By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
The planet is burning, yet governments still express indifference, refusing to undertake the radical steps that will be necessary to avoid climate catastrophe. Accordingly, people around the world, led by students and youth, are taking to the streets in protest, focusing this month on global strikes.
The catalyst for the protests took place a year ago when Swedish middle-school student Greta Thunberg decided to leave class and instead to stand outside the parliament building with a sign reading, “School Strike for Climate.” Her action stirred climate activists around the world to redoubled action.
Millions of people rallied in over 150 countries on Sept. 20, thousands of students boycotted their classes, and some workers walked off the job. In New York City, initial reports from organizers said that from 100,000 to 250,000 joined the climate protest; students were allowed to skip class to attend the rally. Meanwhile, 100,000 marched in London, Berlin, and Melbourne, Australia. Washington, D.C., will see a day of action on Sept. 23, and additional actions are planned to take place on Sept. 27. The activities have been scheduled to influence the Sept. 23 session of the UN Climate Action Summit.
With the environmental disasters of 2019, the “worst-case scenario” of climate change appears to be unfolding before our eyes, and the effects will indeed get much worse in coming years without concerted action to mitigate them.
Reports from the Bahamas state that vast portions of the multi-island nation have been rendered uninhabitable due to the effects of Hurricane Dorian—a storm that was made larger and more catastrophic due to warming oceans. Meanwhile, the West Coast of the United States is recording temperatures in the Pacific of 5 degrees above normal, the highest in 38 years—threatening seals and sea life.
The climate crisis was shown most graphically this summer as forests and grasslands in South America, Africa, Indonesia, Siberia, Greenland, and Alaska went up in flames. Though some of the fires were due to natural causes, such as the effects of lightning on tinder-dry forests, most of the ones in South America and Indonesia were set by people wantonly clearing trees for ranching and mono-crop commercial agriculture.
Research this year suggests that wildfires in California have been 500 percent larger than they would have been without human-induced climate change.
Some researchers warn that the number of burning forests, savanna, and peat deposits threaten to initiate a feedback loop, in which the fires accelerate climate change by adding significant amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions in the Arctic alone reached their highest level this year since satellite record-keeping began in 2003. Moreover, as soot from the fires settles on glaciers, it aids in causing the ice to absorb the sun’s energy instead of reflecting it, thus speeding up melting.
While many regions of the world are in drought, others have been wracked by torrential rains and flooding because of disrupted weather patterns. The heartland of the United States has been flooded for five months. The depth of water in the Great Lakes spiked to record levels, at times as much as three feet over long-term averages. The waters of Lake Michigan, at a record-breaking height, inundated parts of Chicago this past spring and summer. “There’s no doubt that we are in a region where climate change is having an impact,” said Richard B. Rood, a professor in the department of climate and space sciences at the University of Michigan.
As a heat wave gripped the Arctic region this summer, the world was stunned by pictures of glaciers that had become raging rivers and of mountains of ice collapsing into the ocean. Some 12.5 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland during the summer, at a rate that was 50 years ahead of predicted schedules. Danish climate scientist Martin Stendel warned that the melting was enough to cover all of Florida with five feet of water.
As ocean waters rise, the government of Indonesia has put plans into operation to relocate some 10 million people from the sinking city of Jakarta to a new capital, which would be built on the eastern edge of Borneo. However, the World Wildlife Foundation and other environmentalists, as well as Indigenous people, fear that the new city would impinge on the habitat of many endangered species, such as orangutans, in the nearby rainforest. Already, vast sections of Borneo’s forest have been burnt and cleared for mining and palm oil plantations, regularly drenching the region in smoke.
It appears virtually certain that the earth will endure a future of immense hurricanes, rising seas, bleached-out coral reefs, deserts encroaching on once-fertile lands, burning forests, beleaguered populations forced to migrate, and a rise in the spread of tropical diseases—to list just a few of the dangerous conditions ahead of us. But how can we avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, which within a few more decades would render immense sections of the earth uninhabitable for humans and most animal life?
It should be obvious that “Green Capitalism” is a scheme that has already shown itself to be ineffectual; instead, we need a system that puts people’s needs and the needs of the earth ahead of the drive for profits. Nor can we ask ordinary people to “consume less” at a time when billions of people have been reduced to utter poverty.
We need to work to bring about a new system that prioritizes social and environmental planning and can redistribute life’s necessities from the ultra-rich to those who are in need, yielding a higher quality of life for all. It would be a just system, one that can effectively replace our present infrastructure, based on fossil fuels, with one based on renewable energy, while ensuring that no workers remain without job training and good jobs at union wages.
It would be a fully democratic system, in which working people and those in the “front lines” of the environmental crisis can for the first time determine their own future. That system is socialism. System change, not climate change!