Pollution   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Pete Mason, East London Socialist Party

The feared surge in global warming gases in 2016 was confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization on 30 October. Its researchers found the highest atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 800,000 years.

Then the “world scientists’ warning to humanity: a second notice” – a letter from over 15,000 scientists across 184 nations – was published on 13 November.

It’s hard hitting: “by failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivise renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution… humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”

With the US under Trump withdrawing from the Paris agreement on climate change – which is a toothless arrangement anyway – you might have thought the letter would target the main culprit. But mistakenly, it primarily seems to target population growth.

Yet after the post-war ‘baby boom’, the growing population of pollution-heavy Europe began to level off – and even fell in some cases. Working people’s struggles won rising living standards and social security. They also won greater rights for women. These achievements contributed to the levelling off of birth rates.

And as welcome as the letter is, putting demands on “humanity” as a whole is misplaced. The majority of humanity is not in control of the levers of power, any more than you or I. That’s the capitalist class.

To give the letter its due, it does recommend various practical measures, such as reducing “wealth inequality” and phasing out subsidies to fossil fuel companies.

The scientists recommend humanity ensures that “prices” and “taxation” benefit the environment. But, with the capitalist class in power across the world, this would simply mean higher prices for an already impoverished majority, not higher taxation for the biggest companies overflowing with unspent cash.

And there’s no chance of ending the growing wealth inequality around the world while the people haunting the corridors of power are the capitalist class, who defend their own. And with them, the very fossil fuel companies responsible for global warming.

Climate change is an intractable problem for capitalism. The letter again exposes its failed rule of the planet. Ending the rule of the market and the super-rich through public ownership and socialist planning would free up the resources needed to tackle environmental catastrophe.