Climate Disaster of the Anthropocene: Is There Hope for the Human Race?

By Chris Kinder

“Already it’s a different planet.”

That is the first sentence in the first one of two articles on the climate change situation by David Wallace-Wells in the New York Times magazine of October 30, 2022; this one titled “Envisioning Life After Climate Change.”1

Wallace-Wells says that more than one trillion tons of carbon produced by human activity is now suspended in our atmosphere. He reports that “not very long ago,” scientists predicted a four-to-five-degree Celsius increase in average global temperature as a result of that. But “thanks to a global awakening,” he says predictions now are “between two and three degrees” (35.6-37.4 degrees Fahrenheit) increase.

Is this what a “global awakening” can achieve? And is this supposed to be an optimistic outlook?

The Wallace-Wells’ “Awakening”

Wallace-Wells gives us some details about how the installation of solar and wind power is proceeding at a much cheaper price than originally expected. I would add that public recognition of the problem has grown fast, and many dedicated non-profit outfits are working on solutions. That is well and good, as far as it goes, but nevertheless Wallace-Wells’ description of what the planet is actually in for with a two-degree increase is still shockingly horrific.

Note first of all that Wallace-Wells picks a two-degrees Celsius increase in the global average—rather than the two to three-degree estimate from the “global awakening”—for his description of what we are in for. Also note that a two-degree increase is well above the hoped-for goal of only a 1.5-degree increase this century set by the Paris Agreement of 2015 by 2030, and which climate entities such as the Conference of Parties (COP) have been hoping for until recently.

Carbon infestation
of the atmosphere

And we must note as well that the planet’s temperature has already been compromised by an increase of 1.2 degrees Celsius since the beginning of the industrial age in the mid-1700s. This is the result of carbon infestation of the atmosphere increasing from about 280-parts-per-million (ppm) to almost 420 ppm in 2021.2 This amount of carbon in the atmosphere is the highest in human history, which is bad enough, but that is just the beginning.

Both the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and the heating that it creates, are on a very sharp upward curve, which shows no sign of leveling off. But the COP annual meetings, and analysts such as Wallace-Wells, speak as though they expect the two-degree increase to be the limit for the century. Do they really think that will somehow be the limit of global warming? Carbon in the atmosphere is still climbing year by year, and even if it slows down, the amount that is up there will be there for thousands of years, and the consequences of that are horrific in planetary history.

A bleak future

Even with just a two-degree Celsius increase in average global temperature, the picture for the planet is not good. Here is what Wallace-Wells predicts: more than 10,000 plant species will lose their habitable area, and animals will be migrating to northerly areas that likely will not be ready for them. (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports in a study that one half of the studied species have moved already.) This animal migration will cause “at least 4,000 spillover effects,” such as more viruses—Covid-19 being just one (current) case. Many areas will dry out from heat caused fires, and one-hundred-million “Americans”3 will experience 125 degrees Fahrenheit for some days every year, which will make outdoor labor impossible.

Wallace-Wells continues: More than three billion people live in highly vulnerable areas and that “mass climate migrations will become a fact of life.” At two degrees Celsius, it could be tens- or hundreds-of-millions of people on the move. He reports that two degrees Celsius “will require a near-total transformation of all the human systems that gave rise to warming: energy, transportation, agriculture, housing and industry infrastructure.”

How is this to be addressed?

This is certainly a bleak picture, and not a bad beginning analysis, but Wallace-Wells leaves completely unaddressed the two crucial questions: how, and by who is this massive problem going to be addressed? And what are the prospects for human life if and when the temperature sails beyond two degrees Celsius?

On the first point, Wallace-Wells hints—just hints—that this problem won’t be addressed by the capitalist system in power today. Regarding the mass-migration issue, he reports that a new book by Gaia Vince, Nomad Century, suggests that a massive influx of migrants from southern regions heading north should be greeted humanely by extending citizenship to migrants in an “overall human flourishing.” Right. Wallace-Wells admits that “a bleaker future is easier to imagine!”

The threat of fascism

But this just touches on the real problem. Look at how countries today are moving to the right, in part a response to migrants that are already flooding to the northern areas all over the world. Hungary is now captured by a near-fascist autocracy which has put up a fence against migrants and refuses to let them in. The tyrant, prime minister Orban, was recently welcomed in a visit to Texas, which is notorious for sending horse-mounted thugs to attack and stop migrants trying to cross the Rio Grande River. The chances of refugees from Central America entering the U.S.—the government which is the cause of the destruction of the states they come from, and of the migrants being essentially homeless—is nil.

