A “Left-Turn” in the Climate Struggle

by G.G. Zangar

The struggle on climate action is one that has been mired in controversy through concerted disinformation campaigns for many years now. The purpose of this article is not to go over the history of the struggle, nor is it to convince you that climate change is real or that the causes are anthropogenic. As this is an article in a communist newspaper, it assumes that you are already somewhat partial to the validity of the litany of resources, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, science articles, news stories, etc. that give a dismal yet still reserved assessment of our future under the environmental devastation that the capitalist class has locked in for us.

There is a sudden shift in the tone of two prominent scientists, Dr. Peter Carter M.D. and Dr. Paul Beckwith.[1] These two scientists have been synthesizing the complex science into more comprehensible YouTube videos for the general public for years and it seems their analysis of the situation is increasingly willing to touch on political aspects of the struggle.

Dr. Peter Carter is a Canadian medical doctor and the director of the Climate Emergency Institute. He is a committed climate activist and the author of a book titled “Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival” which highlights the increasing number of environmental catastrophes and governments’ unwillingness to act. Dr. Carter also served as an expert reviewer for the IPCC assessment in 2014. The IPCC is a body created by the United Nations to assess the science related to climate change.[2] The IPCC compiles reports summarizing the science regarding climate change annually and presents them on its website in formats directed at general audiences as well as policymakers.

Paul Beckwith is a Climate System Scientist by trade. He is a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa and a prolific climate change activist on social media. He is constantly synthesizing complicated climate science articles and presenting them to whoever is willing to view them on YouTube. He is also a member of Peter Carter’s Climate Emergency Forum in addition to his own climate activism initiative which can be found through his social media and his own website at PaulBeckwith.net.[3]

First, we can start with Dr. Peter Carter’s YouTube video posted on June 4th, 2023, titled “Fossil Fuel Evil Is Ending the Future”. Right away, you will notice how the title goes right at the throat of the accused. Through Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism, we know that the levers of power in our capitalist mode of production are such that the bourgeoisie will not consider the masses in their efforts to maintain and expand the reaping of profits at the expense of everyone else including the environment.  The fossil fuel industry in the United States and the rest of the capitalist world are the main purveyors of the imminent climate catastrophe for their relentless pumping of oil, coincidental destruction of natural environments, and pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gas. This ecologically suicidal trajectory is further bolstered by the $11 million dollars per minute in subsidies that these corporations reap in destroying our homes. Communists understand that these corporations are only capable of increasing the rate of extraction and environmental pillaging of the earth due to the mode of production that we currently live under being capitalism. That is, the current epoch’s basis on profit extraction for the bourgeoisie is the main purveyor of climate catastrophe.

Other videos by Dr. Peter Carter embody the logical means of garnering attention through titles such as “Combined Climate Change Indicators” and “IPCC Immediate Emissions Decline for a Future”. The video this article refers to is just as charged in content as it is in name. There are, of course, poignant and acute climate facts that should have anybody shifting in their seat, grappling with the uncomfortable truths. He states that the globe has been in a La Niña for the past few years which has kept us cooler than usual and that an El Niño has just taken place that is likely to unleash unprecedented warming in the form of record-breaking heatwaves, droughts, and weather anomalies across the globe, particularly in North America and Siberia over the next five years. The exact types, dates, and times of the catastrophes from a warming earth are difficult to pin down but new science is coming out that is more and more dismal every week.

El Niño is a part of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) which is a climate pattern that is characterized by the periodic rise and fall of sea surface and air temperature in the Pacific Ocean. El Niños have global effects on weather, temperature, and especially the global economy in the form of $3 trillion dollars allocated for relief and infrastructure repairs.[4] Among many statements by the doctor, perhaps the most shocking was a claim that we have already breached the much-feared 1.5°C cap proposed by the Paris Agreement in 2015 in the northern hemisphere.[5] The official global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times is 0.89°C according to NASA’s climate tool.[6] Despite this measure by NASA, In June this year (2023), there have been at least two days where the global average temperature has breached the 1.5°C limit.[7] Dr. Peter Carter’s bid is to have us consider this in conjunction with the newly established El Niño in order to understand the severity of our situation.

