George Monbiot (The Guardian, Wednesday 3 April) makes the case for large scale reforesting and re-wilding as the “Natural Climate Solutions” to the problem of how to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
He recognises that this removal can be no “substitute for the rapid and comprehensive decarbonisation of our economies.” But his approach to bringing about this large scale re-wilding falls short is what of needed, and fails to link it to these wider needed transitions.
A lot of what Monbiot says is true. Even if we reduced carbon emissions to zero today, this would leave global atmospheric levels of CO2 over a third higher than the highest they had reached at any point in the million years – at least – predating capitalism and the industrial revolution.
These higher levels would continue to drive a rise in global temperatures. Global warming in turn would contribute to various feedback mechanisms, through which more greenhouse gases are released. One significant example is the thawing of the Siberian permafrost leading to large releases of methane, a greenhouse gas even more powerful per molecule than carbon dioxide.
Given this, it is vital that we not only rapidly halt carbon emissions, but that we also work to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Monbiot is right to highlight the limits of many currently proposed ways of doing so, at least using today’s technology. He is right, too, to point to the effectiveness and importance of supporting the ecological restoration of forests, salt-marshes, peat bogs, and more. Such ecosystems not only extract lots of carbon from the atmosphere, but protect ecological biodiversity.
How can we make this re-wilding happen? Monbiot seems to advocate little more than an NGO-style approach to raising awareness of these “Natural Climate Solutions”.
Awareness won’t stop climate change. What youth climate strikers recognise, and socialist environmentalists emphasise, is that winning the necessary changes requires much more pressure than that. Despite widespread acknowledgement of the severity of climate change, and of concrete steps that would reduce it, these steps haven’t been taken.
Why? Today’s global economic systems are capitalist: it functions in the interest of profit for those who own or control companies – the ruling class. An endless pursuit of more and more profit drives exploitation of the majority of society – the working class. Nature, too, comes second to short-term profit, and has been ruthlessly plundered for the ruling classes’ wealth. Through their immense accumulated wealth, the ruling class are extremely powerful.
To decarbonise our economies requires tackling fossil fuel companies and infrastructure, which an extremely powerful section of the ruling class has strong short-term interests in preserving. A rapid transition to zero carbon emissions will also require significant financing. The wealth in society exists in the bank accounts of the rich and their businesses, and we must wrestle control of some, for this decarbonisation.
“Natural Climate Solutions” themselves require large areas of land to be used in the long term interests of all of us, rather than the short term profit of a few. It requires public ownership and control of land, for a start.
In short, to tackle climate change we must confront the ruling class: we must overthrow capitalism, and build a socialist environmental alternative.
This goes well beyond awareness raising. We can challenge and overthrow capitalism. The ruling class owns society’s wealth; and the infrastructure, companies and organisations which create this wealth. But the working class does the work, day to day, to produce this wealth and make society function.
If we organise together, we can change society, win a world free of exploitation, and prevent the worst of global warming.