We're fucked!

Sunday, December 4

To put some perspective on the passionate calls for systemic change that I’ve been detailing in this blog, an article just ran in the New York Times announcing that “global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery.” According to the article, this increase of 5.9% is the largest absolute increase in any year since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

To underscore the gravity of this situation, various scientific bodies have released reports emphasizing that the world has only a few years left to make significant cuts to prevent run-away climate change. As a recent article in The Guardian explains,


The United Nations Environment Programme’s Bridging the Emissions Gap report shows that, even if all countries implement their emissions targets for 2020 to their maximum extent, total emissions in that year will still exceed the level required to hold global warming to the UN’s 2C goal. Further action is needed now, it pointed out, if this emissions gap is to be closed. At the same time, the International Energy Agency warned that the world has only five years seriously to start replacing fossil fuels by low carbon energy and energy efficiency. Failure to make the required investment by 2017 would “lock in” high future emissions to such an extent that the 2C goal
would become unattainable.

How are the elite negotiators meeting in downtown Durban at the IFCCC reacting to this situation? According to this same Guardian article, some delegates here at the UNFCCC are arguing that a new round of negotiations shouldn’t even begin until 2015, and that the targets implemented by such eventual talks shouldn’t kick in until after 2020.

There appear to be two main sides in the conflict here in Durban. On one side are the countries most vulnerable to climate change – the small islands and least developed nations – and the European Union. This group wants negotiations on a new legal agreement to begin next year, to conclude in 2015, and to enter into force as early as possible thereafter (the EU has said no later than 2020).

On the other side is an unlikely alliance of the usual developed country laggards – the US, Canada, Russia, and Japan- and two of the largest emerging economies, China and India. It is this side that is
advocating that no new negotiations should start until after 2015 at the earliest.

Given this impasse, it’s very hard not to feel that we’re all truly fucked. Of course, the real question that then arises is who is gonna get fucked first and hardest. And that question is already evident on the ground. Last night, for example, I went down to the tent where the South African Rural Women’s Movement is holding its meetings. Large groups of women were sitting there on chairs in a bright white tent watching a film on a big screen. The film had interviews with rural leaders who details, in a sobering parade, how climate change is already making life far more difficult for farmers in the world’s poor nations. Far from being “least developed,” which of course implies a temporal lag, these people are inhabiting a future of climate change-driven scarcity, duress, and conflict that the rest of us in the overdeveloped nations will soon come to know.

If only the voices of people’s movements that surround me were to be heard in the air conditioned meeting halls of the UNFCCC. But their cries of alarm, along with the stern warnings of scientists around the world, are falling on deaf ears. And this seems to just the beginning of the holocaust that is about to enfold the planet.

Ashley Dawson

Ashley Dawson is professor of postcolonial studies in the English department at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and the College of Staten Island. His latest books include People’s Power: Reclaiming the Energy Commons (O/R, 2020), Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change (Verso, 2017), and Extinction: A Radical History (O/R, 2016). A member of the Social Text Collective and the founder of the CUNY Climate Action Lab, he is a long-time climate justice activist.