observations—not just predictions—on the rapid changes underway on our ocean planet. First and foremost, the year 2005 turned out to be the warmest year on record. This reinforces other data showing the earth has grown hotter in the past 400 years, and possibly in the past 2,000 years. A study out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research found ocean temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic in 2005 nearly two degrees Fahrenheit above normal; this turned out to be the predominant catalyst for the monstrous 2005 hurricane season—the most violent season ever seen. The news from the polar ice is no better. A joint NASA/University of Kansas study in Science (02/06) reveals that Greenland’s glaciers are surging towards the sea and melting more than twice as fast as ten years ago. This further endangers the critical balance of the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which holds our climate stable. Meanwhile, in March, the British Antarctic Survey announced their findings that the “global warming signature” of the Antarctic is three times larger than what we’re seeing elsewhere on Earth—the first proof of broadscale climate change across the southern continent.
Another aspect has been the decline in wetlands, which are necessary for the survival of all marine life. According to International SeaKeepers:
Since 1900, more than half of the world’s wetlands have been lost due to drainage or filling for agriculture and urban development, pollution, subsidence, and sea-level rise, as well as due to the construction of infrastructure such as dams and levees that alter wetland-creating water flows and sediment deposition.
A similar percentage—or more than 100 million acres—have disappeared from the U.S. landscape (excluding Alaska) since the arrival of European settlers.29 Louisiana, home to 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the lower 48 states, is losing from 25 to 35 square miles of wetlands each year.30 The loss of wetlands leaves shorelines more vulnerable to erosion, flooding, and saltwater intrusion into freshwater environments and aquifers. Wetlands’ unique capacity to filter out pollutants is also eliminated, resulting in degraded water quality, destroyed wildlife habitats, and lost recreational opportunities.
(Seakeepers’ website, is a very good source for what is happening to the oceans.)
In today’s world all predatory fish are now contaminated by mercury and fishing stocks are declining due to the continued pollution of the oceans, over fishing, and the combined with the effects of global warming.
An article in December 3, 2007 in the Independent, Expanding tropics ‘a threat to millions’, reports about a new study that everything is moving faster than predicted by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The article states:
The tropical belt that girdles the Earth is expanding north and south, which could have dire consequences for large regions of the world where the climate is likely to become more arid or more stormy, scientists have warned in a seminal study published today.Climate change is having a dramatic impact on the tropics by pushing their boundaries towards the poles at an unprecedented rate not foreseen by computer models, which had predicted this sort of poleward movement only by the end of the century.
The article also states that the scientists who did the study: “also point out that the expansion of the tropical band could exacerbate global warming by increasing the rate at which water vapour – an important greenhouse gas – is being pumped naturally into the upper atmosphere. They warn that could lead to irreversible climate change.”
The warnings about global warming and capitalist pollution of the world and their effects upon humanity and the environment, that I made in the 1999 edition of Whither Humanity?, have been validated by the increased disastrous destructive capacity of capitalist production during the past eight years.
As Fidel Castro stated, fifteen years ago in 1992, “Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.”
Whither Humanity? The Environmental Crisis of Capitalism
A primer on global warming, HBO’s Too Hot Not to Handle features contributions from leading scientists in the field. In addition to in-depth discussions of such subjects as the greenhouse effect, hurricanes, snowpack, hybrid vehicles, and alternative power sources, the film shows how businesses, local governments, and citizens are taking positive actions to reduce global warming emissions.
Over the past century, consumption of carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) has risen to staggering levels, especially in the United States, where five percent of the world’s population is responsible for 25 percent of the world’scarbon dioxide emissions. TOO HOT NOT TO HANDLE offers a wealth of chilling evidence that the greenhouse effect is intensifying and the Earth is warming faster than at any other time in human history.
Among the startling facts revealed are:
- Deadly heat waves in the U.S. have increased threefold since 1950 and today kill more people than hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning and blizzards combined.
- The average temperature in Alaska has already risen five degrees, causing 99 percent of its glaciers to be melting, retreating and shrinking.
- Rising sea levels are eroding our shoreline and may eventually displace large numbers of Americans.
