pic: Hurricane Irma
By John Molyneux
It was a prophetic song in which Dylan evoked in the most powerful poetic metaphors a world during or after a nuclear holocaust. By the skin of our teeth we avoided that fate in 1962 but now 55 years on we have another missile crisis over Korea and Dylan’s prophecy is coming true, in a form he could not then have envisaged, not metaphorically but literally.
From Donegal to Bangladesh, from Houston to the Caribbean to Florida hard rain is falling, because that is what global warming means. Global warming means lobal raining as a friend of mine put it at least fifteen years ago.
Or rather that’s one of the things it means. It also means extra high winds (that is storms), floods, droughts and fires. And all of these things are happening on an increased and increasing scale in different parts of the world.
Broadly speaking where there are storms, as in the Caribbean, the storms are getting fiercer, where there are floods as in Bangladesh the floods are getting larger, where there are droughts as in Sudan and the Sahel the droughts are lasting longer; where there tend to be fires the fires are getting worse.
Extreme weather is getting more extreme. And crazier – there are also weird things happening like large fires in the non- ice covered part of Greenland!
Recent scientific studies also suggest that the Gulf Stream (scientific name: Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) is slowing down due to rapid melting of Arctic ice. No one knows the exact consequences of this but it is highly likely to produce even more weather disturbance,
This is not generally speaking how climate change has been presented to people or understood by people. In the main it was presented as something that most scientists predicted would happen in the future, while other scientists said it wouldn’t. In other words it was a matter of opinion.
Also what was predicted would happen was that sea levels would rise and that sooner or later, probably in about 2080 i.e. after most of us are dead, a lot of us in coastal areas would find ourselves underwater. And then again it might never happen.
The matter was presented in this way by both politicians and the media precisely in order to avoid any sense of urgency. So long as governments promised to do something about it eventually, say in twenty or fifty years, that was enough.
Climate change was not seen as a real emergency that demanded action now – like terrorism or the banking crisis or Brexit. Rather what was needed was for Governments to spend years agreeing, or sometimes not agreeing, to deals that would cut carbon emissions a bit by 2030 or 2050.
In defence of this attitude Governments and the mainstream media, especially in the US, rely on the argument that specific natural disasters – the Donegal floods, Hurricane Irma etc, – cannot be linked directly to climate change so they refrain, in the US almost totally, from even mentioning climate change in connection with disasters.
But this, deliberately, misses the point which is not that climate change causes an individual disaster but that it makes such disasters more severe and more frequent.
And the underlying reason for this approach was that almost none of the world’s major governments really wanted to do anything much about climate change at all because the capitalist corporations whose interests those governments ultimately serve had such vast vested interest in the fossil fuel economy- oil, gas and coal.
But what is becoming clearer with every passing month and year is the dreadful folly and extreme irresponsibility of this approach. Our rulers, here in Ireland and across the world, have almost literally been fiddling while the planet burns and ordinary people, especially poor ordinary people, are paying the price and the price will rise inexorably.
The underlying truth is that what drives climate change is the economic system which dominates the world, namely capitalism. Capitalism is based on competition, between companies, corporations and states, for profit.
The supporters of capitalism – all the main parties and media – argue that this is the best, and ultimately only possible, way to run an economy. They say there is no alternative. But the fact is that capitalism is progressively destroying the environment on which all human and animal life depends.
Dealing with climate change, both preventing it running completely out of control and dealing with its immediate effects, in any way other than fascism and authoritarian barbarism, demands an economy that puts people before profit not the other way round; it demands socialism.