The climate crisis

Philippines climate justice protest

Philippines climate justice protest

By Wei Sun (Fightback, Christchurch)

World production and consumption have been increasing rapidly in recent decades due to global ‘westernization’. While socially this can mean a higher standard of living for many in the developing world, the results are mostly negative on the local, national and global natural environment. For example, global transportation has increased the consumption of fossil energy, causing an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which has in turn increased the warming of Earth’s climate.

Investors want returns on their investment, so capitalism requires growth; a drive towards increased production and expansion into other ‘markets’ necessitates increased use of energy and natural resources. Greenhouse gas emissions are treated as an externality, not factored in to a firms expenses.

Figure 1

Figure 1

This graph (figure 1) shows the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured in parts per million (PPM) Scientists now agree with 97% certainty that concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are the cause for increasing temperatures. For about 900 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere remained relatively stable, but there is a rapid increase following the industrial revolution. CO2 in the atmosphere grew from approximately 270ppm to 390ppm between 1900 and 2000, a 44% increase. This trend appears to be increasing, with CO2 recently reaching 400ppm. This has massive negative effects beyond just warmer weather.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Looking at this graph (figure 2), we can see that the frequency of natural disasters such as drought, extreme temperatures, famine, flood, insect infestation, landslides, wild fires and wind storms had been relatively stable for centuries, but began increasing slowly from 1900 to 1960, and then started rising rapidly. Within only 40 years, from 1960 to 2000, the number of disasters per year went up from around 30 to 425, that is an increase of more than 14 times. Much of the increase in the number of events reported is probably due to significant improvements in information access and also due to population growth, but the number of floods and cyclones being reported is still rising compared to earthquakes, which could not be affected by the climate.

figure 3

Figure 3

According to a case study from the Himalayas in India, a glacier will advance in a healthy climate and retreat in response to a warmer climate. Before being affected by climate change, glacier length records were at maximum from around 1700 to 1825, and then began to decline. As we can see in the graph (figure 3) there is a massive retreat from approximately 1825 to 2000. Alarmingly, this trend seems to be continuing. According to the latest studies, the average glacier thickness loss is approximately 30% from 1976 to 2012.

The loss of mass from glaciers contributes to increasing sea levels, along with melting polar ice. Sea level increased approximately 20cm from 1880 to 2000. This puts low-lying countries at risk, particularly island nations. Oceanic acidity increases as the water warms, affecting the delicate balance of ocean dynamics, and putting ecosystems at high risk.

According to the Ministry for the Environment, the likely impacts of climate change on New Zealand include higher temperatures, though likely to be less than the global average, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall pattern (higher rainfall in the west and less in the east) and more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts (especially in the east) and floods.

Agricultural productivity is expected to increase in some areas although others will run the risk of drought and the further spread of pests; forests and vegetation may grow faster, but native ecosystems could be invaded by exotic species. It is likely that there would be costs associated with changing land-use activities to suit a new climate; undoubtedly the costs of this shift will be passed onto to consumers at the supermarket. People are likely to enjoy the benefits of warmer winters with fewer frosts, but hotter summers will bring increased risks of heat stress and subtropical diseases.

Drier conditions in some areas are likely to be coupled with the risk of more frequent extreme events such as floods, droughts and storms, rising sea levels will increase the risk of erosion and saltwater intrusion, increasing the need for coastal protection and glaciers are expected to retreat and change water flows in major South Island Rivers.

People are aware of the dangers ahead, which is why at the end of November thousands of people protested against deep sea oil drilling on beaches across Aotearoa. Deep sea oil drilling has additional problems as well. While it may be too late to stop the planet warming by up to two degrees, it’s not too late to prevent further warming. That can be done though social movements like those behind the Banners on Beaches protests. Social movements needs to align themselves with those who will be affected the most by climate change, who tend to be among the world’s most oppressed, people like Ioane Teitiota who recently attempted unsucessfully to become the first climate change refugee, or those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. These movements can be most effective by targeting the structural causes of climate change, which lie in our economic system.

