Change the System, Not the Climate

Erinç Yeldan

A. Erinç Yeldan, a regular Triple Crisis contributor, is Professor of Economics at the Bilkent University, Ankara. He holds a PhD from the University of Minnesota, and is one of the Executive Committee members of the International Development Economics Associates, IDEAs.

The above title is from the article “We Need System change to stop climate Change” from The Bullet, the online newsletter of the Socialist Project (Toronto, Canada). The call to “change the system” was made following UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon’s initiation of a summit—to draw attention to the threat of global climate change—in late September.

The call was already resonated by similar pleas, in particular by the global labor movement. IndustriALL Global Union declared in May 2014, for instance, that “there will be no jobs on a dead planet.” “The same people that try to avoid action on climate change have repressed workers for decades,” the union continued. “A Just Transition into greener jobs is the key to unlock the door to a sustainable future.”

It is estimated that, since the industrial revolution, the surface temperature of our planet has increased by an average of 1.5 to 2.2°C. This is attributed mostly to the concentration of the CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns that life forms on our planet can tolerate only up to an additional increase of 2°C until the end of the current century.

Environmental scientists argue that in order to counter these threats, concentrations of CO2 should be limited to 450 ppm (parts per million) in our planet’s atmosphere. Estimates vary, but it is generally agreed that, prior to the industrial revolution, CO2 concentrations were on the order of 220 ppm.

In the event that these limits are breached, our planet’s climate will likely undergo a severe change, with sea levels rising and many harmful bacteria be spreading out with direct adverse consequences to at least 14% of the population of the developing world. With further adverse implications to productivity growth, it is estimated that costs of climate change will reach up to $25 trillion (one-third of the current level of the aggregate global value added).

In fact, let’s talk a little bit more in the language that capital will listen to: a recent ILO (International Labour Organization) report indicates that “the current resource-intensive development model of the past will lead to rising costs, loss of productivity and disruption of economic activity.” As a result of “the economic damages due to environmental degradation and loss of basic ecosystem services … productivity levels in 2030 would be 2.4% lower than today, and 7.2% lower by 2050.”

In a similar vein, OECD estimates caution that, mostly as a result of the adverse conditions due to climate change, productivity losses in the Asian economies through 2060 will reach 5%, and to 4% for the developing world as a whole. As a result, global consumption demand will recede by 14%.

In addition to the threat of climate change, global capital’s unrestrained quest for profit at all costs further reveals itself in widening poverty, the rise of the “informal” sector, and deterioration of incomes of the working masses. According to ILO’s data, 457 million workers (about a third of the global labor force) live under conditions of poverty, with a daily income of less than $2. Almost half are employed under “vulnerable conditions.” In addition, 5.1 billion people on our planet live without any social security coverage. Global capitalism is creating and re-creating conditions for poverty and environmental degradation with serious threats to the social and natural well-being of our planet.

One final comment from the OECD study: According to the researchers, today’s advanced economies are already experiencing a dramatic slowing of productivity growth. By the 2060s, the late-comers to industrialization will likely suffer from the same fate. Thus, the 21st century might just be witnessing the very last crisis of capitalism.

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