Presentation by Penny Cole at Getting to Grips with Neoliberalism teach/learn-in at Wigan, November 24

The chart shows that during the entire neoliberal period of globalisation, as the science of climate change became ever clearer, emissions continued to rise.

The new IPCC – United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – report suggests we have just 12 years to start making significant reductions. (see below for key points).

Climate deniers used to act as outliers for neoliberalism – neoliberals recognised climate change was real – and were constantly studying it and meeting about it. And some measures were taken. For example the Blair government commissioned the Stern Report and established the Climate Change Committee with a statutory role (Climate Change Act); the EU emissions trading scheme came and went and some countries have gone a long way to decarbonising their economies. They have been able to do this by exporting their emissions to China.

But as soon as the world economy crashed, all attempts to limit growth of emissions ended. Restarting the capitalist economy in any way possible, was the priority.

Now those same climate change deniers are in government in key areas of the world – the United States, Italy and other European countries – and now Brazil. But the reality is that while these governments overtly deny scientific facts, it is the failures of previous governments that has brought us to where we are now.

Bolsinaro says his government will legalise clearance of the Amazon rain forest – but under the previous Workers Party governments never prevented illegal logging, burning and clearning for Soya or cattle.

Bolsianaro says Brazil has to develop and grow and it is not for countries that have already developed their economies to tell others not to, for example, mine, burn coal or clear forests. This is the same argument China has put forward – but though some liberals fall for it , it is fraudulent because these developments are never carried out for the benefit of people in developing countries, but for the benefit of the rich.

Poor people would benefit from land redistribution, organic farming and government’s that support their land and workers’ rights. That is not on offer. And of course it is people in the global south who are already suffering dramatically from climate change. Drought in sub-Saharan Africa at crisis point.

But interesting to note that some of the people suffering most from climate change are in the United States, because of successive storms and floods; wildfires and hurricanes. And there too it is the poorest who suffer, who have no insurance, no savings and no alternatives.

One of the events on the graph is worth noting – the Convention on Mother Earth Rights held in Cochabamba in Bolivia. Its declaration was the first to state that the cause of climate change is capitalism. The imperative of profit-driven growth, reckless extraction and the commodification of labour, alienating us from or actual relationship to nature.

Recommend that everyone read the section on climate change in Times Up For Neoliberalism because we worked very hard to bring together ideas from many places, positive changes, and to propose short and long terms actions to tackle climate change.

The emergence of Extinction Rebellion mobilising thousands of young people is absolutely amazing. There have been criticisms that it doesn’t have a goal but their goal is to rebel against climate change, which is good for a start. The letter that accompanied the launch was interesting, calling for action on climate to be taken out of the hands of government and overseen instead by citizen’s assemblies. We should connect our struggle for Real Democracy to that proposition.

10 key points of IPCC report

  1. Capping global warming at 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.
  2. At current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the planet could pass the 1.5˚C marker as early as 2030, and no later than mid-century.
  3. Earth’s average surface temperature has already gone up 1˚C – enough to unleash a surge of deadly extreme weather – and is on track to rise another two or three degrees unless there is a sharp and sustained reduction in carbon pollution.
  4. To have at least a 50-50 chance of staying under 1.5˚C the world must become carbon neutral by 2050
  5. Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the main greenhouse gas – should peak no later than 2020 and curve sharply downwards from there.
  6. For a two-thirds chance of success, that is about 420 billion tonnes, an allowance that would – according to current trends – be used up in a decade.
  7. The share of electricity generated by renewables – mainly hydro, solar and wind – would have to jump by mid-century from about 20% to 70%, while the share of coal would need to drop from 40% to the low single digits.
  8. Limiting global warming to 1.5˚C will require investing about US$2.4 trillion (S$3.3 trillion) in the global energy system every year between 2016 and 2035, or about 2.5 per cent of world gross domestic product. This price tag, however, must be weighed against the even steeper cost of inaction, the report says.
  9. Climate impacts are exponentially more dramatic when we go from 1.5 deg C to 2 deg C.
    1. dangerous heatwaves in northern hemisphere 50% more like
    2. tropical fisheries will collapse
    3. staple food crops decline in yield and nutritional value
    4. species loss will accelerate
  10. Temperature thresholds between 1.5˚C and 2˚C could push Arctic sea ice, methane-laden permafrost and melting polar ice sheets past a point of no return.

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