Climate change: radical solutions needed

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Building a Low-Carbon Economy, Lord Adair Turner's 511 page report, made interesting Xmas reading for environmental campaigners. Produced by the Committee on Climate Change, which Turner chairs, it is the government plan to drag the world out of the clutches of uncontrolled climate change.

But, as campaigner and author George Monbiot writes in the Guardian, "Lord Turner has two jobs. The first, as chair of the Financial Services Authority, is to save capitalism. The second, as chair of the Committee on Climate Change, is to save the biosphere from the impacts of capitalism. I have no idea how well he is discharging the first task, but if his approach to the second one is anything to go by, you should dump your shares and buy gold."

The report recommends that greenhouse gas pollution should fall by 31 percent by 2020 and then 80 percent by 2050. This, argues Turner, will cap global warming at around 2 degrees centigrade (if global targets of 50 percent by 2050 are adhered to). The report suggests that this would limit the possibility of a catastrophic global temperature rise of 4 degrees centigrade to just 1 percent.

But this plan could be too little, too late.

Recent research by the Public Interest Research Centre predicts that sea ice in the Arctic region will disappear within three to seven years, leading the region's temperature to rise dramatically.

The Geophysical Research Letters journal published evidence in December that a qualitative change for the worst has already hit - that of runaway global feedback. In 2007 methane levels in the atmosphere began to rise again. This would indicate that the methane is being released from the frozen peat bogs of the Siberian permafrost. This will further accelerate climate change, and leads to the release of yet more methane. Arctic permafrost also contains twice the amount of carbon that is currently in the atmosphere.

This could be the start of the great global meltdown - something that wasn't expected for another 80 years. As Monbiot puts it, "We're still digging trenches, even as the sky fills with bomber planes."

Although Barack Obama has yet to state clearly his plans for a "green new deal", news reports suggest he will invest $150 billion. "But this turns out to be over a ten-year period, so it only averages $15 billion a year," John Bellamy Foster, author of Marx's Ecology, told Socialist Review, "hardly significant in terms of the US economy, and even less so where the dimensions of the ecological crisis (not to mention the economic crisis) are concerned."

As the environmental meltdown goes into overdrive it looks like these plans will allow a disastrous 4 to 5 degree centigrade increase in the world's temperature.

The fact that George W Bush is committing one last flurry of mass environmental vandalism doesn't help. In recent weeks Bush has given the green light for processing oil shale on over 8,000 square kilometres of Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Oil shale is the most environmentally destructive fuel on the planet. He has decided that industrial livestock farmers are no longer required to abide by clean water legislation or air pollution controls. Pollution controls on power plants have also been relaxed significantly. If Bush didn't quite manage to destroy the world after nearly eight years, he seems to be trying his very best to do so now.

If the global temperature does indeed rise by just 4 degrees centigrade we can expect up to 300 million more people to be affected by coastal flooding annually. African agricultural production would drop by up to 35 percent and up to 50 percent less water would be available in Southern Africa and the Mediterranean. And this would not be a plateau. Positive feedback could well drag the planet further towards the point of being uninhabitable.

So can we stop it? Our only chance is a radical shift in government policies internationally. If the billions spent bailing out the banks, or the similar amount spent every year destroying Iraq and Afghanistan, were matched (or replaced) with spending on an emergency plan to save the planet, it would be a good start. What would be required would be a massive investment in renewable energy production, alongside training up huge numbers of train, coach and bus drivers, new subsidised public transport links, builders who can insulate homes, etc. The steps towards a socialist society mentioned by John Molyneux in this magazine would, of course, be the ultimate way to beat capitalism's drive for profits at the expense of the planet.

Of course, when the climate crisis truly hits, as with the economic crisis, it will be the poor who are told to pay, and this is something to be resisted - as will be the other recommendation of Turner's report than nuclear power is one of the answers.