World capitalism refuses an effective response to the climate crisis


The month of May is traditionally a big moment for climate activists who hope use the shareholder meetings of the big oil companies to pass resolutions mandating emission reductions and a shift of the business model to include renewable energy. Last year, a modestly sized shareholder group called Engine No. 1 was able to make news and add members to the board of Exxon who were thought to be likely to move on the question.

The degree of fantasy underlying this shareholder strategy was laid bare in May of 2022 when activist resolutions were soundly defeated in favor of resolutions developed by the corporations to green wash their continued commitment to fossil fuel exploration, development, and sales. Most commentators of the business press linked this fact with the extraordinary near-term profits to be made due to war in Ukraine and the determination of the big business class and Western imperialist governments to seize the moment to boost fossil fuel production to new highs, putting to the side previously expressed commitments to even modest emission reductions.

In anticipation of the 2022 big oil annual meetings, Oil Change International and the Guardian newspaper published major reports on what the fossil fuel giants actually had in store for humanity. “Big Oil Reality Check” (May 2022) documented the fact that despite the clear scientific consensus there was absolutely no room for new fossil fuel expansion if the world is to have a 50:50 chance of keeping warming below the critical limit of 1.5 degree centigrade, the climate pledges through 2025 of eight key companies include more than 200 developments that could cause an additional 8.6 gigatons (Gt) of carbon pollution, and not one is even close to alignment with the already insufficient Paris Agreement.

The Guardian newspaper delved into the details of these projects, labeling them “carbon bombs” because they would certainly put the global temperature into a zone that science has demonstrated would be catastrophic (“Revealed: the ‘carbon bombs’ set to trigger catastrophic climate breakdown,” May 11, 2022). The investigative reporters claim that these projects overall would result in a billion tons of CO2 emissions, an amount equivalent to 18 years of current global emissions. Not surprisingly, the U.S., Canada, and Australia have committed to the largest number of “bombs.” UN Secretary General António Guterres stated the obvious when he said, “Fossil fuel interests are cynically using the war in Ukraine to lock in a high-carbon future.”

The relationship between inter-imperialist rivalry and the bosses’ rejection of a program of action to save the planet as a home for our species has never been clearer. Working people around the world have a lot to gain from the Ukrainian defeat of Russian imperialism, but the degree to which the global great powers are seizing on the moment to drive forward a massive rearmament and preparations for geopolitical conflict is a terrible diversion from the existential battle for a habitable planet

As Michael Klare wrote in “The Ukraine War’s Collateral Damage” (TomDispatch, May 22, 2022), “If asked, Biden, Putin, Xi, and high-ranking officials everywhere would undoubtedly insist that addressing climate change remains an important concern. But let’s face it, their number-one priority is now to mobilize their societies for a long-term struggle against their geopolitical rivals.” Of course, imperialist and regional powers have long treated climate change as a military and security concern, rather than a problem in which humanity’s fate lies in the balance.

In the October 2021 report “Global Climate Wall: How the World’s Wealthiest Nations Prioritize Borders over Climate Action,” Todd Miller, Nick Buxton, and Mark Akkerman illustrate that elite choice with dollar amounts. As global temperatures and sea levels rise, semi-colonial nations are pleading for financial support that could be used for adaptive measures. Reaffirmed in Glasgow was the unwillingness of the imperialist countries, all major emitters, to come through with even the small annual commitment they had previously pledged for this purpose.

As areas of the world that include countries like Pakistan, Tunisia, Bangladesh, and Guatemala become sacrifice zones in which agriculture ceases to be a reliable livelihood, and migration is left as the only possible means of human adaptation, the richest countries instead spend more and more on militarizing their borders. Seven countries in particular—responsible for 48% of the world’s historic greenhouse gas emissions—collectively spent at least twice as much on border and immigration enforcement (more than $33.1 billion) as on climate finance ($14.4 billion) between 2013 and 2018. The U.S., the biggest emitter in the world, spent 11 times more on militarizing its border than on financial support for adaption. Canada, whose brutal extractivist regime is laying waste to Central America, spent 15 times more on border “security” than on such aid. The UK, eager to prevent those from North Africa from entering, spent two times more.

