News | Analysis of Capitalism - Social Movements / Organizing - COP26 - Climate Justice A Century of Hell or a Climate Revolution

Climate change is the result of human activity. Although this is bad, it also means that we can do something about it.



Kathrin Gerlof,

In this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 photo provided by State Government of Victoria, a helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday, Dec. 31, and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities.  CC BY 2.0, Ninian Reid

450 million years ago, 86 percent of all species went extinct. 70 million years later it was 75 percent, 50 million years later 80 percent, and 80 million years ago, 75 percent, while other estimates put the figure at 98 percent.

Kathrin Gerlof is a freelance writer, journalist and editor for the monthly newspaper "OXI". Her books were published by Aufbau Verlag Berlin.

Translated by Hunter Bolin and Joel Scott for Gegensatz Translation Collective

None of this had anything to do with humans, who arrived on the scene much later. Humankind has come a long way. So far that, since the beginning of the industrial age, humans have created all the prerequisites for destroying the basis of their life so thoroughly that the species as a whole risks disappearing from the planet. Humans first appeared in the Holocene. In the Anthropocene, the epoch named after them, they redesigned the world according to their ideas. They are now beginning to understand that although the planet with all its treasures and resources is large, it is also finite. It’s a long way from understanding to action. Now we must entertain the fact that even if we find the way or the ways, there will not be enough time to take them.

This would be the alarmist and thus unhelpful reading of a development that we describe either as “climate change” or the “climate crisis”. Though it is worthwhile to attribute the extinction of species to human action, since the two phenomena are organically connected. One third of all species worldwide are currently at risk of extinction. Here in Germany, for example, around 80 percent of native bird species have been lost since 1800. On 60 percent of the earth’s surface, biological diversity has been so compromised that ecosystems are no longer able to function properly.

But alarmism is unhelpful, since it often leads to lethargy or, worse still, resignation. But it is not alarmist to describe the gravity of the situation and say that we can either act now or ignore it and face the consequences, which will be fatal. Of course, action is only possible if we trust in what scientists call the capacity for cumulative cultural evolution. Or more simply: becoming aware of the problem, engaging in a joint search for solutions, and collective rational action. It is a question of survival and thus has long since outgrown the realm of mere theory.

Although the beginning of the industrial revolution marks a turning point, we should remember that more than half of the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels has been released into the atmosphere in the past three decades.

Twenty-eight years ago, the United Nations presented its Framework Convention on Climate Change. 20 years earlier, the Club of Rome had demonstrated the limits to growth and described 12 future scenarios. Six of those scenarios described possibilities of collapse should the state of affairs continue uninterrupted. Their conclusion, which then as now hardly anyone wanted to hear, was that if we let our ecological footprint become larger than the planet can handle, we will be unable to simply smooth over the consequences. Since then, gross incomes, populations, CO₂ emissions, and fossil fuel consumption have all been increasing worldwide, the average temperature is rising, the oceans are warming, and the polar ice caps are melting.

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol stipulated that an increase of the earth’s atmosphere by two degrees Celsius would constitute the limit for a global catastrophe. We are very likely to reach this limit of two degrees, which is why political action today is and must be more concerned with dealing with the climate crisis than with preventing it. Because it’s not longer possible to prevent it. It is therefore all the more astonishing that the “climate package” adopted by the German government at the end of last year, with a starting price of ten euros per tonne of emissions, actually managed to outdo even the most pessimistic expectations. Such decisions come pretty close to climate change denial.

What to do when doing nothing is not an option?

Solutions must be negotiated in the sphere of politics and cemented in contracts and commitments. This must happen on a global scale, and take into account the fact that those who will suffer most from the dire developments of climate change are the ones who have contributed the least to it. It is therefore a matter of redistribution, debt and debt reduction and de-growth in those places where the most is produced and consumed, those places who burden poorer countries with the resulting costs, and misuse government action to deliver ecologically devastating and profit-oriented corporate strategies.

However, we should not place our hopes or expectations on politics or rather politicians to develop and consider solutions and then set them down in binding agreements. Only a strong and growing climate movement in all of its organizational and tactical diversity can force politicians to do these things. Because “politics is what is possible”, as Chancellor Angela Merkel has put it.

But if we leave it up to politics alone to decide what is possible, we will never achieve what is necessary. In other words, politicians must not be allowed to define what it considers feasible, since they are always only concerned with the next election. Otherwise we will be left with ten euros per tonne of CO₂ emissions and climate summits where only national interests determine the extent of the negotiations.

The good news is that this strong and growing climate movement exists around the world. It is much larger than just “Fridays for Future” or “Extinction Rebellion”; it is nourished by movements, initiatives, resistance, and organizations from all over the world. And it feeds on the knowledge of scientific expertise, which does not yet provide all the information we need (it never will), but it provides enough information, insights, and suggestions to mean that the necessary demand for rational action does not have to be formulated as a pipe dream.

The global climate movement, unlike politics, does not rely on the self-regulating powers of the market, the strength and imagination of the capitalist system, and the promises of technical progress and new, green deals. Because these are all fairy tales and resemble the sweet and catchy melody that plays while you are placed on hold.

Science speaks of almost 30 years left to complete the total phase-out of fossil fuels and achieve zero emissions. Not even one generation. Germany emits 866 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, making it one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. At present, politics essentially consists of running around, pointing our finger at others and shouting “Stop that thief!” This cheap trick no longer works with the climate movements. That alone should encourage us all.