[Marxism] The First World Is Destroying the Third World Through Climate Change | VICE United States

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 16 07:17:43 MDT 2013

The First World Is Destroying the Third World Through Climate Change
By Nathan Curry

As the effects of climate change in the Third World worsen, developing 
nations may soon face a massive influx of refugees. Image via Flickr

About 500 years ago, capitalism started to displace feudalism as the 
dominant socioeconomic system on the planet. There were about half a 
billion humans wandering around then, and about 80 percent of them were 
living hand-to-mouth existences and relying on subsistence agriculture. 
It wasn’t until the replacement of animate energy (biomass) with 
inanimate energy (fossil fuels) in the West during the 19th century that 
the global population started to grow exponentially, ballooning to its 
current level of over 7 billion. (To understand what powered this 
increase, consider that a teaspoon of diesel fuel contains as much 
energy as a human can expend in a day.) This transition from 
diffuse/currently available solar energy to stored/concentrated solar 
energy transformed every aspect of society, from manufacturing to 
agriculture to transportation to life expectancy. Basically, the last 
200 years of exponential industrial and population growth have been 
subsidized by ancient, compacted sunlight.

It took about 200,000 years for the human population to reach 1 billion 
(~1800 CE), 130 years to reach 2 billion, 30 years for 3 billion, 15 
years for 4 billion, and around 13 years each for 5, 6, and 7 billion. 
The UN is predicting that reaching 8 and 9 billion will take 16 and 19 
years respectively, meaning the rate of population growth might have 
peaked around the year 2000. It’s probably not a coincidence that this 
growth corresponds pretty closely with the easy availability of ancient 
stores of fossilized energy. It has been argued that without fossil 
fuels, the carrying capacity of Earth would be around 1 to 2 billion humans.

To put it bluntly, we’re reaching peak everything. We’ve blown through 
our one-time inheritance of natural capital (fossil fuels, topsoil, 
groundwater, biodiversity) like the crazy, hairless apes we are.

In 1896, Svante Arrhenius—the Swedish polymath, future Nobel Prize 
winner, and founder of physical chemistry—was the first to propose the 
idea that burning fossil fuels could raise our planet’s temperature. 
After doing a bunch of “tedious” calculations, he concluded that by 
“evaporating our coal mines into the air,” humans could raise the 
temperature of the planet by five or six degrees Celsius. This is eerily 
close to modern predictions made by computer-aided climate models.

In the last few decades, humans have finally started to understand and 
accept that industrialization and infinite-growth capitalism—those 
systems that have given some of us in the developed nations the luxuries 
of modernity—have also increased atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to 
the point where we’re all headed toward a hotter, more unstable home planet.

The shittiest, most ironic thing about it all is that in the next few 
decades, as our oil-soaked socioeconomic systems continue to unravel, 
the poorest and least developed populations with the lowest CO2 
emissions will face the most dire consequences of human-induced climate 

Enter the era of justifiable Climate Rage.

Poor countries in Latin America, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, 
South Asia, and Southeast Asia are demanding rich countries that have 
benefitted from 150 years of unabated carbon dioxide emissions pay their 
dues. They claim that if the developed nations want to restrict the 
emissions of the developing nations, they need to pay for the 
technological leap to bypass the early, dirty stages of modernization 
and energy production as well as provide funding to deal with the 
current and future effects of climate change.


More information about the Marxism mailing list