Climate Change Crisis Needs a Socialist Solution

by Milena Germon

Human society is entering an unprecedented period of global warming and climate disaster. By one estimate, our climate is warming “around ten times faster than at any point in the last 66 million years.” Scientists all over the world are sounding the alarm and warning about rising sea levels, the warming of the oceans and its effects on marine ecosystems and our food supplies, accelerated extinctions of animals and plants species, increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, flooding, droughts, and much more.

No longer a vague threat on the horizon, people worldwide are beginning to suffer through ecological and climate disasters. Back in February, the Texas Ice Storm left hundreds of thousands of working-class people without power in dangerously low temperatures. Last year Hurricane Laura wreaked havoc on coastal communities, and was the face of the second most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. This year has already brought harsher and more frequent tropical storms like Hurricane Ida, which left tens of thousands of people in Louisiana without power or shelter weeks after its peak – in the middle of a pandemic, no less. In the Gulf of Paria an oil spill is currently impacting the local ecosystem as well as communities which rely on industries like fishing to get by. Extreme wildfires on the west coast continue to level forests, communities, and wildlife due to once-wet terrain becoming increasingly more dry and flammable as the Earth warms. Smoke and ash from these fires are already measurably affecting the health of workers along the west coast and well beyond. All of these disasters are, for lack of a better phrase, only the tip of the iceberg. In all of these instances, it is working people who are hit the hardest, and who suffer the most from climate disasters.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently published a report that, according to the UN Chief, puts humanity at a “code red.” Environmental journalist Wallace-Wells has chimed in with even more grim news, which suggests that even if every commitment at the 2016 Paris climate summit is met, global warming would still go well beyond the degree limits we would collectively consider safe or slowed. And yet, regardless of the Democratic party’s performative promises to “believe science” and put an end to climate change, the Biden administration has done nothing to seriously combat climate change. In the last week of August, Biden announced his plans to resume leasing over 80 million acres to drilling for gas and oil. Hypocritical moves like these are not unique to this administration however, nor are they unique to either party. Consider, for example, the seven Democratic senators who voted with the GOP to block restrictions on fracking.  Only the week before these same seven senators raked in over $1.7 million in donations from oil and gas donors. Or on a broader scale, consider how – as the National Audubon Center points out – “the White House is on pace to hand out more oil and gas drilling permits this year than any under President Trump and the most since George W. Bush left the Oval Office.” Both corporate political parties perpetually and increasingly fail the working class on issues of climate.

Corporations and politicians are choosing to ignore science as they continue to discuss climate change as an abstract faraway issue, or something that can afford to be solved by 2070, when in reality, many people and ecosystems will not survive that wait time. While the Republican party denies Climate Change as a hoax, the Democratic party acts as if Climate Change is a hoax, with neither corporate party lifting a finger to provide real answers to the climate crisis. Climate change is happening NOW, and already affecting our day to day lives. 

Who is Responsible? 

The corporate media and mainstream environmentalist movement regularly perpetuates the idea that things like recycling, commitment to dietary changes, and biking to work will help slow or stop climate change. We are constantly told that our individual choices will amount to a solution if enough people make the “right” choices. However, this fixation on an individual’s carbon footprint intentionally obscures the reality of why climate change is occurring – due to emissions from the largest corporations and capitalist enterprises, which working people have no control over, and no means to stop as individuals. By making climate change all about personal responsibility, the tiny capitalist class gets themselves off the hook for a problem they have themselves created by putting the blame for the climate crisis on the vast majority of society, the global working class. 

For example, in 2015, Oxfam released a report (Extreme Carbon Inequality) that found “the top 10 percent of people in the world are responsible for 50 percent of emissions, while the bottom 50 percent are only responsible for 10 percent.” It does not matter if individual members of the ruling class have a small carbon footprint on a personal level — it doesn’t make a difference if Jeff Bezos uses an electric car, or if Bill Gates goes vegan. They own the factories and supply networks that are destroying our planet, and because polluting is a key part of how the capitalist class makes their profits, they will never stop putting profits over people and the environment  until it’s too late, and our planet is made uninhabitable.