How is a state like the U.S., ruled by capitalist moguls, and now infected by a fascist movement—the only weakness of which is the lack of a unified Nazi party—expected to deal with massive migrations or with any other aspect of the climate change threat? As with the U.S.’s criminally inhumane treatment of border-crossing refugees, the prospects under both capitalist parties are all negative.

A capitalist solution?

The capitalist class rules most of the world with one goal in mind: increase their profits and their power. They do not care who rules a country, as long as their administration—two capitalist parties or the fascists who have now infiltrated the Republican Party—serves the rule of capital. The idea that any capitalist-imperialist regime—the U.S. leading the pack—could do a complete makeover of all the interlocked industries which have been poisoning the atmosphere for two hundred years in a short enough time to put a stop or even a slowdown of planet-wide warming, is ridiculous, laughable, idiotic—words escape one. Only a social revolution that overthrows the capitalist ruling class has that chance, but we need it now.

Wallace-Wells takes the viewpoint that the “awakening” to the danger of climate change on the part of government, some capitalist start-ups and non-profit citizen action gives us a big enough escape hatch to hold the damage to two degrees Celsius this century. And while this is basically a fairy tale, there is some note-worthy action being taken.

Green groups slam Biden’s bill

There is a certain divide on the fringe, but within the system. Some capitalists are investing in green energy, like wind and solar, while others are doubling down on fossil fuels. This “debate” is seen in the recent climate bill included in President Biden’s watered down “Build Back Better” bill, the “Inflation Reduction Act.” The bill includes measures to lower prescription drug prices, help pay for health insurance, and “the biggest U.S. investment ‘by far’ in climate change.”4

But this “biggest investment so far” is full of holes, according to Green Groups in an article, “Fossil Fuel Side Deal for U.S. Slammed by Green Groups.”5 First of all, the bill would provide for faster approvals for fossil fuel projects, including the infamous Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in Appalachia, promoted by Senate Democrat Joe Manchin. Manchin’s approval was critical to getting this bill through Congress.

Manchin’s side deal infection

This “side deal” also delivers a range of permitting reforms for large infrastructure projects, such as limiting the length of environmental reviews, centralizing the power to approve projects to just one government agency, identifying priority energy projects to be fast-tracked, and reining in the length of court challenges. Reuters quotes Jean Su, the energy and program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, saying in an emailed statement that “The price to be paid for Manchin’s vote looks more and more like an oil and gas wish list.” Su also said, “This backroom deal threatens communities, while shunting aside state and tribal input.”

Reuters also reports that, “An oil and gas industry source, who did not want to comment publicly, said the sector applauded efforts to streamline permitting.” I would add, based on my own brief familiarity with Appalachia as a youth, that this pipeline project, over hills and valleys of very beautiful country, would be a disaster in its placement there. And it would be a bigger disaster waiting to happen, given the leeks to which these pipelines are all so susceptible. Also note that under Biden’s climate bill, sites of government-owned lands that are scheduled for green energy development (wind, solar) would be required to accept drilling projects for fossil fuels as well, all of which effectively cancels out this “climate bill.”

Get rid of fossil fuels? When?

The basic point of any climate measure today should be to add to a movement to get rid of fossil fuels that should have been seriously fired up back in the 1990s. The fact that a real campaign to get rid of fossil fuels has been essentially ignored is shown, for one instance, by a short piece buried on the back pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, sourced from the International Energy Agency, that says that renewables will “overtake coal as the largest source of electricity generation by early 2025.”6 2025 for a report we should have heard about in the 1990s? Call it outrageous, but it really is just one more indication that climate change, which is already on a serious roll forward, will not be stopped by humans under capitalist domination, period. And that is a very dangerous prospect for the entire world, indeed.

What is really going on with fossil fuels now is that the corporations are on a well-organized fight back against climate measures to save themselves by making enough money now to survive their inevitable demise. The U.S. sanctions against Russia, which has massive reserves and sells its oil relatively cheaply, have allowed Western oil moguls to skyrocket prices, as well as prompting the E.U. to impose a limit on prices for Russian oil. These huge price hikes have led the U.S. to attempt to scale back sanctions on Venezuela and allow Chevron to resume refinery operations there. This promotes a chuckle by progressives about the U.S. getting tangled up in the web of its own sanctioning policies, but the overall situation is far from comical.

