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UN climate talks in Qatar: Fiddling while the world burns

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Almost no one has serious hopes for a positive breakthrough at the annual UN climate talks that begin today in Doha, Qatar. There is absolutely no discussion from the biggest emitters about a binding agreement that would take anything close to the type of drastic action needed. 

Big Oil, Big Coal and the other robber barons will continue to burn the planet's future, while the politicians fiddle. Especially given the year we've had, this is inexcusable. 

2012 has given us unprecedented warning signals that global warming is not only already underway, but proceeding at a much more rapid pace than expected.

We've seen new, alarming evidence of methane being released from melting permafost in Siberia, along with record ice retreat in the Arctic and melting in Greenland. And, of course, droughts and Hurricane Sandy drove home the point. Climate change is here, and presents an existential crisis to human society and to the survival of our species and millions of others. 

In a new column today on TruthOut, Chris Hedges paints a vivid and frightening picture of the looming catastrophe. 

"A planetwide temperature rise of four degrees Celsius ... will cause a precipitous drop in crop yields, along with the loss of many fish species, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to abandon their homes in coastal areas and on islands that will be submerged as the sea rises. There will be an explosion in diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever. Devastating heat waves and droughts, as well as floods, especially in the tropics, will render parts of the Earth uninhabitable. The rain forest covering the Amazon basin will disappear. Coral reefs will vanish. Numerous animal and plant species, many of which are vital to sustaining human populations, will become extinct. Monstrous storms will eradicate biodiversity, along with whole cities and communities. And as these extreme events begin to occur simultaneously in different regions of the world, the report finds, there will be 'unprecedented stresses on human systems.' Global agricultural production will eventually not be able to compensate. Health and emergency systems, as well as institutions designed to maintain social cohesion and law and order, will crumble. The world's poor, at first, will suffer the most. But we all will succumb in the end to the folly and hubris of the Industrial Age. And yet, we do nothing." 

This forecast is not the product of a left-wing imagination. Hedges, in fact, is merely summarizing the findings of a new report -- from the World Bank! The report focuses on four degrees of warming, Hedges points out, because "the tepidness of the emission pledges and commitments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will make such an increase almost inevitable."

Qatar is an appropriate location for the latest installment of the dismal spectacle that the annual talks have become. The emirate has the world's highest carbon emissions per capita. Qatar is a petro-state par excellence that overwhelmingly relies on a migrant labour force denied their basic rights. And Qatar is also an important military asset for the United States; the U.S. base there was a key headquarters for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. 

Qatar should be a reminder of the systemic problems that must be addressed along with the planetary climate emergency: inequality, migrant justice and empire. 

Without reducing inequality and capping the extravagant ecological footprints of the wealthiest, there is no chance of cutting emissions, and, moreover, appeals to curtail fossil fuel development by poor and marginalized people amount to little more than Neo-Malthusian hypocrisy. 

Without prioritizing migrant justice, the millions of climate refugees -- and the hundreds of millions more in the years to come -- will be left open to the most brutal forms of apartheid, as new and deadly waves of xenophobia rise along with the ocean waters. 

Without ending the philosophy of plunder behind war and empire, humanity has no chance of coming together in cooperation to confront the climate crisis. 

Thankfully, there are emerging movements making these connections. Here in Canada, PowerShift 2012 was a shot in the arm and an inspiration. I know some young PowerShift delegates who are in Qatar this week, where they'll join other grassroots activists to be sure that climate justice has some voice at the UN talks. 

These activists are continuing the path laid out in the People's Agreement of Cochabamba, which came out of the historic April 2010 gathering of more than 20,000 activists in Bolivia. 

Sadly, the Cochabamaba declaration will barely be reflected in the official deliberations. But it's still a source of hope and guidance: some of its key points are almost never mentioned at the UN talks, like the idea that the rich countries of the Global North need to pay their 'climate debt,' or that military spending should be redirected to fight the climate crisis. 

All this to say I'm not hopeful about what will come out of Qatar over the next two weeks. But I am wishing friends and activists there good luck.

The climate justice movement faces a monumental task. We all do. The corporate nihilists and their lackey politicians -- the Nero-liberals, you might say -- will continue to destroy our collective future unless they are forcibly stopped. 

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