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Mainstream, VOL LX No 32, New Delhi, July 30, 2022

The Role of Sequestration in Reversing Anthropogenic Climate Change, an Update | Anandi Sharan

Friday 29 July 2022


by Anandi Sharan

22 July 2022

10 years ago we published our view on how humanity could reverse anthropogenic climate change by halting all emissions and living a food forest life.

Now in 2022 I wonder whether I still think our scenario of hope is feasible. One fact about the last 10 years, which is the same as from the decade before and the one before that, is that the doomsday scenario humanity finds ourselves in is not scaring the capitalists. This inhumane attitude, going back thirty years to 1992 when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed, is inexplicable. The capitalists are simply not afraid of Business-as-Usual.

Before updating the plan we outlined 10 years ago, we should therefore present them the evidence of the impacts and damage and catastrophes that millions of people are experiencing today in all its stark horror. It is the evidence that should make capitalists change their behaviour.

The damage due to anthropogenic interference with the climate system is multidimensional; it occurs like in an individual. The planet is in-divisible.

Watching this unfolding process gives me the same feeling I have when I remember having harmed a loved one and I cannot take it back. Nature is one. The sensitivity of the climate system and the sensitivity of the oceans and the sensitivity of the interlinked species’ lives, all the sensitivities are one. Like a human individual, indivisible, earth is an in-dividual, everything affects everything.

Neither humanity can survive temperature rise and the associated weather calamities and biodiversity loss, nor by definition can most other species. Will the biosphere itself survive? It cannot be known. 8 billion people need the land and ocean for food, & now the heat is circling the earth destroying the most important food growing regions of the world as well as the plankton in the oceans that feeds all of ocean life. Reefs are nearly gone. We are living through the end of life on land and sea.

This year the naturally occurring planetary waves known also as Rossby waves, carried a heatwave of temperatures of between 38 and 45 °C around the most agriculturally productive regions of the world, causing crop loss of up to half the summer harvest in formerly temperate regions of China and Italy. The regions affected just happen to be the regions of the world’s food production, because of course before climate destabilisation they were just so perfect for humans and our most enjoyed crops. Greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.1% last year, 0.6% this year, and they are still rising. The coal restart of the European Union is adding more emissions than the emissions of half a million people in the rest of the world. Present temperature rise is due to past emissions. Every month so far this year has been ≥0.83°C above the 1951-1980 climate baseline. What will the future hold with the huge additional volumes being dumped in the atmosphere every year? Temperature rise, extreme weather events, changes in sea level, changes in ocean currents and ocean temperatures, have been known to be deadly to humans ever since humans existed. It is simply suicidal for capitalists to keep interfering in the climate system. Global emissions are on a trajectory that is in line with what the IPCC in 1990 said would be a high estimate of future emissions.

Realised Temperature Rise from Business-As-Usual

Figure 1 - Source : Simulation of the increase in global mean temperature from 1850 to 1990 due to observed increases in greenhouse gases, and prediction of the temperature rise between 1990 and 2100 resulting from the Business-as-Usual emissions. IPCC Scientific Assessment, 1990

Recent observations published in Nature show that we are on this runaway climate change path that the IPCC told us would occur if we did not cut emissions by at least 60% in 1990. The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP),compares the IPCC’s Special Report on Emission Scenarios predictions from the year 2000 with observations for the period 2000 to 2020. As time goes on more and more of the IPCCs predictions can be checked against observed temperature rise. It is horrifying to find that capitalists not only did not reduce emissions since the first IPCC assessment was presented to the UN, but they are still emitting more and more every year.

Annual global warming (land areas only) relative to 1980-2000 average.

Figure 2 - Source : Annual global warming (land areas only) relative to 1980-2000 average. How well have CMIP3, CMIP5 and CMIP6 future climate projections portrayed the recently observed warming, by D. Carvalho et al, Nature Scientific Reports, 14 July 2022

The one degree warming from 1990 to 2025, - that the IPCC warned us in 1990 would occur unless capitalists cut their emissions by 60%, - occurred by 2020, a full five years earlier than predicted. Capitalists not only did not cut their emissions, they piled on more. The capitalists don’t fear climate change.