- The intensity of catastrophic storms, such as 2005’s devastating hurricanes Katrina and Rita, , has increased dramatically in the last half-century, as hurricanes draw their strength from warm ocean water.
- Deadly viruses like West Nile, aided by higher air temperatures, are spreading to new parts of the globe, including the entire continental U.S.
Opening Song to HBO’s Too Hot Not to Handle:
Dear World Lyrics By Jerry Herman
Please take your medicine, dear world, Please keep your pressure down, dear world.
Promise to thrive on each word your doctor speaks,
He’ll bring the roses back to your cheeks.
For you’ve been a pallid and blah world, Stick out your tongue and say “Ahh,” world.
We’ll give you plasma and tonic, by the spoon, So be a dear world,
Take your medicine, dear world, Keep your pressure down, dear world,
And get well soon! Please keep your fever down, dear world,
Please keep your courage up, dear world. Your vim and vigor is very sorely missed,
He’ll bring the roses back to your cheeks. Help us declare you “Patient dismissed.”
And stand on your crutches with pride, world. You’ve got to save your own hide, world.
We’ll bring you lilacs until you’re back in tune So be a dear world,
Keep your fever down, dear world, Keep your courage up, dear world.
And get well soon! Someone has wounded you, dear world,
Someone has poisoned you, dear world.
And those who love you defiantly insistThat you get off that critical list.
So make your recovery quick, world, We’re sick of having a sick world.
We want you dancing tomorrow afternoon,So be a dear world,
Take the stitches out, dear world, Rip the bandage off, dear world. And get well soon!
Whither Humanity? (The Environmental Crisis of Capitalism)
I think if we don’t overthrow capitalism, we don’t have a chance of saving the world ecologically. I think it is possible to have an ecological society under socialism. I don’t think it’s possible under capitalism. — Judi Barri 1
Since the development of capitalism, the natural resources of the planet have been consumed on a larger and larger scale by the profit system. A result of this process has been a rapid change in the earth’s ecological balance that could eventually lead to the extinction of humanity.
Whole forests have been destroyed; whole oceans are undergoing life-threatening changes, as the air we breathe is becoming more and more contaminated by the expansion of capitalist production.
From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the burning of fossil fuels, the earth’s ecosystem has been greatly altered. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by U.S. imperialism at the end of World War II demonstrated the technological development and the capacity of capitalism to destroy humanity. This potential of nuclear pollution and destruction has been a glaring reality from that time to the present.
The less apparent product of World War II was that the technologies developed for wartime purposes had changed chemistry and physics forever. These products were tested for their effectiveness during war-not for the safety of humanity.
Under the banner of “Better Living Through Chemistry,” life and production changed. The “miracle fiber” asbestos was used everywhere and everything was dusted with DDT. Twenty years after their introduction, the death toll from cancer caused by these two substances began to come in.
The development and production of synthetic organic chemicals, used in everyday life, has increased over 100 fold since World War II in the United States. The increase has been geometric, doubling every seven to eight years. In the United States, by the late 1980s, production had reached over 200 billion pounds per year. Many of these new compounds and medicines have been to the benefit of humanity.
Unfortunately, only approximately 3 percent of these chemicals have been tested for their toxicity and potential long-range harm.
Rachel Carson’s Warnings
Rachel Carson was the first scientist to come forward and explain the potential dangers of the new pesticides, fertilizers, and other toxic pollutants. Her first book, The Silent Spring, is credited with the beginning of the environmental movement. This book explained that cancer and other diseases have become part of the world’s food chain and even present in the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Predicting the coming catastrophe if the mode of production does not change, Rachel Carson wrote in The Sea Around Us:
It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself. . .
Despite Carson’s warnings and the beginnings of the environmental movement over 35 years ago, the destruction of the environment by capitalism and the capitalist mode of production has only escalated.
An example of this escalation is global warming. The melting of glaciers throughout the world is one demonstration of this phenomenon. The Quelccaya ice cap in South America, home to some of the world’s largest glaciers, is rapidly melting. From 1930 to 1990, it had been shrinking at the rate of three meters a year. Since 1990, it has been shrinking at the rate of approximately 30 meters a year.
