Socialist Worker

Beware, the heat is on

Socialists everywhere need to take environmental issues more seriously, says Mzimasi Makiniki , campaigner on debt and workers’ rights in Malawi

Issue No. 1924


Tim's cartoon

I HAVE a question for radical and progressive people in the West. What are we going to do to save the world? I know that many of you have marched and demonstrated against Bush and Blair’s war in Iraq.

Those protests were an inspiration to us in countries like Malawi.

I know as well that there have been great movements against the true weapons of mass destruction—debt, AIDS, famine and poverty.

But there’s another issue where time is running out, and I want to start a serious debate so that we can take action together.

I’m speaking about climate change, which is already killing people and threatens to kill very many more—or even destroy the whole planet.

A study last year by Professor Andy Haines, dean of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found that climate change already causes in the region of 160,000 deaths a year.

To be callous, that’s not much compared to the deaths caused by debt or AIDS, but much worse is to come.

A warming climate will increase the range and incidence of tropical diseases such as malaria and tick-borne encephalitis.

I expect a lot of people think that a few degrees warmer might be rather pleasant—especially if you live somewhere colder like Britain.

But please remember that the last Ice Age was only about five degrees Celsius cooler than today.

If that little cooling could result in such drastic effects, what could happen with a much more rapid shift in temperature is truly frightening.

It’s also tempting to think that an increase in carbon dioxide will help plants, as they use carbon dioxide to grow, and higher temperatures mean longer growing seasons.

But plant photosynthesis needs more than warmth and carbon dioxide. The other ingredients are sunlight and water.

The water cycle will be drastically altered with increased temperatures, increasing the number and severity of both droughts and floods. Higher temperatures increase the rates of evaporation from the surface.

When conditions momentarily shift, the massive amounts of water now held in the atmosphere flow down in torrential quantities. Global warming will most probably increase ozone layer depletion, bringing about more plant-damaging ultraviolet rays.

And I haven’t even mentioned the increase in infestations because insect larvae can now survive better through winters. Nor have I mentioned the increase in the frequency and severity of fires.

To sum up, malnutrition and starvation will follow extreme weather conditions such as droughts and floods brought on by global warming.

And most of the climate-related deaths will occur in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Take my own country, Malawi. About 90 percent of Malawi’s population is rural and dependent on agriculture. Agriculture employs almost 85 percent of the labour force and accounts for nearly 90 percent of the export earnings. If agriculture is hit then hundreds of thousands of rural households will suffer or perish.

It is of course true that the effects of climate change will spare nobody on this planet. But that doesn’t mean that everyone gets the message.

The US is responsible for about 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, with only about 4 percent of world population.

Since 1990 emissions in the US have increased by 20 percent.

George Bush is like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, leading a herd of corporate dinosaurs over the cliff and bellowing as he goes.

When the colonialists came to Africa they described its people as “barbarous”.

If we “discovered” the US today how could we describe a society so obsessed with visiting war and death upon other people when they should be urgently tackling so many problems?

So what do we do? I don’t believe the answer is separate campaigns over everything.

Before the First World War there was a women’s movement and a workers’ movement and a peace movement.

The great success of the revolutionary anti-capitalists was that, faced with the unparalleled crisis of 1914, they were for the unity of movements around a spine of changing the system.

They saw that a working class movement had to have the answer to workers’ freedom, women’s emancipation and how to stop war.

We need that same focus now. Let me whisper it quietly, but the world is going to the dogs and we are not doing enough to save it.

It is in the class interest of working people across the globe to seize this issue, because only our class has the power and the collectivity to provide a solution.

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Sat 23 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1924
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