Green capitalism won’t save us; we need eco-socialism


Climate change is nothing new. For decades now, the scientific community has unanimously sounded the alarm on humanity’s out-of-control greenhouse gas production. Countless international conventions have been organized, with the United Nations convening a conference on the topic nearly every year since 1995, including the signing of several supposedly-landmark treaties.

Anyone under 30 today has lived with the public prospect of impending environmental catastrophe clouding their future for their entire lives. In the past decade, predictions of apocalyptic weather have given way to actual, ongoing disasters that are clearly linked to climate change. As heat waves kill thousands each year in the most at-risk regions such as Pakistan, even those living in relatively safe regions have faced the effects of widespread air pollution from fires, and unprecedented, record-breaking heat has now become a weekly, somehow mundane occurrence. And yet, despite this openly-acknowledged, worsening global crisis, we are no closer to halting, let alone reversing, the damage of climate change as the world remains poised to blast past the already catastrophic threshold of 2°C average increases in temperatures worldwide.

The failure of climate change mitigation thus far has not been a failure of science or technology, or even a failure to anticipate the effects of climate change. Rather, the absence of effective responses to climate change has been a political failure of capitalism and its institutions. The capitalist economic dogma of leaving everything to the whims of the market places all the agency over environmental policy in the hands of the ultra-rich, who in turn pursue individualistic solutions that do nothing to stop the crisis, instead only saving themselves in climate-proof mansions while leaving the rest of the world to suffer the consequences.

International institutions like the United Nations, which in theory should be leading the fight against climate change, are powerless to intervene by design, hamstrung by the prerogatives of the U.S. government, among other imperialist states that benefit from the current arrangement and which effectively control the UN’s ability to pass binding policy. Meanwhile, efforts to tie environmental efforts to the market, such as carbon offsets, are doomed to fail, as any change in the economic situation that affects the profitability of fossil fuel production, whether it’s an international crisis like the Russian invasion of Ukraine or simply the ongoing “improvement” of extraction and refinement technologies that make fuels cheaper (but not cleaner) to produce, has the ability to completely derail the impacts of market-based policy. Instead of reducing and eventually ending society’s reliance on fossil fuels, capitalism has created a system of carbon indulgences, whereby companies can clear their consciences (and greenwash their public image) by making token contributions to sustainable development—all while fossil fuel production and consumption continues uninhibited.

We need drastic reorganization of the economy on a global level in order to even begin to mitigate the effects of climate change. The existing capitalist ruling class has already proven itself both unwilling and incapable of addressing this challenge. Beating climate change requires the transformation to a democratic economy that is actually responsive to the needs of the working class globally. The capitalist pipe dream of endless growth benefiting everyone is dead; the constant growth that capitalism demands can only result in burning the Earth to a crisp. We need a rapid transition to sustainable, non-polluting fuels, and to do it without sacrificing the living conditions of workers who are currently employed in the fossil fuel industry, providing them generous pensions and the opportunity to transfer into new industries. This is a basic, moral necessity, and entirely impossible within the capitalist economic system. It requires socialism.

The shift to socialism means more than just demanding that governments (or individual capitalists) respond to the crisis—the core of this crisis is that these governments’ and capitalists’ interests are diametrically opposed to the sustainable economic policy that the majority of the world so desperately needs. Winning a new climate policy, thus, requires a fundamental shift in the economic balance of power; it requires everyday workers to get organized and to take matters into their own hands, to organize mass demonstrations to put our class into motion, and then to seize the factories and energy infrastructure while organizing general strikes in the cities. We need to build militant strike-ready unions, as well as a revolutionary workers’ party to tie together these battles and build a democratic leadership committed to challenge the capitalists.

We must refuse the capitalists’ orders to burn the world as fuel and instead turn our tools towards a new, sustainable future. This is, further, a fight for the fate of the whole world, which must be fought internationally.

This will not happen overnight, but rather requires the hard work of building mass movements with clear political demands. We need to build mass actions that can draw ever-growing layers of people into this struggle: This coming Sept. 17, the March to End Fossil Fuels, in New York City, will be just such an opportunity that we should all support.

Fighting for political change is a massive, difficult endeavor. Nevertheless, it is the only remaining solution in the face of capitalism’s failure to lift a finger to save our planet. We have a world to win, and nothing to lose but our chains.

Photo: Shutterstock

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