Humanity’s inevitable fate

We thirst for the altruism of the young, and the inter-generational justice that must be delivered for the mess that we and those before us have made of climate change. Nothing short of radical global action is required

Friday’s ‘strike’ by Maltese students, over global inaction in the face of climate change, could not have arrived a minute too soon.

Malta University students joined thousands of students and youths in 92 other countries, by marching towards Parliament in Valletta to demand that government, authorities and all stakeholders take the necessary action to halt – or at least slow down - climate change.

It is particularly apt that this initiative should have been spearheaded by students, and youth in general. This is the generation that has been bequeathed a poisoned planet… one  which now may soon become uninhabitable, unless drastic action is taken.   It is also an issue that the younger generation clearly takes more seriously than their elders: not merely for the obvious reason – i.e., that it is their future that has been compromise - but also because they themselves are not responsible for the present situation.

Yet they will be the ones to face the consequences. Ultimately, then, this is more than just an environmental issue. It is also a question of justice.

We thirst for the altruism of the young, and the inter-generational justice that must be delivered for the mess that we and those before us have made of climate change. Nothing short of radical global action is required.

Malta is generally not considered to be a contributor to global climate change and emissions, if only by way of its minuscule physical/geographical footprint.

But arguably, a lot could be said about its global footprint as one of the world’s largest shipping registers; its role in regulating another energy-hungry industry, the cryptocurrency market; and as well its role, tiny though somewhat significant, in global tax avoidance.

As things stand, carbon emissions from ships at sea will only be regulated for the first time now, following a historic agreement to halve shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – an agreement that requires an energy revolution in the sector, as ships are overwhelmingly fuelled by heavy oils at present.

Given the urgency of tackling climate change, even these targets may not be enough. Greenhouse gas emissions from shipping and aviation – which only account for 2% of carbon emissions – were omitted from the 1997 Kyoto protocol and have been excluded from regulations on carbon ever since, even though shipping is used for 80% of global trade.

But the point here is: who pays for our much-needed transition towards cleaner fuels and reduced carbon emissions and international mitigation measures against climate change, if not the corporations and industries that are part of the global trading system that produces man-made climate change?

The same can easily be said of Bitcoin and the international cryptocurrency market: bitcoins are “mined” by computers that are constantly working to solve ever more complex algorithms to verify transactions. This process is computationally demanding, with heavy hardware requirements, but the elusive nature of this process means that determining its carbon footprint can prove complicated. 

The demand such currencies place on the energy system are enormous, and this drives up carbon emissions which in turn add to the overall global warming effect. Based on a conservative appraisal, a team from the University of Hawaii at Manoa found that the cumulative emissions from bitcoin would be enough to push global warming beyond 2C in 22 years. If the average rate of technology uptake is used instead, this number is closer to 16 years.

And once again, the cost of climate change – the ravages on infrastructure, the effects it will have on global transport and logistics, food stocks, the demand for energy, the mitigation measures it will provoke – will have to be funded by national governments. It stands to reason that in a global trading system where tax piracy is legalised, allowing tax revenues to be channelled to tax havens and ‘financial centres’ such as London, the Netherlands, Cyprus or Malta, will mean less money for governments to fund the climate transition.

This global race to the bottom only underpins the complex relationship between the global capitalist system and climate change: mitigating the far-reaching effects of climate change can only start by targeting capitalism, by bringing polluting industries to heel, making them pay for their role in greenhouse gas emissions, and by ensuring a level-playing field on taxation rather than encouraging piratical policies to siphon off tax revenues from other countries.

This generation of striking students is the first to demand that intergenerational justice be made for the indifference and hostility of those that came before them, and the passivity of us who see them take to the streets.

These people have been failed, and by the same token we have also failed generations to come, who now are bequeathed the legacy of irreversible climate change.

No amount of greenwash, anti-littering campaigns, or solipsistic attempts at individualistic behavioural changes will change the ticking time-bomb of climate change. Only global, governmental reforms can do that… if they are designed at mitigating the effects of climate change, and forcing the transition away from carbon to cleaner fuels, to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, and to succour our basic life system, will do.

And this time, failure is really not an option.

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