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Doha climate talks: what not to expect

(also available at Voices on the Square and at

This post is prompted by yesterday’s piece in the Guardian titled “Doha climate talks: what to expect” — today is the beginning of a UN-sponsored conference in Doha, in Qatar, on climate change. I guess this is being celebrated as a breakthrough because it’s a climate change conference in an oil-producing country or something like that.

The Guardian author’s apology for the talks is as follows:

But without them, what mechanism would there be to enjoin all countries, developed and developing, to take the action needed?

This despite the fact that:

the best governments are now hoping for is to draw up an agreement in the next three years that would not come into force until 2020.

But if all the political class is going to do is talk about it, then what’s the point of such a conference? Maybe there ought to be some wholesale changes in the composition and social status of the political class, then. You can do that — you’re activists! At any rate, you can look at the agenda on the UN page — it doesn’t really say much about what-all they’re going to do, but it would seem that repeat mention of the “Kyoto Protocol” would mean that they’re going to try to do something with that piece of legislation. Too bad cap and trade is no longer really of interest here in the US, never mind that it’s ineffective.

I suppose they’re going to talk about giving the “poor nations” money to develop “clean energy” projects. Or maybe it’s just loans or something. Of course the “poor nations” are “poor” because they’re sitting atop resources, both in terms of labor and nature, that multinational corporations exploit. So whatev. But here’s a list of what you shouldn’t expect.

1) A multinational pledge tokeep the grease in the ground.” If we want to mitigate global warming, at some point we’re going to have to abandon coal mines and oil wells. Their commodity value will have to be zero. Conversely, if we pump the oil and mine the coal, we will eventually burn it, with catastrophic results for the climate. “Clean coal” is a joke because carbon sequestration won’t save us. So we can’t pretend to continue to produce carbon while at the same time mitigating global warming.

2) A multinational pledge to transition out of the capitalist system. Since our system of political economy, capitalism, is the main reason we burn 74 million bbls./day (about 3.1 billion gallons) of oil and an equal carbon equivalent of coal, it’s really time we started to think about what will come after capitalism.

Capitalism is the foundation for all this energy consumption — when production is oriented toward markets (or in the Stalinist case, toward “five-year plans” designed to imitate market growth), businesses view the world (both society and nature) as an aggregate of objects for the taking, with the goal in mind of creating “sales.” There is no upper limit to the fetish and the fantasy that is “sales” — unless, of course, the planetary ecosystem shrivels up, thanks to all of this wanton taking, and dies and shuts down the players of the game. A world in which society and nature were respected, then, would not be a capitalist world.

Moreover, capitalism (as a system of political economy) rests upon a world of cheap resources. Cheap resources allow the capitalists to profit; expensive resources may satisfy human needs, but what is at stake with capitalism is not human need but rather capital accumulation. Alternative energy, specifically energies such as wind, solar, and geothermal, will grant planet Earth an indefinite continuance of human civilization. But alternative energies will not provide planet Earth with the sort of cheap energy necessary for an indefinite continuance of the capitalist system. Instead, energy hype these days (as measured by the discussion in The Oil Drum) is about the PR initiative behind US shale oil. Should we wonder why? It’s another hit for the collective global fossil fuel addict: the capitalists, and their lovely system.

This need for a fossil fuel hit also points to what’s wrong with the activists’ solution to abrupt climate change — a carbon tax. Why are the business interests who control the world’s governments going to allow them to tax the cheap energy that keeps them in business?

But don’t expect the political classes to do any of this thinking at Doha.

3) Basic guarantees of fundamental human need. As Duncan Green pointed out this year in The Guardian, “Providing the additional calories needed by the 13% of the world’s population facing hunger would require just 1% of the current global food supply.”

The reasoning is this: once you have everyone’s basic needs taken care of, there really is no longer an excuse. If large portions of the world’s population are no longer obliged to spend their lives eking out a basic subsistence, their energies can be redirected to the problem of how to deal proactively with a future in which some form of catastrophic global warming is inevitable. Since impending climate change doom would be a prospect too important to be left up to a few political representatives in a room, we might also argue, maybe the people as a whole should be involved in the decision-making. The next step, of course, will be in the actual mitigation of global warming, directed by the world’s people as a whole.


At any rate, this is the short list of things you can expect not to see at Doha this week. Want to do something about it? You could start by creating an organization of climate change activists that doesn’t pussyfoot around the issue of fundamental change in the area of political economy (as a prerequisite to real action on climate change) like does. As long as the politicians are mere handmaidens of the 1% and their lovely capitalist system, things will get worse. Why, the folks are probably having a meeting in Doha this week for the mere purpose of insulating themselves from criticism — so they can say “look! We had a meeting!” when an outraged global public finally realizes that planet Earth is transitioning to something along the lines of planet Venus.

I guess you might as well joint anyway, though. Maybe it can be changed from within. It is, after all, something to do on the way to the abrupt climate change disaster. There is, however, a very nice blog you should check out on the way to said disaster: Climate & Capitalism. Ian Angus knows the score.

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Ph.D., Communication, The Ohio State University, 1998
M.A., English, Sonoma State University, 1992
B.A., Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1984