By Charlie Wilson
The Union of Concerned Scientists has now proposed that we change the name of “Summer” to “Danger Season”.
- This Summer has seen intense droughts throughout the Northern Hemisphere. This has led to wildfires, with 45,000 people having to be evacuated from their homes in Europe alone.
- Water supplies have been badly hit (and hydro electric power) as have harvests, with parched and stunted crops of all sorts, reducing supply and quality and fuelling price increases across the board. Water levels have sunk so low that commercial rivers, like the Rhine, Po, Loire and Yangtze, have become partially unnavigable.
- This has been punctuated by equally intense rainstorms and floods; leading in the UK to raw sewage pouring into rivers and beaches as our antiquated sewers were overwhelmed; and the extraordinary spectacle of whole clapboard houses being floated fast down the streets by torrential waters in Kentucky; trumping the cars in Germany last summer.
People are behaving in new ways. When the drought broke in London last week, people were rain dancing in Streatham. This is the new normal. There was a sense, after the 40C heat in the UK, that the days that followed were not a “return to normal”, that the heat wave was an aberration that was thankfully past, but the shape of things to come; and we were now in a period of reprieve while waiting the next impact.
We are now at 1.1C above industrial averages. If Paris targets are met, we are hoping to keep increases down to 1.5C; so, even in the best-case scenario, there is a lot worse to come; and a lot more often. What this Summer shows is that the slower these targets are met, the more that makes it harder to do so; as the impacts of climate breakdown hits at on our ability to keep ourselves fed and our homes safe.
The COP process is off target.
With the welcome and long overdue exception of Australia finally making a move after the change of government in the Spring, very few countries have upped their targets from last year’s COP26.
The Inflation Reduction Act just passed in the US Congress on August 16th includes funding for the construction of nearly 1 billion solar panels, 120,000 wind turbines, and 2,300 large-scale battery plants to help stabilize a cleaner grid; channelling nearly $370 billion in subsidies, loans, grants, and tax credits. This is a positive but limited move, aimed to cut US emissions by 40% from 2005 levels; and is up from the 30% projected on current policies. But this is well short even of the global average cut of 50% needed by 2030, and massively short of the 80% the US would need to cut to be in line with global climate justice, given its colossal per capita carbon footprint.
- Moreover, the same Act includes measures to allow further oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, gives the go ahead to the Mountain Valley pipeline and allows fossil fuel firms greater access to public lands, including for fracking.
- It should also be noted that a lot of it is in the form of consumer subsidies for solar panel or heat pump installation. This means that people who can afford the rest of the cost will have their bills and carbon emissions cut, but those that can’t won’t.
- Some of it is also protectionist, in that subsidies for Electric Vehicles will only be for those manufactured in North America. This is to stave off potential imports from China, which accounts for over half of global EV sales and, according to the graphics analysis site Visual Capitalist has “hundreds of electric car companies and nearly 300 different EV models available for purchase.” Not good for General Motors. Or Tesla.
- Investment is also being put into research for alternative technologies to make solar panels, also in order to avoid having to import from China. This is partly seeking the profits that come with new patents for US based firms, but is also part of the ongoing trade war.
With fossil fuel producers overall enjoying a boom in profits, and the finance sector happy to put money into the 350 “carbon bomb” projects which are projected to release over a billion tonnes of CO2 each, the increasing unaffordability of fossil fuels is no obstacle to continued mass production to well beyond the point that we will be able to cope with.
The US, as an example, is now the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas, and only days after the Inflation Reduction Act was enacted, the country’s crude exports reached 5 million barrels per day, an all-time record. This means that, at the next COP, in Eygpt in November, while John Kerry has been saved by the Act from being exposed naked in the conference chamber, he’s still visibly just dressed in his underwear.
The UK is comparable. We can expect an incoming Truss government to backtrack even on the feeble plans that Boris Johnson used to tout as “world leading”. Truss, after all, is someone who has pronounced that she finds the sight of solar farms “depressing”, has the firm backing of Lord Frost, who announced in the week after the heat wave that “there is no evidence” of a climate emergency in the UK, and is likely to put direct climate deniers like John Redwood in her cabinet. Frost, who, along with Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group is likely to set the climate agenda for Truss, favours “technological solutions that enable us to master our environment ” like “nuclear, CCS [carbon capture and storage], fracking, one day fusion” and is against “medieval technology like wind power.” In the meantime, full speed ahead for further fossil fuel projects in the North Sea.
The knock-on effect of this globally is that the African Union will be going to the COP arguing for their countries to be able to develop their fossil fuel reserves, in a desperate attempt to respond to the impact of the pandemic; which has thrown 30 million back into extreme poverty. The Global North, busily developing its own oil and gas resources – “to save having to import them” – and having failed to transfer the investment and technology required to allow Africa and other parts of the Global South to develop without recourse to them – doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
For latest, more hopeful, developments in China, where “medieval technology like wind power” is growing very fast, see here.
Making the links
This autumn’s struggles over the cost of living are partly driven by the massive spikes in energy costs. A Truss government will dig in on fossil fuels and paint Climate Campaigners and trade unionists taking action as “enemies within”. Socialists involved in the strikes and campaigns will need to argue strongly for solutions that cut costs, defend living standards and deal with the climate crisis at the same time, like;
- The TUC affordable energy plan; to bring the big five into responsible public ownership at a cost of £2.85 billion (no more than the current government has spent on subsidising one private company) cap bills and provide energy security.
- A windfall tax on the banks to pay for free public transport as Spain has done.
- Unblocking the planning restrictions on onshore wind and for local campaigns wherever such a project is held up.
- A tax of 56% on North Sea Oil and Gas producers pending public ownership.
- A planned transition for workers in North Sea Oil and Gas to comparable jobs in renewable energy.