See also

Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan crisis: For climate justice now! Fight, don’t be afraid! Makibaka! Huwag Matakot!

Statement by the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Labouring Masses, PLM). Reprinted from Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

November 10, 2013 — Partido Lakas ng Masa — The people are still reeling from the impacts of possibly the biggest typhoon to strike the country. Death toll numbers are rising rapidly. There is massive devastation. Many are still trying to contact their relatives, friends and comrades, but communication systems are down, in the hardest hit areas. How should we, as socialists, respond to the crisis?

First, we have to support and take whatever measures are necessary to protect the people. This means all measures that bring the people immediate relief. In the hardest hit city of Tacloban, in South Eastern Visayas, the people are already taking what food and relief supplies that they need from the malls. The media reports this as looting and the break-down of law and order.

But we say: let our people live. This is not “looting”. People are taking food, where they can get it, in order to survive. If there is no timely and organised support system from government, people just have to do it themselves and they should organise themselves to do it more effectively. Even some grocery owners understand the need for this. According to one report of a man who broke into a grocery store, “The owner said we can take the food, but not the dried goods. Our situation is so dismal. We have deaths in our family. We need to save our lives. Even money has no use here now.” Where possible, PLM will assist them to organise to take over food supplies and necessary relief goods.

Then there’s the issue of the government response. Our experience has been that it has always been too slow and inadequate. Any efforts are undermined by corruption. The exposure of the organised plunder by the political elite and sections of government, of development funds or “pork barrel” funds meant for the people, is a testimony to this. This outraged the country and brought almost half a million people out in to the streets in a massive show of protest on August 26 this year. While one plunderer has been arrested, the president has not responded decisively to clean up the system.

The public funds plundered by the elite should have been used for preventative measures to support the people weather these disasters: for infrastructure, including better sea walls and communication infrastructure; for early warning systems; for well constructed and therefore safe public housing, to replace huts and shacks built out of dried leaves and cardboard; for health and education; for equipment and personnel for rapid emergency response, and the list is endless. But no, this was not the case, it was eaten up by the greed of the elite classes.

Unfortunately, we have no reason to believe that the government and the system will deliver and meet the needs of the people this time round either. The self-interest of the elite, and their control of the government and the system that is designed to perpetuate their interests, through the plunder of the people’s assets and resources, renders the entire set-up futile in the face of a disaster on this scale.

Then there are our international “allies”, such as the United States government, who have sent us their best wishes. But these “allies”, so-called, are also responsible for the situation faced by our people. These typhoons are part of the climate crisis phenomenon faced by the world today. Super Typhoon Haiyan (referred to as Yolanda in the Philippines) was one of the most intense tropical cyclones at landfall on record when it struck the Philippines on November 7. Its maximum sustained winds at landfall were pegged at 195 mph with gusts above 220 mph. Some meteorologists even proclaimed it to be the strongest tropical cyclone at landfall in recorded history. Haiyan’s strength and the duration of its category 5 intensity — the storm remained at peak category 5 intensity for an incredible 48 straight hours.

The still-increasing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis are disproportionately emitted by the rich and developed countries, from the US, Europe to Australia. For centuries, these rich, developed countries have polluted and plundered our societies, emitting too much greenhouse gases to satisfy their greed for profit. They have built countless destructive projects all over the world, like polluting factories, coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plants and mega dams. They have also pushed for policies allowing extractive industries to practice wasteful and irresponsible extraction of the Earth’s minerals. They continue to wage environmentally destructive wars and equip war industries, for corporate profits. All of this has fast tracked the devastation of the Earth’s ecological system and brought about unprecedented changes in the planet’s climate.

