Sunday, January 29, 2012

Looking Backward and Thinking Forward

A Post-Mortem on COP17 in Durban, South Africa
by Quincy Saul

This article first appeared on The Africa Report

Many hoped that the legacy of COP17 in South Africa would be truth and reconciliation. But as the dust settles, it is looking more and more like global apartheid.

Business as usual has prevailed in Durban, and it may go down in history as the greatest crime in the history of the world -- a crime against humanity and a crime against nature. The last opportunity to stabilise global warming under two degrees celsius has been squandered: the UNFCCC decided in Durban to make no binding agreement on reducing emissions until 2020. The result is that hundreds of millions have been effectively condemned to death by the end of the century.

It was tempting to hope that the representatives of the world governments would have done the right thing, and terrifying that not a single one spoke truth to power. But it is wrong to blame the individual negotiators. More was at stake than their political careers.An entire economic system was on trial in Durban, and it was the uncompromising defense of this system that inexorably led the talks to conclude in premeditated genocide.

What was really at stake in Durban was not politics, but a system whose growth is almost 100 percent correlated to greenhouse gas emissions. In spite of the global economic crisis, this system produced more greenhouse gas in 2010 than any previous year. Therefore, whether or not we have a philosophical commitment to capitalism is not scientifically relevant. To prevent catastrophic climate change, economic planning is necessary on every scale -- it is not a question of opinion, but of empirical fact. However, the UNFCCC has virtually ignored this necessity, and their chief accomplishment has been to enshrine voluntarism on the part of big polluters as the answer to climate change. The process, in other words, is beyond bankrupt.

It is now scientifically too late to salvage the UNFCCC process. The only real question has thus become, how can we build an international mass movement capable of transforming the system within the necessary time frame to prevent catastrophic irreversible climate change? We need a greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2015, which gives us three years to mobilise enough people to make that possible. How many is that? My estimate is one billion. But how can we organise on this unprecedented scale?

The solution, as suggested by the old Situationist slogan, is to kill the COP in our heads. Instead of chasing the big polluters around the world, we should do as Amilcar Cabral advised, and "return to the source." We should follow the practical and theoretical precedent set in the climate talks in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010. Read all about it! Another world is possible, but it will not be born from the womb of the UNFCCC process, either on the inside or the outside. Another world requires an autonomous base from which to struggle internationally for climate justice.

Everyone from Nick Stern to Kumi Naidoo agrees that what is needed is "political will." But this vague slogan, repeated like a mantra by commentators across the political spectrum, is almost meaningless. It is a substitute for both a solution and for a perspective capable of perceiving a genuine solution. To delink economic development from greenhouse gas emissions will take much more than political will. Transforming the system is not a political career or the project of an international meeting, but a life's work. What we need is not political will to fight within a system that is bankrupt and genocidal, but an existential commitment by individuals, organisations and movements, to struggle for a radical change in human civilisation.

I would join thousands all over the world in advocating for this radical change to be guided by the ideas of ecosocialism; towards a transformed humanity in harmony with nature. The vision of ecosocialism is a global united front against the global capitalist dirty-energy regime, and the construction and coordination of productive bases of self-reliance that are the soil and will become the blossoms of the future ecologically rational human civilisation.

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