Climate in the Anthropocene

The Apocalypse Now

By Chris Kinder

Brief synopsis of part 1: The Industrial Age has led the world to the brink of a catastrophe comparable to the fifth extinction event 66 million years ago, in which a gigantic asteroid crashed into the Earth, killing the dinosaurs and other large species, and causing “nuclear winter” pollution of the atmosphere. The full effects of today’s climate change are yet to be seen, but they are beginning right now, and happening faster than anyone predicted. In the geological timeline, what’s happening now is virtually instantaneous.

The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is now in the 400s-parts-per-million (ppm), a level not seen since the Pliocene Epoch, roughly three to five million years ago. Unprecedented fire storms, more violent hurricanes, major flooding incidents and droughts, combined with disappearing glaciers, rapid animal extinctions, and major disruptions in plant life and agriculture, are only going to get worse. Coastal cities will have to be abandoned. Desperate migrations, hunger and disease are likely.

While all this is “human caused,” hence “the Anthropocene,” the real question is, who’s in charge? After hundreds-of-thousands of years of communal and egalitarian social life, humans are now in the grip of ruling classes, currently the capitalist class. Capitalist class domination, and its crimes of pollution of air, earth and water are the cause of the climate disaster we are facing. These are crimes against humanity. Only a workers’ revolution to overthrow the capitalist system can hope to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, and save the world in an egalitarian manner.

Part 2: “Fuhgeddaboudit”

My grandkids live in Brooklyn, New York. I visit them periodically. One day, on the Belt Parkway traveling north, along the waters of Jamaica Bay, I noticed a traffic sign on the side of the road: “Leaving Brooklyn—Fuhgeddaboudit.” No doubt a borough official came up with this after a boring day in the office.1

Of course, my grandkids do not have to worry about leaving Brooklyn, at least in today’s world. What they have to worry about is the planet leaving the Holocene, thus creating a new, dangerous world. They will see what folks my age will not. And the capitalist/corporate ruling class attitude toward this impending climate disaster is appropriately summed up by “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

What do we know, and when did we know it?

The whole world, it seems, has become much more aware of the impending climate problem in recent years, although scientists and thinkers have been sounding the alarm for centuries.

Writing at the beginning of the rapid development of capitalist industrial production, Karl Marx made a profound warning of the “metabolic rift” that was happening on Earth. Based on the work of German chemist Justus von Liebig’s notion of the robbery of nature, in which nutrients were being removed from the soil and shipped hundreds of miles to new urban centers, polluting the cities and not returned to the land; Marx developed an ecological critique of capitalism, in which he saw a “rift” between human society and nature which could only be healed by socialism. While Marx’s analysis did not include climate, it set a materialist stage for future thinking.2

Warnings about fossil fuels

A nineteenth century Swedish chemist, Svante August Arrhenius, became alarmed by the effects of coal use in the industrial revolution, and how it made the air dirtier and harder to breathe. Based on earlier work by French scientist Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier in identifying CO2 as the gas in the atmosphere that was responsible for keeping the Earth warm, Arrhenius concluded that humans would alter the world’s climate with their relentless burning of fossil fuels.3

Between 1820 and today, both the planet’s human population and energy use grew eight-fold. By the mid-20th Century, it was well known that coal, oil and natural gas represent millions of years’ worth of stored sunlight. In 1953, Palmer Putnam produced a thick tome, Energy in the Future. It was not a best seller, but it was recognized as important by the journal Science, and by serious policy makers.

Realizing that the heavy use of these fossil fuels could cause a dramatic increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, Putnam concluded this increase could be great enough “to affect the climate, and cause a further rise of sea level.” While the publication of Putnam’s book was paid for by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Putnam—as his book showed—was no promoter of nuclear power as a solution. He became a pioneer of wind power, and died in 1984. His book had little impact on public policy.4

What is being done now?

The discovery of an ozone hole in the atmosphere in the 1980s was an important harbinger of things to come on the climate front. Ozone is dangerous for humans at a low level, but in the stratosphere, it absorbs most of the equally dangerous ultra-violet rays from the Sun, and its depletion in large areas of the upper atmosphere was shown to be caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in aerosol spray deodorants and other products.

