Climate movement must become a force to change the system

Republished from Socialist Resurgence’s website here


Capitalism has put the climate and our natural world into a deep crisis. An economy that revolves only around profits has led to a system that is destroying our water, air, and land and that devalues our labor. We know we cannot continue under the permit paradigm of extractive growth, fossil fuel ubiquity, and planned obsolescence. The climate movement needs to start changing to ensure we can have the type of mass actions needed to make change.
Massive protests and direct action are planned to stop Line 3 early this June. A call for activists around the country came from Treaty People Gathering, stating: “We will not stand by and watch a fossil fuel corporation line its pockets as so much is destroyed, producing oil we don’t need. On June 5-8, we will gather in Northern Minnesota to put our bodies on the line, to stop construction and tell the world that the days of tar sands pipelines are over. Only a major, nonviolent uprising—including direct action—will propel this issue to the top of the nation’s consciousness and force Biden to act. We are rising. Join us.”
This protest is hoping to stop construction on a pipeline that is currently being built in Minnesota. According to Honor the Earth, the new pipeline is 36”, as opposed to the original size 34” pipeline, with the capacity to transport 760,000 barrels of oil a day. Stop Line 3 has noted that the Line 3 replacement will contribute more to climate change than the entire economy of Minnesota. The state’s environmental impact assessment found that the pipeline’s carbon footprint could be 193 million tons a year. Jim Doyle, a physicist at Macalester College, equated this to 50 coal fired power plants or 38 million vehicles on the road.”
This pipeline needs to be shut down for several reasons—not just because of the environmental impact but also because the pipeline passes directly through the Fond Du Lac reservation and is adjacent to several other Ojibwe reservations. The route is squarely located in land that is protected by 1855 treaty rights.
Fighting against individual pipelines, power plants, and examples of extreme environmental degradation is how the climate movement has been fighting for years. This strategy is how folks are hoping the movement can grow to a true force for systemic change throughout the country and planet. Unfortunately, stopping these truly horrible individual projects will not do enough to mitigate climate change from having the worst effects.
Despite President Biden’s rhetoric about dealing with climate change, his administration has compounded the problem by giving approval to projects that will significantly expand oil and gas drilling in the U.S. On May 25, the White House defended in federal court a giant oil drilling project in critical habitat on Alaska’s North Slope; it had been approved by the Trump administration but faced strong opposition by environmentalists. Earlier, the administration backed Trump’s decision to grant oil and gas leases on federal land in Wyoming, and declined to halt oil flowing through the controversial Dakota Access pipeline.
Science has been very clear that we need at the very least to cut global emissions in half by 2030, with a reduction to net zero emissions by 2050. What is it going to really take to get there?
The IEA recently published its roadmap to net zero by 2050, in order to keep the planet from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius (although most scientists specify that 1.5 degrees should be the minimum goal). However, the report has shortcomings. Thinking about how to stay under 2 degrees C without systemic change to our economy is almost impossible. For example, from Scientific American: “The IEA’s net-zero scenario relies on the hefty use of 100 exajoules (EJ) of biomass for bioenergy in 2050. While this is a significant improvement on the IEA’s previous exaggerated assumptions on significant new bioenergy use, it’s still likely unrealistic. This amount of biomass is still equivalent to roughly five times the world’s existing commercial harvest of wood, and would likely conflict with land use for food.”
Not only biomass but also negative carbon technologies like carbon capture have never been shown to be viable on a large scale. To have some success in mitigating the disastrous effects of the climate crisis, the world must greatly accelerate the change toward 100% renewable power, while taking other emergency measures such as a halt to the clear-cutting of old-growth forests.
What we need is an ecosocialist future. We need a future in which planning occurs centrally and not with a profit motive in mind. Under our current system, it is considered “good business” if a company can save 1% on their production costs by dumping toxic waste into a river, knowing that fines will be less than the profits gained from the dumping.
The micro rationality of capitalist markets, which focus on short-term profits and externalities, is incompatible with the macro rationality needed to prevent the worst aspects of climate change. An ecosocialist future would put the needs of the planet, the individual, and the community to the forefront. Central planning around how to provide good food, housing, education, medical care, and safety would be decoupled from profits. The collective might of human labor would be used to ensure living standards for everyone; it would be democratically planned to ensure that a future of prosperity for all peoples is realized.
The real question is whether the environmental movement can start to mobilize to ensure that the window for human life on this planet stays open. We will need actions across the country with the involvement of organized labor, Indigenous activists, folks at the forefront of stopping environmental racism, scientists, and the antiwar movement to all come together around a set of principled demands that we treat climate change like the threat it is to our planet and to our species.
Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity on this planet. We stand at a moment unlike any other in modern history. Will we choose socialism or barbarism?
Photo: @ResistLine3 / Twitter

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