Capitalist governments have also proven themselves time and time again to be unable to address climate change meaningfully. From our article Socialist Change Not Climate Change!, we point out how: 

Big corporations and pro-capitalist governments have failed to take any serious action to stop climate change. Governments failed to even meet the minimum emissions targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. The first UN ‘Earth Summit’ took place in 1992, yet CO2 emissions increased by 48% and continue to rise. The Kyoto agreement in 1997 proposed ‘market incentives’ to reduce CO2 emissions but climate change has not been halted. The world’s biggest capitalist economy, the US, refused to enact Kyoto.

Socialist change not climate change!
September 19th, 2019

While the ruling class are clearly and relentlessly poisoning our planet, the brunt of the blame for climate change has fallen on the working class. From blaming workers’ consumption habits to myths of overpopulation and the demands of rapid economic growth, there are plenty of unfounded arguments used by the capitalist class and their media to shift the blame off of themselves and onto the working class. But none of these myths hold up under scrutiny.

A Socialist Future

While members of the ruling class are busy conducting a vanity space race, working-class people are left with no future due to the incoming climate catastrophe. According to the recent IPCC document, “‘stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions.’’ This drastic and urgent change requires a well-organized global solution. We can and should begin this process by relentlessly fighting for reforms and engaging with current climate struggles – such as supporting a socialist Green New Deal – with the end goal of creating a socialist society which can end the climate crisis. 

The solution to climate change is not pressuring or lobbying the ruling class to “do better,” nor will we hold them accountable by asking nicely, running ads about plastic straws, or getting them to promise they’ll meet some imaginary environmental deadline. The capitalists will always act in the interests of profits if they are allowed to, and perpetuating climate change will not stop being profitable for the capitalist class until it is too late.

The solution to the climate crisis is also not replacing capitalism with a “green capitalism,” an absurd concept at face value. Capitalism’s inherently exploitative nature doesn’t just make a greener, safer future difficult; it makes it ultimately impossible under capitalism as a system. The global working class cannot afford to wait for some miracle to solve the climate crisis. We need stronger unions that will fight for environmental demands, political parties for working people independent of the corporations, and a broad, energized workers movement to build a future of a safe, habitable world. An environmental movement, based in the working class, would be capable of putting forward a real alternative and replacing the catastrophic capitalist system with one in which production for the needs of the few is replaced with production for the needs of many. This movement would need to mobilize workers in their communities and at their workplaces, especially workers in polluting industries themselves, who could organize labor actions like strikes and work stoppages to shut down big polluters like the fossil fuel and textile industries. 

Ultimately, a socialist government brought into power by and representing that working class movement could immediately take the biggest polluters under public ownership, and begin transitioning the economy away from fossil fuels and towards green and renewable energy. The same fight needs to be taken up around the world, not just in the US, and socialist governments around the world would then be able to work together to plan the global response required to combat climate change, and would not be held back by imperialist competition like the capitalist powers. 

Building workers’ power and fighting for a socialist future is becoming a matter of life and death. We cannot trust either party to save us from the environmental tragedies on the horizon. Even while “oil and gas companies finally claim to “believe science” and announce targets to reach ‘net zero’ emission by 2050, the Biden administration has quietly approved existing oil and gas drilling leases at a pace comparable with Trump.” Despite campaign promises, it’s clearer than ever that President Biden and the Democratic party – while the pandemic rages and fossil fuel companies eat up the Earth- are more concerned about capitalist profit than the lives and livelihoods of working people. 

A massive movement to change the climate needs to be a movement rooted in the working class. Which is why the Independent Socialist Group stands for the following environmental demands, which you can find here:

  • For a socialist Green New Deal including massive public works programs with union pay, benefits, and protections to clean up the environment and develop solar, wind, thermal, and wave energy production and infrastructure.
  • Fight climate change through massive public investment in renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies to rapidly replace fossil fuels!
  • End planned obsolescence and minimize waste and pollution in manufacturing processes.
  • Dramatically expand public transportation to provide free, high-speed, and accessible transit funded by taxing big polluting industries and the capitalist class, not workers.
  • Take the big energy and utility companies into democratic public ownership and use their resources for a massive expansion of green energy infrastructure and mass transit. For a Just Transition for all workers in polluting industries with guaranteed full pay, benefits, free re-training, and new living-wage jobs.

Image credit: Michael Stokes via Flickr // CC-BY 2.0