28-11-2015 – As the world careens towards climate catastrophe, world leaders are meeting in Paris for the COP21 talks, ostensibly to thrash out a plan to curb global carbon emission levels far enough to ensure a safe climate. Today’s rallies around the country have set themselves the goal of being the biggest ever. Perhaps they will be. Even if they are, it would be folly to expect the leaders of the world’s most powerful capitalist economies to be committed to anything other than amassing yet more private profits for the world’s most powerful corporations, many of which make huge profits from selling fossil fuels.
There is an exception to the rule, however. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), the world’s largest country and most powerful socialist state, is making the most genuine attempt to seriously reduce carbon emissions. Of the countries which have submitted a target to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), China’s are by far the most ambitious. China has pledged to reduce carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65% below 2005 levels. In addition, China has also pledged to peak emissions by 2030, and aim to achieve this even earlier. Further, China will aim to achieve 20% of its energy share clean (zero carbon sources) by 2030, as well as increase forest cover in the country by 4.5 billion cubic meters compared to 2005 levels. Australia and the US have made no such moves.
How is China able to take climate change seriously? The key is that it is not capitalism that rules the Chinese economy. China’s economy in large part is still state owned, as a legacy of its socialist revolution which established the PRC in 1949. The economy is planned, and can be largely controlled by the government. Unlike Australia and the US, the Chinese government can to a large degree, direct its economy, and direct investment in certain sectors such as zero carbon energy. Nothing like this exists in the capitalist West. They are subordinate to the privately owned corporations, whom, one might argue, effectively form part of the government.
Moreover, Red China has another ace up its sleeve. It is not afraid to implement zero carbon nuclear power. The People’s Climate March doesn’t appear to have any demands, but buried in the fine print is a plea for a transition to 100% renewable energy. We don’t agree. And neither do 75 of the world’s leading academic experts on climate change. In an “Open Letter to Environmentalists on Nuclear Energy”, the authors argue that all zero carbon electricity sources will need to be used if we are to have a chance at ending the burning of fossil fuels. The signatories “….provide strong evidence for the need to accept a substantial role for advanced nuclear power systems with complete fuel recycling – as part of a range of sustainable energy technologies that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency.”  They emphasise that while renewable energy can play a role, we cannot afford to rigidly stick to renewable energy sources only, because they might be the favourites of large sections of the environmentalist movement. There are any number of practical problems with a transition to 100% renewable energy. One is how to store energy from wind and solar at times when there are periods with low wind and little or no sunlight. Storing energy for a day is certainly possible, but storing energy for several weeks at a time is another story entirely. Another issue is the capacity factor. That is, the amount of energy produced in comparison to the amount of energy the system is capable of producing. Zero carbon nuclear power can have a capacity factor of up to 91%, whereas wind and solar can, at best, only make less than half this capacity. The discussion of which combination of zero-carbon energy sources has the best chance of real success is important, and one which all concerned about global warming need to be across. To this end, we recommend people start reading and investigating the material on websites such as www.bravenewclimate.com and www.decarbonisesa.com.
Despite advocating awareness about the virtues of wind, solar, hydro and nuclear power, and their practical applications, we have no illusions that any combination of zero-carbon energy sources can be successfully implemented while capital rules the economy. China’s key advantage in undertaking the advances it has made is that in an economy which is collectively owned and planned, there is no overall imperative to make private profits. China’s gigantic state owned corporations can run at very low profit margins, sometimes less than 1%, because they are gains of the 1949 revolution. China’s Communist Party leadership, despite oversights in other areas, can direct these state owned corporations to serve social goals – such as providing employment, or, helping to solve environmental problems. There are some limitations to this, both political and practical, but the fact is this is still light years ahead of anything conceivable in the recession ravaged capitalist West. In addition, China’s booming state run economy means China can pour billions of dollars into scientific and industrial research, which means China actually leads the world in a number of areas of scientific endeavour. Compare this to the perilous lack of funding for research and development in Australia, with the looming privatisation of the CSIRO.
A socialist state, or anything approaching it, however, is the last thing on the minds of some of the groups which dominate the environmental movement, and which have largely organised the “People’s Climate March”. For example, the group Avaaz can trace its funding back to George Soros’ “Open Society” group of NGOs, which have been a part of numerous “colour revolutions” at the behest of the US Empire around the globe. Here, the group GetUp! has its exorbitant funding linked to the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and pro-ALP Union leaderships such as that of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU). Similarly, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) has as one of its major donors the multi-millionaire Robert Purves, chair of the Orwellian titled “Sustainable Business Australia”.
Some left parties have also uncritically endorsed today’s march. The Socialist Alliance, publishers of the newspaper Green Left Weekly, (GLW) have GLW’s name posted alongside counterrevolutionary groups such as Avaaz, GetUp!, and anti-communist Tibetan “solidarity” groups on the list of endorsees! Such groups no doubt endorse the “from here on in, we’re all in” slogan. It scarcely needs emphasising that if working people are lumped “all in” with openly pro-capitalist forces, the movement will be defeated before it begins. Mobilising alongside those who aim to profit from “sustainable energy” inevitably subordinates the overall politics to such forces. There needs to be a climate emergency movement, but one which is pro-worker, one which rejects “energy austerity” or using less power – especially for less-industrialised countries, and one which is for the full application of science and technology to the vital issue of decarbonising the planet.
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