Climate Disaster & Capitalism

by Milena Germon & Nikayla Sims

This article was originally published in Socialism Today, the paper of the Independent Socialist Group. Subscribe to the paper to receive each issue in print and read the articles before they’re published online!

As people worldwide struggle with ecological and climate disasters, it is clear climate change is not a vague threat on the horizon. Consider the eight factory workers who died in the recent Kentucky tornado because they were not allowed to leave their shifts. Or the Texas ice storm that left hundreds of thousands of people without power in dangerously low temperatures. 2021 brought harsher and more frequent tropical storms like Hurricane Ida, which left tens of thousands of people in Louisiana without power or shelter for weeks in the middle of a pandemic. All of these disasters are only the tip of the iceberg, and it’s working people who suffer the most from climate disasters.

Despite the Democratic Party’s performative promises to “believe science” and to mitigate the effects of the ongoing climate crisis, no significant change has occurred with the Democrats in control of both Congress and the Presidency under the Biden Administration. For example in early August the Biden Administration urged OPEC and its allies to increase oil production to tackle inflation. The last week of August, Biden announced his plans to resume leasing over 80 million acres to drilling for gas and oil. Seven Democrats voted with the GOP to block restrictions on fracking and raked in over $1.7 million in donations from oil and gas donors. Hypocritical moves like these are not unique to this administration. Both corporate political parties perpetually fail the working class on climate issues.

Who is Responsible? 

The corporate media and mainstream environmentalist movement regularly perpetuate the idea that practices like recycling and biking to work will help slow climate change, or that overconsumption and overpopulation are to blame. In practice, climate change is driven by emissions from the largest corporations and the military and working people don’t control either of these. By making climate change about personal responsibility, the tiny capitalist class gets themselves off the hook for a problem they created.

However, 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. That is why the recent COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow failed to seriously address climate change despite bringing together capitalist politicians from around the globe. Working people recognize this hypocrisy, which is why thousands of working class activists—including the CWI—organized mass protests around the world in response.

A Socialist Future

The solution to climate change is not to pressure the ruling class to “do better,” nor is it to replace capitalism with a “green capitalism.” According to the recent IPCC document, stabilizing the climate requires immediate and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and net zero CO2 emissions. This urgent change requires a well-organized global solution. We can and should begin this process by fighting for reforms today, such as supporting a socialist Green New Deal—but it is ultimately the transformation to a socialist society that can end the climate crisis for good.

Building workers’ power and fighting for a socialist future is becoming a matter of life and death. We cannot trust either corporate party to save us from environmental tragedies. The working class needs stronger unions that will fight for environmental demands. We need an independent political party for working people that can help link up the climate movement with the broader workers’ movement. We need a mass movement capable of replacing the system in which production for the needs of the few is replaced with production for the needs of humanity. 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 including the fossil fuel and textile industries. 

A workers’ party with a socialist program or a socialist government brought into power and accountable to the working class could immediately take the biggest polluters under public ownership. We could begin transitioning the economy away from fossil fuels and towards green and renewable energy. Workers in polluting industries would be guaranteed pay, benefits, and free retraining for new, quality jobs. Socialist governments around the world would be able to work together to democratically plan the necessary global response and would not be held back by capitalist and imperialist competition. 

Image credit: UK College of Agriculture, Food & Environment via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0