If greenhouse gas emissions continue to spiral, scientists predict ecological disaster: melting ice sheets, erratic and destructive weather patterns and increasing desertification. All this will turn hundreds of millions of people into refugees.
It is generally accepted now, even by conservatives, that the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere needs to be drastically reduced. The problem is the relentless burning of coal and oil, the main sources of energy throughout the world.
While demand for fossil fuels is rising, oil supplies are becoming increasingly scarce. In an attempt to control the world's remaining major reserves of oil, the US has embarked on barbaric energy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also threatening military action against other oil-rich countries, such as Iran and Venezuela.
It's time the world quit its fossil-fuel addiction.
Despite being the second-highest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) per capita in the world, Prime Minister John Howard has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. And his idea of a "new Kyoto" would not even include emission targets!
Howard should ratify Kyoto immediately, and bring Australia into the global discussion about finding a solution to climate change. Kyoto's target of an emission reduction of 5.2% by 2012 is inadequate, but superior to Howard's "do nothing" position.
Kyoto promotes the idea of binding emission reduction targets, but it prescribes the wrong tool to reach them. "Carbon trading" is capitalism's "solution" to climate change. But relying on "market forces" to fix a problem that has been created by the same market forces is like trying to put out a fire by throwing petrol on it!
Carbon trading will inevitably exacerbate the problem of runaway CO2 emissions because it does not challenge the root cause of the problem — fossil-fuel dependence. Renewable energy and energy efficiency must be at the centre of any successful international agreement to stop global warming.
Given Australia's contribution to the problem, it should accept environmental refugees who seek our help. The Howard government has already ruled this out.
Howard is pushing nuclear power as a solution to global warming, but it's nothing of the sort. He simply wants to help boost the profits of uranium mining companies. The construction of nuclear plants is CO2-intensive and costly. The economics of nuclear power do not stack up, as even some pro-nuclear experts have advised. The plants would also take a minimum of 10 years to build, by which time CO2 emissions will have already spiralled out of control if nothing is done now. There's also the potential nuclear meltdowns and other accidents, as happened in Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, not to mention problems associated with nuclear waste and the industry's intrinsic link to nuclear weapons proliferation.
Leave coal in the ground
Alongside nuclear power, Howard is pushing so-called "clean coal" — a last-ditch attempt to rehabilitate a fossil-fuel-based industry when it should be being phased out. Coal-fired electricity plants need to be phased out, and funds need to be provided for the retraining of people with associated jobs.
The technology exists to produce clean energy. A solar power plant being built in Victoria, which will power 45,000 homes with no ongoing emissions, is evidence of this. Wind power is also viable.
Ultimately we need 100% renewable energy. We need massive government investment in renewable energy research, not handouts to polluting corporations.
Other measures that can and should be taken include: increasing energy efficiency; a halt to logging; and a massive expansion of public transport.
A sustainable system
Solving the worldwide environmental crisis, of which global warming is just one facet, will require more, however. We need to fight for a world that doesn't sacrifice environmental sustainability for corporate profit.
Cuba is an example of a country that (despite being a poor, Third World nation that has faced continuous hostility from Washington including a punishing economic blockade, because its people dared to make a revolution and kick out a US-backed dictator) has made important steps towards building a sustainable future because it puts people and the environment before profit.
Cuba faced a massive energy crisis when its major trading partner, the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1991. But even in the wake of this major economic blow, it was able to make massive advances towards environmental sustainability.
The island nation lost 70% of its food imports and faced the threat of starvation. However, by converting to organic, low-energy-input agriculture and using alternative/renewable energy, the country was able to avert catastrophe. By 2003, Cuban food availability was at a level recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, and in 2006 the World Wide Fund for Nature declared Cuba the only country in the world to achieve sustainable development.
Cuba could progress this way because its economy and political system is not dominated by capitalist businesses seeking to maximise profits. Rather, it is geared towards meeting the needs of the majority of Cubans.
If we're to force Howard to take action to stop global warming, we need to build a movement the government cannot ignore. The destruction of our environment affects all young people, and we need to be leading this movement.
Ultimately, we need to build a movement strong enough to replace the system that has created this mess — capitalism — with a system based on social, economic and environmental justice and real democracy in which people have control over the decisions that affect their lives, instead of being at the mercy of faceless figures in corporate boardrooms. The environmental crisis is a major problem — and it needs a radical solution.
Resistance is an organisation of young activists who fight for a democratic, sustainable and socialist world. Our members are part of environmental and social justice campaigns — get involved and help us fight for a better future!