Environment

“The ocean is rising, and we are too.” Climate change is no longer a thing of the future. Already, hurricanes are becoming more powerful, forests are burning, people are dying from heat waves, drought, floods, and famine. Such extreme weather events are quickly becoming the rule, not the exception.

The oceans are polluted by plastic and chemical waste, killing off fish and other marine life. Underground water supplies are drained or polluted, leading to a widespread scarcity of this most essential of resources. Every year, species are becoming extinct through the senseless destruction of ecosystems.

Immediate action is needed. A massive reduction in emissions and pollution levels is essential. And large-scale mitigation measures must be taken, such as the construction of flood defences and reforestation. But the capitalists and their political representatives are completely incapable of carrying out the radical changes that are required.

— From IMT statement: capitalism is killing the planet – we need a revolution!

The past seven months have seen the release of the Fifth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international scientific body set up by the United Nations to provide the most comprehensive body of information and analysis about the process, risks, and impacts of climate change. The conclusions of the latest IPCC report are unequivocal: climate change is real; its effects will be disastrous; and nothing short of a revolution will do if we are to combat it.

The question of climate change and the environment is one of the burning issues for today’s youth.  It is becoming increasingly evident that unsustainable exploitation of the environment cannot continue unabated.  One measure that is championed by the bosses and the ruling class, and is supposed to relieve the pressures on the environment, is a carbon tax, such as the one implemented in British Columbia in 2008. Five years later, can we say that carbon taxes genuinely work in protecting the environment, or are they simply one more tool in the bosses‘ arsenal in order to transfer more money into the bank accounts of corporations?

Just five years ago, not a day would go by without global warming making the headlines. The American politician Al Gore’s documentary film about climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, was seen by hundreds of thousands in cinemas across the world. The Conservative Party rebranded themselves as the champions of the environment, nailing their ecological colours to the mast and urging people to ‘vote Blue to go Green’. Even the arch-reactionary American president George W. Bush was forced to concede that, maybe, the environment was worth thinking about.

For many people, the idea of a revolutionary change in society seems like a pipe-dream that will never be possible in their lifetime. In this respect, Trotsky developed the idea of the “Transitional Programme”: a set of demands that could take society from our current situation under capitalism, towards our final goal of international socialism. What would such a transitional programme look like for the environment? What set of demands should socialists make regarding the climate change? In this article, we attempt to outline such a programme.

In the previous few months, we have attempted to show how capitalist ‘solutions’ to climate change, such as market-based methods like carbon trading, are not able to combat the environmental problems facing humanity and our planet. Similarly, international treaties that attempt to operate within the confines of capitalism are also doomed to failure, as was seen in Copenhagen last year. Capitalism cannot solve these problems – capitalism is the problem.

The dramatic collapse of the talks at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen serves to highlight one thing: the capitalist governments of the world cannot solve burning issues, such as damage to the environment provoked by the anarchy of the market. The thirst for profit is in direct contradiction to the interests of the working people of the world. Social revolution on a global scale is the only real answer to the problem.

At a recent meeting of a local Labour Party Branch in Worcester, Britain, a slick high tech presentation was given by a group called Transition Worcester, who said they had the answer to the environmental crisis. It is to turn the clock back 200 years to a mythical age where all trade was local and people enjoyed the benefit of locally grown meat, fruit & veg. Within this presentation were ideas such as we should no longer trade with developing countries and we should therefore export our unemployment to the third world.

People are right to worry about emissions of greenhouse gases by big business and the threat they pose to the future of the planet. However, climate change is not happening on account of ‘human nature,’ because people are naturally greedy. Growth is not the problem. The problem is unplanned capitalist growth, growth driven by narrow selfish profit calculation and unconcerned with any wider considerations. The problem is capitalism.

From today until Friday next week, delegates from 192 countries are gathering in Copenhagen, Denmark, in order to create a new, “legally-binding”, global treaty on climate change. Global climate change treaties, such as the Kyoto protocol, are based on the assumption that the market, if given the correct regulation and incentives, can solve the problems of climate change. However, climate change can only be solved under Socialism – a system in which the economy is democratically planned according to the needs of people and the planet.

Enhanced climate change exists, and we are not currently living sustainably. There is little argument on these points. We all know that the earth has a natural cycle of warming and cooling, but humans are more than likely having a considerable effect on the current warming cycle. The industrialized countries alone, such as the US and much of Europe, have had a great effect on our air, and carbon levels are higher than in the last 2.1 million years, according to the journal Science. The gases entering our atmosphere are byproducts of capitalist industry and, to a lesser extent, our cars.

On 23rd March 1989 the oil tanker Exxon Valdez left normal shipping lanes and smashed into the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Within hours, the once mighty vessel had spilled over ten million gallons of oil into the icy waters: the largest oil spill in ever recorded in US waters. As the company responsible, Exxon Mobile was slow to act.

This article was originally published in 2008 as a reply to a "discussion document" by Brian J. Baker, with the title Global Warming: A Socialist Perspective. Baker's article attempted to demonstrate that anthropogenic climate change is a myth, that no global warming is occurring, and that socialists should approach this problem with the following attitude: it's "an obscure scientific curiosity [...] become the multi-billion dollar industry that it is today", "a further method of keeping the working class in its place", and in any case "Warming is something that should be welcomed instead of feared". This response explains why Barker's

...

In a series of articles published in April 2007, the Financial Times described how a "carbon gold rush" has led to the setting up large number of carbon offset trading companies, which act as intermediaries between the buyers and sellers of carbon credits. What it meant in reality was that the polluters in the USA and Europe, and now also in China, could continue to pollute unchecked.

The degradation of the environment has consistently grabbed the headlines in the past few years as the way in which the world is arranged threatens the very existence of life on this planet. Mick Brooks, editor of the Socialist Appeal, talks at the Socialist Appeal day school in December on capitalisms contibution to the environmental problems we face today and and what alternative a socialist society can offer.