While the summer fires blazed throughout California, burning over 600,000 acres and destroying thousands of homes, Governor Jerry Brown said: “We’re in a new normal.” It’s true that the scale of these fires is new mainly since climate change has caused sky-rocketing temperatures and intensified drought conditions, making for ever-growing fire seasons. But the catastrophes brought by climate change are the consequences of an economic system that is anything but normal. There is nothing normal about a system that destroys so much just to make a profit.
What’s at Stake?
The facts of climate change speak for themselves. An enormous amount of carbon has been released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, primarily from oil, coal, and natural gas, and this has led to rising global temperatures. Sixteen of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, with the last four years being the hottest. Arctic glaciers continue to melt at increasing rates, now reaching some of the thickest ice sheets that scientists thought would take decades to begin melting. The rate of ice-melt in Antarctica has tripled since 2007. All of this melting is accelerating global sea level rise. Fueled by warmer ocean temperatures, climate change continues to cause extreme weather events like powerful hurricanes, and now scientists warn that there will have to be new hurricane ratings that include categories six and seven to account for the intense winds and enormous rainfall.
The consequences of climate change are already here. Along with heat waves, longer fire seasons, extreme weather and droughts, the changing climate is leading to another mass extinction event, threatening at least fifty percent of the earth’s species, including humans. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours, about 1,000 times the norm, and greater than anything the world has experienced since the extinction of the dinosaurs nearly 65 million years ago.
Climate change has already led to the greatest number of displaced people on the planet: climate refugees. Since 2008 alone, an estimated 172 million people have been displaced due to climate change-related extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, drought, and fires. In fact, a 2016 study by 25 U.S. military experts warned that climate change poses a “significant risk to U.S. national security…and could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.”
Their System is the Problem
Climate scientists have made it clear what is required to reduce the risks of climate change. The entire global economy would have to rapidly shift to only renewable energy, with zero emissions of carbon, combined with a whole host of measures to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. This wouldn’t stop the impact of climate change but it could reduce its severity. Even though the technology to carry out these necessary changes already exists, we see the problem actually getting worse.
The reason for this is simple – profits. The fossil fuel industry is among the most profitable industries in the world. Everything from the production of energy, food, plastics, drugs, transportation and even weapons is linked to fossil fuels. Tens of trillions of dollars are invested in this system of production, and despite the devastation and threat to life as we know it, those in power will not stop it.
Their power, their wealth and their lives are tied into defending their investments, their profits, and their entire system, based on the exploitation of labor and the earth’s resources. We cannot look to them to change their system that has caused these problems.
And today, the policies of the Trump administration are only making matters worse. Instead of pretending to support policies to address climate change like the Democrats, the Trump administration pretends climate change doesn’t even exist. This administration has begun to eliminate even the most minimal environmental protections, reduced the Environmental Protection Agency, and pushed for an expansion of the coal industry – all in its blatant effort to enhance the profits of the energy companies. It is no surprise that Trump is a climate change denier because their whole system is in denial.
Another Future is Possible
An economic system that places profit above life itself should not be considered normal. We face a choice humanity has never confronted. We either change their system based on making profit or we could face extinction.
Much of the scientific knowledge and technology already exists to solve these problems. We can live in a way that prioritizes the needs of humanity and the environment. The vast majority of people on this planet, those who do the work to make society run, have every possibility to use our collective power to reorganize society and address this crisis. But to do this means we will have to put an end to the capitalist system once and for all. Our lives and the future of millions of other species depend on it.