“Global warming” was beginning to be seen as a threat in the same decade. A conference was held in Toronto, Canada, and the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), set up an independent body, called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). A veteran of the effort to control the ozone hole, and a senior scientist at NASA, Robert Watson, was chosen to head up the IPCC.

The IPCC’s first assessment report, released in 1990, declared that the “greenhouse effect” was real, and a UN organized “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, attended by heads of state including U.S. President Bush (senior), elicited promises to do something about it. This commitment did not include any mention of curtailing fossil fuel emissions. But while eliminating spray deodorants was hardly a problem for the fossil fuel and chemical conglomerates, even a hint of the need for fossil fuel emissions reductions set off the defense-of-profits alarm bells in corporate offices.

Big oil goes on the offensive…

A number of organizations, funded entirely by Exxon and other oil and gas corporations, were set up to make the whole conversation go away. With names like “Global Climate Coalition,” and “Global Climate Information Project,” these front groups were designed to confuse people by creating uncertainty about the scientific facts, and make “global warming” sound like a comfy day at the beach. From the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and on, big oil was present and accounted for at every international climate conference to protect their interests right up to today. Not to be left behind in saving capitalism, their governments, chiefly the U.S., were on the job along with them.

A second and somewhat stronger IPCC report in 1995, which made it more clear that the Earth’s ecosystem was in danger from the CO2 in the atmosphere, led to the Kyoto, Japan conference in 1997. A treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was reached, with U.S. Vice-President Al Gore playing a crucial role in sealing the deal between developed and developing nations. This deal didn’t go far enough or fast enough to deal with the problem, but it was still an anathema to the fossil fuel industry, which began looking for the exit door immediately.

...And finds an ally

Shocked by the growing consensus that climate change was real, oil companies began dumping their anti-Kyoto front groups like the Global Climate Coalition, and searched for a new strategy. They were soon rewarded by the “election” of George W. Bush, in 2000. Through vote-count corruption in Florida, this anti-environmentalist missing-idiot-from-a-village-in-Texas had become president through a blatantly minority election to which his opponent, Al Gore, consented. Just two months after ascending this throne, Bush announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto process. This act was by a country that was the largest polluter of the atmosphere in the world for decades (now it is China, but the U.S. is a strong number two). As if that wasn’t enough, in April of 2002, the U.S. withdrew its support for Robert Watson as head of the IPCC, and he was removed.

Meanwhile, the auto industry in the U.S. was mass-producing, and happily gloating over the gas-guzzling monstrosities known as SUVs, which were “intentionally and consciously designed by automakers for an era when civility on the roads had been replaced with unabashed hostility...”5

The Conference(s) of Parties

The Conference of Parties (COP) was set up to be the decision-making body of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention (UNFCCC) in 1994 to stabilize the greenhouse gas emissions and to protect the earth from the threat of climate change. It has been a colossal failure, as shown recently by the meeting of COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Just before the Glasgow meeting, and referring to the Paris agreement made in 2015, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the key goal in climate talks is “on life support,” and that the latest report from the UNFCCC, “shows that the world is on a catastrophic pathway to 2.7 degrees of heating.” That would be 2.7 degrees Celsius, or 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming, a truly devastating number. This is a “code red” for humanity, said Guterres.

Another fact that should set off “code red” alarms is that fossil-fuel lobbyists and bankers basically took over the COP-26 conference. Many of these capitalist guzzlers flew in on private jets and in such numbers that they formed the largest delegation at the conference by far. There were some 550 of them, more than twice the size of the next largest delegation (which was the UK). Backed by 450 financial institutions, including Bank of America, BlackRock, Moody’s, Bloomberg and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, they formed the Glasgow Financial Alliance For Net-Zero (GFSN-Z) to create a private sector plan to get to that goal.

