Bringing the age of fossil fuels to an end

It's climate vs. capital (again). Who will win?

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Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? assembles the evidence that carbon emissions from fossil fuels are pushing humankind to unprecedented crises. Weather events are becoming more severe. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms are more frequent. Ice caps and glaciers are melting. Sea levels are rising. Oceans are becoming more acidic.

Professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, David Ray Griffin discusses human-caused climate change from environmental, economic, moral, political, religious, and philosophical perspectives. Griffin writes that humankind cannot avoid suffering damaging consequences from 200 years of industrial capitalism, 100 years of automobile culture, and 75 years of air travel and corporate agriculture. But we are not doomed.

So long as most fossil fuels are left in the ground and carbon emissions are cut by 80 per cent in the next two decades, Griffin writes that human civilization will survive. Technology is coming to our rescue.

Electricity from solar can now be produced for less than the cost from fossil fuels. Wind and solar power can be produced locally in many places around the planet. Solar alone could produce many times more energy than humankind now uses from oll sources.

The problem is that capital, especially in Canada and the U.S., is so heavily invested in fossil fuels.

By the early 1990s science left no doubt that the continued reliance on energy from fossil fuels was leading to environmental catastrophe. Capitalists responded by investing hundreds of billions more in tar sands, fracking and deep offshore oil. Corporate interests used their political influence to maintain government subsidies, tax cuts and rebates for fossil fuels.

Electricity from wind and solar continues to be denied access to grids. (Griffin reports that major oil companies in the U.S. get a return of $30 in tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory change for every $1 they spend on political lobbying.)

In Canada, B.C. has a carbon tax. But a carbon tax of a few cents a gallon has little impact. Meanwhile B.C. provides oil, natural gas, and coal companies with subsidies and tax breaks. It actively promotes exports of fossil fuels.

This year, Ontario and Quebec announced plans to expand their participation in cap and trade. But cap and trade does not fund alternatives to fossil fuels. It doesn't even require the worst polluters to reduce emissions. It allows them to continue emissions so long as they purchase carbon credits.

In poorer countries -- and here in B.C. -- agricultural land is being lost as cap and trade speculators assemble agricultural land, plant trees and then sell carbon credits.

In the U.S., the Obama administration acknowledges the threat of climate change but does little. Some states have actively encouraged the development of wind and solar power. With little or no corporate investment, solar power in the U.S., China, Germany and other countries is expanding faster than other sources of electricity. But that is not fast enough to avoid unprecedented catastrophe.

Initiatives will not come from corporations. Their profits are inordinately dependent on fossil fuels. Initiatives will have to come from below, from communities, cooperatives, youth, academics, workers, the poor, unions, religious groups, environmentalists, candidates for political office, and electorates.

With deliberate, concerted public action, Griffin insists that fossil fuels can be replaced with wind and solar power in less than two decades.

 

 

Al Engler is a retired union activist and official. He is the author of numerous articles, two books and co-author of a third on capitalism, the environment and economic democracy.

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