We must oppose capitalism to combat climate change

By COOPER B.

At this point in human evolution, climate change is inevitable and ongoing. For future historians, it will be important to recognize that climate change was not always inevitable, at least on such brief timescales. But now it is—thanks to fossil-fuel capitalism, industrial extraction, wildlife destruction, and deforestation, and capitalist methods of farming.

People must come to terms with climate change and its full implications. The implications are both emotional and practical. They are emotional because much of the earth’s natural beauty and biodiversity will disappear, including many creatures that we should cherish as wonderful products of evolution, just like ourselves. It is practical because the loss of so much biodiversity will also have a negative effect on the human quality of life and chances of survival. Our food chain, our farming methods, and every aspect of our lives must fundamentally change to adapt to rapidly altering conditions. Humanity will have to come to terms with a certain sense of loss.

However, not all is bleak. Humans still have a chance to live in a society without economic or environmental exploitation, and which avoids all the horribleness, depression, and waste of the present society. Humans could live in a society of mutual respect and cooperation among the world’s peoples, qualities needed to care for a changing planet. By repairing and ultimately re-adapting to the climate of earth, we’ll make it livable for many more generations of human and non-human life alike. The process of ecological reconstruction will be a fundamental part of the future socialist society.

Climate change will be bad (but could get even worse)

It should be said, of course, that the worst impacts of climate change could be avoided if the world’s governments act very soon. We must build a massive environmental movement worldwide, demanding that governments take the radical measures that are necessary to mitigate the crisis.

As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states, there are many policies that would help immensely if put into place within the next eight years. These measures include rapid reduction of fossil-fuel use and a complete transition to renewable energy, stopping the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers (and widespread adoption of multi-culture farming, local farming, and the end of cash crops), strategic re-foresting and re-wilding on a massive scale, halting the production of polluting waste like plastic water bottles and plastic bags, ending the destruction of old-growth forests, ending military production. Many more options (really, necessities) exist.

Indeed, had governments acted 30 years, or even 10 years ago, the human race might be facing no climate threats at all! But the world’s governments are run in the service of the capitalist ruling class, who exist, leech-like, from a system based on the continuous production for profit, and who purposefully suppressed very early warning signs of impending climate change from the public eye and even funded massive climate-denial campaigns.

Objectively, the whole system of extraction and production (including deforestation, mining, and fossil fuel use) for the ceaseless production of commodities is a structural incentive that drives millionaires and billionaires to the subjective decision to create disinformation campaigns. Additionally, most private and public institutions today exist to extend and propagate this very system, irrespective of the direct influence of capitalist propaganda. The IPCC tends to save its ire for the politicians who fail to act, but fails to accuse the system at the root of the problem, a system made for the production of products for market sale, and which developed over centuries with no consideration for the earth’s metabolism. Even modern “green capitalism” (an impossible reformist illusion) is an afterthought stapled to an economic model that by its very nature recklessly exploits natural resources and organisms—including humans. 

The current projections are (putting it mildly) not good. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections point out that, even if governments acted radically, we still would have 30+ years of climate-change disasters locked in. Nations signing the Paris Climate Agreement of 2016 vowed to keep the global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, while aiming for less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, according to the IPCC, it is likely that the latter mark will be exceeded during the 2030s—if not even earlier. These changes will result in more wildfires, more extreme hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts, and heat waves. Given the ruling class’s inaction, there is a strong chance that the effects will be much worse.

For example, it is estimated that the oceans have warmed about .7 degrees Celsius from the level of 1870-1899, and are projected to rise to 1.5 degrees by 2050 and as much as 3.2 degrees over the 1870-1899 period by 2100. This warming and the resulting rise in acidity and lower oxygen levels will result in mass extinctions of marine life, which will have dramatic ripple effects throughout the rest of the food chain. Many coastal and island communities worldwide will also have to evacuate their homes due to rising seas.

Backing up this information was the “State of the Climate in 2020” report by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It also shows that in 2020 we had 105 tropical storms (globally), compared to the 85 average for the period between 1981 and 2010.

Given the situation, even under the best-case scenario, the human race is facing a massive uphill battle for its own survival against climate change. This situation will compel our species to not merely consume less (or consume more efficiently) but to adopt an economic model with the goal of actively restoring the climate. This will be a multi-generational struggle.

Ecological reconstruction must oppose capitalism, since capitalism is responsible for the climate crisis. The process will be the culmination of a revolutionary development in which the working masses actively oppose and overthrow capitalism and set about to build a socialist society. Socialism entails a democratic planned economy that uses the tools and strength of the whole human species to work toward the fulfillment of human needs (including the needs of clean air and water, and to supportive biodiversity). If humanity fails to do this, our prospects on earth become very dim.

Enhanced quality of life with ecological reconstruction

We believe humans will be much happier with the effects of ecological reconstruction than under capitalism. There is no rational reason for unemployment at this time, for with a rapidly changing climate and a great many human needs still left unfulfilled on planet earth, there is plenty of work to be done. At the outset, we should implement a sliding scale of wages and hours, to ensure environmentally sustainable work while maintaining wages.

But we must go further to save the human species from extinction. As complete restructuring of all work is needed, to eliminate environmentally harmful jobs while maintaining and expanding the jobs we need. In the new society, unlike under capitalism, work will be more evenly distributed, with no more ultra-rich doing nothing and no more unemployed unable to work. In many industries, working weeks will be much shorter and free time more plentiful, because a planned economy will allow us to strategically shift work to where it is most needed, and many kinds of work will be deemed wasteful or even environmentally harmful.