It’s as if the capitalist class was saying, “OK we’ve got this, so you can go home now.” Climate activists noted that many alliance members continue to be involved in financing oil extraction. And mass media news reports on Glasgow have ignored it almost completely.6

A plan that doesn’t make the cut

What the vultures of the Financial Alliance claim to be seeking, Net-Zero, is actually one of the weakest, and most convenient for capitalists, of options in the quiver of weapons to defeat climate change. Its goal is to combine reduction of emissions with “carbon capture”—removal of CO2 and other pollutants from the atmosphere—such that the continuing emissions are balanced by the removals to prevent any increase in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

The first problem with this is that the result leaves huge amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere which is still being replaced by new emissions, which are already enough to do away with our present climate. Capitalists can devise “carbon offsets” by contracting with other agencies, like overseas forest protectors, to plant so many trees in the forest that they “offset” the emissions of the contracting company. Or they can invest in one of the dubious “carbon capture” technologies that are being talked about, but which have all been seen to be failures, or only addressing small segments of the emissions. The investors can say “Hey, we’re doing something,” but either way, it’s “heads I win, tails you lose,”—we continue to make profits, so just “Fuhgeddaboudit.”7

The meager “accomplishments” at Glasgow

Biden and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson called COP-26 the “last best chance to save the planet,” a statement which begs an answer: COP-26 never had a chance! The basic problem is that the whole operation of controlling climate change under capitalism depends on empty promises made by the principal culprits: nations, their governments, and their ruling classes. A decade ago, the world’s wealthiest countries promised to come up with $100-billion-per-year in climate financing for poorer countries to help with sea walls and early warning systems for floods and droughts by 2020. Only a small fraction of that amount has been delivered so far, at the end of 2021.

“Countries still don’t seem to understand that we’re in an emergency situation, and we need to cut emissions much faster this decade...,” said Niklas Hohne, a German climatologist.8 The same might be said of the COP Paris Agreement in 2015, which didn’t formally schedule countries to report new climate pledges until 2025! COP-26 asked countries to come back with new plans next year, but don’t hold your breath.

Coming up short

Plans made at Glasgow are a mishmash. While some of the agreements sound good, there is no guarantee they will be carried out. For instance, over 120 countries pledged to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, and more than 100 countries pledged to cut emissions of methane by 30 percent this decade. Also, more than 100 national governments, cities, states, and car companies signed a declaration to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2030 to 2040. Countries were urged to fulfill and exceed the promises for $100-billion-a-year to poorer countries.9

The 26th conference heard from a representative of the Republic of the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean which faces inundation, who warned that what was on the table at this conference was not enough, and that “It will be too late for the Maldives.” Some countries including Bangladesh called for a new stream of funding, paid for by the wealthy top emissions countries which would help vulnerable countries recover from climate disasters they could not adapt to. This was refused by the U.S. and EU, with the promise of future negotiations. And, in a last-minute discussion, India and China, major coal users, forced a change in a call on countries to “phase out” coal power and government subsidies for oil and gas use: the language was changed to “phase down.” Ironically, this was the first time that “fossil fuels” were even mentioned in any COP resolution!

A capitalist charade

In separate negotiations on the sidelines, delegates from wealthy countries and corporations announced a deal to regulate carbon offsets to account for emissions reductions supposedly achieved by such schemes. And this points to the main problem in this whole circus: capitalism. Everything being done or planning to be done depends on pleading, cajoling, and bribing the big corporations and financial institutions to either change their ways, or shift their profit-making to new arenas. This is how reforms are often made in many arenas besides climate change. Got a problem with skyrocketing rents and thousands of homeless people on the streets? Pay off hotels to (temporarily) take them in (if they have vacancies and it’s not tourist season,) and bribe landlords with subsidies to cover their losses from reducing rents, and make the taxpayers pick up the tab.

Close to the fossil fuel industries are the car producers. About a week after Glasgow, Biden announced a deal in which the U.S. federal government would be carbon neutral by 2050, and that vehicle industries agreed to producing all electrical cars and trucks by 2035. The government part doesn’t threaten anyone’s profits, and neither does the conversion to electric vehicles, which could be quite profitable. But there are some major (unmentioned) conditions: the continued production of gas-powered vehicles, as well as the promise to go electrical, depends on both government and the oil industries. And even past 2035, there could still be millions of gas-powered vehicles on the roads.

What really needs to be done?

Emissions must be reduced to zero in a very short time, to prevent any more heating up than the planet is already in for.

Starting with fossil fuel extraction and production; this needs to stop immediately, as in three to four years. First of all, offshore drilling must be stopped. This includes dismantling all drill platforms, permanently plugging the holes, and cleaning up all the leaking pipes on the sea floor. Also, we must stop fracking operations everywhere, stop drilling on land anywhere, and clean up all sites which are polluting water sources or any other environmental destruction. Sounds like a big job, right?