Besides the dismal statements put out by Dr. Carter, the point of this article is to bring attention to a blatant call for revolution in the video. Specifically, Dr. Carter says; “What is it going to take to get action now? Revolution… In order to give the future a chance, there must be a revolution.” As plain as day. To put it in different words, the only thing that is going to save the future of the planet, the environment, and give our children even a chance at survival, is to wrest power from those who profit from pillaging the earth and put it in the hands of the world’s working classes who vastly outnumber them. This statement is particularly shocking as it permits the viewer to bear witness to an older white scientist who seemingly comes to a class-conscious awakening through the medium of established and blatantly suicidal bourgeois policy. He goes even further than his previous statement to later say “This [current climate scenario] is being forced on the world population by a very small population of very powerful people” to which he then goes on to describe as “big banks, and fossil fuels [who] oppress world’s most vulnerable.”

Marxists would rightly tell you that the world imperialist system will do everything in its power to stymie any climate change policy that disrupts profits. Taking society-wide action toward mitigating the worst effects of climate change requires a significant reduction in CO2 and methane emissions (amongst other greenhouse gasses) which translates to a loss in profits for the imperialist bourgeoisie. Extracting, producing, commodifying, and then profiting for the most powerful few is the core of our current system: the proletariat’s health, food, shelter, water, and overall future be damned for the sake of the few that are the bourgeoisie. It seems that climate scientists are becoming more vocal about the class antagonisms as the international bourgeoisie meet repeatedly at the “Conference of the Parties” (COP) to discuss capitalist climate “mitigation” and publish empty promises from which their lust for profits perpetually prevent them from ever being able to keep.

In the same vein as the statements by Dr. Peter Carter are those of Dr. Paul Beckwith. Dr. Beckwith is a Climate Scientist at the University of Ottawa and a prolific social media advocate for climate policy.[8] In his YouTube video titled “Vicious Accelerating Feedbacks Between Far-Right Politics and Climate Catastrophe,” Dr. Beckwith refers to the far right as “fascists” and proceeds to denounce his silly compatriot, Jordan Peterson, as “totally nuts” for their repeated anti-climate activism. Dr. Beckwith goes over initiatives in Canada that were aimed at reducing the use of cars and making the cities more pedestrian and bike friendly. One of these initiatives was called the “15-Minute City.” The significance of this movement is how insignificant it is in the face of the impending global catastrophe that is climate change and yet it still activated the bourgeois preachers to spite the initiative and rile people up in the name of “liberty” and their “freedom”. Despite being a meager yet good-spirited reform, the bourgeoisie activates their multimillion-dollar media apparatus to smother it and any other modicum of progress because, as we know, it threatens revenue. Though the content of Dr. Beckwith’s video is not surprising, the fact that Dr. Beckwith has been forced to cover the politics butting up against his climate activism is telling in that it highlights the increasing stakes of the conflict between necessary societal changes to meet climate change and the bourgeoisie’s attacks on progress for the maintenance of profits. 

It is important that the reader get a visual representation of where we are today in the struggle for a survivable future. In discussing the newly established El Niño, this year will bring unusual warming and weather phenomena around the globe for the next one to seven years. Have a look at the Global Sea Surface Temperature anomaly that is currently occurring:

Figure 1: A current depiction of the global sea surface temperature as of late June from Climate Reanalyzer[9]. The bold black line represents this year’s (2023) trajectory. Note how much higher it is than ever before. The graph is created with information from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

