24March2019

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Democracy Or Extinction

What will it take for governments to take real action on climate? When will they declare an emergency and do what needs to be done? How much concerted, peaceful public action will be required to disrupt the current economic and political system that is driving humanity to the brink of extinction?

Meanwhile, climate records continue to tumble. 2018 was the hottest for the world's oceans since records began in the 1950s, continuing a deeply worrying trend. Moreover, the last five years were the five hottest. The consequences are likely to be catastrophic. The oceans are crucial to the Earth's climate; they absorb more than 90 per cent of the heating generated by greenhouse gases. Yet another sign of serious climate disruption is revealed with seemingly no impact on the juggernaut of economic 'growth' and government decision-making.

John Abraham, one of the authors of the new scientific study on this alarming rise in ocean temperatures, said:

'We scientists sound like a broken record. Every year we present the science and plead for action. Not nearly enough is being done. We can still tackle climate change, but we must act immediately. We have the means to make a difference, we lack only the will.'

It is, of course, heartening to see scientists finally being this outspoken. But it is not accurate to keep repeating the mantra, as many well-intentioned people do, that 'we' lack 'the will'. Who is the 'we' here? Big business, powerful financial interests and corporate lobbies have fought tooth and nail to oppose any substantive action. They have battled hard over decades to obscure, rubbish and downplay the science - with huge sums devoted to disinformation campaigns - and to bend government policy in their favour.

US environmentalist Bill McKibben recently observed of the fossil fuel lobby that:

'The coalition ha[s] used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up. As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the earth.'

One could argue that there is a lack of public will to expose and counter corporate power in collusion with nation states; that there needs to be a grassroots revolution to overturn this destructive system of rampant global capitalism. Perhaps there needs to be a revolution in human consciousness; an increased awareness of what it is to be fully human that respects ourselves, other species and the planet itself. Most likely, all of the above. If so, it is vital to say and do much more than merely say, 'we lack only the will'.

Take the ad-dependent, establishment-preserving, Corbyn-hating Guardian. It obfuscated along similar lines in an editorial sparked by the record-breaking ocean temperatures. Global warming, the editors said:

'can still be tackled if we act immediately; this is a test of will, not ability.'

But where is the Guardian's systemic analysis of root causes of climate chaos and what needs to be done about it? The Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, who was murdered by right-wing paramilitary forces one hundred years ago this month, warned that global capitalism would lead to environmental destruction. This is not a defect of capitalism, she argued, but an inherent feature of a system that is rooted in brutality, gaping inequality and the unsustainable extraction of natural resources.

In her discussion of Luxemburg's legacy, Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Bath, noted:

'This is evident in the recent decision of Brazil's new far-right president, Bolsonaro, to "integrate the Amazon region into the Brazilian economy". This would expand the authority and reach of powerful agribusiness corporations into the Amazon Rainforest – threatening the rights and livelihoods of indigenous people and the ecosystems their lives are entwined with.'

This destruction of indigenous peoples and ecosystems has been inflicted on the continent since Columbus 'discovered' America in 1492. Globally, the process intensified during the Industrial Revolution and, in more recent decades, with the rise of destructive 'neoliberal' economic policies pursued with ideological fervour by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and later acolytes. No wonder that Luxemburg saw a stark choice between 'socialism or barbarism'. Today, the choice is most likely 'socialism or extinction'.

To any reader unsettled by the scare word 'socialism', simply replace it with 'democracy': a genuinely inclusive system where the general population has proper input and control, and does not simply have its wishes overridden by a tiny elite that enriches itself at our, and the planet's, expense.

Read more: Democracy Or Extinction

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