Climate Change and The South

Following on from several contributors over recent months a few thoughts occur to me.

These are mainly inspired by the seemingly impending injustice about to be perpetrated on southern hemisphere countries, and the recent flooding in the UK. We are entering the “Age of Stupid” in no uncertain terms. What happened in the southeast of England was a lesson for the Global South, and not a pleasant one.

Politics in the UK over those weeks were caught up in an absurd argument between its Government and its own Environment Agency, because of the seemingly inadequate response to huge flooding which had threatened lives, property and farmland. Whatever the Government arguments on flood defences were, it was clear that environmental funding had been cut as an austerity measure; not hugely surprising from a regime that recently responded to rising energy bills by promising to “cut the Green crap”. The people responsible for flood defences would reasonably have argued that when it came to budgets, their hands had been tied, leaving farmers and ordinary people to stand by helpless as property and farmland drowned.

It’s not a pretty sight to see how a northern hemisphere government deals with this kind of crisis. In the United States, G.W. Bush didn’t cover himself in glory with regard to hurricane Katrina: the suffering of the poor of the State of Louisiana, a great many of them Black Americans, is well documented. While climate change is a fact accepted b

y the huge majority of scientists, unfortunately it does not receive the place it deserves – at the forefront of policy. Their actions are so far short of inadequate that they will do nothing to halt the planet’s shift to the climate tipping point, from which there is no return.

Most of these countries are run on what is essentially unfettered Friedmanite capitalism, that is, the supremacy of the free market above all else. Simply put, that kind of economics has led only to climate disaster because it promotes profit above all other concerns, in particular about the environment, and it has placed the massive return on capital well above economic growth, or at least, if not intentionally, resulted in it. A read of the French economist Thomas Piketty may be beneficial here and would be entirely recommended.

Amidst all this, we face the real possibility that some countries, like the Maldives, will simply cease to exist. They will go under the ocean and not come back. Current economic models aren’t just leading to these kinds of things: they in effect demand it.

It will be necessary – imminently – for the counties of the Global South: Africa, Asia and Latin America, to put up a united front to stand up for their citizens’ rights to live on the planet as equals rather than just sources of cheap labour and fodder for this folly of an economic system. In this sense, the governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela are examples. What is at stake is no less than survival. As Nick Pearce quite accurately points out in the New Statesman in his review of Piketty’s Capital:

“We will all live under the dead hand of the accumulated inequalities of past generations. “The earth belongs to the living,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote. But if Piketty is right, in the coming century, the dead will rule the world as “the past devours the future”.

We have to ensure we remain alive.


* Published in print edition on 11 April 2014

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