The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Climate Change:
A Result of Capitalism

Aug 16, 2021

Two recent reports warn of the huge climate change crisis threatening humanity.

One, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports that this year is on track to be one of the hottest. In July 2021, the combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th-century average. Furthermore, this past July was the hottest single month since recordkeeping began 142 years ago.

The second report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was commissioned by the United Nations, and found global warming has reached a point where it cannot be stopped or reversed for at least 30 more years.

That means that the catastrophic droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floods and fierce storms we have been witnessing in recent years will continue to happen. They will get worse. Hundred-year storms will happen every 10 years or 5 years.

Sea level will rise by one to two feet by the end of the century, forcing hundreds of millions of people living in coastal cities to move inland. Sea level had already risen about 8 inches since 1880. But since 2006, sea level rise has doubled.

The average global temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century. And that too has sped up over the last decade.

While it’s true the climate has changed dramatically over millions of years, this accelerated climate change—over the last 150 years—is increasing more rapidly. This is different from the slower planetary changes in climate that have occurred historically.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are greater today than at any time in the past two million years, according to the UN report. The extent of late-summer sea ice in the Arctic is lower than it’s been any time in the past 1,000 years. This speeds up warming because less of the sun’s energy is reflected away from earth and more is absorbed by the darker sea water. This, in turn, warms the water.

Each of the past four decades has been successively warmer than the previous one. Heat waves on land have become significantly hotter since 1950.

The IPCC concluded “human” activity is responsible for the rapid rise in the average temperature of the earth’s surface and atmosphere—in particular the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) for energy. For sure, the changes happening before our eyes are not what was “natural” for 2 million years. But saying that “humans” are the cause is not precise and is deeply problematic.

Saying “humans” are the cause implies that the decisions of individuals can turn things around. Just recycle and buy a Prius! No. The way that society is organized leaves little room for impact by individual choice. People need to drive cars to go to work. People must live in homes that use fossil fuels. We all live in an economy based on burning fossil fuels for energy. We all live in a society where the whole economy is organized around making enormous profits for a handful of people.

Power plants, factories, forest removal are the big sources of greenhouse gases. (Gases that trap the heat of the sun—heating up the planet.)

Capitalism caused the situation we find ourselves in. The bosses have known about this problem since the 1970s. They have done nothing to mitigate the impact of climate change, like increasing drainage capacity in cities so homes and streets don’t flood every time it rains.

The cause of climate change is the capitalist system and the drive for profit at all costs without regard for the future of humanity.