Dossier on Global Warming and « Ecological Transition » by La Tribune des Travailleurs (France)
A dossier by La Tribune des Travailleurs (France)
La Tribune des Travailleurs, the weekly newspaper of the Independent and Democratic Workers Party of France (POID) has published a dossier on global warming and « ecological transition ». It consists of four articles. We reprint this dossier here in full.
Global warming: where do we stand?
An interview with Charles Dupuy, retired meteorological engineer, IPEF, (a State corps of bridge, water and forest engineers)
— Can you simply summarise for our readers what is contained in the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report on global warming?
To be precise, this is the new IPCC Group 1 report, the pre-publication of which last spring had a very high profile indeed. The media have deduced four main conclusions from this new report, which are:
1. Global warming is confirmed.
2. It is mainly due to human activities.
3. It is now unavoidable, in the absence of major changes in these activities.
4. It is unsustainable, in the sense of respecting the objectives and deadlines of the Paris Agreement of COP 21 (2015).
In the wake of these comments, the notion of ecological transition has invaded the political discourse of all parties and trade unions. A kind of “sacred union for the climate” is thus being forged.
— There is no denying that climate disasters are on the rise?
It depends on which ones. Some are probably becoming more frequent (heat waves). However, it is not scientifically demonstrable that every extreme event, forest fires associated with droughts (Australia, California, Greece, Portugal, Turkey), major floods such as in Germany this summer, all cyclones such as Ida or every « Cevenol episode », can be attributed to global warming.
— Nor can we deny the seriousness of the events?
It is not a question of denying that. But it must be noted that the official discourse on global warming and its consequences invariably refers to our « collective responsibility », rich and poor, workers and bosses. We share in common the responsibility for all the kinds of pollution. Even before tackling the characteristics of these extreme events, it should be noted that this official discourse systematically neglects the prevention and adaptation efforts that have long been on the agenda. For it is indeed the breakdown of public services (forestry, firefighting [fire brigades], hydro-meteorological administrations, protective infrastructures [dykes], etc.) in all countries that contributes greatly to aggravating the consequences of these events! To be convinced of this, it is sufficient to compare the effects of two hurricanes Katrina and Ida (see below).
— Fair enough. But can we trust the IPCC report itself?
To answer this question, we must first recall what the IPCC is. This Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brings together, under the aegis of the UN and its member States, an international scientific community made up of hundreds of members. The IPCC publishes thick reports, which are validated by the States, including the ‘Summary for Policymakers’. The last full report, called AR5, dates from 2013. To date, for the AR6 Report, only the contribution of Working Group 1, which studies the physical, chemical and biological aspects of climate change, has been made public. It does not assess the socio-economic and demographic « scenarios » injected into the « projections » for the future. These scenarios are highly debatable and will only be presented (Working Groups 2 and 3) next year, on the eve of COP 26.
— What does this report say?
Compared to the previous report, it firstly integrates the observations of the last eight years. It confirms two phenomena: the continuation of global warming itself and the predominant character of the « anthropogenic influence » (the famous « greenhouse gases ») in this warming. It notes that after a decline – poorly explained! – in the rate of warming in the previous fourteen years (1998-2012, the ‘hiatus’), this rate has accelerated again to return to the long-term trend.
— From a factual point of view, does the 2021 pre-report provide any new information compared to the previous one (2013)?
Not really. There is no mention of any major scientific discovery from one report to the next, only some improvements in the models, nothing decisive. Moreover, Stéphane Foucart, editorialist of the French daily Le Monde, who is an « ecological transition », was very disappointed in this respect, headlining: « What is the IPCC still good for?” But the ideological discourse on the hypotheses of evolution is reinforced, with a wealth of « regionalizations » that are not really convincing. The greenhouse gas production scenarios would show that the objectives of the Paris Agreement remain out of reach, unless emissions are drastically reduced. However, research into recent climate simulations has highlighted what is modestly called « internal natural variability ».
— What is that?
