System change not climate change

Published on Pambazuka News, by Ama Biney, 2009-12-23.

A capitalist economic system dependent on fossil fuels and the exploitation of natural resources to generate profit has left people and ecosystems across large parts of the planet – including swathes of Africa – vulnerable to climate change, Ama Biney writes in this week’s Pambazuka News. The ‘derisory’ funding developed nations have offered to ‘assist developing countries to adapt to climate change’ is not enough to solve the problem, Biney argues. The real focus, says Biney, should be on ‘transforming the exploitative, unsustainable, profit-driven ethos that underpins the current system of wealth accumulation that simultaneously damages the environment’.

Why is it that trillions could be found to bail out the banks by both President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown? Is bailing out the banks to the tune of trillions more important than climate change?

Why is it that millions have been spent waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and continue to be spent, yet sufficient funds cannot be offered to assist developing countries to adapt to climate change with clean technology, other than the derisory US$100 billion a year? If we have sent a man to the moon, how is it not possible that the global community with research capabilities and technology have invented wind turbines as a source of energy but cannot enable African countries to harness the one thing they have in abundance – sunshine – into solar energy?

The fundamental cause of global warming and carbon emissions has been perpetrated by the developed nations of the world and most critically the profit motive they are wedded to. In other words, it is the neoliberal capitalist system of overproduction in the North that has damaged the planet and continues to do so.

Capitalist accumulation is based on the inexorable rape of the world’s resources in terms of fossil fuels to power industry and create products; oil energy to transport via sea, land and air such goods; pillage of forests such as the Amazon and those forests in Africa that are rarely mentioned in relation to climate change. Yet, African forests take in 20 per cent of carbon absorbed by trees across the world and therefore Africa has a central role to play in the collective endeavours to save the planet … //

… Therefore reading the fine print that comes out of any Copenhagen deal and holding all to account, particularly the rich nations, is necessary.

Climate change is the single most important threat to human existence today. It is one of the myriad problems facing the African continent and it acutely exacerbates other long-term problems in Africa. I do not accept that some US$100 billion per year until 2020 – or whatever figure – is a key to addressing the fundamental problem. It is simply applying a sticking plaster to a world suffering from a brain haemorrhage. Transforming the exploitative, unsustainable, profit-driven ethos that underpins the current system of wealth accumulation that simultaneously damages the environment is the real focus. Helping countries in the South to develop greener technologies – whilst the North does the same is a cosmetic tinkering with the capitalist economic system that remains intact. We must recognise and accept that it is the way wealth is created and distributed in our world that causes the devastating impact of climate change as well as huge social, economic, and political global inequalities.

With the implosion of the banks, the capitalist system has been discredited and the people of the North and the South must lead the way in finding another fairer economic system that is in harmony with the environment. The challenge of progressive forces both in the South and North is to demand the realisation of the slogan on one placard hoisted at Copenhagen: ‘System Change Not Climate Change!’ (full text).

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  • * Dr Ama Biney is a Pan-Africanist and scholar-activist who lives in the United Kingdom.
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