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Earth Surpasses 1.5°C Warming Threshold In Hottest Year In Recorded History

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2023 was the warmest year since global records began in 1850, and we just completed the hottest February in recorded history – after record-breaking temperatures in January, December, November, October, September, August, July, June and May. In fact, the past seven years have been the warmest in the history of human civilization.

With dramatic temperatures comes severe, erratic weather; Los Angeles has already received 75% of its annual rainfall in only the second month of 2024 after yet another atmospheric river besieged California, causing nearly 500 mudslides, several deaths, and around $11 billion in damages. 2023 saw an unprecedented drought and heatwave in the Midwest, the US’s third-largest tornado outbreak on record, devastating flooding in Libya, and wildfires raging across Canada for almost half the year.

While one might want to attribute this winter’s unseasonal warmth up to El Niño, a natural climate pattern that leads to warmer winters and typically occurs every few years, weather events have never been this severe. The reality is that the capitalist system itself is scorching the planet. 

Crossing The 1.5° Celsius Threshold

In early February, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that for the past year, the Earth has been 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than in preindustrial times. This is not an arbitrary number – it is the “optimal” warming threshold determined by climate scientists, based on assessments of the impacts of climate change at different levels of warming. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2018 that at 1.5°C, extreme heat is significantly less common and intense in many parts of the world than at 2°C. The report warned that a 2°C temperature increase would cause more extreme weather and worsen Arctic sea ice decline and rising sea levels, coral bleaching, and ecosystem loss. Additionally, around 10% of species on land would become critically endangered, the Amazon rainforest would collapse into a savanna, and 800 million to 3 billion people would experience chronic water scarcity. 

Despite nearly a century of discoveries pointing towards global warming, it was only in 2015 that global “action” was taken in an effort to curb climate change. At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, 196 nations pledged to “[hold] the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” Signers of the treaty – also known as the Paris Agreement – agreed to “finance programs” and “share resources” with the goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions before 2025, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 43% by 2030, and becoming carbon neutral by 2050. 

Tragically, this is far from our reality. Even if every country were to follow through on their plans, current climate pledges would still keep the world on track for 2.5°C or so of warming by 2100. And countries aren’t following through; since the agreement was signed, carbon emissions – with the exception of 2020 – have gone up every single year. Following the pandemic slump, demand for natural gas and coal has boomed, ​​with global consumption of the latter reaching an all-time high of 8.5 billion tons in 2023. Just one year before greenhouse gas emissions need to peak, the oil, gas, and coal industries continue to provide over 80% of the global energy supply. While the usage of these fossil fuels has declined, from 87% in 2010 to 82% in 2023, at that rate of decline it would take nearly 200 years for fossil fuels to be fully phased out. 

Why Has Nothing Changed? 

Even if the world’s capitalists did magically decide to move to 100% renewable energy as soon as next month, there is next to no infrastructure established to make this a reality. This is not because it’s unaffordable – it’s because short-term superprofits are the priority for the global capitalist class and their politicians. Retooling the energy grid would come directly into conflict with the profits of fossil fuel corporations and other sections of the ruling class who would ferociously resist any policies that would undercut their shareholders’ dividends. 

For example, converting the entire US power grid to 100% renewable energy in the next decade is technologically and logistically attainable, and would only cost an estimated $4.5 trillion – this doesn’t sound like too much when compared to the $8 trillion the U.S. government has spent on war since 2001, or the $8 trillion lost in tax revenue since Bush’s 2001 tax cuts. 

The money for a transition to clean energy clearly exists, but the US government (and all major world powers) is joined at the hip with fossil fuels, subsidizing billions for the industry every year. And fossil fuel corporations pay this back in kind with millions in campaign contributions each election cycle – mostly to Republicans, but with donations to Democrats and “liberal groups” as well. 

Neither party has any real interest in, or incentive for, upending the status quo and this is the case for the ruling class globally. Even one of the so-called most “progressive” countries, Norway, is the third-leading exporter of natural gas in the world, and continues to derive over 50% of its energy from fossil fuels. 

The Whole System Is Guilty

While continuing business as usual might feel illogical as humanity faces more climate and air pollution-related deaths and the genuine threat of resource wars in the future, that’s the nature of the capitalist system (and the nation state that protects its interests) – illogic is a law of capitalism. In Marx’s Capital, he explains that the capitalist system of production and distribution is so full of inherent contradictions, that its own development, if the laws of its own existence are permitted to freely assert themselves, will lead to its ultimate destruction. We are living through this prophecy.

Plus, we must be clear that a transition to renewables alone would not curb climate change. Enterprises like agriculture, manufacturing and construction, fast fashion, the transportation industry, and the military industrial complex belched over 25 billion tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere in 2023. 

Looking squarely at the facts, it is clear that nothing short of a top-to-bottom overhaul of the global economy can actually slow down global warming. This will never happen under capitalism.

Are We Doomed? 

We are entering the age of climate lethality, but we are not doomed. Because we don’t have to sit here and accept our fate. But the measures required to slow down, and reverse, climate change are simply not compatible with the capitalist system – and so we must overthrow it. 

In doing so, we can usher in a socialist society free of corporate greed, where workers democratically control the industries they work in and make decisions collectively around how to retool their workplaces, and the entire world, to sustainably meet people’s needs in a way that works in harmony with our environment. And this is not a fantasy – the heroic workers of Russia, with the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and the Bolshevik party, overthrew the Russian tsar in 1917 and implemented democratic worker’s control in the country. These workers immediately began to implement revolutionary reforms. 

To begin with, we must demand a massive green jobs program with high-paying unionized jobs, fully-funded emergency systems, a ban on new oil and gas drilling, and we need to take the energy companies into public ownership under democratic workers’ control.

As climate change is international, so too is the capitalist system, and its overthrow requires the struggle of the international working class fighting for a socialist program and a world where working class people have power to reshape the economy around the needs of people and the planet. If you want to join the fight for a sustainable, socialist future, get involved with Socialist Alternative!

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