Greenland’s huge ice cap, second only to Antarctica, is also showing signs of change, although measurements are preliminary. Outflow glaciers like this one on the central east coast, as measured by NASA airborne radar and laser, appear to be thinning and flowing more rapidly. The National Climate Data Center (NOAA) reports that 2002 saw the greatest measured surface melt of Greenland ice in 24 years of satellite records. Two deep ice cores from there provide a detailed Northern Hemisphere climate record extending beyond the last ice age.
The Graph Below Demonstrates the decline in Greenland ice from 1996 (smallest image), to 1998 (the next largest image), and to 2007 ( the largest image).
The Antarctica ice shelves have been in retreat for 50 years, shrinking approximately a total of 7000 square kilometers in that time span. In the past year, from October 1998-March 1999, the Antarctica ice caps have retreated approximately 3000 square kilometers.
These quick increases in glacier decline are foreboding. Recent studies of ice cores in the Arctic and the Antarctic demonstrate that global warming may not be a gradual phenomenon.
The ice core studies demonstrate that during the last global warming, the earth’s climate warmed gradually and then abruptly increased by The approximately ice core studies demonstrate, that during the last global warming rose rose twenty degrees fahrenheit to end the ice age 12,500 years ago The ancient carbon dioxide levels that provoked these abrupt changes, while significant, were far lower than the rising concentrations in today’s atmosphere.
Until these discoveries, global warming had been described as a gradual event (4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 60 years) that will reach dangerous levels around the year 2050 or 2100. This new evidence demonstrates that the present gradual warming could develop into an abrupt change.
An increase of this magnitude (20 degrees Fahrenheit) would flood most cities and industrial centers in the world as the ice caps melt into the sea raising the sea level. According to the U.S. Geological Survey3, if all of the ice caps melted, it is estimated that sea level could rise more than 80 meters or 262 feet. The potential catastrophic results of global warming and the threat to humanity’s future should become an immediate concern.
Along with global warming, the increasing pollution of the oceans, the fresh water, the land, and the air throughout the world has put into question the future of our species and other species.
Fidel Castro expressed the urgency of these problems in his speech to the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. He opened with these words:
An important biological species is in danger of disappearing due to the fast and progressive destruction of its natural living conditions: mankind. We have now become aware of this problem when it is almost too late to stop it.
It is necessary to point out that consumer societies are fundamentally responsible for the brutal destruction of the environment. They arose from the old colonial powers and from imperialist policies which in turn engendered the backwardness and poverty, which today afflicts the vast majority of mankind.
With only 20 percent of the world’s population, these societies consume two-thirds of the metals and three-fourths of the energy produced in the world. They have poisoned the seas and rivers, polluted the air, weakened and punctured the ozone layer, saturated the atmosphere with gases which are changing weather conditions with a catastrophic effect we are already beginning to experience.
The forests are disappearing. The deserts are expanding. Every year thousands of millions of tons of fertile soil end up in the sea. Numerous species are becoming extinct. Population pressures and poverty trigger frenzied efforts to survive even when it is at the expense of the environment. It is not possible to blame the Third World countries for this. Yesterday, they were colonies; today, they are nations exploited and pillaged by an unjust international economic order. The solution cannot be to prevent the development of those who need it most. The reality is that anything that nowadays contributes to underdevelopment and poverty constitutes a flagrant violation of ecology. Tens of millions of men, women, and children die every year in the Third World as a result of this, more than in each of the two world wars.
Unequal terms of trade, protectionism, and the foreign debt assault the ecology and promote the destruction of the environment. If we want to save mankind from this self-destruction, we have to better distribute the wealth and technologies available in the world. Less luxury and less waste by a few countries is needed so there is less poverty and less hunger on a large part of the Earth. We do not need any more transferring to the Third World of lifestyles and consumption habits that ruin the environment. Let human life become more rational. Let us implement a just international economic order. Let us use all the science necessary for pollution-free, sustained development. Let us pay the ecological debt, and not the foreign debt. Let hunger disappear, and not mankind.
Now that the alleged threat of communism has disappeared and there are no longer any more excuses for cold wars, arms races, and military spending, what is blocking the immediate use of these resources to promote the development of the Third World and fight the threat of the ecological destruction of the planet? Let selfishness end. Let hegemonies end. Let insensitivity, irresponsibility, and deceit end. Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.