Since the World Bank in 2021 began predicting that by 2050, internal displacement that in a sane world would trigger more funds for adaptation, could total 85.7 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, 40.5 million in South Asia, 19.3 million in North Africa and the Middle East, and 17.1 million in the Caribbean. Military planners for the great powers already refer to these millions as the “barbarians” about to scale the imperial gates. The same corporate “security” organizations that police the border soldier the holdings and operations of the fossil fuel giants. It is one big system in service of the profit-making that is dooming us.

The parties of the bosses have had more than 30 years to respond effectively to the scientific reality of global warming and have proven, beyond a doubt, that they will not do it. Since it is abundantly clear that global elites do not intend to regulate, nationalize, or otherwise prevent fossil fuel extraction, and that they intend to treat working people who lose their homes and livelihoods and family members due to the resulting emissions as the enemy, there is only one way out. Working people around the world need to come together and support each other in the effort to replace the capitalist system driving this cycle of death and planetary destruction. To gain decisive control over the fossil fuel industry, prevent further extraction, and to seize current assets for an emergency transition to clean renewable energy while organizing to maintain decent standard of living, working people must be ready to seize political power and put these industries and their financiers under democratic control.

Many agree that this is the logical solution but doubt that it is actually possible. In fact, the willingness to fight for our future exhibited by workers and farmers, alongside the vanguard activity of Indigenous nations, can be seen on every continent. In Syria, drought-stricken farmers tried to depose the Assad regime in a revolutionary upsurge. In Chile, the working and farmers classes and Indigenous activists have been struggling to create a new constitutional regime that puts the environment and their health at the center of politics.

Even in the U.S., where labor officials prostrate themselves before the same Democratic Party that continues to raise subsidies to the fossil fuel giants and retard workers’ action, numerous local struggles give witness to the determination of working people to fight against environmental catastrophe.   On the Southeast Side of Chicago, a community coalition with immigrant and union-member leadership just won a multi-year environmental justice struggle against the industrial polluter General Iron (“Solidarity is How We Win,” In These Times, March 10, 2022). In numerous cities and towns, working people, especially in Indigenous, Black, and Latinx communities, are self-organizing to protect themselves from corporate pollution and devastation and from victimization as the result of extreme weather events. Each of these struggles is a space in which eco-socialists can find supporters for the kind of broad and comprehensive program around which we must unite and fight our way to political power.

At its national convention in March 2022, Workers Voice / La Voz approved a platform around which to conceive such a struggle. It includes, but is not restricted to the following planks:

  • Open the borders and build a global movement. End U.S. extractive industries abroad and predatory climate finance “loans.” Cancel the debt of the semi-colonial world. U.S. must pay for the loss and harm created by its historic emissions.
  • No funds for the military; convert war production to production for human needs and to assist global adaptation to the climate crisis.
  • End fossil fuel extraction and factory farming on an emergency timeline. Money for an emergency transition to clean renewable energy and agro-ecology. Jobs for all in healing the earth.
  • End the use of land as a commodity or the object of speculative activity. Land Back for Indigenous people, with the right to veto use; nationalize the rest under democratic control.
  • Free clean, rapid, mass transportation; free universal health care and a robust public health system; safe housing built to survive extreme weather for all.
  • Defend women, who are the leading health-care, home-care, and child and elder-care workers, and who during climate change will be forced to work even harder. Free child care and elder care. Stop sexual violence. No to population control and forced sterilization schemes.
  • Shorten the work week with no reduction in pay. National assemblies of working people to prioritize the production necessary for human needs, and shut down production of unnecessary goods for profit to dramatically reduce emissions on an emergency timeline.

All of the above items—production, land use, transportation, health care, etc.—should be carried out in conjunction with a national plan to fulfill the needs of human beings and all life on earth. This requires a democratically run social system that no longer functions according to the dictates of the capitalist class and their insatiable quest for private profit. Join us in the fight for an eco-socialist world.

Photo: Extinction Rebellion protest outside the Brazilian embassy in Brussels, Belgium, in August 2019. (Thierry Monasse / Getty Images)

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