If this were to be done under capitalism, millions of workers would be on the unemployment lines, and no one would be available for the clean-up. So, part of this job is to keep all workers on full payroll and retrain them as necessary for the new tasks. But this is nowhere near the whole task. Transportation electrification must accompany the drop off of oil and gas. This requires a much more massive project than anything provided for in Biden’s Build Back Better Act (the passage of which is dubious): construction projects to produce enough wind, solar, hydropower, biomass and geothermal energy to replace oil and gas. Developing sufficient electrical distribution lines, and installing charging stations for vehicles everywhere, is of course also necessary. And let’s not forget: all those gas-powered stoves that millions of us use for cooking need to be replaced, without breaking anyone’s budget.10

All this must be done while also closing down all nuclear energy plants and cleaning up their poisoning of the environment. And it must be done while eliminating (in the case of nuclear) or cleaning up the extraction of the minerals needed for the batteries of electric vehicles. Among the latter are lithium (around the world) and cobalt (mostly in Democratic Republic of Congo,) which today are extracted using the horrific practice of open-pit mining.11

Workers revolution is the
only answer

All this, and much more, must be done around the world, and done without disrupting anyone’s’ culture or survival. Clearly, this will require the expropriation of all major corporations, banks, and other financial institutions; seizing the wealth of billionaires (including wealth buried in tax havens;) and dismantling all militaries, especially the U.S. military which creates the most emissions of any U.S. institution, while also repurposing and retraining military personnel for clean-up of U.S. bases around the world at full union-level wages. In the course of this, many government and corporate big wigs, and many military officers and will have to be arrested and prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

So, what is required here is a government—a world full of cooperating governments—that plans, implements, and directs the wholesale transformations required for a new world economy. What sort of government could this be, except a democratic government with no ties to the capitalists, and composed of and led by the working people of the world?

Major overhauls of an economy have been done before, as in the complete restructuring of the automobile industry in the U.S. in 1941 from producing cars to making tanks and fighter planes for World War II. While this was an example of how repurposing of an economy could be done quickly, it was all for war and huge profits for the big capitalists.

Look at the Russian Revolution

In October 1917, Russia gave us a better example to follow. The workers revolution of that year overturned capitalism, defeated the reactionary Czarists and transformed an agricultural society with a few foreign-financed factories into an industrial economy that produced a better tank and a better fighter plane than the legendary German military and defeated them on the Eastern Front in World War II, thus winning the war in Europe. This kind of transformation would have been utterly impossible under capitalist domination, such as that represented by the Provisional Government which preceded the October Revolution.

The Russian Revolution, failing to immediately spread to the world, degenerated under Stalinism, but that need not deter us from following the example it set in 1917. The huge crisis that we face—an epochal shift in the planet like nothing humanity has been faced with before—can only be dealt with by an equally epochal response, which cannot be led by the current ruling class and its governments. It can only be led by the working people. Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

1 Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture:

2 See John Bellamy Foster, “The Planetary Rift,” Monthly Review, November 2021. This interview/article refers to Foster’s “Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift,” American Journal of Sociology, 1999; and to his book, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature, 2000.

3 Linda McQuaig, It’s the Crude, Dude, big oil and the fight for the planet, Double Day Canada, 2004

4 Richard Heinberg, “The Most Colossal Planning Failure in Human History,”

5 Linda McQuaig, op cit, p. 137.

6 Tucked away in the opinion section of the New York Times we find: Christopher Caldwell, “Bankers Took Over the Climate Change Summit,” New York Times, November 26, 2021.

7 For some examples of dubious or seemingly irrelevant carbon capture ideas, see “Top 10 Emerging Technologies for 2121,” Scientific American, December 2021.

8 “Climate Summit Reaches Accord Amid Contention,” New York Times, November 14, 2021. Niklas Hohne is a partner in NewClimate Institute, which created Climate Action Tracker.

9 COP26, A Snapshot of the Agreement, UN document:

10 Geothermal, in which energy is produced by heating water to the boiling point using natural heat from deep in the earth, doesn’t get much ink these days, but, I think, holds a lot of long-term promise.

11 Native peoples in the U.S. are currently protesting the highly destructive Thacker lithium mine in Nevada, which will destroy burial sites as well as the environment.