- by Ryan Burley
- The Guardian
- Issue #1948
This article is based on the Alternative News program that was broadcast on Melbourne community radio station 3CR 8:55 am on 31st January, 2021. Alternative News is produced by the Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament and is presented every Sunday at 9:15 am.
One of Joe Biden’s first actions as President was to return the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, from which the US withdrew under Donald Trump. While this action has been praised as a positive step in the fight against climate change, a glance at current material conditions reveals a far different reality.
Under the Paris Agreement, the US has set itself a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least twenty-six per cent by 2025 (compared to 2005 levels). Climate Action Tracker is an independent group committed to scientific analysis of governmental action on climate change. The group rates the United States’ commitments under the Paris Agreement as “critically insufficient.” The reason for this rating is largely due to the fact that the US is responsible for around fifteen per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that it must work harder than other countries to carry its fair share of the climate action burden. According to current projections, the US will fall far short of its Paris Agreement pledge, with a reduction of around seventeen per cent expected by 2025. In short, the US will fail to meet a goal that is already far lower than what is needed.
The Paris Agreement is woefully inadequate. Its goals are simply not ambitious enough to address the urgent climate emergency that is already unfolding all around us.
According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have already passed one degree of warming in the global mean surface temperature. On our current trajectory, we are expected to reach 1.5 degrees by 2030 and 2 degrees by 2050.
At 1.5 degrees, we lose seventy to ninety per cent of coral reefs around the world. At 2 degrees, we lose 99 per cent. At 1.5 degrees, we can expect to see one ice-free Arctic summer this century. At 2 degrees, we will have one ice-free Arctic summer every decade. At 1.5 degrees, humans currently living in climate-vulnerable regions, which, incidentally, are also the world’s poorest regions, will see their ability to adapt to climate change significantly decreased. At 2 degrees, probability of adaptation in these areas drops to near zero.
And it bears repeating: on our current trajectory an increase in 2 degrees is guaranteed within the next thirty years. As if this is not bad enough, even if we immediately implement all of the commitments made under the Paris Agreement, this will still take us to 3 degrees of warming by 2100. And yet, the majority of signatories to the agreement are not even managing to hit these already insufficient goals.
Biden has promised to put the US on a path to total renewable energy production by 2050. But 2050 is far too late. Climate science tells us that if we are to have any hope of mitigating the impact of the sixth mass extinction event, for which humans are solely responsible, we need global greenhouse gas emissions at net zero immediately. Our chance to “make a start” towards fighting climate change was over thirty years ago, when scientists first rang the alarm bell over global heating. The train left the station long ago and we are still standing on the platform, looking for our ticket.
The Paris Agreement is nothing more than a diversion tactic – a photo-op for politicians who pretend to take meaningful action on climate change while continuing to subsidise the fossil fuel industry. Even liberal climate action groups like Extinction Rebellion (XR) can see through this cheap magic trick. However, where these groups falter is in their belief that the climate emergency can be addressed while maintaining the dictatorship of the capitalist class. The deliberate apolitical stance of Extinction Rebellion reveals an intellectual immaturity that undermines the effectiveness of their praxis.
The approach of XR is a perfect example of what Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek calls fetishist disavowal; that is, a refusal to believe what one knows to be true. Fetishist disavowal generally takes the form of “I know very well, but …” Thus, in the case of XR we see: “I know very well that capitalism is the driving force behind anthropogenic climate change, but I still believe that we can combat climate change from within the capitalist system.”
The interesting thing about Žižek’s idea of fetishist disavowal is the reason why this act of mental gymnastics takes place. It occurs because, while the subject knows the circumstances very well, she is nonetheless unwilling to take the drastic action required to make a change since doing so would unravel the foundation of her chosen reality. So, in this instance, we have people who can clearly see the role that capitalism plays in the destruction of the environment disavowing the evidence of their own eyes. They do this because, in spite of all their bluster, they are unwilling to challenge the capitalist system, which they still fetishise. It is, in the words of Robespierre, a mindset of wanting “a revolution without a revolution.”
To their credit, Extinction Rebellion do acknowledge that climate change is a global systemic problem that requires global systemic solutions. This is, at the very least, a step up from those who believe that climate change can be addressed at the level of the private individual. But XR’s stubborn refusal to engage with the economics of climate change shows that the movement is not yet based in material reality. Just as we rely on the science of climatologists, we must also rely on the science of Marxism-Leninism to analyse the driving forces behind climate change and adopt solutions based on really existing material conditions.
Returning to President Biden, we can see his true intentions regarding climate change by taking a look at who he has selected to hold office in his administration. Biden has chosen congressman Cedric Richmond to lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, a role that includes acting as a liaison between industry and climate change activists. Richmond is a career-long ally of the fossil fuel industry who has raked in over US$340,000 worth of donations from oil and gas companies during his ten years in Congress. On numerous occasions, Richmond has voted against his own party on environmental matters. These votes have resulted in new pipeline developments, increases to fossil fuel exports, and they have blocked legislation to more firmly regulate pollution in the fracking industry. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Richmond, who has spent his career in government greasing the wheels for big polluters, will suddenly begin caring about the environment.
Fracking – a particularly invasive and environmentally damaging method of extracting fossil fuels – is another area where Joe Biden’s rhetoric does not match up to his actions. Conservatives in the United States wailed in late January as Biden signed an Executive Order to “ban” fracking. If only this were true! The Executive Order signed by Biden only stops new fracking operations being developed on federal land. All existing fracking operations are not impacted and new developments on private land are still allowed. As the world hurtles towards climate catastrophe this kind of weak compromise is utterly pointless. Even worse, it is harmful when touted by popular media as a triumph since it gives the absolutely false impression that something is being done.
Joe Biden is an agent of the status-quo who cannot be relied upon to deliver anything meaningful in the arena of climate change. Speaking to a group of wealthy campaign donors in June 2019, Biden promised that “nothing will fundamentally change” under his presidency. Biden, like all bourgeois politicians, speaks truth to his wealthy donors and lies to the people. Just like Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W Bush, and every other US President in history, Biden’s only interest is serving imperialism and working towards realising the manifest agenda of the United States to achieve global hegemony.
Empty symbolic gestures such as the Paris Agreement and performative protest movements like Extinction Rebellion will not achieve anything in the struggle against climate change. Even Greta Thunberg, when speaking at Davos a year ago, said that “Pretty much nothing has been done” to address climate change. XR have staged a lot of colourful, controversial protests, yet the movement has practically zero material achievements to its name.
Climate change is a systemic problem that is fundamentally linked to the material conditions of human activity. The only way to combat climate change is to address these material conditions. And the only way to do this is by abolishing the destructive capitalist system and adopting a planned socialist economy. Anything else is a mere distraction – a parlour trick designed to maintain capitalist hegemony at the cost of the natural world.