Global warming kills

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Aug 23 09:39:13 MDT 1999

>Now, one of the big unknowns in the current scientific discussion is whether
>increased water in the atmosphere and increased cloudiness will lead to a
>re-enforcement of the greenhouse effect or its mitigation. One hypotheses is
>that the effect of water vapor is to act as a stabilizer given the specific
>conditions of earth and its atmosphere.

I haven't heard about this at all. Do you have a citation? What I do know
is that the internal combustion of carbon-based fuels simultaneously
produces "greenhouse emissions", and sulfur dioxide which in the upper
atmosphere has a cooling effect. The problem is that the warming components
of the lower atmosphere have a much, much longer life-span than the cooling
components in the upper atmosphere so that the meliorating effects of
sulfur dioxide are short-lived. The other problem with such a "balancing
act" is that sulfur dioxide has negative side-effects such as acid rain.

The other important question is deforestation. Most scientists tie global
warming to the combination of burning oil and coal, and the widespread
disappearance of tropical rainforests which absorb carbon emission gases.
It seems to me that Marxists must embrace the preservation of the Amazon
rainforest, for example, not only on ecological foundations but because it
is the home of indigenous peoples facing genocide. These are not just
"economic" questions, but ones that involve our ability to respond to those
who are defenseless in the face of murdering multinationals. Workers Party
and rubber-tapper Chico Mendes was in the forefront of the struggle and was
murdered for his efforts. Check Alex Cockburn and Susanna Hecht's "Fate of
the Forest" for an account of his martyrdom.

There are essentially 3 positions on the global warming issue. One is
skepticism of the sort defended by EC Apling and Jose. The other is what
might be called mainstream middle-class environmentalism of the sort found
at the IPCC conference. It does not challenge capitalism, but offers
bandaids. The 3rd is a Marxist approach of the sort that the Democratic
Socialist Party in Australia exemplifies. Although I had strong
disagreements with their position on the Balkans war, I still endorse the
ecosocialist approach embodied in their publication Green Left Weekly. This
is from their webpage at


Humankind may be an endangered species due to the rapid and ongoing
destruction of the natural environment. The forests are disappearing. The
deserts are expanding. Billions of tons of fertile soil are washed into the
sea every year. Numerous species are becoming extinct. Seas and rivers are
poisoned. The air is polluted. The ozone layer is being depleted and global
warming threatens catastrophe.

The last decade was the hottest of the last hundred years. It included six
of the seven hottest years known to humanity, and the hottest year in
recorded history was 1990. The "greenhouse effect'' threatens a rise in sea
levels of between 30 and 50 centimeters by the year 2050, which would flood
many coastal zones, some densely populated. Other forecasts are shorter
term and more alarming.

It's not just a problem of the future. That may look dim but so are the
environmental conditions under which most people live today. In many urban
centres pollution is reaching life threatening levels. In the United States
over one billion kilograms of toxic chemicals are released into the air
each year. More than half of the US population live in areas where
pollution levels exceed government standards. In Sydney, fish caught
outside the major sewerage outfalls are contaminated with pesticides
averaging more than 120 times recommended safety limits pesticides that
could cause cancer. Beach pollution, toxic waste dumps, oil spills and
workplace pollution are everyday problems worldwide.

Such pollution hazards are many times worse in the Third World. Close to
30% of the Third World population do not have access to safe drinking
water. The developed capitalist countries are exporting the ecological
crisis to the Third World, by dumping toxic wastes and establishing some of
the most environmentally destructive industries in Africa, Latin America
and Asia. In Mexico City, one in a hundred children are born mentally sick
because of the lead levels in the air. Transnational companies run
thousands of factories which spew out poisons and exploit cheap Mexican
labour. And it's all guaranteed by Third World governments that serve the
interests of the rich countries who dominate and exploit the Third World

In the Third World, where the immense majority of people subsist in
conditions of extreme poverty, the main endangered species is humanity
itself. So poor are many that they have no choice but to cut down the
forests to use for firewood and farming. Firewood is often their only
source of energy. Lack of modern technology means they use it
inefficiently, burning open fires to cook and use for heating. When the big
corporations take their land to use for ranching and to provide meat for
the fast food industry, the poor farmers are forced to move further into
the forests, destroying more land and trees.

What Causes Environmental Destruction?

Some say that overpopulation is the main problem. But twice the current
world population could live better than the majority do now without
destroying the environment. The world already produces more food than is
required to sustain the existing population. And the technology exists and
is being developed that could do away with the most environmentally
damaging ways of producing goods and energy. Technology itself is not the
problem, it's how it's used or abused. Environmental devastation is the
inescapable result of an economic system where the conditions of life for
the great majority of people are determined by production for profit.
Privately owned companies compete with one another to maximise their
profits. The cheaper the production process, the more money they make. So
it doesn't pay to introduce environmental safeguards, even though the
technology already exists to prevent or reduce pollution. An example is the
emission of sulphur dioxide, the major cause of acid rain. For a couple of
decades efficient methods have existed for cleansing air of sulphur
dioxide, yet thermal power stations and blast furnaces continue to release
millions of tonnes every year. The drive for profits leads to a desperate
search for new markets, to the production of new goods and "services''
regardless of their environmental impact. To make more money you have to
beat your rivals to the sale. Companies compete for markets, for the
consumer dollar. They can't be satisfied with a static market or costs, for
fear of some other company moving in and cutting their profits. The law of
money making doesn't care for the laws of nature.

Louis Proyect


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