Is there really just nothing to be done? Runaway climate change appears to be unfathomable in its finality. In the executive summary of the First Assessment Report of the IPCC in 1990 in which the IPCC made their prediction of temperature rise for the three Business-as-Usual paths shown in Figure 1, they told developed countries to immediately reduce emissions by 60%. If they didn’t, they predicted a 1 degree Celsius temperature rise from 1990 to 2025, and 3 degrees from 1990 to 2100. The rise would not be steady due to the influence of other factors. And now what we are experiencing is in the range of the high estimate that they predicted. (See the Executive Summary, IPCC Scientific Assessment, 1990) The fact that the rise is not steady does not fool any normal human being. Why do capitalists keep pointing out certain cooler days as evidence that climate change is not under way? The overall upward trend of temperatures let alone the other damage to the biosphere, the land, and the water systems, is undeniable.

In 2015 UNCTAD published an important paper showing how impossible it is to decouple capital growth from emissions, or emission from capital growth, under capitalism. Of course developed country representatives at the UNFCCC had already known this instinctively from the minute the scientific evidence connecting emissions from greenhouse gases and global warming was presented in the 1980s at the World Meteorological Organisation. The Group of 77 and China were vociferous in their appeal to reason at all the UN meetings on global warming from day 1. But the developed countries were not scared. They invented a post-truth of green growth. It took UNCTAD to expose the lie. In 1980 one USD caused the emission of 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide equivalent. Or, one can say, it took 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide to add one USD to the global economy, 1 tCO2e per 1000 USD. The Japanese national economy in 2007 had the lowest greenhouse gas emission intensity observed amongst developed countries of 244 grams of CO2e per USD, or 0.244 tCO2e per 1000 USD. The author who provided UNCTAD with the chart also calculated what the value would have to be if the world population were to have equitable distribution of wealth, growth that keeps up with population growth, and a development standard of the EU, whilst at the same time avoiding anthropogenic climate change. The emissions would have to be 0.006 tCO2 per 1000 USD.

Development of the Carbon Intensity of GDP, 1980 to 2050

Figure 3 – Source: Can Green Growth Really Work and What Are the True (Socio-)Economics of Climate Change? UNCTAD Discussion Paper No. 222 July 2015.

If we now bring these figures up to date, we find that in 2022 capital is causing around 0.47 tCO2e for every 1000 Swiss Franks, US Dollars, Euros or British Pounds. As an aside, it is interesting that all these currencies of the former and present colonisers are at par today. One might suggest that this has to do with the ever closer economic and military cooperation of this power block as it tries to defend its capital in the face of protest from the majority world and from nature.

We have calculated that the total global broad money in the world is CHF/USD/EUR/GBP 105.4 trillion. Global greenhouse gas emissions this year are 50 billion tCO2e. So we have a contribution of 0.47 tCO2e for every 1000 CHF. In converted CNY, JPY and other currencies including RUB, BRL, ZAR, GHS, NGN, INR to CHF for sake of comparing contributions in this chart.

In the below chart we illustrate what this impact of capital means in terms of contributions to climate change. We have combined the currencies of all the Annex 2 countries into one group.These are the countries that under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are supposed to take the lead in reducing anthropogenic interference in the climate system.

The owners of the developed country currencies are only 13.16% of humans but together are responsible for 55.8% of greenhouse gas emissions this year alone, and of course much more if historic emissions are taken into account. China with 17.5% of humans is responsible for 32.27% of GHGs this year. Russia causes 2.07% of pollution with 1.83% of the people, India causes only 2.5% with 16.25% of the world’s people, and the rest of the 51.26% of the world’s people cause just 7.38% of pollution.

Global warming impact of Capital in relation to Population

Figure 4 - Source: Broad money data from St. Louis Fed (M2 for US, M3 for Japan), Swiss National Bank (M3), European Central Bank (M3), Bank of Japan (M3), Peoples Bank of China (M2), Reserve Bank of India, Bank of England (Consolidated worldwide claims), Reserve Bank of Australia (M3), Reserve Bank of South Africa (M3), Central Bank of Brazil (M3), Bank of Ghana, Bank of Nigeria, Central Bank of Russian Federation, Norges Bank, & others. Population data from the UN. Global GHG emissions figure from Trends in Global CO2 and Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions; 2021, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

The effect of the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is to increase the carbon dioxide and methane concentrations, and the concentrations of the other long lived and short lived greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere. Today concentrations are higher than they have been any time in the last 3 to 5 million years. In their Sixth Assessment Report published this year, the IPCC said that even with whatever cuts to emissions planned by developed and developing countries, the global GHG emissions in 2030 would make it likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century. They say further that without a strengthening of policies beyond those that are implemented by the end of 2020, GHG emissions are projected to rise beyond 2025, leading to a median global warming of 3.2 [2.2 to 3.5] °C by 2100. Frankly this is very conservative, as the observed warming from 1990 to 2020 alone was above 1°C (see above).