We are truly in uncharted territory. Inevitably, with record heat temperatures comes an effect on the amount of ice present in the polar ice caps. A reduction in the amount of ice reduces the amount of solar radiation reflected into space which causes the darker ocean water to absorb more heat which creates a positive feedback loop of warming which in this particular case is called the albedo effect.[10] Feedback loops are beyond the scope of this article, but the analysis of our climate future is rife with them and the extent of their contributions to the rate of heating is difficult to determine with confidence. The Secretary General of the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, Professor Petteri Taalas states that “the melted ice will never return”.[11] One of the most respected scientific Journals in the world, Nature, published a paper that states the world could be sea-ice-free as soon as 2030.[12] 

Figure 2: This graph shows the Antarctic Sea ice extent over some recent years. The red line indicates the current year, 2023. This graph comes from the Arctic Data archive System (ADS).[13] Notice how significantly far from the norm the current Antarctic ice extent is. It is likely that the earth will never be able to recover the lost sea ice due to feedback loops.

The future of the climate and even human civilization are in dire straits. The problems arising from such circumstances are currently palpable in the forms of increased temperature, mass animal die-offs, wet-bulb temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns destroying agriculture, increased intensity of storms, and so much more. Less immediately palpable, are the predicted factors considering political instability, mass migration from climate refugees, and regional and international conflicts sure to ensue over diminishing accessibility to resources, especially water.[14] Such impending circumstances have some prominent climate scientists motivated toward class-conscious and revolutionary tendencies. The nudge toward class consciousness is only logical for scientists who must repeatedly confront the factual reality that obscenely wealthy bourgeois individuals wholly own and operate our society and that their interests in maintaining and increasing profits are antagonistic to that of the proletariat and, ultimately,  all life on Earth. The inherent contradictions of capitalism are at a point where the very existence of humanity and the biosphere of Earth is threatened. It is the science of Marxism that provides the most nuanced understanding of the current self-destructing state of our society under the dictatorship by the bourgeoisie.

With an understanding of the dismal situation at hand, what makes us think that a Marxist understanding and implementation thereof is correct? With a Marxist framework, we understand that the class antagonisms between the tiny bourgeois class and the increasingly massive proletarian are manifest in the decreasing lack of influence that we have over society. The goal of socialism, to have the proletariat seize the means of production and do away with the parasitoid capitalist means of production, would be largely characterized by a centrally planned economy. A centrally planned economy is one where the central body under the dictatorship of the proletariat, devoid of the profit incentive and unafflicted by market instability, has total control over where to direct the total productive forces in society so as to benefit the lives of workers.  Seeing as climate change is largely caused by anthropogenic (human-made) carbon emissions, it will take a massive coherent, and collective effort by the working class to mitigate the worst catastrophes. [15] An attempt at mitigation will require the inherent cohesion of forces that only a centrally planned economy can provide.  The implementation of a centrally planned economy would allow us to pick out sectors of society and discuss how to reduce emissions through optimizing efficiency, reducing waste, or outright eliminating sectors in which the sole purpose was capitalist profits.

Centralizing our economy would likely begin with observing our greenhouse gas emissions by sector. The website OurWorldInData.org gives great compilations of data in aesthetic and easily interpretable graphs. Figure three below is one such graph that shows the greenhouse gas emissions by sector. Meeting the challenge of climate change is going to require a stern look at this graph to see where alterations can be made.

Figure 3: Greenhouse gas emissions by sector in the United States as of 2019. This image is a depiction of the emissions of particular sectors of the U.S economy  Courtesy of Ourworldindata.org.[16] Centralizing our economy to meet the challenges posed by climate change would likely start with looking at this image.

In implementing a centralized economy, figure three would be a key asset. The data is from 2019 which is the last year showing business as usual before the disruption that was the pandemic. From the image, we see that “electricity and heat” and “transport” are the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses which, as a reminder, are driving rapid climate change and rendering the earth uninhabitable for humanity as well as the biosphere. A centrally planned economy would allow the dictatorship of the proletariat to drastically reduce the inefficiencies of these first two sectors immediately and without interference from bourgeois media, lobbyists, or downright bourgeois politicians. We would be able to ask why these sectors are creating so many emissions and rapidly implement potential remedies such as centralized heating, implementation of more insulating materials, and urban planning in general. With central planning, we could acknowledge the overt inefficiency of the massive road system in favor of the personal vehicle and mobilize to build trains, trollies, and other public transport which would drastically reduce the land area currently covered in asphalt. The reclaimed asphalt could then be used to build aesthetically pleasing urban housing or to plant perennial carbon-sequestering plants or crops to give just a few examples of the power of the centralized economy would have to help the climate crisis.

