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After Copenhagen, Then What?

26 January 2010

The Copenhagen Conference on climate change is over and done, the fourteenth in the last two decades since Kyoto. What did this latest one accomplish? Fifteen thousand delegates from one hundred and ninety-three UN members attended. It was generally agreed that the earth's average temperature rise be kept at no more than two degrees. To achieve that goal, there were many promises - US promised 17% reductions of carbon emissions from 2005 levels, China promised a 45% cut in energy emissions (not from economic output), India 20-25% reductions, and Europe 30% reductions from 1990 levels - but there was no clarity on targets. A deal of sorts was salvaged at the eleventh hour between the US, China, Brazil, and India, and others, but, as usual, it was long on ideals, short on commitment, long on rhetoric, short on detail. Most scientists believe that an 80% reduction is necessary by 2050 and the big polluters - 30 countries, including Canada, are responsible for 90% of human atmospheric carbon - didn't even come close to that goal. No long-term targets or mandatory implementation were agreed on. China baulked at international verification of any kind. The numerous attempted side deals and small group meetings in back rooms ensured that process was far from democratic and transparent. Financially, the 'developed countries promised billions of dollars to 'undeveloped', poor countries to help them cope with the effects of climate change, but if past experience is an indicator, assistance will be tied to punishing economic conditions that enrich the capitalists in the 'donor' country, or conveniently forgotten about as time passes and the spotlight of media coverage moves elsewhere. Already, after the shocking Republican victory in the home state of Ted Kennedy, climate change legislation has been relegated to the bottom of democratic priorities as they try to regroup and focus on getting the health care bill, weak as it is, into law.

This lack of ability to act in concert, to vacillate on any meaningful action, to feign extraordinary progress when there is little, in short, to fiddle while Rome (or the earth, in this case) burns, on such a vital issue, is no surprise to socialists. Capitalism is a world wide social and economic system of competition. Workers are forced to compete with one another for jobs. Businesses must compete for markets, and countries compete for financial advantages for their respective capitalist classes, such as better access to resources, strategic positions that will help achieve that goal, and for control of more territory and people for larger markets and more, and therefore, cheaper, labour. In fact, our modern nation states, largely marked by arbitrary lines drawn on a map and containing strong central governments and armies, arose for that purpose, and are vital to the protection and maintenance of the capitalist mode of production. Given this fact, it is not surprising at all that two hundred competing countries, all jealously guarding their own interests, cannot come to an international agreement. Governments and their representatives are obliged to pursue the interests of their capitalist class above all else. As Canadian prime minister, Harper, said," This may be a shock but the negotiators Canada assigns to international negotiations are there to represent the interests of Canada, not the interests of Mali." -an honest assessment that socialists can agree with. (Toronto Star, December 6, 2009) After all, Canada is a resource-based economy and we must pursue the extraction and sale of those resources to keep investments and profits flowing, global warming and the rest of the world be damned. This is why Canada has done virtually nothing in the two decades since Kyoto. The Liberal governments said what the environmentalists wanted to hear, enthusiastically signed onto the Kyoto treaty, and then allowed Canadian emissions to rise 30%. The Conservative government has done everything to stymie any talks on reductions, frequently winning the 'Fossil of the Day' award for inactivity, and, furthermore, leaked government documents predict that that emissions from the tar sands project will rise one hundred and sixty-five per cent over the next few years. Thus international conferences are forever doomed to miss the mark, to promise much and deliver little, to argue, wrangle, and obfuscate, and look after their petty interests, and, in the end, fail to do the right thing.

Socialism can only be established by a class-conscious majority of the world's people working together. It will mean an end to nation states, their central governments, and to competition and replace it with a cooperative, democratic system where producers meet as equals to produce goods for use, not profit, and to look for real solutions that benefit all mankind, based on science and common sense. Only in such a system can the revolutionary changes in our life style be enacted that will put an end to the dirty production, indiscriminate resource extraction, and unchecked development that characterize capitalist production. It's common sense to end our dependency on fossil fuels and to develop green technology, to move to local production and self-sufficiency, and produce only what we need in an economy planned to meet the needs of all humans. This kind of common sense is impossible to contemplate, never mind implement, under our capitalist system because its only reason for being, and its driving force, is the production of profit. Capitalism that has brought the productive powers necessary to create abundance for everyone is incapable of making the revolutionary social and economic changes needed to nurture the earth and all its inhabitants. Only socialism can usher in the next greatest step in human progress - the era of mutual cooperation, the real beginning of our history on this planet.

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