Alarming reports from a wide variety of science-based and international studies keep coming, warning us of disasters that lie ahead if the world fails to make massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Again and again, we are confronted by the damage that is already resulting from climate change: more intense and frequent extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, droughts, forest fires, and heat waves; rising sea levels that threaten the homes, lives and livelihoods of millions of people; and melting ice caps and permafrost, among others.
The consensus among science-based reports is that the path ahead is far worse: widespread food and water scarcity, increased exposure to diseases and allergic illnesses, economic decline, and damage to the “infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.”
Recognizing this, on Saturday, September 21, millions of people around the world engaged in a “Climate Strike,” the largest climate protest in history.
On Sunday, September 22, the Science Advisory Group to the UN Climate Action Summit released its grim “synthesis of latest climate change scientific information,” warning that current efforts to lower global emissions need to be “roughly tripled to be aligned with the 2o C goal and increased fivefold to align with the 1.5o C goal” adopted by the 2016 Paris Agreement.”
On Monday, September 23, the UN Climate Action Summit was addressed by the young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg who declared in a trembling voice, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
Despite the dire urgency, the Climate Action Summit produced only modest pledges from a minority of nations. Not surprisingly, the United States was silent. President Trump did not participate in the Summit, instead declaring at a separate UN gathering, “The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations.”
There are two fundamental issues here.
First, most nations of the world, many states and localities within the United States, even some corporations and the US military, now recognize that we all face a profound global challenge. While several governments have taken preliminary steps toward altering their emissions, and even more have pledged to do so, these steps remain woefully inadequate if the world is to avoid cataclysmic outcomes.
The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the world’s developed capitalist economies, with China and the US leading the way. By contrast, people in nations that have the least impact on climate change are most vulnerable to the worst of its effects.
This climate injustice is only one manifestation of the inequalities and injustices built into the capitalist powers’ imperial exploitation of the “under-developed” world. In the late Immanuel Wallerstein’s framework, the core capitalist powers compete with each other for dominance in exploiting the resources of the underdeveloped periphery nations.
Each of the capitalist powers is loathe to weaken its competitive position vis à vis the other capitalist economies. In a capitalist world, each economic unit must act to protect what it deems its own interests. The only counterweight comes from the public sector.
Yet in a capitalist world, each public authority –local, state or national government—is constrained by the fear that pushing public interests too far will cause capital flight, thereby undermining its viability. And, of course, corporations and the wealthy dominate the shaping of public policy –nowhere more than in the US.
This is the way capitalism works, which suggests how profound and systemic the changes will have to be if the world is to avoid catastrophe.
The world cannot wait for the capitalist states to enact adequate constraints on greenhouse gas emissions –or much else, for that matter. Instead, the Climate Strike has to be the beginning of a global uprising of increasing numbers of increasingly well informed and collaborating publics –a force for radical change that can no longer be dismissed by the powers that be.
Second, the United States government, led by the Trump administration and its fossil-fuel producing allies, not only has done nothing to ameliorate climate change, it is blatantly accelerating the race to destruction.
Among his brazen attempts to flout the international scientific consensus, Trump has pledged to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement; he promoted fossil fuel interests at the 2017 climate talks, he campaigned to end the “war on coal,” and subsequently his administration has moved to relax environmental coal plant emissions while weakening the federal government’s ability to set national standards. The administration removed restrictions on the leakage of methane from the nation’s oil and gas wells; it has taken steps to encourage coastal and Arctic oil drilling and exploration; and Trump announced he was revoking California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to enforce automobile emissions standard tougher than those of the federal government.
By itself, climate change has caused 150,000 deaths each year, a number that is likely to double in a decade, and it has contributed to 5 million human illnesses every year. Those political actors and fossil fuel producers who resist the fundamental changes that are necessary become guilty of producing these deaths –in short, guilty of crimes against humanity.
Ted Morgan is emeritus professor of political science at Lehigh University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 See, for example, Independent Group of Scientists appointed by the Secretary-General, Global Sustainable Development Report 2019: The Future is Now – Science for Achieving Sustainable Development (United Nations, New York, 2019); The UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change and Land: An IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems, August 2019; World Meteorological Association, Global Climate: Climate Change Accelerates, accessed 9/22/2019: (https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/global-climate-2015-2019-climate-change-accelerates), accessed 9/23/2019; Science Advisory Group to the UN Climate Summit, United in Science: Highest Level Synthesis Report of Latest Climate Science Information, September 22, 2019 (https://ane4bf-datap1.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wmocms/s3fs-public/ckeditor/files/United_in_Science_ReportFINAL_0.pdf?XqiG0yszsU_sx2vOehOWpCOkm9RdC_gN_), accessed 9/23/2019; IPCC, Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, September 25, 2019 (https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/home/), accessed 9/28/2019).
 IPCC, “Climate Change and Land,” August 2019.
 Noam Chomsky, “Nuclear Weapons, Climate Change and the Undermining of Democracy Threaten the Planet,” Democracy Now, May 27, 2019 (https://www.democracynow.org/2019/5/27/chomsky_nuclear_weapons_climate_change_the), accessed 7/12/2019.
 United in Science, September 22, 2019.
 The Guardian, “Greta Thunberg to Congress, ‘You’re Not Trying Hard Enough. Sorry!” September 17, 2019 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/17/greta-thunberg-to-congress-youre-not-trying-hard-enough-sorry), accessed 9/20/2019.
 Michael Crowley and David E.Sanger, “Trump Celebrates Nationalism in U.N. Speech and Plays Down Iran Crisis,” New York Times, September 25, A10.
 Scientific American, “The Impact of Global Warming on Human Fatality Rates,” June 17, 2019 (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/global-warming-and-health/), accessed 9/23/2019.