Natural internal variability refers to the fact that transient, contradictory and difficult-to-predict processes can occur within a recognised general trend (the major example is the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon in the eastern Pacific). For example, the seasonal forecasts of Météo France published just before last summer predicted a very hot summer, which the media were quick to link to global warming. However, the impact of a classic but random phenomenon of « cold droplets » coming down from the pole meant that the climatic reality of the summer completely invalidated the initial « most likely » forecast!
— Yes, but these were short-term forecasts!
Medium-to very long-term climate simulation models are basically the same and have similar weaknesses. The same kind of setbacks await climate modellers. The full report of Working Group 1, in illustrating a ‘frequently asked question’ about internal variability, presents the striking analogy of a walker and his dog. The walker is the strong trend due to human activities, a regular cause of global warming. But this trend is accompanied by a capricious dog (on a leash?): quite simply the real ‘year-round’ climate that we experience in practice. It randomly precedes or follows its master, possibly ‘for ten or twenty years in a row’, according to the IPCC itself! The latter invites us to « focus on the master and not the dog », without realising the enormity of the statement…
— So what can we conclude from this pre-report of IPCC Working Group 1?
The main conclusion is the repeated assertion that the catastrophic consequences of global warming are « unavoidable ». It is used as an argument of authority to call, in the words of Pisani-Ferry (1), for what he calls a process of creative destruction (2). The plan is to allocate 2 % of world GDP for ten years to massive investment in new technologies and new means of production, at the cost of widespread destruction of existing material and human capital. This, Pisani-Ferry acknowledges, will lead to « a significant negative shock on the supply side », i.e. the means of production, and « major negative effects on consumer welfare », i.e. on the living conditions of workers. The dramatisation of comments on global warming allows the capitalists, and the governments in their service, to « justify » the massive destruction of the means of production and their redoubled attempts to reduce household incomes and demolish public services. That is, to impoverish the working population.
— Is it possible to approach the problem differently?
The main concern of a social and political regime associated with the interests of the people should be, in the face of a climate change of such magnitude, the reality of which seems to be confirmed, to ask how to help the workers, the peoples the human race to find the means to prevent and/or adapt to unpleasant or destructive climate change in the long term (although, let us repeat: forecasts, even in the medium term, are still difficult to define). In particular, this means immediately defending and strengthening all services for the prevention of and adaptation to extreme events, such as meteorology, hydrology, oceanography and civil security, rather than destroying them! It also means the independence of scientific research from capitalists and bankers.
Interview by Amandine Vidal
(1) Jean Pisani-Ferry is a trusted advisor to Macron, who co-wrote his economic programme.
(2) A favourite term of the most reactionary ideologues of capitalism. It would allow the « optimisation of the allocation of the factors of production », by means of the game of profit and competition.
Ecological transition: a business that can be profitable… But for whom?
On Monday 18 October, the French Banking Federation announced that from January 2022 they would cease all financing of « dedicated projects and companies whose share of unconventional hydrocarbons in exploration and production would be, concerning shale oil, shale gas, oil sands, above 30 % of their activity ». What is behind this sudden environmental concern on the part of the banks?
According to the French daily Les Echos, the aim is to enable French banks to « take advantage of the business opportunities of the ecological transition« . Indeed, the objective of « carbon neutrality » by 2050 in Europe will require investments of 28 trillion euros (i.e., 28,000 billion euros). Reading Les Echos, we understand that these astronomical sums (the equivalent of two years of the combined gross domestic product of all the countries of the European Union!) will be used to destroy the traditional car industry and all subcontractors, to finance recharging and electrification infrastructures for the vehicle pool, and to finance the reduction of energy costs in buildings.
We note in particular that these investments will aim to finance « the renovation of « poorly insulated flats » inhabited by elderly people who cannot afford the cost of the work ». Forced by law to carry out thermal renovation work on their house or flat tomorrow, they will have no choice, given the amount of capital required, but to take out loans from banks, which will not be reimbursed during their lifetime (as the sums are far too high). The loan contract will therefore stipulate that the loans will be « repaid on the resale of the property, or the death of its occupier« . That was quite something to think up! The 28 trillion lent by the banks under the heading of ecological transition will bring them gigantic profits.
