The COVID-19 outbreak is rampant. As we are writing, 3 billion people are in lockdown. The economic consequences of this situation are far-reaching. In some countries, whole sectors of industry are shut down. NASA satellite images reveal drastic decreases of greenhouse gas emissions in areas that are usually high emitters, such as China or northern Italy. The economic crisis that has been raging for several years has erupted under the impact of the lockdown, striking another blow to the global economy. Some reactionaries rejoice at this and go so far as to assert that "the virus is the solution to save the planet!” Marxists must staunchly counter this nonsense.
The virus, the solution?
As reflected in the recent climate marches, the fight for the environment has become a priority for a growing number of workers and young people around the world. They are right: capitalists are sacrificing the future of humanity on the altar of profit. There is an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to guarantee future generations a healthy environment and a dignified life. However, within this movement there are also reactionary currents: cynical layers inspired by Malthusian theories of "overpopulation" such as the “degrowth theories”. Despite their obvious differences, all these reactionaries share the same fundamental idea: there are too many humans on the planet!
Since the start of the epidemic, we have seen discussions on social media welcoming the idea that the virus is solving the problem of pollution - even if it is at the cost of tens of thousands of deaths. Some go even further and rejoice that human life is in decay. Marxists reject these statements and leave them where they belong, in the dustbin of reactionary ideologies. Not only do these movements rejoice at the deaths of tens of thousands of people, but they are also wrong.
Contrary to what we often hear (e.g. from the leaders of Extinction Rebellion), we are not too many compared to the "capacity" of the Earth. Current food production provides more than enough to adequately feed 13 billion people, almost double the total population of the planet. In order to save resources, we could even consider reducing production without major problems for humanity. And yet people are starving. This is because providing food to those who need it is not profitable for capitalists. Food, therefore, goes to waste, gets soiled, and sometimes even gets burned. Overproduction is also due to capitalist competition. Companies produce much more than needed in the hope of nibbling away the market shares of their competitors, even if it means wasting resources on a global scale. So the problem is not the production itself, but the way it is done and organized, i.e. in a capitalist economy. COVID-19 is not going to find a solution in that respect, on the contrary.
As explained above, the COVID-19 pandemic acted as the spark for a very deep economic crisis. Capitalists are well aware of this and are already attacking the social gains of our class in order to remain competitive on international markets. In France, for example, the health emergency law requires employees to work up to 60 hours a week, and Sunday work to be extended. All over the world, the brutal exploitation of workers will increase as the capitalists put the weight of the crisis on the shoulders of the working class.
According to one study, the drop in pollution in China due to the lockdown would save more lives than COVID-19 took away. This may be true in the short term but that is to disregard all the other consequences of the pandemic. We are entering a period of deep economic downturn and social upheaval. And this crisis will cause an amount of suffering and death that far exceeds all the so-called 'collateral benefits' of the pandemic: suicides, deaths at work, physiological and psychological illnesses will multiply as capital attacks the working class.
In addition, the pandemic does not signal the end of pollution. Capitalists around the world will try to restart the economic machine by running it at full throttle. The gas emissions will soon catch up (and even exceed) the greenhouse effect lost during the lockdown. And environmental standards are costly to business, so they too will be sacrificed. Air will never be clean under capitalism!
On a global scale, millions of young people and workers are calling for a change in the system to deal with global warming. The solution is there, and not in the speeches against the existence of humanity. If the reduction of pollution could influence the consciousness of the masses, it should be through the demonstration that rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is possible. Now, the real question remains: In what way can we reduce these emissions in the long-run?
In fact, the system in which we live is what destroys our ecosystems. Big businesses decide what is produced and how it is produced. Capitalists who make a profit from extracting non-renewable and polluting raw materials are not prepared to give up their profits. The dramatic urgency of the situation combined with the inaction of capitalist governments demonstrates the contradictions of the system. Behind its disingenuous rhetoric, the bourgeoisie only adopts a spirit of "après moi le déluge !". (After me, let the flood come!)
Despite what the defenders of capitalism believe, the current crisis clearly shows that it is the workers who run society. No one would be able to be treated or fed if doctors, nurses or cashiers did not risk their health and lives. However, while they run society, they do not decide how to run it. To save our ecosystems, we need a society in which production is for the needs of all and not for the profit of a few. To achieve this, we need to expropriate the capitalist class and democratically plan the economy. In this way, it would be possible to reduce production in the sectors that pollute and to direct research towards the development of clean and renewable energy sources. The only solution to global warming lies in the development of this new society: socialism.