We also need to focus on the quality of our air, water, homes, public transit, and consumer products. Solving deficiencies in all the areas that harm or limit the quality of human and animal life will also be the means to address the climate crisis. Trash-burning plants, gas plants, fracking, pipelines, and other outgrowths of fossil-fuel production, and our dependence on these industries, harm our air and water quality, and also disproportionately affect historically marginalized communities (such as Indigenous peoples and the Black working class in North and South America). A rapid transition to renewables would begin to reduce the environmental and racist effects of these industries. Ending industrial extraction on Indigenous lands and guaranteeing full land rights is not just a human rights issue but also an environmental one.

Making better and longer lasting consumer products, better homes, and high-speed mass transit are all integral to fighting environmental destruction, and will not cause a fall in the quality of life for working people in the wealthier or more industrially advanced countries. Why should cell phone manufacturers try to convince working people to buy a new phone every year? With four different competing brands? Today, the lithium in those batteries is mined in environmentally disastrous ways. For every 10 phones we produce yearly, one could be made that lasts 10 years, easily. Reducing redundancy in consumer products like phones also means less packaging and production waste.

The corporations consciously foster planned obsolescence in order to sell more products. This results from the capitalist system of market competition. But under a planned economy, we could plan for better and more efficient products, not worse ones! It is not enough for individuals to “buy better” or “vote with their wallet.” These methods are too isolated, sporadic, and also subject to the entire logic of capitalist consumption destroying our world. The way we consume must be addressed at the source of production. Major corporations must be nationalized under workers’ control.

Similarly, the building industry wastes potential with the construction of new walled neighborhoods, and for-profit office spaces. We should live in clean cities with clean air and water, while ending the encroaching process of gentrification caused by market forces. We believe housing is a right, and therefore the production and quality housing should be a priority. Our building industry could produce plentiful, quality, and sustainable public housing for all—or recondition and weatherize older housing—which means a smaller carbon footprint for all people. Sane city planning could also greatly expand the green public spaces and parks within urban environments.

Cars and trucks provide a lot of personal mobility, yet are not only wildly expensive for working people but have a severe cost in human and animal life every year—to say nothing of the carbon footprint! Along with quality public housing and city planning, a dense mass transit system could get us around more safely and cleanly, and then we could dig up the roads and turn them into projects for housing, nature reserves, and public parks. The auto industry was retooled for tank production in World War II at government orders; a government of the working people could easily requisition the industry to produce a mass-transit system.

Trillions won’t be wasted on the military-industrial complexes of the world. Military operations and production account for the majority of new and totally avoidable carbon emissions every year. If humans are to survive the coming centuries, we must close down the military operations used to maintain imperialist intervention around the world—in which the U.S. is by far the biggest offender. Indeed, the United States, under the directive of former President Obama, decided to spend billions of dollars in funding the production of updated nuclear weapons systems. And yet, the major U.S. media, owned by the capitalist class, continue to tell the masses that there is no money to fund hospitals in the wake of a global pandemic!

Farming methods and our relationship with our non-human relatives will change. Capitalistic farming is motivated by profits, and thus treats the soil as a vector for extraction, while treating the farm workers (whether domestically born or immigrants) as tools to extract the product. Capitalism does not adequately return nutrients back to the soil, and must therefore rely extensively on artificial fertilizers, which can be harmful to human and animal health. A government of the working people can institute farming practices in a planned manner in accordance with a general ecological plan.

Indeed, the whole system of distributing food must change dramatically. The United States alone produces enough grain by itself to feed the whole world, but much of that is wasted, as well as put into meat production. The U.S. wastes a quarter of its produce every year, while millions of people around the world go hungry. This is a contradiction only possible under capitalism. A planned food system can be more efficient, environmentally regenerative, and provide nutrition to everyone.

Long-term reconstruction on a global scale

Ecological reconstruction, however, is not just the sum of positive changes to our daily lives as a result of economic planning based on human need. If that alone were enough, a special stage of ecological reconstruction would be unnecessary, and instituting socialism would be enough to save the species. The dramatic and long-term effects that climate change will pose to the human race require gigantic exertions of human effort on a global scale.

For example, it is probable that vast areas of the earth will be uninhabitable for humans due to drought or extreme heat. The depletion of breathable air or drinking water is also a distant possibility that must be accounted for. In coming decades, vast numbers of people may need to be relocated and given housing and work on a global scale. To be more specific, climate change will force mass migrations of people and a restructuring of life and economy, and these changes could happen many times over the next few centuries.

The best climate science (predictive power) must be combined with human labor power and technology (socialized production) to improve the quality of human life even under frequent and considerable changes—while at the same time involving a model of limited growth. This would make profit in the capitalistic sense virtually impossible, since capitalism relies on unbounded expansion regardless of the environmental and social consequences.

The restoration of areas no longer habitable, or the re-introduction of near-extinct species, extinct species, or even the evolution of new species, will take a very long time. Of course, nature, left to its own devices, is likely to eventually recover, with or without humanity. Earth has undergone many mass extinction events and forms of life have recovered. But humans may be able, with their productive powers, to accelerate this otherwise slow process, and we may need to do so for our own survival.

Therefore, we must consider the strategic use of naturally evolved species, and even genetically modified species, to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. This kind of long-term planning on a planetary scale is impossible as long as capitalist extraction and mutual nationalist antagonisms exist. This kind of long-term planning also requires a very refined understanding of earth’s metabolic relationships, and our own relationships to our non-human relatives. Capitalism cannot foster this understanding, and the capitalists and their representatives do not care to, so the working people of the world must do it themselves, and make an advance toward socialism.

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