Climate Change, Global Problems and the Crises of the System

Ricardo Navarro presents...

The president of CESTA, the local branch of Friends of the Earth in El Salvador Ricardo Navarro, presented his thoughts on global climate change and its issues, as well as the political consequences of these issues at the “Cambio Climatico Movimientos Sociales Y Territorios” – climate change, social movement and territories – conference at San Salvador University on the 6th of November 2012. His presentation was live-translated into English, and presented a wide array of informed and interesting points. This is a summary of what he said:

Rain has reduced by more than 50% in Venezuela in this century. In less than 40 years, Lake Chad, a lake of more than 1000kms has almost disappeared. We’re facing more and more droughts, floods and cyclones. This year in El Salvador, it rained very little, and in some areas there were just a couple of storms, but elsewhere we have the other extreme with flooding. Both lead to economic problems.

We all see the image of post-hurricane flooding, like in New York this week, but the problem is that when the hurricane is gone, there is an environment that spreads illness for weeks and weeks. That’s more true in hotter areas. As the temperature increases, problems like malaria, grow through heat and water combined . We can lose our food, leading to hunger, and also decreasing agricultural income. A lack of rain causes the same problem.

Problems far from our region have a knock on effect. The melting of the North Pole, which has lost 16 million square kilometres, takes place almost half a planet away from El Salvador. We don’t have a lot of ice here, but it’s shown in problems with the mangroves. The Arctic is going to disappear soon. In 2012 we have the lowest area of land – 3.5 million square kilometres. We have just one quarter of the ice we had 30 years ago. In Greenland, since 1992, around 50% of the ice has melted. This has affects other than water level rise, too. When sunlight hits the ice it is reflected. When it hits water is it absorbed, so the overall energy of the area is increased. In 2012, 90% of Greenland collapsed, and the ice basically disappeared. This has meant the loss of glaciers, and so the loss of fresh water. There are thousands of people who depend on glaciers, and it’s going to become very difficult for them to get water.

The Shrinking of Lake Chad since the 1960s (click to enlarge)

Of course, all the ice melting increases sea levels, leading to the destruction of the mangroves, like in La Tirana. The mangrove loses its water nutrients as a result of salt entering from sea level rises. As a result the mangroves die, and take lifestyles and ecosystems with them.

The temperature in the atmosphere, up to 25kms high, is increasing, and has been since the 1960s. In fact, over the last 150 years, the temperature has steadily increased, at an ever quicker rate. In 2010, Nigeria had a new temperature record. In Mexico they had a 50 degree summer. It’s not a coincidence that there are so many records, it’s caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. Everything that is done on the planet is filling the atmosphere with gases. CFCs are now heavily present in the atmosphere. They’re not natural, they were artificially added.

What we’ve seen so far is an increase in temperature as a result of climate change. What happens in the future depends on what we do with fossil fuels. If we continue as we have done, the temperature’s going to increase in an accelerated fashion. So far, we’ve increased the temperature by 0.8 degrees. At current levels it will increase by another 1.5 degrees. Over 2 degrees will be a tipping point, but catastrophes are happening already, in Burma, in Africa, in  Thailand. There were 140,000 victims in 2008. If we reach a two degree increase, the effects will be worse. If the temperature reaches a five degree increase, according to German scientists, the planet will not be able to support more than one billion people (according to a study by the Posdam technical institute). It’s clear that climate change is going to be very costly.

Mean global temperature since 1860, when measurements began (click to enlarge)

MIT have developed a sophisticated climate change model, and predicted an average temperature increase of 5.2 degrees by 2100. They say there’s a 90% change it will be between 3.5 and 7.4 degrees increase just as a result of human activity by 2100. This will lead to more severe heat waves, deeper effects on the water cycle and famine on a global level. Climate change automatically changes the water system. In El Salvador, we’ve been importing beans from China. We’ve been lucky, China hasn’t suffered any catastrophes when we needed those beans, so far, but this importation is a risk, and it shouldn’t be necessary. There have been stronger hurricanes: Hurricane Sandy developed to more than 1000kms in diameter. It has such a severe effect on those in its path. We need to understand that it’s not humans who are in charge; it’s nature.

It’s also important to consider acidification of the oceans. All CO2 eventually comes back to the oceans. That makes the water acidic; about a third of our omitted CO2 is already in the ocean. As this continues, animals such as crabs, mussels, and anything else with a shell won’t be able to construct their shell. By the end of the century, this process will be very advanced, and have a knock on effect on the entire ecosystem of the sea, more than likely involving a huge extinction of maritime species.

A factor, and a worry that’s often missing from climate change calculations is positive feedback mechanisms. Once temperature increases pass a tipping point it becomes very hard to control. Methane will be omitted from the bottom of the ocean with the melting of ice caps, and released. This means that heating eventually, inevitably means to more heating, even if the initial heating process has ended. S

cientists have tried digging a hole in spots where the ice is melting and then lighting a match, and they’ve found methane comes out. As the data is extremely incomplete, these leaks have not been included in scientific models so far. The danger is that gases escape into the atmosphere and require 100 million years to regenerate. With consumption, this could even lead to a reduction of oxygen in the atmosphere.

Take all this into account and it becomes pretty clear that the cli

mate crisis is extremely grave. It’s not difficult to show that it’s the result of human action. CO2 had never been above 150ppm until the last 150 years. It’s been rising sharply since the industrial revolution, and still faster after WWII. We now have an increase of 3ppm per year, 100 times stronger than in the past. Some people are provoking the problem; others are suffering from it. It’s a problem with climate justice.

CO2 levels over the past 400,000 years, measured through ice cores (click to enlarge)

The Reasons for emissions include the burning of fossil fuels, cutting down of trees, as well as agricultural and industrial activities. The most significant of these causes of climate change is burning fossil fuels, a product of our economy. As discussed an agreed in international meetings in 2008, climate change is the world’s most important problem facing the world, followed by the damage of wildlife diversity.

A key underlying cause of the climate change issue is economic activity, which is so heavily based on fossil fuels, with free production and consumption. Problems are the logical consequence of the economic system in which we live; even the political and economic system in which we live. We cannot solve these problems within the current political and economic system; in order to solve those problems, we need to find a new political and economic system. Leasing bicycles and using windmills is a wonderful thing, but as long as the economy keeps growing, as long as we continue basing our economy on fossil fuels, those problems have no solution. We need to be clear on this. The ministers discussing the issue at Cancun, Copenhagen and Durban, and later at Doha, never question the political system. That’s why they cannot solve the problem.

As long as things remain the same, the political classes of this world are taking us to at least a 2.5 – 3.5 degree temperature increase by 2100, and that’s if they do everything they’ve promised. Why do we not question this? There’s a lot of money buried in the ground, and this is why the corporations and governments take action. The objective is to make money for themselves. Their proposals therefore cannot solve a problem, as their not prepared to alter this financial system.

We need a sustainable society. We have to struggle for a zero carbon economy. As a result we have to design a new political and economic system. We have to struggle for our own survival. That’s all that is left to us. The governments of this world, with very few exceptions, are really servants of capital. They prove it day by day. All of these problems cannot find technical solutions. Of course, we need that as well, but as long as freedom of corporations to trade and produce as much as they can exists, endless consumption exists. As long as transnational corporations continue to make the decisions, we’re never going to find a solution for these problems.

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