The real result of the Paris climate talks is a promise to increase emissions from current levels, doing tremendous harm to the environment in the process. The capitalist powers do not admit this, of course. Instead, they declare that they have promised to cut emissions and save the environment. These politicians can make these claims without their noses growing thanks to the curious nature of the promises made.
Russia’s pledge to cut emissions 25–30% by 2030 is typical: it sounds quite good on the surface, but is exposed as a fraud when one realizes that the benchmark date for measuring cuts against is 1990. Thanks to the economic devastation wreaked by the collapse of the USSR, Russia will in reality be allowed to increase emissions by 30% by 2030 (as compared to 2012 levels). The EU will also use 1990 as a benchmark when doing its part, meaning that half its pledge has been accomplished in advance due to the collapse of East German industry. The US rounds out this list by using 2005 as the benchmark, in order to count the development of natural gas since that time—at the expense of coal and oil—as part of its pledge to reduce emissions, nearly cutting the real impact of its promise in half.
Other countries, such as South Korea and Mexico, prefer to use the future to lie instead of the past. This is done by promising emissions reductions as against the UN Business as Usual projections, which are an estimate of what emissions will be if nothing at all is done. This sort of pledge means that “something” is going to be done at some point in the future. In the meantime, of course, emissions will increase as compared present levels. Playing tricks with time, however, is not the only method negotiators have used to disguise their lack of genuine commitment to addressing environmental issues—which would negatively affect the profits of the corporations they ultimately represent.
China and India, for instance, have made pledges in terms of carbon intensity—the amount of carbon in fossil fuels necessary to accomplish a set amount of work. These countries promise, not to move away from fossil fuels, but merely to use them more efficiently. In the context of the “developing economies” of those countries, this merely means that emissions and fossil fuel usage will actually increase on the basis of modern technology.
A promise framed in terms of carbon intensity, or against business as usual projections, is a promise to increase current and already unsustainably high emissions. In short, the few countries that have pledged to cut emissions have pledged very little in real terms, and many countries have pledged to increase emissions, sometimes quite dramatically. Furthermore, even these meager promises will not be carried out fully, and there is nothing legally binding about the agreement. The level and intensity of doublespeak is astonishing.
Capitalism has failed to address the climate crisis. The only way forward is to fight for the socialist transformation of society before the damage to the environment becomes too great to ever be repaired. The inconvenient truth is that socialist revolution is “the last, best hope of earth” in combating climate change and preventing the coming environmental collapse.
Capitalism is simply not capable of taking serious action on environmental issues. In the capitalist economy, it will always be “reasonable” for corporations to sacrifice the future for today’s bottom line and to disregard costs to the public at large. The Volkswagen scandal—in which the automaker installed devices on its vehicles to cheat on emissions tests in defiance of the few regulations that do exist—is a perfect example of the attitude of international capitalism towards the environment: “if it doesn’t turn a short-term profit, to hell with it!” All parties and governments that limit themselves to capitalism must, in the end, adopt this attitude as well.
Only parties that fundamentally reject capitalism and demand socialism can put forward a real program for addressing the climate crisis and only a socialist revolution can put this program into practice. The building of a Bolshevik party capable of undertaking this immense task, leading the proletariat to the taking of power, is the primary duty of everyone interested in fighting for a better world. It requires a sharp break with all capitalist politicians and parties, Democrat and Republican alike, and a rejection of all illusions in somehow reforming present society without going beyond its limits.
Rosa Luxemburg wrote that the choice before humanity was “socialism or barbarism.” Now, in the era of the Anthropocene, that slogan has become slightly outdated. “Barbarism,” after all, presupposes that there are people left alive to be “barbarians.” However, the choice before us now is “socialism or extinction.” The struggle between capitalism and socialism is, quite literally, a struggle between life and death. The Paris climate fraud is the highest expression of this reality.