Can capitalism survive climate change?

By Walden Bello
First Posted 00:35:00 04/03/2008

This whole week, beginning Monday, the United Nations Ad Hoc Working Groups on climate change are meeting in Bangkok in the critical first round of negotiations to follow up on the resolutions of the climate talks in Bali in December.

There is now a solid consensus in the scientific community that if the change in global mean temperature in the 21st century exceeds 2.4 degrees Celsius, changes in the planet's climate will be large-scale, irreversible and disastrous. Moreover, the window of opportunity for action that will make a difference is narrow—that is, the next 10 to 15 years.

Throughout the North, however, there is strong resistance to changing the systems of consumption and production that have created the problem in the first place and a preference for ''techno-fixes,'' such as ''clean'' coal, carbon sequestration and storage, industrial-scale biofuels, and nuclear energy.

Globally, transnational corporations and other private actors resist government-imposed measures such as mandatory caps, preferring to use market mechanisms like the buying and selling of ''carbon credits,'' which critics say simply amounts to a license for corporate polluters to keep on polluting.

In the South, there is little willingness on the part of the southern elite to depart from the high-growth, high-consumption model inherited from the North, and a self-interested conviction that the North must first adjust and bear the brunt of adjustment before the South takes any serious step towards limiting its greenhouse gas emissions.

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