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  1. PhilW September 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm |

    This is an excellent exposition of why capitalism continues to be unable to deal with the climate change crisis. I have a little quibble with the figures that are presented and a comment on how socialists have difficulties in formulating an alternative.

    Firstly, it is stated above that it is only possible now to burn 350Gt carbon more if catastrophe is to be avoided, then carbon reserves are quoted as 2975Gt of carbon dioxide, of which 60% are coal. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Surely reserves have to be expressed in unburned fossil fuel, i.e. carbon, not CO2? Assuming this is just a typographical error (although repeated later on), it is stated that 65% of these reserves are coal, the worst form of fossil fuel. If your reserves are measured as “carbon”, they are all effectively equivalent to coal already: the relative “goodness” of oil and gas is reflected in an adjusted carbon equivalent figure, so it seems misleading to separate out the different fuels in this way.

    The second point is about how to overcome the climate crisis. In most other aspects of the class struggle, socialists do not shy away from stating, or at least speculating, on what a socialist, post-revolutionary government would do to pursue the interests of the working class and its allies. However, on climate change, it is rare to see much more than a few statements about renewables and perhaps some genuflections towards energy-saving, home insulation and so forth. Some socialists even place their faith in projects like Desertec, or even worse, go on about electric cars as a means of reducing carbon emissions.

    This approach ignores the likely catastrophic situation a socialist government is likely to inherit. Real action against climate change will involve closing down large swathes of the economy and measures that will – at least for an indeterminate transition period – limit peoples’ access to a series of consumer goods, certain foods (meat, in particular), car and air travel. There may be rationing of electricity, home heating and air conditioning and other potentially very unpopular measures. This of course raises issues about socialist democracy and equality.

    Of course capitalism uses the market to limit some people’s access to these things already and it is not above further limitations through “adjustments” to market mechanisms, such as carbon taxes. It has even been shown to resort to rationing in the past, though whether it will ever challenge the fossil fuel industry using such measures is a moot point. If it ever happens, we can be sure that the approach will be thoroughly anti-working class and will protect the interests and comforts of the ruling class.

    The policies needed to combat climate change could presumably be implemented in a fair and egalitarian way by a workers’ government. But can these policies ever garner the necessary majority support inside the working class prior to such a workers’ government being formed? This is a genuine question, to which I do not know the answer.

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