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Material World: The Bottom Line on Climate Change

Material World

As predicted in January’s Material World about international climate change meetings, more business opportunities have unfolded within the framework of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but when the facts are out there has been no advance in reducing those emissions.

December sees the seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP17) taking place in Durban, South Africa, a city which has had massive coverage from CNN TV, for one, promoting a super-green city with a host of wonderful big green business opportunities in and around it. This view is totally at odds with that of Patrick Bond, South African activist and scholar, writing that the ASSAF report (Academy of Science of South Africa) totally plays down or omits to mention some of the worst of recent decisions and builds in the city. There is also no mention of the 'national context' of the world's third and fourth biggest coal-fired power plants under construction in South Africa but the report is full of “greenwash attempting to disguise high carbon economic policies with pleasing rhetoric.” Lead negotiators for South Africa at the Durban meeting are representatives of Eskon, electricity producers and the country's single largest polluter.

June 2012 will be the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of these meetings and a return to Rio de Janeiro where, in 1992, at the first “Earth Summit” UN members signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which is still the governing treaty. It states that members promise to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions in time “to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change” (but without any specific targets). Who will be there next year to remind them of this broken promise? Perhaps ‘dangerous’ is not a word that can easily be agreed upon explicitly even if ‘anthropogenic’ (originating in human activity) is accepted.

Wasted Years
If you think that too much time has been wasted in those 20 years, consider this: in 1896 a Swedish chemist, later to win a Nobel prize, first calculated that continued burning of fossil fuels would lead to a hotter earth; in 1904 the USA's first solar-powered electrical plant was built in St Louis and the second soon after in the Mohave Desert – the company to be driven out of business a few years later by cheaper coal and gas plants.

COP17 runs from 28 November to 9 December but there are alternative meetings to look out for – African women farmers of La Via Campesina, 30 November to 2 December; a Global Day of Action on 3 December; and a Mobilisation Day for Agroecology and Food Sovereignty in Durban and worldwide on 5 December. Associations such as these of small farmers clearly understand that they, their descendants and the great majority of the world's population are under serious threat from agreements reached (or not) at 20 years of international climate meetings by the very nations which profit most and which produce the largest volumes of harmful emissions on their own soil or outsourced for their own consumption as food, biofuels and products of industrial factories.

How bad is it after 20 years of non-binding, ineffectual, voluntary agreements? Most people will have heard the latest statements following a number of recent scientific studies which are pointing to similar conclusions: that new findings are more than 20 times more likely to show that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected” rather than 'not as bad as previously expected.' Recent reports confirm that from 2009 to 2010 worldwide emissions increased by 6 percent. At a London conference in October over 100 medical and military professionals, including the chairman of the BMA, were signatories to a statement saying that lower carbon use would save vast amounts of health care money and they submitted a list of demands to all governments.

Wars and climate pollution
The Pentagon, the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy, is not subject to any international agreements nor is its total use transparent. The US air force is the world's single largest consumer of jet fuel at 25 percent. The Stratocruiser uses as much fuel in 10 minutes as an average driver in a year. Studies done by Oil Change International looking at the climate pollution of war found that the full cost of the Iraq war would cover all the global investments in renewable power generation needed up to 2030 to reverse global warming trends, and that between 2003 and 2007 this war generated more CO2 equivalent each year than 139 countries release annually. With figures like these it's easy to see how hollow and ironic are the calls for individuals to make green lifestyle changes.

The worldwide industrial food system, change of land use entailing massive deforestation for monocrop production and biofuel plantations, production of crops as commodities rather than food, all cause huge but unnecessary additional emissions. With big investors around the world looking for profitable returns, capitalist politics takes no heed of public opinion on any topic, from Canada's tar sands, Australia's coal, USA/NATO's wars, to misappropriation of indigenous land and common wealth.

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor measures four main impacts of climate change: health, weather, habitation and the economy. The most intransigent states at the last meeting were those least under threat and most committed to strong economic growth. The bottom line to this business as usual with foreknowledge of the chaos, disruption and necessary flight of hordes of homeless and hungry as a result of inundation and drought – impacts caused by continuing stubbornly along this road to ruination – is surely premeditated murder of billions from sheer hypocritical self-interest.
JANET SURMAN