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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.
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change