Climate change: The race for survival requires global cooperation
A firefighter covers his face to block smoke as he battles a fire near Bendalong, Australia, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. | Rick Rycroft / AP

Humanity faces a planetary emergency, and survival of all life is at stake. Four years ago, the Paris Climate Accords were adopted. The Accords, signed by 197 nations including the U.S. under the Obama administration, marked an unprecedented level of global cooperation to fight the climate crisis.

Despite the agreement, the climate and ecological crises have sharpened. One need only look at the environmental catastrophe unfolding in Australia, with a large part of the continent consumed by infernos, and its famed coral reefs and kelp forests dying off. Meanwhile, not far away, Indonesia has been hit with the worst monsoon rains in years, flooding, and a rising death toll.

The past decade is the warmest ever recorded, caused by the highest ever atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. Sea levels, along with ocean heat and acid levels, continue to rise. Extreme weather events, including heatwaves, are increasingly common.

“If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3°C by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing,” the World Meteorological Organization’s Secretary-General Petteri Taalas recently said.

A police officer assists a woman to cross a makeshift bridge at a flooded river in Cigudeg, West Java, Indonesia, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. Mudslides and power blackouts hampered the search for people missing in massive floods in Indonesia where dozens of people have died and some of the tens of thousands of evacuees were living in damp, cramped emergency shelters. | Ar Rayyan / AP

The crisis is compounded by the Trump administration’s drive to undo every pro-environmental policy of the Obama administration. Trump wasted no time in withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords and abandoning goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The administration aims to gut the Environmental Protection Agency.

These extreme policies are no surprise. Fossil fuel corporations, global-warming deniers, and anti-science zealots dominate the Trump administration and the Republican Party. These forces also comprise a large part of the support base of the extreme right, propelling the assault on truth, democracy, and the Constitution. They pose a dire threat to democracy and the planet.

Meanwhile, the American people are moving in the opposite direction. The chorus of scientific consensus on global warming and alarm by the American people is multiplying. Nearly 40% of Americans now think climate change is a crisis, despite a massive disinformation campaign by the fossil fuel corporations.

The United States Climate Alliance, a coalition of states and territories committed to implementation of the Paris Accords, was founded in response to Trump’s withdrawal from it. The coalition represents over half the U.S. population.

Ousting Trump and the GOP Senate majority and its domination of state legislatures in the 2020 elections and electing a pro-environment president and Congress is the first step in defending and expanding democracy and addressing the climate crisis.

New federal policies needed

Once Trump and the GOP are ousted, the question then becomes what kind of federal policies will be needed. Climate justice and allied democratic movements will be crucial in not only ousting Trump but shaping those policies.

Every Democratic candidate for president has a program to aggressively address the climate crisis, move to sustainability, and rejoin the Paris Climate Accords at a minimum. Some go further than others.

Some support the Green New Deal (GND), the comprehensive framework to address the crisis introduced by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. The GND has reframed the entire debate for addressing the crisis. The GND also projects a timetable of ten years to implement the transition to sustainability to avert the worst case scenarios of climate and ecological crisis.

Averting the worst of the climate crisis will take a global effort on an unprecedented scale and timeline. Even then, the world’s people will be dealing with the effects of climate and ecological crises for decades to come. The consequences are and will be devastating for humanity. They will be especially devastating for developing countries, with populations that are the most vulnerable to sea-level rise, extreme heat episodes, drought, and resource exhaustion. But all countries, including the U.S., are facing and will face these issues to one degree or another.

Winning the ‘green energy race’

Because the climate and ecological crises are an unprecedented global issue, the U.S. must adopt a new kind of foreign policy. In a New York Times op-ed piece, former Secretary of State John Kerry and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., lament the inability of the U.S. to match China in the production of green energy.

Kerry and Khanna call for a national strategy that will lead to U.S. domination in the “green energy race” with China. They see winning this race as key to a global approach to deny China’s dominant economic status and for a world in which “our values prevail.” They presumably mean U.S. capitalist global domination.

It’s true that unlike China, the U.S. has no national green strategy. It’s also true the fossil fuel corporations are blocking or hampering any policies that create a green energy sector. They are right to call for such a national strategy, including investment, technological development, and environmental regulations.

Kerry played a leading role in the Obama administration in getting the U.S. fully behind the Paris Climate Accords. He continues to be a leading voice for urgent action. But I’m afraid I have to disagree with how he and Khanna pose the question. For them, achieving global green energy domination is akin to attaining global hegemony in the arms race or achieving domination by U.S. fossil fuel corporations of the global energy sector over the past century. The goal is the same: to maintain U.S. global capitalist domination and undercut the rise of China.

Incidentally, one reason why China has taken the lead is that its long-term aim is to build a socialist “eco-civilization.” The country envisions a future where society and nature are in harmony. China has incorporated this goal into its Constitution after having drawn the right conclusions from the enormous environmental costs of rapid industrialization the country underwent to modernize its infrastructure and lift 700 million people from poverty.

At the same time, China is a socialist-oriented state with a large public sector and planned economy. Therefore, it can more effectively set priorities and goals and marshal national economic, human, and material resources. They do not have to contend with the resistance of private fossil fuel corporations whose sole mission, and a suicidal one at that, is maximum profits.

Chinese schoolchildren plant trees at a public park in Beijing. After years of environmental damage caused from rapid economic development, China is determined to build an “ecological civilization.” | Andy Wong / AP

The resistance of the U.S. fossil fuel industry will hamper any progress to sustainability. And no progress will be made unless their clout, both political and economic, is undercut or broken entirely.

The U.S. can then become a global leader by rebuilding a manufacturing base around clean energy and marshaling resources, both private and public, for that end. But more importantly, the U.S. should be a leader for global cooperation to address the climate crisis, including marshaling comprehensive assistance for developing economies to make the transition.

Global cooperation in the race to survive

The problems of transitioning to sustainability and healing our oceans, land, and air are so vast and complex; they require global cooperation on an unprecedented scale over a short time span. Collaboration in scientific research, technological development, and the sharing of intellectual property are essential.

Addressing the planetary emergency and transitioning to a globally sustainable economy are part of the transition to a new global order, a new stage of globalization characterized by cooperation.

Globalization is an irreversible historic process encompassing many stages. Many signs point to the exhaustion of the current phase of globalization dominated by the global capitalist system, or neoliberalism. U.S. single-power domination and deepening crisis and inequality also characterize this stage.

But the U.S. is a descending superpower, and despite every effort, the U.S. ruling class and global capitalist system are less able to determine the course of global economic development. The rise of China, emerging economies, and alternative global institutions and blocs are increasingly shaping globalization.

The new stage of globalization will, by necessity, be characterized by global cooperation, peaceful co-existence, mutual benefit, respect for sovereignty, and equality between nations. It will be characterized by transition to sustainability and demilitarization—turning missiles into wind farms.

The race for green energy and sustainability is not one that pits one nation against another for domination. It is a race of all of humanity against time, a race for our mutual survival.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.