A body temperature of 40-41 °C in humans leads to heat exhaustion, and above 41 °C the body starts to shut down. Climate change means that more and more regions of the world need human intervention for longer and longer periods of the year to prevent people being exposed to life threatening heat. Assuming capitalists are persuaded that they really must immediately stop emitting greenhouse gases, here is our updated scenario of hope.

Today the poor walk to work, take an occasional bus, a train once or twice a year, and sequester carbon dioxide naturally by planting crops and trees. Farmers and labourers and Adivasis and cultivators are living life, struggling, loving, getting on with things. Their emissions can be on a gradual emission reduction path of hope provided we succeed in abolishing capitalism and imperialism, and abolishing caste and class. Food forestry,with egalitarian production, distribution and consumption practices that match local needs, and the market in our control, - with limits to accumulation of private property -, will not result in a deterioration in the standard of living of the majority, quite the opposite. For the rich to believe that they can be happy without capitalism they must feel scared enough of what is otherwise coming at us. Please feel the heat! This year, more than half of France’s nuclear power stations shut down because river water was too hot to use for cooling the reactors. Somehow something about this extinction news should surely hit capitalists and make them scared. But so far there is no sign from them of a change of heart. This knowledge affects me newly on a different plane of feeling, the feeling of guilt, strangely, I have never felt this before about my relation to the world.

Each person and family and group of labourers will figure it out depending on their circumstances. But for there to be a chance for anyone capitalism has to be overthrown.

Ten years ago we published our article about what could be done. Since then the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have gone up from 390 to 420 ppm, and the annual growth rate is also going up. Methane concentrations have also gone up alarmingly and are going up faster every year.

To avoid global warming the target is to return to pre-capitalist concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which were around 250 ppm. This is a reduction of around 170 ppm from the current 420 ppm. Thus, we must, one, eliminate all sources of greenhouse gases by overthrowing capitalism and, two, sequester around 1321 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and ensure it does not get emitted again. This figure is because: 1 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 7.773 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. So 170 ppm = 1321 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. Assuming an average tree adds 12 kg of dry biomass per year, it sequesters 22 kg of carbon dioxide per year. This is calculated by assuming half of dry biomass is Carbon, and 1 tonne of Carbon is 3.667 tonnes of carbon dioxide. So 12 kg /2 * 3.667 = 22 kg carbon dioxide. So dividing 1321 tonnes / 22 kg we find we need the sequestration capacity of 60 trillion tree years. Assuming a tree lives for 60 years we must plant 1 trillion trees. Assuming we are 8 billion people each of us must maintain 125 trees for 60 years.

So, there we have it. The world is ending. And to those of us who own USD, EUR, GBP, CHF and JPY, let’s be clear, we were the climate, ocean, land and sea, nature, soil, food, water,air, earth biosphere criminals. And I am Swiss. These are my emissions. It was me. Can I become a real human now, immediately, and behave properly, like the rest of the world?

Should we keep hoping that humanity can do this? Yes. But the rates of biosphere change, seen in the measurements of the various biospheric indicators this year, seem to suggest that the physical, chemical, biological and geological action of the biosphere are to be beyond human ingenuity to manage, even at the highest level of human species cooperation. And that level of cooperation anyway is beyond the comprehension of capital. The belief of the capitalist bourgeoisie and their workers, - the rulers and their wage slaves who came up sometime say during the Ming Dynasty &Dutch Republic era,- is that upper classes and castes and their well paid workers mainly from what are now the developed countries will harvest the labour of the rest of the world and harvest nature, till the last drop is sucked dry. They will only stop when all of us and all of nature are gone.

Till then, shall we nonetheless do our personal best, avoid all emissions, and plant as many food forests as we can in associations of independent producers without hierarchy or caste? Of course we should.


The Role of Sequestration in ReversingAnthropogenic Climate Change by Anandi Sharan

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