The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 11th September 2009

Green progress?

by Renee Sams

THE GOVERNMENTS of the world are at last beginning to take the problem of climate change more seriously but environmentalists are warning that it is not enough. The latest reports from scientists working in Greenland show that the situation far from improving is escalating at an unprecedented rate.

They found that Arctic temperatures are warming faster than other parts of the world. Last autumn air temperature in the Arctic was five degrees above the normal which had stood for centuries. An equilibrium which had been maintained by ice sheets which regularly melted in summer and were then replenished by frozen snow in the winter.

But now more ice is melting than is replaced every year, although it is believed that the shrinking ice sheets will last for some centuries yet. This annual melting has been recorded since 1979 and scientists put the annual net loss of ice and water from the sheet at between 300 — 400 gigatonnes which could hasten a sea level rise of catastrophic proportions. A one metre sea rise — with the risk of bigger storm surges — would require new defences for New York, London, Mumbai and Shanghai and imperil low lying land in many countries.

Gordon Hamilton, a glaciologist from the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute found that Greenland’s glaciers have increased the speed at which they move ice from the sheet into the ocean. The enormous Helheim glacier used to move at about 7km a year. In 2005, in less than a year, it speeded up to nearly 12 km a year.

Oceanographer, Fiamma Straneo working on the Greenpeace ship Ocean Sunrise said the rapid changes to the ice sheet have taken glaciologists by surprise. “One of the possible mechanisms which we think may have triggered these changes is melting driven by changing ocean temperatures and currents at the margin of the ice sheet.

In countries around the world some effort has been made to tackle global warming but it is now being recognised that mistakes have been made. Earlier in the decade biofuels were being hailed as the solution to our environmental problems.

The European Union last December took the lead in imposing the use of fuels produced from biomass when the 27 countries agreed on Brussels “Biofuels Directive” so that we now have a percentage of biofuel in all the petrol used in this country. Subsidies and tax incentives have made it irresistibly profitable for European agricultures to turn to ethanol or biodiesel crops.

In the United States ground-breaking climate and energy legislation, known as the Waxman-Markey Bill, was passed this year. Unfortunately, the bill has been corrupted by the lobbyists of special interests, including Shell Oil and Duke Energy as well as corporate agribusiness and Wall Street. Instead of bringing about the transition to clean energy President Obama that spoke of during his campaign, this Bill is actually counter-productive, gutting the EPA’s authority to fight global warming.

The potential for government quotas is a major reason why electric utilities in the Southeast and Midwest are beginning to build industrial scale plants that burn wood and other biomass as they stand to get significant federal tax credits for producing “renewable” power.

All this is despite several international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the Food and Agriculture Organisations, having acknowledged in recent years that the increasing demand for biofuel crops has catastrophic social, economic and nutritional impacts on developing countries.

Work on environmental campaigns so far has only involved a comparatively small number of those who have studied it for a number of years; most people have been indifferent to it all. As the situation has sharpened, however, some capitalists have taken an interest in the hope that more investment in “clean-tech, green-tec” companies will prove profitable and that an expansion of the markets will help pull them out of the recession.

They have big ideas, Billionaire Venture Capitalist John Doerr, who helped to bring us such household names such as Google and Amazon has said that COP — 15 signifies “Nothing less than the reindustrialisation of the whole planet”. And there is a staggering $45 trillion at stake as that happens.

The capitalists say that what “few understand today is that climate change is actually one of the most significant drivers of economy that we are likely to see in our lifetimes.” Delegates from 192 countries will converge in Copenhagen in December for the UN climate conference historic summit, when a co-ordinated multi-national strategy will be drawn up to deal with the situation.

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said that rather than getting every small detail of a new global treaty done in Copenhagen, he hopes that the conference will reach agreements on four political essentials.

The latest campaign in the climate drive that was launched last week aims to reduce the carbon footprint by 10 per cent during 2010.

It is supported by an unprecedented coalition of scientists, companies, celebrities, local councils and a wide spectrum of public figures.

Groups committed to the 10:10 cause range from Tottenham Hotspur football club, the Tate Gallery, the Women’s Institute, schools, TV such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Delia Smith, artists Anish Kapoor, Anthony Gormley and many others.

The campaign is led by Franny Armstrong, the film-maker behind The Age of Stupid now showing in London. She said the campaign aims to convince Ed Milliband energy and climate change secretary, to take the significant step of committing Britain to slash its emissions by as close to ten per cent as possible by next year.

The campaign which was launched at London’s Tate Modern on 1st September also aims “to bolster grassroots support for tough action against global warming ahead of the key global summit in Copenhagen”.