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To start with, it would take at least couple of thousand years of dwelling in biodomes while the right conditions to live in the open air were created. For Mars lacks Earth’s “greenhouse effect”, a layer of “greenhouse gases” that trap solar energy, creating an atmosphere in which humans can live. Without this Earth would be as cold and barren as Mars. However, the greenhouse effect needs to be carefully balanced to support human life. Too high a concentration of greenhouse gases and the planet would overheat, leading to unpredictable weather behaviour, loss of plant and animal species, and serious disruptions to the chain of life on Earth. This is human beings” most urgent habitat problem today – the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, is currently on the rise, pushing the temperature up with it. In the last two decades in particular the Earth warmed at a rate faster than at any point in at least the last 1000 years. And, while scientists have tested alternatives to the idea that human beings are affecting global climate, none of the factors such as the climate’s natural variability or changes in solar radiation fit the 20th century’s observed warming so well as increases in greenhouse gases generated by human activity. The question of what it would take to support human life is more pressing for planet Earth than for Mars – as a species we are having difficulties taking steps to ensure that we can carry on living in our present home.
International political response to the deterioration of support systems for human life on Earth comes in the form of the UN’s Kyoto Protocol, a set of negotiations that calls for token cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Ratification of the Protocol is stalled by Russia’s vacillating over whether to sign the agreement. Meanwhile the US has simply refused to play, an unsurprising stance given that the main cause of climate change is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This carbon dioxide comes from the burning of fossil fuels, most notably oil, and the US is at least as addicted to oil as is the rest of the global North.
How disturbing: the resource that fuels contemporary society and defines international relations is the same resource that most severely impacts on the ability of our species to survive. Carbon dioxide is emitted in the manufacture of almost every product that we buy and in every journey we make by motorised vehicle. For the past four decades, the output of carbon emissions and Gross Domestic Product from globalised industry have increased almost exactly in proportion to each other – a dramatic cut in emissions would mean a correspondingly dramatic shift in our understanding of “business as usual”. The scale of changes that are implied, even if motivated by an interest in future human generations being able to live on this planet, seem difficult to accept. Such measures are hardly vote-winners. This is why a meaningful attempt to tackle climate change is not at the top of most politicians” agendas.
This is also what makes questions over a radical transformation of society immediate and practical, rather than abstract. It is less a case of whether transformation should happen, and more of a case of what sort of changes are required. Thus, to avoid panicked measures and an increasingly authoritarian state, human beings need to find a way of practising politics that allows for participation in this significant political transformation. What mechanisms need to be developed to allow people to decide on the limits to carbons emissions? How will those limits be applied in a truly free and fair manner?
Fortunately, there is no need to start from scratch on this last question. The UK-based Global Commons Institute has put forward an initiative, Contraction and Convergence, which would provide a way for the global community to move towards the 80% emission cuts necessary to prevent carbon dioxide levels from exceeding twice what they were before the industrial revolution. And Contraction and Convergence is based in the principle of equity, recognising that such vast change needs a political framework. The Kyoto Protocol is often criticised for being “too little, too late” but it is predictably so, given that it challenges none of the economic or political assumptions of a capitalist system. It relies on the extension of the market to the Earth’s carbon dioxide recycling facility – the atmosphere -to get us out of this mess. It allows those who usually use more than their fair share of the world’s resources to continue doing so. As a step beyond Kyoto, Contraction and Convergence recognises that safeguarding life support systems for future generations has to involve a different way of working from the current, clearly defunct, system.
Contraction and Convergence proposes that international “shares” of greenhouse gas emissions be allocated on the principle of equity, whereby a human being in an over-consuming country has no more nor less right to Earth’s atmosphere than a human being in an under-consuming country. From this understanding the initiative proposes that countries in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agree a global greenhouse gas emissions ‘contraction budget’, aiming to limit atmospheric concentrations of these gases. Shares of greenhouse gas emissions would be proportional to an agreed base year of global population. In practice this may mean that over-consumers of greenhouse gases would have to contract sharply, while under-consumers could continue to rise for a while until their overall consumption “converged” at the pre-agreed level. Contraction and Convergence has solid scientific grounding with the aim of fair distribution, and with the atmosphere afforded the status of a common resource for all life on Earth.
In a January 2000 report, Greenhouse Gangsters vs. Climate Justice, the US-based group CorpWatch summed up the changes needed as being about more than weather stabilisation. They called for “climate justice”, including the recognition that communities hit hardest by the extraction, refining and distribution of fossil fuels are not only some of the most severely impacted by climate change catastrophes but are also some of the least capable of responding to them. As part of a movement for climate justice CorpWatch’s stance included opposition to -military action, occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, water, oceans, peoples and cultures, and other life forms, especially as it relates to the fossil fuel industry’s role.- They accused multilateral development banks, transnational corporations and governments in the global North of compromising the democratic nature of the United Nations as it attempts to address the problem. The obstacles to achieving weather stabilisation as part of a larger goal of climate justice are, after all, both institutional and political. Despite a potentially bleak prognosis for the survival of human beings on Earth, hope lies in understanding that climate change is the result of a tangible set of events and political decisions. And, as such, it does not have to be inevitable.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead