By: George Kurzom
Demonstrations calling for climate justice
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
The role of capitalists and the wealthy concerning Earth’s climate balance makes for a raging debate, especially when compared to the role of the poor. This debate repeatedly emerges during annual international climate conferences organized by the United Nations, the most recent one held in Madrid in December 2019 (COP 25).
What concerns us, in Palestine and in the Arab region, is the negative contribution by the rich Arab countries, especially the Gulf States, and their outrageous consumerism. The wealthy constitutes a very small percentage of the total population in Arab countries, yet their contribution to the destruction of the climate system in one day amounts to more than that of hundreds of millions in five, six or ten years. If Israel’s numerous military and civilian activities and industries is to be added, it is possible to imagine the magnitude of the climate destruction in our Arab region. On the one hand, there is the appalling consumption pattern of Arab tyrant capitalists, while on the other there are the Israeli military and civilian activities and industries.
According to the Initial National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), greenhouse gas emissions from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip equals to 0.01% of the total global emissions (Environmental Quality Authority, 2016). This percentage does not exceed the emissions from one large Israeli military plant. Palestinian carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita amount to about 0.5 tons per year, compared to about 11 tons per capita per year in Israel (Ha'aretz, 20/9/2018). This means that the average Israeli individual emissions are 22 times that of a Palestinian individual. This figure is even larger than in most European countries, where public transportation and energy conservation are more developed. For example, emissions per capita in Qatar amounted to 47 tons per year, which is equivalent to 94 times the emissions per capita in Palestine. This calculation process includes everything; whether it be the volume of consumption, household emissions, the extent of use of cars, aviation, etc.
If we survey carbon emissions from different segments of the population, we can find a so-called carbon inequality. This holds true especially when comparing the consumption of the richest segments (not more than 5% of the total world population) to the rest of the population (overwhelming majority).
The fundamental issue here is that the most powerful industrialized Western countries have transferred much of their production to developing countries. For example, China's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, which are larger than that of Europe and North America combined, is not solely due to Chinese consumption.
China currently produces the highest global share of greenhouse gases. However, a large proportion of these emissions are due to the fact that the "advanced" industrialized countries exported their industries to China. Most of the studies conducted on this topic are made up by comparisons between countries. However, from a sociological and anthropological perspective, comparisons must also be made within the countries themselves. By including such perspectives, it is possible to conclude that the rich segment contributes to the greatest piece of the climate crisis. Despite contributing to the most dangerous share of climate sabotage, the very same segment attempts to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. This case applies both within and between countries. To illustrate this principle, it is possible to compare the situation to a passive smoker who receives a lung cancer-diagnosis due to constantly having stood next to an avid smoker.
A class-based social system in a market economy generally encourages people, specifically the wealthy, to exercise maximum consumption (each social group according to their potential) without endorsing obstacles or taxes on carbon. Such taxes are considered to be the one thing that could contribute to preventing global warming and thus save our planet.
Technically, the amount of CO2 released by each and every one of us can be traced. For example, the car that you own can be linked to a specific mechanism that monitors fuel quantities and the rate of use. Therefore, it would be possible to implement a system in which individuals are required to provide compensation for exceeding the predefined average. However, this will not happen, as it is against the neoliberal logic in the existing class-based social system in which people are encouraged to consume as much as possible.
Have we ever asked ourselves why our political figures have distanced themselves from supporting policies of saving and economic austerity? In the neoliberal system, where excessive consumption is the ideal, no politician is elected because he/she aspires to introduce austerity policies, including rations and increased taxes (depending on the level of consumption and resulting emissions). Rather, the exact opposite is true.
This is privatization, an essential component of a market economy.
When a transfer or acquisition of a natural resource takes place in the hands of the capitalistic private sector, there is no possibility of controlling the excessive consumption chaos and the uncontrolled emissions alike. The main aim of the capitalistic private sector is to maximize financial profits in the shortest time possible, which is the opposite of ecological thinking and the desire to protect resources. Neoliberal logic focuses on accumulating as much financial profit as possible, while neglecting public and natural resources.
The fundamental issue here is that the prevailing political systems lack the ability and will to change the ecological climatic conditions. Some climate scientists and experts, such as James Henson, a former NASA scientist, believe that the entire global political system is plagued with “bribery" and that the only way to bring about change is through the courts.
In the end, the real problem is political, no matter however fascinating, comprehensive, profound, credible and convincing the scientific climate research. Knowledge in climate science, engineering, technology and physics is not enough; it is necessary to know how to confront the rigid socio-political and social-class structures controlled by immediate self-interest.
Climate Refugees and Civil Wars
Another issue related to climate inequity, which must be addressed, is "climate refugees" (i.e., those displaced from their homes due to climate disasters). According to climate experts, climate refugees are estimated to amount to hundreds of millions in the coming decades. At the same time, it is expected that powerful, rich countries will close the door in their faces.
These developments may cause more civil wars, and have further political, economic and health consequences.
Furthermore, this new form of asylum will cause social changes within the countries that do decide to accept climate refugees. It will severely affect the economy as unemployment will increase. Further, it will increase the spread of various diseases and epidemics, which will be exacerbated by the overcrowded refugee camps.
The issue of climate refugees is already present in some regions of the world, such as the Darfur region of Sudan and some parts of East Africa. For example, Africa’s Sahel region, which extends across Africa, is currently undergoing accelerated desertification.
Likewise, it is important to recall what happened in the Syrian Arab Republic during the years of 2007-2008. A continuous drought and scarcity of water that the region had never known before caused people to abandon 160 Syrian villages.
The lack of water severely affected the living capacity of the inhabitants, mostly in northern Syria, which forced them to relocate. Many articles were written about the relationship between the severe drought that hit Syria and the outbreak of a detrimental war that followed! Some of these articles claimed that the Syrian regime failed to address the severe water crisis caused by the drought, and as a result, 1.5 million Syrian farmers lost their livelihoods and were forced to flee their villages in search of a new source of income in the cities. Due to this failure to address the drought, the city of Daraa in the south of Syria, was hit by an uncontrollable population inflation, which further exacerbated poverty and water scarcity.
In 2011, Daraa became the focus of the initially popular movement against the Syrian regime. This movement was at the time infiltrated by anti-Syrian foreign forces, specifically the United States, Israel, and Turkey along with the tools of colonialism in the Arabian Gulf, which supported, financed and armed the foreign and Salafist gangs that invaded Syria, causing devastation and destruction.
During the 1980s, large areas of Africa suffered from rapid desertification, which led to a significant decline in the population's ability to continue agricultural work. Clearly, climate change has caused a steady decline in production.
As the socio-economic climatic crisis worsens, ethnic identity plays an increasing role in subsistence and survival. More doors are opening to foreign interference and extortion. This can be seen in Sudan's Darfur region, in which hundreds of thousands were prompted to flee the country, as the situation worsened, leading to destruction and war. Thus, it is possible to propose that the following series of events feed each other: global warming, desertification, hardship, hunger, ethnic divisions, civil wars and refugee waves.
In my opinion, we do not need to think of one single solution, because if we do that may succeed or fail (one or the other) and our thinking will be bilateral: solution or no solution.
Solutions exist, but they run counter to immediate self-interest. However, some countries have made important progress towards finding a solution. Although the climate crisis is complex and may seem unsolvable, Great Britain and Germany, for example, have made remarkable achievements. Comparing to the 1990s, these countries have reduced their CO2 emissions by tens of percents.
In some countries, things are moving towards the better. Yet, unfortunately, the rate of improvement in some countries is very small compared to the total destruction capacity. There are two poles opposing each other; while about 30 countries, including Scandinavia, are significantly decreasing their emissions, CO2 is still being stored and compressed in the atmosphere in increasingly large and alarming quantities.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh
Edited by: Carol Khoury