The current economic crisis is entirely a product of capitalism itself, spawned by the inherent instability of “boom and bust”, the signature of an insane and immoral system of organising society. But even in the best of the boom times crisis has never been too far removed from the relentless exploitation of resources, both human and natural, in the mad pursuit of profit for the rich and powerful. That this system has brought us to the brink of disastrous climate change is now beyond doubt.
In the face of climate change, big business prefers to fiddle while the world threatens to burn. However, the economic climate is only exacerbating the situation. A prime example of this is the European Union pact on climate change concluded in December last year. Corporate predictions of job losses, warnings of increased costs, and threats to move out of Europe have easily persuaded servile politicians to water down the original proposals.
The pact has three main aims, all to be met by the year 2020 – to cut Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (compared to 1990 levels); to cut Europe’s energy consumption by 20%; to raise the share of renewable energy to 20% of Europe’s total energy production. Predictably, EU politicians have hailed this as an ambitious agreement which will lead the way forward to a new worldwide agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol at UN negotiations to be held in Copenhagen later this year. As usual, the politicians are pulling the wool over our eyes.
In the race to cut Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions the centrepiece is to be the expansion from 2013 of the existing European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Since its inception in 2005 this ETS has hardly set the world alight…! But now the December agreement has laced it with various sweeteners in the face of pleas about hard times from the biggest polluters. These trading schemes like ETS have already come in for much criticism – see, for example, contributions at www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/subject/climate – for, among other things, reducing the buying and selling of permits to pollute to yet another means of making profit. What’s more, the expanded scheme widens the scope for profiteering. From 2013 companies in processing industries like steel, cement, and many others, will get their permits for free while many central European (coal based) energy producers will get theirs at a huge discount. While the nominal cost of permits is expected to be passed on the consumers, these companies will ludicrously be allowed to pocket a handsome windfall running to many billions of euros.
As an example of to the rest of the world the effect is predictable and Copenhagen is likely to be another round of political backsliding played to the tune of corporate greed.
The present economic crisis confirms there are no real capitalist solutions to capitalist problems, on temporary fixes – the scuppering of Brown’s fantasy to ending “boom and bust” is yet one more proof of that. Alarmingly, the capitalist response to climate change shows few real signs of being any different. Instead, in the tradition of crises, past and present, paying for the climate crisis will fall disproportionately on us, the international working class, rather than be allowed to threaten corporate profits.