The UN Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015, aims to keep global warming below 2°C and, if possible, to 1.5°C above pre-1850–1900 levels. But even these levels will mean incalculable devastation to the environment. Even a 1.5°C rise will lead to the destruction of between 70 percent and 90 percent of reef-building corals worldwide. And 2°C will mean the death of fully 99 percent of tropical reefs. As 25 percent of all marine life depends on corals, the chain reaction would do far more than ruin your next snorkeling adventure.
Furthermore, climate change will not be linear. It will not mean a uniform “warming” by 2°C worldwide. Unpredictable fluctuations from hot to cold, from wet to dry will torture the planet and its inhabitants. Cities like Madrid, which currently averages 28°C (82.4°F), could see average temperatures rise closer to 36°C (96.8°F). The Sahara Desert will expand northward, and England’s weather will be like Barcelona’s today.
The infrastructure we have built up over centuries will be unable to cope with the suddenness of these changes. Vast populations without air conditioning or central heating will alternately roast or freeze, often literally to death. Agricultural land and fisheries will be ruined as both flooding and droughts transform the landscape. Wineries will spring up in Scotland while regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy go barren. The Amazon Forest will continue to shrink as cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates torch the “lungs of the planet” to clear more land for industrial farming. And millions will be displaced in the most massive forced migrations in human history.
The Earth’s climate changed long before humans accelerated the process, and it will continue to change long after we’ve disappeared from its face. The real question, therefore, is whether or not we can prolong our species’ stay into the next century.
Colossal investment needed
Surely, the world’s leaders will come together to avert this dystopian nightmare? Isn’t the Paris Agreement supposed to tackle all of this?
With an economic crisis imminent and politics in turmoil everywhere, the last thing the “leaders” of the world are about to do is “come together” to solve climate change. Trump’s middle-finger no-show to the G7’s discussions on the topic was a clear expression of this reality. It’s every capitalist for him or herself in this epoch of crisis and instability.
Scott Denning, who studies the warming atmosphere at Colorado State University, explained:
Solving the problem by 2030, 2040 or 2050 requires a new global energy infrastructure, which is arguably easier and less expensive than past infrastructure shifts like indoor plumbing, rural electrification, the automobile and paved roads, telecommunications, computers, mobile phones or the internet.
All of these past changes cost tens of trillions of dollars, adjusted for inflation. All of them were hugely disruptive. All of them took a decade or more, completely changed the industrial and economic and social landscape, and created bursts of growth and productivity and jobs. And arguably, all of them made life better for huge numbers of people.
In relative terms, such a formidable transformation may well be “easier and less expensive” than previous upgrades to humanity’s infrastructural scaffolding. But it will still require trillions of dollars. Those who hold those trillions are not about to pour them down what they see as a profitless drain. Furthermore, these technologies were only developed because they were profitable and enjoyed massive state subsidies.
As an example, let’s not forget that the critical elements of the Paris Agreement are non-binding and, as a result, an unenforceable farce. Carbon reductions are contingent on a voluntary “buy-in” by the pact’s signatories. But the only thing capitalists voluntarily “buy into” is making profits.