(XING WEI / FOR CHINA DAILY)
World leaders assembled in Scotland to discuss one of the most pressing global problems, and one that concerns every person: the question of Climate Change. This issue is so important that it can spell the end of life as we know it on Earth and therefore demands immediate action, not just talk.
This is already a real tragedy. I say this because we have been warned about this situation for decades.
Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, scientists have been warning us about the terrible dangers that would befall us if we did not change our relationship with nature.
The world leaders have met on many occasions. Since 1995, the United Nations has convened 25 such conferences; this is the 26th. At all of these conferences commitments were made but not kept or only partially kept.
Despite the many convincing speeches that were made in the past, despite a full understanding of the cause of the problem and the cure, the situation continues to get worse.
This is manifested in the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters. It breaks the heart to see how much suffering is caused by these phenomena.
The cause is fundamentally due to human economic activities and the pursuit of wealth that is unsustainable. This has resulted in serious damage to the world’s ecology.
Carbon stored in forests, the oceans and in the earth is being released as we overexploit the resources of the world.
Added to this is industrialization that has pumped millions of tons of toxic gases into the atmosphere.
The cure is also clear. We have to preserve and protect nature so that the Earth can sustain our activities.
We must live more harmoniously with nature. We have to understand nature’s laws and co-exist with these.
We may well ask why mankind has failed to arrest the situation seeing that we know the causes and the cure.
In my view, it is because we have been putting forward only technological solutions to deal with the problem.
We have heard talk and we have seen the implementation of new technologies, solar power, wind power, thermal power, nuclear power and much more to generate energy. That is indispensable to our existence for we do need clean nonpolluting energy generation.
Scientists have also built cars and other motor vehicles that are not polluting the atmosphere. These are all very positive steps and scientists should be complimented for their achievements and their continuing efforts.
But despite all of these marvelous technological advances, the situation is deteriorating at a rapid pace.
Indeed this conference that is being held in Scotland will call for bringing forward the time frame for countries to arrive at net-zero emissions.
What is abundantly clear is that the technological approach, important as it is, is not the solution on its own. Never before in our history have we had at our disposal so much fantastic technology. Yet, our world is in a worse condition environmentally than it has ever been.
That is not to downplay the importance of technological solutions. These are vital. But these do not address the main problem.
The main issue is the socioeconomic relations that dominate our world. It is fundamentally a system controlled by very powerful corporations whose main objective is the maximization of profits.
They always pay lip service to environmental issues, but as soon as they think that it will affect their bottom line, environmental issues are promptly ignored. This is the nature of the system that dominates and controls the world.
More than 100 years ago, J.P. Dunning wrote: “Capital is said to fly turbulence and strife and to be timid, which is very true; but this is very incompletely stating the question. Capital eschews no profit or very small profit, just as nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 percent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 percent certain will produce eagerness; 50 percent, positive audacity; 100 percent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 percent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both.”
We also know from our own experience that this is true. For instance, we can recall the case of the United States vs. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Phillis Morris.
The tobacco companies knew that cigarettes were the main cause of some types of cancers. Yet, they lied about it and aggressively marketed them. The profit they were making was so huge that they hired the best lawyers to be their lobbyists. No lives mattered to them.
We also know that the oil companies were aware of the danger to the Earth that their extraction of oil was creating. It is among the main reasons for climate change. They knew this more than 40 years ago.
Instead of trying to correct it and to look for solutions, they have spent billions to discredit the findings of the scientists who first raised the alarm. They spend billions on lobbyists and have invested heavily in political parties by financing election campaigns.
Even now, oil companies are investing heavily in more extensive exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbon resources. This means that they have no intention to observe any restraint.
Clearly, therefore, for these huge profit-making organizations, nothing is more important than making money.
Human lives mean nothing to them. Mighty Sparrow’s 1970s calypso hit Capitalism Gone Mad is playing out before our very eyes.
Therefore, we have a fundamental contradiction. The drive for profits is pushing the corporations to disregard the environment — to overexploit the world’s resources.
On the other hand, to slow down and reverse climate change, we have to think and act more to conserve and preserve nature.
This environmental crisis is telling us that the international economic system that we have been operating under has outlived its usefulness and, for the sake of life on the Earth, must be changed.
Without doubt the conference in Scotland is useful, but it will not deliver the solution. This calls for mass action and a demand for an economic paradigm shift.
The author is former president of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and former general secretary of the People’s Progressive Party. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.