But these are the same rich countries whose political elite are ignoring climate change and the climate crisis. Australia has recently elected a government that denies the very existence of climate change and has refused to send even a junior minister to the climate conference in Warsaw, Poland. The question of climate justice –- for the rich countries to bear the burden of taking the necessary measures for stopping it and to pay reparations and compensate those in poorer countries who are suffering the consequences of it -– is not entertained even in a token way.

The way the rich countries demand debt payments from us, we now demand the payment of their “climate debts”, for climate justice and for them to take every necessary measure to cut back their greenhouse gas emission in the shortest time possible.

These rich “friends and allies”, so-called, have preached to us about our courage and resilience. But as many here have pointed out, resilience is not just taking all the blows with a smiling face. Resilience is fighting back. To be truly resilient we need to organise, to fight back and to take matters in to our own hands, from the relief efforts on the ground to national government and to challenging and putting an end to the capitalist system. This is the only way to ensure that we are truly resilient.

Makibaka, huwag matakot! Fight, don’t be afraid!

Email us at if you can assist in anyway. Donations to those affected can be made via paypal on the Transform Asia website or donations can be sent to:

Transform Asia Gender and Labor Institute
Account No. 304-2-304004562
Swift Code: MBTCPHMM
Metrobank, Anonas Branch Aurora Blvd., Project 4
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Mobile/cell ph no. +63(0)9088877702]

Bid for recognition of first official climate change refugee

Inhabitants of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall in their struggle against rising seas

Inhabitants of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall in their struggle against rising seas

Ioane Teitiota is currently appealing a High Court decision that refused him refugee status on the basis of climate change predictions. Teitiota came to New Zealand from the Pacific island of Kiribati in 2007 on a work visa that has recently expired. He has three children in New Zealand and argues that returning to Kiribati would endanger his family;

“There’s no future for us when we go back to Kiribati,” he told the appeal tribunal, adding that a return would pose a risk to his children’s health. “Fresh water is a basic human right … the Kiribati government is unable, and perhaps unwilling, to guarantee these things because it’s completely beyond their control”.

His lawyer Michael Kitt told the New Zealand Herald that the case had the potential to set an international precedent, not only for Kiribati’s 100,000 residents but for all populations threatened by climate change. According to the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation, around 26 million people worldwide have had to migrate due to the effects of climate change. It predicts that this figure could go up to 150 million by 2050.

Teitota’s application for refugee status was originally denied by immigration authorities arguing that he could not be considered a refugee because no one in his homeland was threatening his life if he returned. Kitt countered by arguing that the environment in Kiribati was effectively a threat to Teitiota and his children who will have to return with him if he is deported.

Rising ocean levels on Kiribati are contaminating drinking water and killing crops, as well as flooding homes.

The threat is real- the government has even gone so far as buying a large area of land in Fiji to relocate the entire population. “We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” President Anote Tong told the Associated Press last year when his cabinet endorsed the plan.

Kitt told Australian media that the Pacific regions developed countries had a responsibility to help people displaced by climate change. “Australia and New Zealand are contributors to climate change because we have higher than average carbon dioxide emissions, it’s because of this problem that sea levels are rising.”

The right of migrant workers to free movement is essential not only for climate justice, but for social justice in the Pacific and worldwide.

A decision on Teitiota’s case is expected after we go to press. A follow up to this article will appear in our November issue.

See also:

The dangers of deep sea oil drilling

Anadarko New Zealand corporate affairs manager Alan Seay

Anadarko New Zealand corporate affairs manager Alan Seay

Byron Clark, Fightback.

Last month the government announced that nearly 434,000 square kilometres of land and ocean floor in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone would be opened up for oil and gas exploration. The areas in include onshore areas in Taranaki, the East Coast and West Coast, and five offshore areas – Northland, Taranaki, the Pegasus-East Coast Basin, the Great South-Canterbury Basin, and the New Caledonia Basin northwest of New Zealand. This is in addition to many other areas already being explored.