How will these 28 trillion euros be repaid to the banks, how will the interest be paid? As far as individuals are concerned, as we have seen, by the looting and outright confiscation of the individual houses of the elderly who, upon their death, will have to give up all their property. As regards infrastructures: the public funds of the State will be largely solicited to finance them (and, in passing, to destroy the entire productive sector deemed too polluting).
To pay back these 28 trillion euros, companies will receive State aid from the budgets of public services, which are increasingly being strangled and privatised. More classes in schools and beds in hospitals will be closed, and all public services will be privatised to allow the « ecological transition » to generate huge profits for the banks.
Marx once analysed the way in which, once they have reached a certain stage of development, certain productive forces turn into « destructive forces », citing mechanisation (today: digital technology) and money (speculation). Rosa Luxemburg added to this list the arms economy and the war economy.
Perhaps we should now add a new category of destructive force: ecological transition. A transition that is deadly for workers and working-class families, but extremely profitable for the banks and big business.
Katrina 2005, Ida 2021: from one hurricane to another
Ida is a hurricane that made landfall on 29 August 2021 at the mouth of the Mississippi River near New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. It was classified as a level 4 hurricane, one notch above its predecessor Katrina, which devastated the same region exactly 16 years ago (2005).
Then, after weakening into a ‘tropical storm’ as it crossed the centre-east region of the United States, it regained strength when it hit the New York region on 2 September, due to an unfavourable overall weather situation. It should be noted that the American meteorological services (National Weather Service and above all the National Hurricane Center based in Miami) perfectly forecast the trajectory and intensity of the phenomenon, with real anticipation (despite the difficulties of such forecasts).
What is striking about Ida is the twofold contrast in terms of economic and social consequences:
- between what happened in Louisiana and the north-eastern states (New York), on the one hand
- between the devastation caused by Katrina in Louisiana and the more moderate nature of the devastation caused by Ida 16 years later.
Many political and media commentators have been quick to blame ‘worsening climate change‘ for what they have pretended to discover.
This dramatization is very convenient to clear the public authorities of their responsibilities, to make the whole population feel guilty and to promote the « greening of the economy ».
Let’s go back to the economic and social consequences of these extreme events.
- Katrina officially caused 1,800 deaths and several billions of dollars of damage! This was mainly due to the flooding caused by the failure of the dilapidated levees that were supposed to protect the city from the recurrent flooding of the Mississippi, but also because of the dramatic inability of the public services (at the federal and state levels) to evacuate a very poor, mainly Black, population in time and after the hurricane. In the meantime, heavy manpower was devoted to hunting down looters! As the former capital of the French slave planters, New Orleans is famous for its picturesque African-American traditions and culture. But, in the past, it was constantly neglected and despised by the American bourgeoisie.
- The relevant services had however provided perfectly adequate information on the forecasting and monitoring of the hurricane – in particular, from the National Hurricane Center in Miami (which rightly enjoys an excellent international reputation). What went wrong was the entire advance prevention system, including the maintenance of dykes and infrastructure. Added to this was the notoriously inadequate preparation of the rescue and evacuation services.
Sixteen years later, after Ida hit Louisiana, there were seven deaths in New Orleans, perhaps twenty in all in the surrounding countryside. Less than thirty in all, compared to the 1,800 in 2005! Admittedly, the damage is significant, particularly the destruction of the electricity network, but it is not comparable to that of 2005. How can such differences be explained? Simply by the fact that the local and federal authorities, spurred on not so much by the impoverished electorate as by the local bourgeoisie, have, in sixteen years, mobilised the material and organisational resources needed to deal with a new « Katrina »!
« Everyone still remembers the painful memory of Katrina, the hurricane that made landfall in Louisiana on 29 August 2005, 16 years to the day before Ida arrived. More than 1,800 people were killed and billions of dollar-worth of damage was done.
