Goodbye, Kyoto

Updated: 25 March 2010, 02:13

Originally written: 29 June 2006

The Government of Canada has decided to back out of its commitment to the Kyoto protocols.

This pits the current Conservative government against the Liberals of the previous government. It is interesting in the same way that an optical illusion is interesting. The Conservative government explicitly renounces the greenhouse gas targets in the Kyoto agreement. The Liberal government watched greenhouse emissions increase by 26.6 percent between 1990 and 2004, putting Canada 34.6 percent above the Kyoto target.

There has been no significant change of effective policy. There are a lot of smoke and mirrors illusions to keep people interested in capitalism's politicians, but the end result of their actions is indistinguishable, as usual.

Few people have advanced degrees in climatology and related fields. Few have spent years dedicated to studying the complex relationships which exist in the environment. The average person is confronted by experts funded by the vested interests of industry and by the vested interests of environmental organizations. Because there are vested interests with enormous financial incentives involved, anything we hear must be considered suspect.

Scientists in the appropriate fields differ on many aspects of global warming. There are two key aspects of the issue for most people, including most of the scientists. The first issue is if there is actually global warming occurring at all. Assuming there is global warming, the second issue is whether or not global warming is caused by human activity. If there is no global warming, then activity to reduce global warming does not make much sense. If there is global warming but it is not caused or exacerbated by human activity, then draconian plans to modify human activity would not seem reasonable.

Capitalism’s Gravediggers does not possess the highly specialized technical knowledge and research capability to pretend to make a decision based upon the raw data of temperatures, trends, volcanic eruptions, sunspots, etcetera. However, we must all attempt to analyze reality as well as we can, depending upon the information available to us. So, based upon what seems to be the predominant scientific view, Capitalism’s Gravediggers takes the position that global warming is a fact.

If subsequent analysis and research change the predominant scientific view, Capitalism’s Gravediggers will conform to the new view. That is how scientific understanding works. One works with the information and knowledge available to make reasonable conclusions. New information may change those conclusions.

Reasonable people do not decide that there is global warming, or no global warming, and then believe only the information and data which support their decision.

The more difficult issue is whether or not global warming is caused or increased by human activity. If there were no climatologists who believed human activity does not affect global warming, this would be easy. But that is not the case. And, contrary to those who think that all scientists should agree on everything all the time, it is in part the intellectual capacity to disagree — with reasons — which make science the extraordinarily successful tool it is.

As noted earlier, the climate is an extremely complex group of phenomena, spanning millenia. Short term fluctuations in temperature and the other components of climate can easily be misinterpreted, no matter how carefully scientists try to analyze the data. A few hundred years, in climatological terms, is a very short time.

But it is the vested interests which are the real problem for those of us who are not climatologists. When one’s livelihood depends upon research dollars from organizations with significant financial interests in the outcome, the research must be considered suspect. The greenhouse-gas-producing industries have a vested interest in continuing to produce whatever they produce as cheaply as they can. Pollution is not a serious consideration to the vast majority of for-profit enterprises unless pollution costs them. If it costs them, they seek to minimize those costs either by preventing the pollution or preventing the costs.

If government can be convinced to license or ignore pollution, industry will pollute until a cheaper less-polluting technology becomes available.

Scientists who receive their funding from the greenhouse-gas-producing industries must produce reports showing that human activity does not contribute to global warming. There may be exceptions, but by and large, it makes little economic sense for the greenhouse-gas-producing industries to fund reports which would result in increased production costs for the industries.

The industry does not have to attach visible strings to its research funding. The strings are obvious. If a funded scientist continually reports that those providing the funding are destroying the human habitability of the planet at an alarming rate, the industry has no obligation to continue to fund that scientist’s research. So that scientist will no longer be producing reports.

It is scientifically desirable for scientists to question — with facts to back it up — the results and analysis of other scientists. That, as noted earlier, is a strength of the scientific approach. So, given that society today is tied to money, it is desirable for competing and opposing interests to fund scientific research.

The environmentalist organizations are, if they employ climatologists, rather large businesses. They have a vested interest in showing that the environment is on a downward spiral, because it is precisely that apocalyptic viewpoint which results in donations to fund the organizations.

Governments govern for the capitalist class, but in countries such as Canada they may have lost their direction, somewhat, and tend to appease public opinion rather than moulding it. However, there is a growing environmental industry and new technologies which will benefit as the greenhouse-gas-producing industries are increasingly regulated. These industries may be the wave of the future, so government may indeed be on the correct bandwagon by favouring them over the greenhouse-gas-producing industries.

The issue for governments is not whether to favour capital over the majority. Government’s job is to balance the competing, antagonistic, interests of the different factions of the capitalist class.

Scientists funded by the government, either through direct employment or other funding mechanisms, will tend to have a viewpoint consistent with the predominant body of scientific analysis. It is in the government’s interest to provide the best information it can on topics which affect the capitalist class. Global warming is one of those topics. The government must serve its corporate masters. But it must also ensure that one sector of the capitalist class — in this instance, the owners of the greenhouse-gas-producing industries — does not cause unacceptable grief for the other capitalists. Capital is generally not oriented to the long term, because a failure of short term profitability can mean that the business has no long term. Government can, with appropriate support of sectors of the capitalist class, take some action to mitigate the longer term negative results of current economic activity. This may be based upon the evidence from scientists if enough of the capitalist class believes the "global-warming" scientists.

Modern production requires a relatively liberal society. Note that “relatively liberal” may not be at all liberal from some perspectives. Liberal society means that neither government nor capital can ride too roughshod over people. But that still leaves a great deal of latitude for capital and its governments. So if most people believe that there is an environmental crisis, government must deal with it. Dealing with it may mean convincing people that there is no crisis. Whether or not there is a crisis is a different issue.

It appears that capital is strongly in favour of the view that global warming has not been proven, and that even if it is occurring, it is not caused or affected by human activity. The current government of Canada reflects that perspective. The previous government superficially accepted that global warming was affected by human activity, but did nothing about it.

That still leaves us without a good method for determining to which scientists we should listen.

Capitalism’s Gravediggers does not have a magical divining device to discover the answer. Currently the preponderance of scientific research seems to tell us that human activity is having some, perhaps significant, causal effect upon global warming.

If we could eliminate the vested interests from the debate, we would simplify the decision making process significantly. We would have removed a confounding factor. Under capitalism that is not possible.

When we establish socialism, science will guide the science, rather than money guiding the science. We will not have to rely upon a media with a huge economic interest in ensuring there is conflict. We will have a media which presents the information in a manner which facilitates decision making.

Until then, we will all be manipulated and tricked. The results of decisions made soon may have dire results such as environmental or economic catastrophe. Can we afford to make the wrong decision?

We need a much better method to run our society: socialism.

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