Progress on climate change or just hot air?


The Independent newspaper (1/9/06) had a banner front-page headline ‘The Green Revolution’: “In California” the paper said, “Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has defied both his President and his own party to impose the toughest anti-pollution laws in the world… while 5000 miles away in Yorkshire, protesters fight to close Drax Power Station, the worst polluter in Britain and symbol of our failure to act over global warming.”

One in eight Americans lives in California. If its economy were independent it would be the sixth biggest in the world. US president George Bush, almost with his first stroke of the pen after being elected in 2001, withdrew America from the Kyoto agreement (a weak international treaty signed in 1997 designed to make cuts in greenhouse gases which are leading to climate change).

Is California’s action any more than smoke and mirrors in the run-up to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign for re-election?

California’s new law is market-based. It requires industries in the state to cut carbon dioxide and other heat trapping pollutants by 25% between 2012 and 2020 – or buy the rights to cuts made by other firms. That is designed to make California’s emissions the same in 2020 as they were in 1990.

The details haven’t yet been announced on how the cuts would be monitored or policed. Already business lobbyists in the state are threatening court action, as they are currently doing over emission regulations on vehicles which California brought in in 2002. They will no doubt be heartened by the success German businesses have had this summer in getting a relaxation of that country’s emission targets.

But even if California’s new rules work they are less strict than the paltry Kyoto target of a 6%-8% cut in greenhouse gases below 1990 levels. Many senior scientists working on climate change think that 60%-80% cuts in greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, are necessary in the next few years to avoid extreme climate change by the middle or latter part of the century.

Changing weather patterns brought by climate change could lead to more frequent and widespread droughts or floods, and rising sea levels threatening tens of millions of people living by coasts.

If the ‘best’ that big business has so far to offer is woefully inadequate, where could the pressure come from for serious action?

Green taxes
In Britain, the Tories announced at the end of August a plan to shift taxes away from income and wealth to ‘environmentally damaging behaviour’. Shadow Chancellor George Osborne was short on details but described the measures as designed to promote “green growth”.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday (3/9/06) Tory leader David Cameron called for new climate change legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 60% by 2050. To achieve that he called for a cross-party consensus saying “rising to the threat of climate change will require more than conventional party politics has to offer”. As if we haven’t already got a pro-business cross-party consensus, which is why working people need a new party of their own!

Cameron says he wants to go beyond “the battle between the green movement and capitalism” and to enable the market “to do what it has always done: find the most efficient and cost-effective way of doing business”. Cameron says “the business community has made it clear that it needs a stable long-term political framework if it is to justify the capital investment involved in delivering the change needed for a low carbon economy”.

That means that having profited out of dirty energy and climate change pollutants, big business now wants guarantees it can make profits out of trying to put things right!

Drax protests
Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, hundreds of protesters gathered outside Britain’s largest coal fired power station, Drax, near Selby. The culmination of a ten-day camp, organised by the Campaign against Climate Change (an umbrella group that includes UNISON amongst its supporters) was a march to Drax to close it down for a day; a symbolic act against Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions, two thirds of which come from coal-fired power stations. Protesters faced over 3,000 police drafted in from 12 different forces.

Drax is a private company. The power station made £239 million in profit last year. According to The Independent it is currently suing the EU for the right to emit even more global warming gases.

Sharp and immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed for power stations, but would a symbolic one-day closure be enough in a world where China is building and opening a new coal-fired power station every week!

And any serious campaign to change the basis of power generation away from fossil fuels (gas, oil and coal) towards cleaner non-greenhouse gas emitting renewable methods, such as wind, wave, tidal and solar power, needs to have a programme to guarantee the jobs of those in affected industries and to prevent sabotage by big business seeking (as in Germany and California) to limit or derail moves against climate change.

That means a rational plan of energy production and, in the wise words of the old saying, ‘ you can’t plan what you don’t control; and you don’t control what you don’t own’.

Big business in California or Britain can’t solve the escalating climate change crisis because its prime directive is to make profits. A new, socialist, world is needed and as part of that a stronger socialist strand is needed in the climate change debate.

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