« I was there 16 years ago for Katrina, the wind seemed worse this time, » said Dereck Terry, 53, to AFP. « But the damage is not as bad, I think, » said the man in the Superman T-shirt, holding an umbrella.
“Insurance companies estimate that Hurricane Ida caused 15 to 20 million dollars’ worth of damage, according to preliminary estimates » (Ouest France, 31 August 2021).
But when, five days later, the same Hurricane Ida hit New York City, the residents found themselves, all other things being equal, in a distress comparable to that of the Blacks in New Orleans sixteen years earlier. The infrastructure situation in New York and the city’s preparedness for weather disasters are denounced in the following terms:
« We shouldn’t be surprised! » blasted Jonathan Bowles, director of the think tank Center for an Urban Future. “The city seems to fall apart with every major storm. Most of the infrastructure dates back to the 20th century, » Bowles told AFP.
“The massive metro system, which was totally paralysed on Wednesday night and further disrupted on Friday, saw stations completely flooded, with torrents of water pouring down the stairs to the platforms.
“An unheard-of fact, in the middle of the city, with the torrential rains that Ida brought, ‘the water accumulated so quickly that people were trapped in their own basements’, de Blasio lamented » (Ouest France, 3 September 2021).
Particularly appalling is the fact that it was the poorest residents – often Latin American immigrants and Blacks – relegated to blind basements in the city centre, at the foot of the arrogant skyscrapers, who were the victims fated to drown.
In search of an impossible ‘social consensus’…
Mr Guy Ryder can hardly be called a dangerous revolutionary. He was a British trade union leader at the end of the last century, and later served as General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the International Trade Union Confederation. Today he heads the International Labour Organisation (a tripartite body bringing together representatives of governments, employers and trade unions from around the world).
In terms of ecological transition, Ryder is concerned about the reality of the « social consensus » (Le Monde, 23 October). The forecasts made at COP 21 suggested the creation of more than 100 million jobs, he recalls, before noting that « what has been done so far is very insufficient« . The only tangible reality is that « 2.2% of the world’s working hours will be lost due to heat stress, which is equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs« . The forecast: 100 million jobs created. The reality: 80 million jobs destroyed.
This does not prevent Guy Ryder from continuing to hope for a « fair transition« , even if he regrets that « the States are not taking sufficient
account of the social policies necessary for the implementation of this transition« . Hence this concern: « If no anticipation is made, the populations will react negatively, this transition will be blocked.” A social consensus is needed for it to succeed. Without strong support measures, the situations on the ground could become dramatic. In line with what he has always advocated, Ryder pleads for social dialogue mechanisms to be put in place in order to « exploit employment opportunities » and also to « strengthen social protection systems in the context of climate change policies ». Nice promises for the future, but… promises are only binding on those who trust them.
The reality is harsher: in addition to the 80 million jobs already lost, there will be « millions of workers (who) will lose their jobs because of the concentration of certain industries. (…) Other sectors that will not be as directly responsible for CO2 emissions will also be affected, such as agriculture.
The reality, Ryder acknowledges, is that workers, subject to the devastating consequences of « transition », often see « no alternative to their activity ». This is why, he writes, « it is this alternative that must be prepared, which has not been done for the steel industry in France, for the mining sector in the United States, where two or three generations later, the families of the workers continue to live in difficulty. I fully understand that workers and their families are worried, but this is not the first time that a disruption of the world of work has happened. It just requires a collective global response.” The only problem, and Ryder cannot ignore this, is that the « global collective response » always goes in the same direction: it is the workers who pay the consequences of the imposed restructurings. Yesterday in the name of economic competitiveness, and today in the name of ecological transition.
It is not social consensus that workers need in the face of the destructive measures taken in the name of ecological transition. It is the united struggle of workers and organisations to impose the only acceptable measure: no job cuts, no questioning of gains. It is up to the capitalists to pay the consequences of the crisis of their system, in all areas, and not to the workers!