In this context, the fight for the spotted owl, the snail darter, and other endangered species, while important in their own right, are indicative of a far greater concern-the survival of humanity.
It is becoming clear that the struggle for the environment is a fight for human rights and the survival of the species–a struggle for environmental justice. We need to defend, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, humanity’s “Unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
We should demand that:
- All products must be tested for toxicity before being produced for the market. The present practice of experimenting on human beings and waiting for the human body counts before determining that substances are toxic must be stopped!
- The production of toxic substances must be stopped and the least toxic alternatives must be used until all toxins can be eliminated from use!
- Gravity, wind, and solar power must be developed to replace fossil fuels and nucleal power as sources of energy. The top priority throughout the world must be the elimination of pollution and the development of science to maintain the earth as a healthy biosphere for humanity;
- The squandering of trillions of dollars on military spending must stop and these trillions of dollars must be used to repair the environment! (In 1991, even after the end of the Cold War, military spending was almost 1 trillion dollars.); and
- There must be a 100 percent tax on the profits of companies that pollute!
The environmental movement has raised many of these demands. In the past 30 years, many laws have been written incorporating some of these concepts. Yet despite these laws, environmental destruction has been allowed to proceed because these regulations have always been compromised by the incorporation of the concept of economic feasibility.
‘Economic feasibility’ means that the profitability of an economic enterprise cannot be subordinated to environmental needs. Therefore, environmental and safety laws, under capitalism, have always been a compromise between science and business.
In fact, environmental destruction, pestilence, and death are factored into production the same as casualties of war are factored into military battles.
The most glaring example is the occupational environment, where workplaces have become “killing fields”. (See my essay The War at the Point of Production: The ‘Killing Fields’ of the United States.)
According to Lisa Cullen, on page 2 in her book, A Job To Die For:
Every day, 165 Americans die from occupational diseases and 18 more die from a work related injury. On the same day, more than 36,400 non-fatal injuries and 3,200 illnesses will occur in America’s workplaces.” Every year 60,225 Americans die from occupational diseases while 6,570 more die from work-related injuries. In that same year, more than 13,286,000 non-fatal injuries and 1,168,000 illnesses occur in America’s workplaces. Again: “Each year, this unknown workplace epidemic extends into nearby communities to claim the lives of 218 innocent bystanders and injure another 68,000.
In fact, some estimates are higher!
Blue-collar workers and agricultural workers all have higher rates of cancer and other diseases because they receive higher doses of the toxic chemicals at the workplace than the rest of the population. Eventually, these toxins spread to the entire working class as they become part of the environment.
Scientific technology exists to prevent the high rate of occupational diseases, but the profit motive and capitalist competition prevent the implementation of preventive action and proper safety precautions.
Science and technology are not an obstacle to maintaining a safe environment. The barrier to a safe environment is capitalism and its paramount principle of production and science for profit. Most environmental studies demonstrate that environmental destruction has become globally intertwined within our society and that the globalization of capitalism has quickened the destruction of the planet. Under the conditions of global capitalist competition, it is not economically feasible to invest the capital necessary to reverse this destruction.
In the present world, the rights of the capitalists to make a profit are in direct conflict with our basic rights. In this sense, the capitalist system has become a threat to humanity.
Jefferson’s words, from the Declaration of Independence, that human rights are unalienable, mean that these rights can never be superseded. At all points of conflict the rights of humanity to survive must supersede the right of the few to make a profit. The right to a safe environment is an unalienable human right!
Since environmental illness and destruction are a global concern, it requires all of humanity to act collectively, in our overall interests for our survival as a species, to correct the problem and to remove the obstacle of capitalism. It requires a society where humanity has social, economic, and political control over the entire environment. Such a society, a socialist society, is needed to ensure that all decisions affecting the environment are under the democratic control of humankind so that the production of goods will be done for the needs and survival of humanity instead of the production and the destruction of humanity and other species for profit.
With common ownership of the means of production, and common control and protection of all property and wealth, science and society will be in harmony with the ecosystem and humanity’s future.
With these goals we can begin to build a more effective environmental movement. As we continue to organize against capitalism and its destructive course, we can and will transform the world.
In the words of Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist: Never doubt that a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”