The centrally planned economy is in direct contrast with our current market economy. As proletarians who must sell our labor to earn a wage, the current market economy is one characterized by constant financial assault. We are subject to wild speculation on the necessities of life through the commodification of housing, transportation, food, and energy. We have no real means of fighting back against such volatility unless we organize and dethrone the unceasingly greedy bourgeois class that has and will subject us to this unceasing exploitation throughout history.   

 The United States is the bastion of global imperialist power. The rulers of this society have demonstrated that they will willingly destroy the planet and let us cook in pursuit of their power and profits. It is up to the class-conscious proletariat of the U.S. to organize, seize power, establish a dictatorship of the proletariat, and distribute resources in a way that benefits society as a whole instead of the infinitesimally small bourgeoisie. To get through the next couple of generations, humanity needs to rethink society in a way that only socialism and a centrally planned economy can. More trains instead of cars, more trees and less roads, more food instead of lawns, no more planned obsolescence or one time use commodities, etc. We have to use every method in our capacity as a species to reduce consumption and be good stewards of the earth whether it be alternative energy, or reinvigorating nature and remediating ecosystems. The only way to enact these changes to the extent necessary is to forgo the profit incentive which is only possible under socialism.

Sources Cited

“About ADS.” Accessed June 22, 2023. https://ads.nipr.ac.jp/about-ads.

“Albedo and Climate | Center for Science Education.” Accessed June 22, 2023. https://scied.ucar.edu/learning-zone/how-climate-works/albedo-and-climate.

Change, NASA Global Climate. “Global Surface Temperature | NASA Global Climate Change.” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. Accessed June 22, 2023. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature.

“Climate Reanalyzer.” Accessed June 22, 2023. https://climatereanalyzer.org/clim/sst_daily/.

Kim, Yeon-Hee, Seung-Ki Min, Nathan P. Gillett, Dirk Notz, and Elizaveta Malinina. “Observationally-Constrained Projections of an Ice-Free Arctic Even under a Low Emission Scenario.” Nature Communications 14, no. 1 (June 6, 2023): 3139. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-38511-8.

“Meet Our Team.” Accessed June 22, 2023. https://climateemergencyforum.org/meet-our-team.html.

“New Study Reveals Alarming Economic Impact of El Niño: ‘[We] Absolutely Do Not Just Take a Hit and Recover.’” Accessed June 22, 2023. https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/new-study-reveals-alarming-economic-impact-of-el-ni%C3%B1o-we-absolutely-do-not-just-take-a-hit-and-recover/ar-AA1cTrVU.

Paul Beckwith, Climate System Scientist. “About,” September 21, 2015. https://paulbeckwith.net/about/.

Sky News. “World Has Lost Battle to Stop Glaciers Melting and Sea Level Rising, UN Meteorological Chief Says.” Accessed June 22, 2023. https://news.sky.com/story/world-has-lost-battle-to-stop-glaciers-melting-and-sea-level-rising-un-meteorological-chief-says-12898899.

“The Paris Agreement | UNFCCC.” Accessed June 22, 2023. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement.

Turton, Steve. “Global Average Sea and Air Temperatures Are Spiking in 2023, before El Niño Has Fully Arrived. We Should Be Very Concerned.” The Conversation, June 20, 2023. http://theconversation.com/global-average-sea-and-air-temperatures-are-spiking-in-2023-before-el-nino-has-fully-arrived-we-should-be-very-concerned-207731.

