Climate change - facing facts

Issue 

The scientific evidence is conclusive. The delicate ecological balance of the planet is being destroyed.

Unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases are provoking changes in the Earth's climate. The pace of this warming is entirely unprecedented.

Since industrialisation — just two centuries ago — the world's average temperature has increased by less than 1 degree. But this seemingly small change is already resulting in drastic and alarming outcomes.

The latest research predicts the Arctic may be ice-free as early as 2013. Glaciers are melting, Arctic permafrost is retreating, allowing trapped greenhouse gases to escape, while growing areas of the world's oceans are becoming warmer and too acidic to sustain life.

The planet is perilously close to reaching key climate tipping points. If these points are crossed then natural feedback loops will begin to warm the planet further and faster. Runaway climate change will become a reality. Humanity, let alone other species, will be unlikely to survive.

Coming to terms with this very real dilemma represents the biggest single challenge facing humanity. If we cannot solve this problem in time and restore a safe climate then the biosphere will assert its own limits.

Given this sobering context, there are a number of facts that the movement against climate change must face up to — or else our efforts will be misdirected and, ultimately, futile.

It's crucial that we tell the truth about climate change. Humanity is not going to get out of this mess easily.

Radical changes are needed to implement renewable energy and introduce sustainable food production if disaster is to be averted. Stark choices about our priorities will have to be made.

No half-measures or compromises will be possible in this instance. The laws of chemistry, physics and biology cannot be bargained with or bought off. Either we rapidly reorganise our society so we live in harmony with nature's laws or we sacrifice a safe climate future for our children and grandchildren.

To win this battle for the future a powerful people's movement — undoubtedly the greatest ever seen — will need to be organised to confront the vested interests who resist any serious change.

This movement for a sustainable environment will also have to be a great movement of solidarity with the people of the global South. A terrible irony of climate change is that the world's poorest, who have contributed least to the problem, will be the first to suffer its awful impacts.

Australia is the world's worst polluter per capita, and the world's biggest exporter of coal. Australia has a special responsibility to make the deepest cuts in emissions, and has one of the biggest ecological debts to repay.

The situation is certainly dire but there is one country that points the way to an alternative.

Cuba is the only country in the world that meets internationally recognised standards for sustainable living and development. This has been recognised by the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations Development Program's Human Development index.

Cuba's ecological achievements are barely reported in the corporate media but they deserve wide publicity. Cuba shows what is possible when resources are controlled by society as a whole rather than profit-driven corporations.

The core concept of Cuba's energy policy is to rely less and less on hydrocarbons and give greater space to renewables.

In agriculture, the use of petroleum based fertilisers and pesticides is a tiny fraction of what was once used. An explosion of government sponsored permaculture programs means that 80-100% of the fruit and vegetables Cubans consume is grown organically in community-run city farms.

The key point is that the Cuban government is not imposing environmental policies on the people. Instead it has mobilised the people to confront climate change and environmental decay themselves.

But Cuba's achievements in sustainable development would have been impossible without a corresponding high level of social justice.

Cuba has the great advantage of having faced facts: the fundamental enemy of global sustainability is capitalism's production for private profit. Capitalism cannot survive without constantly regenerating an anti-environmental and consumerist ethic.

The Socialist Alliance's Climate Change Charter (see page 7) is an important contribution to the movement to save humanity and the planet. Green Left Weekly actively supports building this movement and we encourage readers to read the full version of the charter available online.

The fight for a safe climate is also a fight over who makes the decisions about technology, production and resource allocation in our society. It means a fight to create an alternative system based on social and ecological justice. This is the essence of the ecosocialist vision of change.

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