Paris Climate Talks – A Useless Ritual

From November 30 to December 11,  The United Nations 2015 Paris Climate Conference (also known as COP21) will bring together so-called world leaders from nearly 200 countries, along with scientists, environmental groups, and the heads of many corporations, some of which are in the fossil fuel industry. The stated goal of this conference is to come to some sort of international agreement to reduce carbon emissions – the leading cause of climate change.

Many have hoped that this year’s climate talks would be different than any of the similar past meetings. Last year saw over 300,000 people converge in New York City for the People’s Climate March – the largest single gathering on this issue ever. Demonstrations were held all over the world on the same day. Overall,  there has been an increasing awareness of climate change and its causes.

At the same time, climate scientists have tried to make clear how severe the threat of climate change truly is. The consensus among scientists on this issue is that if carbon emissions continue for much longer, causing the planet to continue to heat up, then life on earth will likely face mass extinction. Their research has shown that every measurement of the impacts of global warming is worse than previously predicted. Glaciers are melting faster, species going extinct at higher rates, oceans becoming more acidic, deforestation worse, desertification and droughts more severe, temperatures rising, and extreme weather events continue to intensify.

But despite the urgency and the growing opposition among people around the world, we can expect next to nothing from the Paris talks. U.S Secretary of State, John Kerry, made the intentions of the U.S. very clear in an interview with the Financial Times on November 11. He said that there is “definitely not going to be a treaty” and there will be no “legally binding reduction targets.” The position of the U.S. remains the same: it will continue to do whatever it wants.

But even a legally binding agreement wouldn’t bring about the changes necessary. Despite all of the past meetings, despite previous international agreements, corporations have continued to dump ever-increasing levels of carbon into the atmosphere. Each year continues to be hotter than the previous, with 2015 being the hottest year so far.

This past August, after posturing as a global leader in the fight against climate change, President Obama gave the final approval for further drilling of fossil fuels in the Arctic. As glaciers have melted at increasing rates, new sea passageways have opened up, allowing for new drilling opportunities, and ultimately increasing the environmental destruction from global warming. Obama’s decision makes clear the true position of world leaders on this issue: as long as profit is to be made, further environmental destruction will continue.

We are at a point where there is no longer any such thing as a “successful solution” that can come from any of these intergovernmental meetings on climate change. To be sure, there are steps that must be taken to halt further global warming, stop further emissions, and begin reducing the level of carbon in the atmosphere that is causing climate change. There is a wide agreement among scientists on the kind of emergency changes that are necessary to sustain life on this planet. The obstacle around this issue is not the scientists,  not the data, and not the research. The obstacle is this world-wide economic system called capitalism.

This is a system where profits come first, above everything else. This is a system that must increasingly produce in order to sell more in order to make more money. And the fossil fuel industry, along with all of the industries that are tied to it, is not simply some small piece of the global economy but is the vast majority of it. This includes the energy industry, agriculture, the transportation industry, the banking industry, shipping, building, plastics, armaments, and more. These are industries that make trillions of dollars every year. The people who own this wealth are the ruling class around the world, and their governments exist to represent their interests at all cost, even at the cost of potential mass extinction.

As a species, we have arrived at a crossroads. The ruling class has no choice but to try to maintain capitalism, even though it is incompatible with a climate that can sustain life. Either we put an end to capitalism or we will likely have to face our own extinction. This is not a task that is going to be carried out by the ruling class of the world or the governments who serve them. This task is in the hands of the vast majority of the world, the people who do the work to make this system run. Scientists have provided us with a clear indication of what needs to be done. We have the masses of people on our side. We have an environment to save and a world to win. It’s time to get going.