Fossil Fuels, Tipping Points, and a Viable Solution


Steve Hoffman | Freedom Socialist Party - TRANSCEND Media Service

Methane emissions cause 25% of global heating. Forcing oil and gas companies to stop production-site leaks would reduce them 40%. Since methane traps 80 times more heat than CO2 and clears the atmosphere in a decade, reductions would lower temperatures rapidly. PHOTO: Shutterstock

June 2023 – It sure is unnerving to read U.N. climate reports these days. They issue ever-more dire warnings about the failure to rein in burning of fossil fuels. Are we fast approaching a tipping point where global heating accelerates into an ecological catastrophe?

Energy corporations and the military-industrial complex, both creations of the profit system, are pushing the climate change accelerator to the floor with plans that will dump ever more carbon into the atmosphere. Only an international, ecosocialist movement can show how to stop this runaway train.

In the end, there must be a restructuring of the global economy in order to meet people’s needs and salvage a livable planet. For sure, tinkering with capitalism will not do the trick.

Can capitalists come to their senses? Many hope that big business will see the light and change its ways, if given the proper enticements.

But as the 2021 U.N. Environment Programme report reveals, “The world’s governments plan to produce around 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, and 45% more than consistent with 2 degrees C.”

Even the amount of warming thus far, at around 1.1 degrees C, is proving deadly. Wildfires rage in the western United States and elsewhere, the Colorado River is drying up, and accelerating melting of the polar and Greenland ice sheets threatens to dump enough fresh water into the oceans to flood coastlines and disrupt the currents that stabilize the global climate.

The incentives baked into the profit system compel energy corporations to keep on stoking this furnace. Global investors will always seek the highest returns, so maximizing profit is the name of the game. If businesses do not play this game, they lose out to their competitors and go out of business.

The energy giants have sunk enormous capital into fossil fuel infrastructure and mining rights. As Global Witness and Oil Change International report, “Just 20 of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, including the likes of Shell, Exxon and Gazprom, are projected to spend $932 billion by the end of 2030 developing new oil and gas fields.”

These profiteers are not going to wake up one day and realize that they must forego super-profits from their investments to save the environment. No, they will buy more politicians and dispatch their army of lobbyists to make damn sure they can keep making tons of money.

And we know that works. Already President Biden has authorized one of the biggest oil developments in history, the Willow Project in Alaska. So much for his campaign promises to address climate change.

The crucial role of the Left. Many socialist organizations and parties are now calling themselves ecosocialist. They are responding to the urgency of the existential threat of climate change.

A radical approach to solving global warming will appeal to Millennials and Gen Z folks, who are justifiably angry about the environmental mess they have inherited. And they are skeptical about capitalism — a poll in the United Kingdom revealed that 75% of them agree with the assertion that climate change is specifically a capitalist problem.

But it will be a heavy lift to win over climate organizations. Many of the large non-profits receive funding from foundations, the wealthy and some even from the fossil fuel industry. This makes the groups limit themselves to “working within the system” and to not exposing capitalism as the real problem.

For instance, the likes of The Nature Conservancy support carbon offsets. Exxon Mobil likes them too. It purchases offsets meant to absorb carbon, which often include “protecting” forested lands that turn out never to have been in danger. This allows Exxon to greenwash their image as they continue pumping more oil and gas.

To meet the challenge, it is imperative that the anti-capitalist Left cooperate to promote ecosocialism within the climate movement. Ongoing collaboration can lead to the sharing of analyses, best strategies, and organizing capacity. Many leftists are in the same unions and can work together to build stronger climate activism within them. This would go far to develop a movement able to take aim at capitalism.

A world to win. Not until we dislodge the profit-crazed psychopaths who currently run the world can working people direct the rapid action that is so desperately needed. For starters: make energy production public and worker-controlled to force a rapid transition to sustainable sources; build out a robust mass transit system to curb emissions; embark on large reforestation and regenerative agriculture to absorb carbon out of the atmosphere, and much more.

One reason this is all feasible is because eliminating capitalist competition between nations would free up the vast resources we now spend on war and militarism, the most carbon emitting activities on earth.

And we will breathe easier as we begin clearing the stifling atmosphere of poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia. We will open borders, welcoming desperate climate refugees as partners in the great task of restoring the natural world that we all depend on.

Together we can bring forth a better world when we understand that, as Marx and Engels said, “Flesh, blood and brain, we belong to nature.”

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