“About — IPCC.” Accessed July 4, 2023. https://www.ipcc.ch/about/.

Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank. “Climate Change Risk Assessment 2021,” September 14, 2021. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/09/climate-change-risk-assessment-2021.

Geosciences LibreTexts. “15.5: Anthropogenic Causes of Climate Change,” November 4, 2019. https://geo.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Geology/Book%3A_An_Introduction_to_Geology_(Johnson_Affolter_Inkenbrandt_and_Mosher)/15%3A_Global_Climate_Change/15.05%3A_Anthropogenic_Causes_of_Climate_Change.

Paul Beckwith, Climate System Scientist. “Paul Beckwith, Climate System Scientist.” Accessed July 4, 2023. https://paulbeckwith.net/.

Ritchie, Hannah, Max Roser, and Pablo Rosado. “CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Our World in Data, May 11, 2020. https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/united-states.


Endnotes

[1] “Meet Our Team,” accessed June 22, 2023, https://climateemergencyforum.org/meet-our-team.html.

[2] “About — IPCC,” accessed July 4, 2023, https://www.ipcc.ch/about/.

[3] “Paul Beckwith, Climate System Scientist,” Paul Beckwith, Climate System Scientist, accessed July 4, 2023, https://paulbeckwith.net/.

[4] “New Study Reveals Alarming Economic Impact of El Niño: ‘[We] Absolutely Do Not Just Take a Hit and Recover,’” accessed June 22, 2023, https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/new-study-reveals-alarming-economic-impact-of-el-ni%C3%B1o-we-absolutely-do-not-just-take-a-hit-and-recover/ar-AA1cTrVU.

[5] “The Paris Agreement | UNFCCC,” accessed June 22, 2023, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement.

[6] NASA Global Climate Change, “Global Surface Temperature | NASA Global Climate Change,” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, accessed June 22, 2023, https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature.

[7] Steve Turton, “Global Average Sea and Air Temperatures Are Spiking in 2023, before El Niño Has Fully Arrived. We Should Be Very Concerned,” The Conversation, June 20, 2023, http://theconversation.com/global-average-sea-and-air-temperatures-are-spiking-in-2023-before-el-nino-has-fully-arrived-we-should-be-very-concerned-207731.

[8] “About,” Paul Beckwith, Climate System Scientist (blog), September 21, 2015, https://paulbeckwith.net/about/.

[9] “Climate Reanalyzer,” accessed June 22, 2023, https://climatereanalyzer.org/clim/sst_daily/.

[10] “Albedo and Climate | Center for Science Education,” accessed June 22, 2023, https://scied.ucar.edu/learning-zone/how-climate-works/albedo-and-climate.

[11] “World Has Lost Battle to Stop Glaciers Melting and Sea Level Rising, UN Meteorological Chief Says,” Sky News, accessed June 22, 2023, https://news.sky.com/story/world-has-lost-battle-to-stop-glaciers-melting-and-sea-level-rising-un-meteorological-chief-says-12898899.

[12] Yeon-Hee Kim et al., “Observationally-Constrained Projections of an Ice-Free Arctic Even under a Low Emission Scenario,” Nature Communications 14, no. 1 (June 6, 2023): 3139, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-38511-8.

[13] “About ADS,” accessed June 22, 2023, https://ads.nipr.ac.jp/about-ads.

[14] “Climate Change Risk Assessment 2021,” Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank, September 14, 2021, https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/09/climate-change-risk-assessment-2021.

[15] “15.5: Anthropogenic Causes of Climate Change,” Geosciences LibreTexts, November 4, 2019, https://geo.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Geology/Book%3A_An_Introduction_to_Geology_(Johnson_Affolter_Inkenbrandt_and_Mosher)/15%3A_Global_Climate_Change/15.05%3A_Anthropogenic_Causes_of_Climate_Change.

[16] Hannah Ritchie, Max Roser, and Pablo Rosado, “CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” Our World in Data, May 11, 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/united-states.

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