Oil corporations go on the attack

Oil moguls have resorted to an outright attack on sustainable energy through agencies such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation. This “non-profit” organization, heavily funded by oil companies, is pouring those funds into a lawsuit filed by fishing companies in Massachusetts to block the nation’s first offshore wind farm. The fishers themselves feel that the necessary turbines and underwater cables “could interfere with the harvesting of squid, fluke and other fish,” according to a New York Times report.

While the fishers’ problems with this could probably be resolved through compromise measures, the same oil-backed organization has sucked this suit into its camp better than a predator shark could imagine. This same agency campaigned to keep open one of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the West, in Arizona. And in Texas, these sharks “crafted the first so-called ‘energy boycott’ law to punish financial institutions that want to scale back their investments in fossil fuel projects, legislation adopted by four other states.”7 Any questions?

Humans are in the crosshairs

At this point in time, the human race, and most other animals on this planet, are in the crosshairs of climate change, with barely the beginning of a fight-back. As we have seen, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is increasing annually, and there is no reason to assume that this will not continue. Fossil-fuel capitalists are in an unchecked offensive against the climate solutions that are on the table so far. And the source of the problem—capitalist domination of the economy and society itself—is not about to be overthrown by a worker’s revolution, let alone by the meager reformist “solutions” that attempt to “pressure” the capitalist overlords to do what is necessary.

As a long-time Trotskyist communist, I find it very hard to say that the prospects for development of a worker’s party that could overthrow capitalism in time to be able to get a handle on climate change are next to none. That is not to say that we should give up in this effort to build for a revolutionary solution! Nothing like that at all. But the fact is that we—and our younger comrades—will face a very different world much sooner than we like. We need to be aware of what we are facing, which starts with a much hotter world.

Our entire epoch is threatened

For this, we must look at earlier times when there was as much CO2 in the atmosphere as there is now. Our epoch, the Holocene, and the preceding epoch, the Pleistocene—essentially the same time as the Stone Age, or Paleolithic—comprise the Quaternary Period, which started about 1.8 million years ago. In the Pleistocene epoch, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere varied from about 500 parts per million (ppm) down to 385 ppm. The temperature varied from about 22 degrees centigrade to 13 degrees in the later years of the Stone Age. That is hot.8

It is important to note that measurement of global average temperature today is much more sophisticated than measurements estimated for prehistoric times. Today’s measurements are based on the land and ocean values, which of course gives a much lower number than just what we experience on land. Pre-historic measurements are based primarily on tree rings and ice cores. This, I think is enough for us to assume that these ancient values are a valid comparison to what we experience now.

Global temperature is going up

We must now discern from the evidence that the global temperature is going to rise well above what it is now. We must also assume that with all this carbon in the atmosphere, ocean temperature will also rise, more slowly, but with horrific results. These include the rising of ocean levels by 20 feet (from a Greenland melt) to over 40 feet when all of the Southern ice cap overflows into the sea. Death of all coral reefs will continue, and that will destroy about 25 percent of human food sources. Famines and mass migrations will increase way beyond the ability of capitalist states and imperialists of the north to deal with. This could lead to several possible outcomes: fascist mobilizations to slaughter migrants, complete breakdown of nation states in southern regions, and breakdowns of imperialist nations themselves.

Let us not stop now!

All of these crises could lead to the rich elite deciding that it’s everyone for themselves. And for the rich, assuming their money is still worth anything, that could mean the establishment of private walled retreats in more northern realms, such as the Canadian north and Siberia, guarded by hired fascist militias. How they would supply themselves with energy and resources is anyone’s guess, but do not dismiss this as a likely possibility. We are in an age of rapid environmental change that is not going away with the Band-Aids so far presented, in between the wars that is. Think worst case analysis. We have faced it before.

Climate change is the biggest challenge now that human beings have faced since the onset of the last ice age, which reduced our population to a very few survivors. But the Homo species has survived for two million years. Let us not stop now.

1 David Wallace-Wells is a columnist and opinion writer for the New York Times, and the author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.

2 Data as reported on the website

3 “Americans” means inhabitants of the two continents and Central America. I mention this because too many people refer to “Americans” as just referring to the citizens of the United States of America.

4 Washington AP report by Lisa Mascaro, August 16, 2022

5 Article by Nichola Groom, Reuters, August 2, 2022.

6 San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2022.

7 “Offshore Power Finds Rich Foe In Oil Country,” David Gelles, New York Times, December 4, 2022.

8 Information from Pan Terra Inc, at Worldwide Museum of Natural History,