“While exploration won’t necessarily be undertaken in all the blocks on offer, it’s important to find out what’s there and use the information to develop New Zealand’s untapped resource wealth,” said Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges, launching the 2014 block offer process, an annual permitting round allocating petroleum exploration permits.

The government is consulting with Iwi and local authorities but the ability of the general population to have an input on drilling permits has been restricted. Under an upcoming law change[i], drilling permits will be handled by the new Environmental Protection Agency, but are be “non-notified”, meaning members of the public would not get to have a say.

This change was introduced to the Marine Legislation Bill by way of a Supplementary Order Paper; meaning like so many controversial bills passed by this government it was not subject to a parliamentary select committee, where the public could make submissions. This follows the legislation dubbed the ‘Anadarko Amendment’ by environmental groups, named after the Texas based oil company that plans to start drilling in New Zealand waters sometime in the next five years. The amendment criminalises protesting at sea, which arguably played a role in Brazilian firm Petrobras abandoning plans to drill in New Zealand waters back in 2010.

Submissions on the Marine Legislation Bill, prior to the addition of supplementary order paper, were not without concern either. The Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ, an alliance comprising fifty-five environmental groups, believes the legislation doesn’t go far enough in implementing international agreements around pollution.

New Zealand has not ratified the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, which was adopted to ensure that adequate, prompt, and effective compensation is available to persons who suffer damage caused by spills of oil. Or the International Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties which affirms the right of states to “take such measures on the high seas as may be necessary to prevent, mitigate or eliminate grave and imminent danger to their coastline or related interests from pollution or threat of pollution of the sea by oil”.

While local laws and other conventions that New Zealand has signed contain measures for environmental protection, this information certainly raises questions about the risks of deep sea oil drilling. Some of the possible drilling areas are deeper than the location of the site of the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which saw the equivalent of 4.9 million barrels of oil polluting the ocean.

Technology to cap an oil well has improved since 2010, but Radio New Zealand reported back in June that the equipment needed to cap an oil rig in New Zealand waters in the event of a spill would have to be shipped from the UK, taking approximately two weeks. Frank Macskasy writing on the Daily Blog calculated that would be enough time for 788,500 barrels of oil to spill into the ocean. To put that number in perspective, imagine sixty-five Olympic sized swimming pools filled with crude oil.

Oil is New Zealand’s fourth largest export (after dairy, meat and wool). Currently oil production last year was the lowest since 2008, though the general trend is toward increased production. “If you look at the figures over the last decade there’s been exponential growth” Simon Bridges told The New Zealand Herald last month.

Offshore drilling has become an increasingly attractive source of oil as onshore wells start to run low and the price reaches the point where the extra expenditure required can be justified. Declining  conventional oil production means the world is seeing increasing exploration of deep sea reserves, as well as practices such as hydraulic fracturing, an incredibly resource intense method of extracting oil from rocks.

‘Peak oil’ is a term that has entered the public consciousness in the last decade, though it is often misunderstood as meaning the point at which the world’s oil reserves run out. What it actually refers to is point where oil production peaks, and begins to decline.  Eventually, market forces would mean oil use is eclipsed by other forms of energy.

Of course, free markets don’t really exist outside of economics text books. Global public subsidies for fossil fuels were $523 billion in 2011 (compared to $88 billion for renewable energy). According to the World Wildlife Fund the New Zealand government is subsidising the oil and gas industry to the tune of $46 million per year (subsidies have doubled since National came to power).

Even if subsidies were to end, the market does not move fast enough for the climate. Earlier this year the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, making at least a two degree increase in average global temperature a likelihood by end of the century. Last summer New Zealand had its worst drought in seventy years, followed by the warmest winter since record keeping began in 1909.

Climate change happens much slower than an oil spill, but will ultimately be more destructive. In the long term, the much touted economic gains from opening up New Zealand waters for oil drilling will pale in comparison to the costs of adapting to a warmer climate. But free market capitalism has never been a suitable system for long term economic planning. In the absence of a transition to a planned economy, capitalism, which has shown itself to be incredibly resilient, will likely survive climate change, but the world’s poor –those least responsible for it- will disproportionately suffer the consequences.

