So far in 2019, an area about the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey, 18,600 square kilometres, has burned in the Amazon basin in Brazil. As the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil recorded in August, the over 76,000 fires burning this year are 80% more than what burned from January to August of 2018.
This news was alarming and devastating for people around the world, who know the importance of the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest and understand it to be the lungs of the earth, because of its incredible carbon capturing and oxygen-producing capacity. The Amazon basin is indeed one of earth’s most important ecosystems – and the escalating of its burning is another example of the climate in crisis.
Once they eventually began reporting on the fires, weeks after they started, mainstream media was prepared to control the message when it came to the Amazon burning. They reported some of the reactionary policies of the government of the ultra-right-wing President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, which has eroded environmental protections and attacked Indigenous rights, in-turn promoting illegal deforestation. While at the same time, the capitalist media also opened space for articles advocating a more personal approach to helping the Amazon – for example, the idea to reduce or stop eating meat.
However, as usual the mainstream corporate media did little in the way of addressing, or even sparking debate to question the systemic causes of the fires – and the drive for more crop and grazing land – that is behind them.
Offering a slight break to the mould, the article “We’re thinking about the Amazon fires all wrong. These maps show why,” published in the Washington Post, states “The consequences of the fires in the Amazon know no borders, and neither do the forces that ignited them. If the developed nations want a greater say in the stewardship of the rainforest, they might need to provide more than the modest $20 million offered by the G-7 last month. They might need to pay for it at higher prices for agricultural imports. Most importantly, they might have to readjust their own consumption habits.”
Although the last sentence once again seems to point towards a personal-choice approach to the climate crisis with “adjust their own consumption habits,” looking at it a bit more closely this paragraph introduces, among others, two important questions into the discussion. These are important questions, not only about the fires in the Amazon but also about other devastating effects of the climate crisis that humanity faces today.
1. What is the contribution of the developed nations to the climate catastrophe, including the burning of the Amazon? Do these countries have moral authority when it comes to this crisis facing humanity?
The short answer is no. The Journal of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has put the answer to this question simply as, “the wealthiest one billion people produce 60% of GHGs [Greenhouse Gases] whereas the poorest three billion produce only 5%.” As a study from the charity Christian Aid reports – “a person in the UK has a carbon footprint that is 200 times larger than a person in Burundi, the world’s most food-insecure country.” The U.S. military is the world’s biggest consumer of fossil fuels and the world’s biggest polluter, while at the same time being responsible for the complete destruction and poisoning of entire countries, and the murder of millions of people throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These are just three examples of many.
Despite this, the Financial Post here in Canada and other media outlets continue to promote the dangerous idea that not only does Canada not significantly contribute to global warming, but also that Canada would benefit from climate change. In a special article penned by none other than the former Minister of Natural Resources under the Conservative Harper government Joe Oliver, the idea that due to warmer temperatures “Canada would have a wonderful opportunity to help feed a hungry world,” is presented as a real argument. In fact, worldwide scientific opinion is clear – massive hunger will only be one of the major crises facing humanity if the global temperature rise exceeds 1.5˚C. Not to mention that with warmer temperatures will also come flooding and droughts, which will have an impact on the ability to grow food.
When trying to understand the impact that Canada has on global warming, it is important to realize that rich and developed countries like Canada out-source their environmental impact. This means that people in the U.S. and Canada enjoy relatively pollution-free environments, clean water (not counting Indigenous reserves in Canada; or Flint, Michigan and Pittsburgh in the U.S., among others) and breathable air. Meanwhile, millions of people around the world that live where goods are produced, from clothing to electronics and more which people in the U.S. and Canada buy, live surrounded by contaminants and poisons.
Additionally, any time that an argument is made that global warming will be good for the economy in Canada, it is also important to ask the simple question, who will benefit? For this, the only answer from Joe Oliver and his cohorts would be the ultra-rich oil and natural resource extraction executives they count among their closest friends and allies. It is certainly not poor, working and oppressed people in Canada that he is thinking about.
