Where climate change meets capitalism
by ARNOLD LETSHOLO
Rivers full of dead fish. Garbage fills stretching for acres. Cattle facing death amid vanishing pastureland. Forests wilting as trees are torched to make way for new cities. Welcome to the reality of the weather changes in this century.
There are those who deny that climate change is such a big deal – but they are on the wrong side of history, say global warming activists. The world is seeing a sure shift in the weather leading to a rise in extreme conditions. Human-induced changes of the natural world have quickened global warming. As a result, environmentalists are angry.
Already, deforestation is responsible for 17 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through the burning of wood, resulting in even fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide. For example, on a typical day in Beijing, home to one of the world’s largest populations, pollution levels are five times above the World Health Organisation’s standard for safety. Well over three million cars and coal-fired factories, steel mills and skyscrapers have led to intense smog in this Chinese city.
After marathon talks on climate change in Durban last December, countries agreed to forge a new deal by 2015 that would for the first time force all the biggest polluters to limit greenhouse gas emissions. This week, German chancellor, Angela Merkel, warned that global warming will pick pace dramatically “unless leaders reach a deal on limiting greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”.
In simple terms, the greenhouse gas increasingly covers the world and allows heat in, while preventing the trapped heat from escaping back into deep space. The result is global warming, which has fanned a political agenda all of its own.
As human activities continue to overload the atmosphere with green house gases, negotiations, seminars and workshops are held in comfortable buildings with air conditions – some of which use coal powered energy. Coal emits carbon, one of those green house gases.
It is during these meetings that accusations often surface. One such was the SADC Council of Non Governmental Organisations regional policy dialogue held at the Gaborone Sun in May. Silence reigned supreme as a South African unionist said the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) sees climate change as the child of capitalism.
“Shaping the way trade unions respond to climate change is the way in which they understand climate change,” said the rather etiquette conscious COSATU representative, Jeff Rudin.
He pointed out two broad possibilities. The first is to see climate change as a real catastrophe threatening the very existence of human kind, as well as all other current forms of life. An additional part of this understanding is that climate change is not a natural phenomenon but is specifically caused by people. “The final part of this understanding is that global warming is an automatic consequence of capitalism,” Rudin said.
However, he hastened to point out that other South African federations have different views, as he suspects is the case with some trade unions in other SADC countries. Interestingly, the Botswana Land Boards Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said they concur with COSATU.
“Capitalists or industrialists are more into profit maximization at the expense of workers, the poor the land and climate. I can give you the example of Phikwe near my home village. The vegetation around Mmadinare and other surrounding areas there no longer grows as it used to in the past. This is due to emissions from the BCL chimney. There are ways by which the concentration of the gases from that chimney could be neutralised to reduce their harm to the environment but the company cannot apply them for fear of increased expenditure,” said Motshegwa.
While Rudin said being ‘non-political’ is but another form of being profoundly political Motshegwa said no one is non-political as all have life choices led by politicians. There can only be active and inactive politicians. His federation is therefore socialist like the COSATU.
But are workers, the poor and others not partaking in the ‘capitalists’ transgressions’ through using their produce like the machinery, clothes and everything as part of development? In answering this, Motshegwa turned to religion and gave example of how even words and works of false prophets and juju men’s medicines can heal, albeit temporarily.
“We should not only look at immediate benefits that will uproot our natural recourses. The other social classes had no choices. Still it is the capitalists who benefit more as you can see they have everything, including technology and medical facilities that sustain them during this phenomenon. If the capitalists could not have rushed to cause the damage they have caused then maybe our lives would even be better as we speak now,” he said.
But is there anything that can be done at least to try and adapt to what humanity has created for itself? Motshegwa believes that first Batswana’s literacy on environment and climate change should be sound enough so that they do not rely on politicians for information on these. He emphasized that development should be centred on human life and the environment. Thus the first step would be to empower people with knowledge and skills for survival. Then action would be copied from the COSATU which is campaigning for ‘climate jobs’.
Rudin defined these jobs thus: “Climate jobs involve the adaptations that must be made as a consequence of global warming. Climate jobs are those specifically required to reduce the greenhouse gases emissions. Above all, this means greatly reducing coal, oil and natural gas as the primary sources of energy.”
Contacted for comment, the politician under whose portfolio the climate change subject falls, Kitso Mokaila, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism looked amused by the question of whether climate change is a child of capitalism. Looking at this writer from head to toe, he said: “All that you are wearing is from textiles which are industries that use machinery and natural resources from the environment. If you talk of industrialization as the cause of climate change then I agree with you.”
He however pointed out the fact that where there is demand for raw materials then political ideology matters less. Even socialists are involved in excessive exploitation of the environment which contributes to global warming.
The Botswana government, Mokaila said, has established the National Environment Fund which will be accessed for implementation of green projects to help in climate change mitigation or adaptation to it. It will be run by a board. Guidelines for the fund have been crafted and it will soon start operating.