A transition needs to be made to a carbon neutral economy; the process that takes is a discussion beyond the scope of this article, but immediate goals would be the end of fossil fuel subsidies, and the divestment of funds supporting fossil fuels. The latter is a key campaign plank of 350 Aotearoa who are “calling on the NZ Super Fund, our KiwiSaver providers, banks, churches, the Government and more to divest our money from the fossil fuel industry”. The campaign has already had some success with church organisations. The Super Fund has over $440 million invested in fossil fuels.

350 Aotearoa asserts that “democracy in New Zealand is under threat,” and the sight of activists being arrested in the Taranaki basin would seem to demonstrate this.  However for hapu such as te Whanau a Apanui, whose direct relationship to the land and water is undermined by oil-drilling, capitalism has never been democratic. We must struggle not only against environmental destruction, but for community ownership and planning.

[i] As we go to press the bill has not yet passed into law, although it is expected to.

Wellington water crisis: Drought risk driven by capitalism


Cartoon contributed to Fightback by Cat Kane

by Ian Anderson

In mid-March 2013, Wellington City Council announced a water crisis. Nigel Wilson, chair of the region’s committee in charge of water supply, stated that Wellington, Porirua and the Hutt Valley had only 20 days of water left. From March 16th, the city announced a ban on outdoor water use by residents, with a $20,000 fine for violating – commercial users faced no restrictions.

This follows a regular pattern whereby the council focuses on curbing residential water usage, whether through attempts at residential metering or outright ban in this case. By implication, the council blames residents for any water shortages.

“Non-commercial” and domestic usage
The council generally estimates “non-commercial” usage at around 350 litres per person per day, around half of usage overall. However, “non-commercial” usage includes Council usage, theft, and leaks. Leaks are unaccounted in bulk purchases; in fact around 20% of water in Wellington is unaccounted, compared to a national average of about 10-15%.

Accurate estimates for domestic consumption can be found not in the council figures, but in the nationwide Quality of Life reports. Most recently, the Quality of Life Report ’07 found Wellington domestic consumption between 2001 and 2007 to be on average 170 litres per person per day, on par with other cities. This is less than half of the Wellington City Council’s estimates for “non-commercial” use.

By conflating various uses and misuses under “non-commercial,” this manipulation of statistics gives the misleading impression that residents consume over half of Wellington’s water. Proportionally, industrial users such as Preston’s Meatworks are the biggest users. [Read more…]

Bush fires and climate change

Grant BrookesBush fire

The bush fires ravaging Australia this summer could turn out to be the worst on record.
Public reaction on both sides of the Tasman has been full of humanitarian concern for the victims. Meanwhile, our leaders plough on with policies which will spread more disasters like these globally – including here in Aotearoa.

The fires have been sparked by record-breaking temperatures. “The current heatwave – in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent – is unprecedented,” said David Jones from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Temperatures at Sydney’s Observatory Hill have hit 45.8 oC – shattering the 1939 record by half a degree. In the South Australian town of Oodnadatta, it has been so hot that petrol evaporated at the pump, making it impossible for people to refill their cars.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she felt “overwhelmed by the bravery and stoicism that people are showing in such difficult circumstances” and promised disaster relief payments for the victims, even acknowledging that “as a result of climate change, we are going to see more extreme weather events”.  But she added only, “We live in a country that is hot and dry… so we live with this risk”.
There was no mention of climate policy. Under her government, Australia remains the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

The story of the fires does not just concern Australia, however. The disasters also came less than two months after our own prime minister, John Key, announced that New Zealand would be pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change from the end of 2012.  [Read more…]

Pacific migration: Climate change and the reserve army of labour

Ian Anderson

Climate change hits different regions in different ways. An area scattered with low-lying atolls, the Pacific is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Environmental migration must be a key consideration for socialists in this region.

Nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati are already affected. Coastal erosion in Tuvalu, a nation comprised of atolls and reef islands, has already forced huge resettlement. Tuvalu has the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country, and it’s estimated that a sea-level rise of 20-40 centimetres could make it uninhabitable. By 2007, 3,000 Tuvaluans had resettled, most of them settling in Auckland. Kiribati is also vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather events; less than a week before the Kyoto Protocol was signed, a “king tide” devastated coastal communities.

Global warming: Responsibility and consequences
Radical labour organiser Utah Phillips is quoted as saying, “The Earth isn’t dying, it’s being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” In this case the responsibility lies with the big polluters of imperialist nations, including Australia and New Zealand. With the exception of Nauru, which is subject to heavy phosphate mining by Australia, smaller Pacific nations emit far less carbon per capita than Australia and New Zealand.

While imperialist nations produce the bulk of emissions, the smaller nations of the Pacific will bear the brunt of anthropogenic climate change. As seen in Tuvalu and Kiribati, low-lying islands will be hit particularly hard. Along with sea level rise, climate change means health conditions such as heat exhaustion; depletion of fish stocks; and crop failure, in a region where many still live off the land. Oxfam Australia predicts up to 8 million climate refugees from the Pacific Islands, and 75 million climate refugees in the wider Asia-Pacific, over the next 40 years. [Read more…]

Does New Zealand need a population policy for the benefit of the environment?

This talk was originally given by Byron Clark at Marxism 2010, as part of a debate with John Robinson, a former academic who has researched and written on rising population.

A Few people here may be familiar with the enviornmental sociologist Allen Schnaiberg, Schnaiberg is the co-author of The Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy and a number of other works, tomorrow [June 6th] is the one year anniversary of his death and I would like to acknowledge the contributions he made to radical theory about society and the environment. Schnaiberg coined the term ‘populationism’ to describe the various movements aiming for a reduction in population, and wrote in his 1980 book ‘The Environment from Surplus to Scarcity’ that populationism is a social ideology that attributes social ills to the number of humans. While agreeing that there is of course a limit to the number of people the planet can hold, modern populationism and its historical precedents, says Schnaiberg are regressive, reactionary, and at times racist.

I’m going to talk about how the environmental destruction we are witnessing today, notably climate change, is not something we can attribute to ‘to many humans’ but something we can attribute to our social and economic system. Because of this, New Zealand does not need a population policy to benefit the environment, but can, with the right type of social change, sustain a much larger population.

[Read more…]

Mining National Parks – Class and Conservation

Ever since Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson released a proposal to open up 7058ha of land presently in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act for mining, opposition to the plan has been building. The issue got attention around the world, including from North America’s largest conservation organisation the Sierra Club. “You have the responsibility to protect New Zealand’s wild heritage not only for the enjoyment of future generations but also for the protection and conservation of the Earth’s ever shrinking biodiversity,” wrote Richard Cellarius, the club’s international vice-president, in a letter sent to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Energy and Trade. “Long-term protection should not be sacrificed for immediate commercial gain.”.

[Read more…]

Water Metering: Letter to the Capital Times

This is a response to a Capital Times article, Hold Your Water (Vol  34  No 11) which argued for compulsory water metering as a conservation measure. Unfortunately the article is not online.

Your article Hold Your Water argued for water metering as a conservation measure. However, domestic water metering is symptomatic of an approach to conservation that shifts the costs of bad infrastructure onto consumers.

Like any user-pays system, water metering hits those on lower incomes hardest. There are alternatives. Fitting houses with rainwater tanks can conserve up to 40% of potable water, without significantly limiting real consumption. If you add greywater recycling and drycomposting toilets to the equation, households can conserve up to 70%. However, these measures don’t have the ongoing financial benefits that meters do.

[Read more…]