Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1616      October 30, 2013

24 Hours of Reality: The cost of Carbon

In 2006, former US Vice President Al Gore made the iconic climate change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, to encourage debate and action on what were seen as dangerously accelerating rates of climate change.

Al Gore has continued with his campaign to try to create governmental action and community awareness of the cost of carbon. The central tenet of his message is that human-induced climate change is real and we must take action to reduce the harmful effects of carbon emissions on our atmosphere. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will become to act on climate change.

The organisation which Al Gore helped to found is called The Climate Reality Project and this is the third such 24 Hours of Reality which he has helped to organise.

This year it was held in various points around the world including in the United States, Europe and Australia. In Perth the Conservation Council of Western Australia on October 22-23 held their event at Lotteries House. About 40 people attended to watch the video presentation of the Australian segment which included a panel comprised of Don Henry leader of the Australian Conservation Council, Dr Anthony McMichael of ANU Environment, Climate and Health and Gary Cohen of Healthcare Without Harm.

It was a slick and seductive production which at times seemed at odds with its urgent message about the effects on lives and livelihoods of people around our world as a consequence of accelerating rates of climate change. The video urged us to “Calculate the incalculable”, “rise to the challenge” to “confront a crisis of our own making”. “From the bottoms of our oceans to the tops of mountains the effects of climate change are occurring”.

Around the world climate records are being broken including here in Australia with our “angry summer” from December 2012 to February 2013. Not only records of record warm air temperatures, but also warm seas and record rainfall.

The record rainfall according to the science, occurs as the atmosphere heats up, evaporation increases and this pushes more moisture into the air which later falls in alarming amounts. Images of the floods in Queensland and also the Gascoyne region of Western Australia provided a testimony to the devastating effects of this surge in rainfall in Australia and the filling of Lake Eyre for two consecutive years.

The panellists discussed not only the physical and natural effects on the countryside but also the effects on the physical and mental health of people. They suffer mental trauma losing loved ones and their dwellings through fire and flood. The Black Saturday fires of 2009 in Victoria were raised as was the most recent massive fire event in New South Wales which destroyed more than 200 homes in less than a week and continues to burn as this story is being written.

There are also the effects on our biodiversity and various organisms from coral to flying foxes bleaching or dying with the rising temperatures. There is an increased prevalence of disease and pestilence as the increased temperatures and moisture favour dengue fever, Ross River virus (a mosquito borne virus) and malaria.

Climate change has also begun to affect food production as floods and heatwave conditions take their toll on crops. In the last year, heatwave conditions significantly reduced the harvests of wheat and corn crops in the US, Argentina and Russia forcing up the prices of these staple food commodities. Less fertile land is now available for planting food and the Earth’s growing population also contributes to the affect which climate change is having on the sustainability of life on this planet.

Arctic Sea ice is melting at increasing rates which is pushing up the levels of our oceans and affecting the viability of life in low lying communities from islands in the South Pacific to Bangladesh, Shanghai, New York and Florida.

Saving the planet or saving profits

Yet while the climate reality entourage pleaded with its participants to recognise the enormity of the challenge which we face in dealing with the consequences of climate change with “entire systems being pushed to the brink of collapse”, and while oil and gas companies continue to make record profits from the extraction and processing of non-renewable carbon spewing products, it remained silent about the role of capital in this unrelenting catastrophe. “Making profits is great, but …” inveighed the presenters of 24 Hours of Reality, “we need to give the earth a break and embrace opportunity.”

The presenters of this “climate reality” would have humanity believe that climate change can be halted, profit-making under capitalism can be preserved as indeed can life itself on this planet i.e. the so called Triple Bottom Line of profit, social and environmental cost.

It cannot, as capitalism is about exponential growth and production for exchange value rather than use value. The operation of capital and of market mechanisms cannot be relied upon to halt let alone reverse climate change. If lowering carbon levels in the atmosphere will interfere with profitability levels then carbon reduction targets will be reduced and not carbon production itself. This can be seen by the federal Liberal government’s attitude towards the largely symbolic carbon tax which sought to put a price on carbon. It now seeks to introduce legislation to overturn the carbon tax and replace it with a Direct Action scheme that seeks to rely on the use of volunteers to participate in carbon mitigation activities such as planting trees. All the while mining and use of fossil fuels continues at existing levels and possibly increases.

The Communist Party of Australia calls on people to reject the folly of market-based “solutions”. Destruction of the environment is a crime against humanity. Protection of the environment must be a primary struggle of the working class and all people. Today, the struggle for sustainable development is in essence a struggle to restrain and restrict capitalist corporations and to compel an end to environmentally damaging production processes. It is a struggle to fulfil human needs through more creative, democratic and ecologically respectful practices. The contrast with uncontrollable capitalist growth and exploitation of natural resources for profit is stark.

Next article – Workers face tough choices after Bathurst job cuts

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