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On August 10, 2022, the Han River swelled due to flooding. Photo: YaMaDa / Wikicommons / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY-SA 4.0 / license linked below

The climate catastrophe is at our doorstep and only the working class can avert this collapse, says John Clarke

There can no longer be any serious hope that the impacts of climate change will develop slowly and evenly. The scale and intensity of the process are clearly increasing with ever more catastrophic consequences. Recent weeks have confirmed this in ways that are quite horrifying and that leaves no room for doubt whatsoever.

The New Scientist publication is not given to sensationalism but its recent edition includes an article that is headlined ‘Heatwave in China is the most severe ever recorded in the world.’ Weather historian Maximiliano Herrera, informs us ‘This combines the most extreme intensity with the most extreme length with an incredibly huge area all at the same time. There is nothing in world climatic history which is even minimally comparable to what is happening in China.’

Unprecedented temperatures in hundreds of locations throughout the country have been logged, with Chongqing in Sichuan province registering a record-breaking 45C. In some cities, subway stations have been used to enable people to obtain respite from the unbearable heat. The impact of the extreme temperatures, moreover, is being compounded by low rainfall and massive crop damage has resulted. ‘In Sichuan alone, 47,000 hectares of crops are reported to have been lost and 433,000 hectares damaged.’

Rivers have been falling to low levels, with 66 of them drying up completely. Some local water supplies have run out and drinking water has had to be transported in. On August 19, a national drought alert was issued. Hydroelectricity generation has fallen disastrously, with thousands of factories in Sichuan having to cease production for lack of power. With these conditions continuing into the third month, ‘The situation could have worldwide repercussions, causing further disruption to supply chains and exacerbating the global food crisis.’

Disastrous flooding

As rivers run dry in China, Pakistan is being hit with devastating flooding on a scale that defies comprehension. “Literally, one-third of Pakistan is underwater right now, which has exceeded every boundary, every norm we've seen in the past.,” said the country’s finance minister, Sherry Rehman. “It's all one big ocean, there's no dry land to pump the water out,” she told the media.

It is estimated that ‘more than 33 million Pakistanis - one in seven people - have been affected by the historic flooding.’ After flying over some of the worst affected areas, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif stated that “Village after village has been wiped out. Millions of houses have been destroyed.” Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate devastated areas but there is no effective means of taking them to safety. “There are no landing strips or approaches available... our pilots find it difficult to land,” said a military spokesperson.

The economic impacts of this disaster are overwhelming. Apart from the homes and infrastructure that have been destroyed, ‘Almost half of the country's cotton crop has been washed away and vegetable, fruit, and rice fields have sustained significant damage.’ Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal suggested, with regard to the cost of rebuilding, that “A very early, the preliminary estimate is that it is big, it is higher than $10bn (£8.5bn).

Pakistan is currently appealing for financial assistance from international agencies and governments. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had suspended its loan payments to the country because the ‘targets’ it attached to them were not being met to its satisfaction. Before the floods struck, the Pakistan government was already trying to provide the IMF with assurances that it would impose enough hardship on the country’s population to appease the lending agency. The present catastrophe will obviously make the government even more ready to take whatever measures are necessary to obtain the funding.

These latest dreadful impacts of climate change follow on the heels of drought conditions throughout large parts of Europe. Several countries faced severe impacts and water shortages, with river levels falling and some even drying up. Luca Mercalli, the president of the Italian Meteorological Society, declared that “No similar data in the last 230 years compares with the drought and heat we are experiencing this year. Then we have had storms … These episodes are growing in frequency and intensity, exactly as forecast by climate reports over the last 30 years.”

Such is the impact of drought in the south western United States that ‘Lake Powell, a key component of the western U.S. water system, is currently filled to just 26% of capacity, its lowest point since 1967.’ This horrendous situation has been produced by ‘three years of intense drought and two decades of long-term drought in the American Southwest.’ It is expected that ‘total inflows to Lake Powell’ for this year will be only 62% of the average level.

Greenwashing

As the catastrophic impacts of climate change continue to intensify, as they certainly will, we can expect from the forces of fossil fuel capitalism only more determined efforts to avoid the course of action that our survival hinges on. In place of a serious effort to transition to sustainable productive activity, we face a mythical ‘greening of carbon extractive development’ and the false solutions posed by carbon capture technology.

With rivers running dry in China and vast sections of Pakistan underwater, it would be instructive to glance at some of the ways those in power are responding to the climate crisis. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decided to lay claim to world leadership in the production of electric vehicles, suggesting that they represent a solution to the climate crisis. He is seemingly oblivious to the well-established reality that changing the power source of private vehicles won’t curtail carbon emissions and that adequate and fully accessible systems of public transport are essential.

In France, with an enormous flourish, it was proclaimed that fossil fuel advertising will now be banned. Companies that profit from environmental degradation should certainly be denied the right to promote their activities in this way but, in the face of the appalling results of the climate crisis, it is unbelievable that such a pathetically mild gesture could be held up as an example of decisive action.

Meanwhile, in the last week of August, ‘A further 137 people were arrested..during a series of actions disrupting oil terminals and petrol stations in support of Just Stop Oil’s demand that the UK government end new oil and gas projects in the UK.’ One of those arrested, Steven Jarvis, 66, a retired plumber from Devon stated that “I’m taking action because this government seems determined to drive us ever deeper into the climate crisis and destroy our futures by licensing more oil extraction, so their mates in the oil industry can continue making obscene profits at the expense of ordinary working people.”

As the activities of these oil companies produce such dire consequences, those who seek to challenge them and struggle for a just and rational response to the climate crisis, are arrested and dragged into court. Yet, Steven Jarvis was entirely correct to suggest that it is the action of people like him that offers hope in this situation. This point was rather lost on US author, Chris Hedges, in a recent article he wrote entitled ‘We are not the first civilization to collapse but we will probably be the last.’ For all his renowned powers as a social critic, Hedges could only offer examples of earlier societies that had degenerated and fallen apart and conclude that ‘Our civilization’s collapse will be unique in size, magnified by the destructive force of our fossil fuel-driven industrial society...The difference will be in scale, and this time there will be no exit.’

Working class people across the planet are not in a position to join Hedges in self-indulgent despair. Though he disregards them, they are the great social force that can avert the civilisational collapse that he is ready to accept as an inevitability. The worsening climate crisis doesn’t call for weeping prophets but for mass social action and a struggle for a just, rational and sustainable society.

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John Clarke

John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

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