It must be noted that there are two glaring absences from the calculations related to greenhouse gas emissions used to claim that Canada doesn’t have a stake in the climate crisis. The first is emissions from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defense, which are not included in calculations (nor, for that matter, in any GHG calculations that are used in international agreements like the Paris Agreement). The second is that just because tar sands oil isn’t burned in Canada doesn’t mean that its emissions shouldn’t be counted towards Canada’s impact.
Even without these, Canada is, per-person, the highest GHG emitter in the world (World Resources Institute). Canada’s transportation sector and buildings produce emissions that are four times the G20 average; each person in Canada produces 22 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, three times the G20 average. Canada may have a relatively small population and a large landmass, but its climate-impact is great.
2. Are the “solutions” that the capitalist system is offering enough to really address the crisis for humanity at hand?
This is the question that must be asked when more funding for forest conservation is presented as a solution to the burning of the Amazon. This question is also an important one to be asked about the “Climate Change and Land: Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems” report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on August 8, 2019. Taken as a whole, this report is another alarming reminder of the climate crisis, focusing on how the way that humans use and exploit land impacts climate change.
This new report was compiled by a team of 107 experts from 52 countries. They present scientific evidence and analysis of the various ways that human’s land-use effects the climate. In the end, the report offers 40 generalized recommendations for how the impact of human land-use on climate changed can be minimized.
For example, one part of the report describes the impact of food waste. “Currently, 25-30% of the total food produced is lost or wasted.” Clearly, the over-production of food in some parts of the world and severe malnutrition in other parts of the world would contribute to GHG emissions and climate change in many ways.
Here too, Canada is no shining star. Each year it is estimated that $49 billion in food is lost or wasted in Canada each year, as reported by Second Harvest, a food rescue charity.
So, the question is, if food waste is such a problem, can the capitalist system fix it? Although it might be someone’s first assumption that wasted food is equal to wasted money, that not the case. Under capitalism food is produced for profit, not based on human need, and food is left to rot in fields in order to raise prices and increase profits. Or, food that is not aesthetically pleasing enough to fetch a price is thrown away, rather than sold. These are just two ways that the capitalist system ensures that food is wasted. These are fundamental problems that better technology cannot fix.
This also applies to other solutions examined by the IPCC such as sustainable land management and the diversification of the food system. How are any of these measures possible under a system where profit will always come before people’s needs? Large-scale farms, mono-cropping, the use of pesticides, deforestation - these are all the opposite of what the world needs today, but they are exactly what the capitalist system needs in order to satisfy its insatiable demand for profits and new markets.
As Evo Morales, the revolutionary President of Bolivia stated in 2012, “The causes of this climate crisis are directly related to the accumulation and concentration of wealth in a few countries and in small social groups; to massive, excessive and expensive consumption resulting from the belief that to have more is to live better; to pollutant production of disposable goods to enrich capital, increasing the ecological footprint; as well as the excessive and unsustainable extractive use for production of renewable and non-renewable natural resources at high environmental costs.”
Building a Mass Movement to Confront the Climate Crisis
From the IPCC report to the increased burning of the Amazon, every day there is more and more evidence that what the world needs today is system change, not climate change. To get there, we need to build a mass movement in opposition to the devastating anti-environment and anti-human policies that are being imposed on poor, working and oppressed people by capitalist and imperialist governments around the world.
In Canada, this means doing everything that we can and encouraging everyone to get involved in building a movement against the government of Canada’s disastrous environmental policies. Urgently, people from all walks of life must stand against the government of Canada’s purchase and approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion in British Columbia.
It is not acceptable for the government of Canada to turn a blind eye on the fact that they are nowhere close to being a “climate leader,” and equally far from meeting the climate emissions targets that they agreed to in the already modest Paris Agreements. Through united protests, petitioning and other forms of direct action we must make this known.
Climate Strike: Organize, Mobilize, Educate
From September 20 – 27, 2019 people around the world will be participating in a Global Climate Strike, led by the students of the Fridays for Future movement. These actions must be fully supported by all who believe that a better world is not only possible – but necessary for the future of humanity on Mother Earth. For more information on actions in Canada visit: www.climatestrikecanada.org
Follow Alison Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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