Chronicle of a tragedy foretold

Fidel Castro at the Rio Summit, 1992.

Fidel Castro was the first head of state to warn about the very serious threat posed by environmental pollution and greenhouse gases to the human species. It will soon be 30 years since that warning was made in just under six minutes at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

An important biological species -the Cuban leader affirmed- is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive liquidation of its natural living conditions: man. And he immediately went to the heart of the matter, which is not greenhouse gases per se, but a whole complex multidimensional crisis originated by the capitalist system. It is necessary to point out -added the Commander- that consumer societies are fundamentally responsible for the atrocious destruction of the environment. They were born of the former colonial metropolises and imperial policies which, in turn, engendered the backwardness and poverty that today plague the immense majority of humanity.

With only 20% of the world’s population, they consume two-thirds of the metals and three-quarters of the energy produced in the world. They have poisoned the seas and rivers, polluted the air, weakened and perforated the ozone layer, and saturated the atmosphere with gases that alter climatic conditions with catastrophic effects that we are already beginning to suffer.

Only with some adjustments in the quantities, those words still allow us to characterize the brutal depredation of nature and the exploitation of the great majorities by the imperialist powers. In reality, the situation described by his prophetic warning has only worsened, because during the three decades that have passed, the barbaric neoliberal policies have deepened, accentuating capitalist exploitation, plundering and environmental depredation practiced by imperialist capital, causing catastrophic global warming and pollution.

Fidel was also the world leader who in the whole second half of the 20th century devoted more energy of his brilliant mind to analyze capitalist and imperialist exploitation and its consequences. Among them, the very serious problem of global warming which, together with the danger of nuclear war, formed a substantial part of his concerns until the last days of his life.

From his warning in Rio to his Reflections in the final stage, the facts prove the Commander right. As denounced by most of the social movements in attendance, with particular emphasis on the representatives of indigenous peoples, very little has been done to date by the developed countries, the main causes of this situation, to halt and reverse it.

In fact, despite how threatening the phenomenon has become, none of the pollutant emissions reduction targets set in the famous Paris Agreement, which came into force in 2016, not to mention the previous Kyoto ones, have been met. On the contrary, a temperature increase of 1.1 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial era, the highest recorded in two million years, has already been reached.

Nor are the commitments reached so far at COP26 in Glasgow sufficient to avoid, before the middle of the 21st century, an increase in temperatures of more than two degrees Celsius and a climate change with terribly catastrophic effects. Increasing and more frequent heat waves that will kill many people, loss of forests and desertification; melting of glaciers, poles and Greenland’s permafrost; extreme and prolonged droughts, rains and floods of unprecedented magnitude, increase of temperature and acidity in the seas, irreversible flooding of large coastal areas and disappearance of small islands as a consequence of sea level rise, more frequent and intense tropical cyclones and storms, migration of important human masses; extinction of tens of thousands of species and loss of hundreds of ecological niches, both with consequences that are difficult to foresee, but certainly disastrous for life.

In truth, these phenomena are already here and are part of our daily lives. They will only become more and more common and will worsen exponentially, creating an unlivable situation for millions of human beings.

Meetings such as COP26 serve to raise awareness of the magnitude and serious threat to life posed by all of the above and to extract certain concessions, but they will not solve them. Only a gigantic pedagogical work together with great popular mobilizations can force governments to act on this crucial issue for humanity. The key to this was given by Hugo Chavez, “let us not change the climate, let us change the system.”

Source: Cubadebate, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English