On 25 November 2019, the United Nations reported that greenhouse gas concentrations reached “yet another high”. The World Meteorological Organisation Secretary General, Petteri Taalas, added that “there is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement”.
In Australia, the latest data shows emissions are falling on a per capita basis but this is jeopardised by excessive population growth and associated urban development. This is where SEARCH has a role because capitalism only survives as long as population expands. SEARCH has long called for an alternative economic system, one based on sustainable economics and ecology. More work is needed here as socialism, as presently conceived, may not be sufficient. There is nothing within socialism that automatically regulates economic growth to ecological limits.
Nonetheless, socialism is the first step. A socialist economy does not rely on future sales producing more revenue than outlaid in current production. It does not rely on exploiting the cheapest form of labour or energy and it does not rely on commercial secrecy and patent rights to extract profits. The reason that all efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions have failed is that capitalism is based on a lifestyle that exceeds ecological limits, particularly the Earth’s capacity to reabsorb the huge quantity of greenhouse gases being produced. Only socialism can deliver a world economy within the various limits of global ecology.
SEARCH members at the Sydney Climate Strike in March 2019
The dominant global limit is the extent that greenhouse sources remain within the Earth’s ability to reabsorb greenhouse gases either naturally or through carbon sequestration. Capitalists will only reduce emissions if this means they make more profit. They will only roll-out carbon sequestration projects where they gain the most profit. Capitalism will never reduce emissions based on any other principle and will actively oppose any public policy that diminishes their rates of return.
The Earth’s capacity to reabsorb greenhouse gases (i.e. ‘sink’) is limited by the amount of ocean we have available. Vegetation cannot sink greenhouse gases in the long run as most plants die and trees that survive do not sink carbon when they reach maturity – they are in balance. The capacity of oceans to absorb gas is determined by the partial pressures of gas in the atmosphere compared to the gases in solution. The point at which this is in balance is critical and unfortunately our planet has never been in balance at least since the early Nineteenth Century.
Today, our lifestyle is based on emitting over 16 tonnes of CO2 per capita. Consequently the changes we must make are way beyond anything that capitalists, or the Greens or the ALP, could ever consider. Humanity needs a new future and SEARCH, working within the labour movement, must rise to the challenge.
Socialism needs new concepts. Socialism must be based on balancing greenhouse gas emissions with greenhouse sinks. There is no alternative.
Climate protesters in Madrid at COP25