No truly effective green politics can do without a coherent argument against the capitalist mode of production, argues Nathan Street
Another week, another report about worrying and unprecedented climate science finding. This time it has been observed that Arctic temperatures are a whopping 45 degrees above the average for this time of year; a disturbing figure that contributes to the evidence the weather change so far. So what does this mean? Intellectually, many can understand. But in the UK many struggle to tangibly relate to it, beyond the disruptiveness of ‘hey it’s snowing a lot here… in March’. Firstly this is because this is such a profoundly global problem that it’s difficult to localise the issues or trace the precise and immediate cause and effect. British people are not generally the victims of climate wars or climate refugees [yet?], but climate change exacerbates and is interlinked to so many other problems. A second limitation is because there are, understandably, more pressingly recognised material concerns in most people’s lives, especially with so many people having been clobbered by years of austerity, cuts and wage stagnation. All this unfortunately tends to create limits to a large bulk of people’s ecological political perceptions and prioritisation.
Part of the problem is that green politics has all too often lacked a strong class-based analysis and as such hasn't embedded itself effectively into labour movements or union activity. The green movement has failed to recognise that aiding the labour movement aids their own. There should be further involvement within trade unions and different community forums such as The People Assembly, so they can help build campaigns such as ‘One Million Climate Jobs’.
A lot of green campaigns and parties have allowed themselves to be co-opted into the logic of capitalism and have all too often been limited by their failure to make the essential argument – that this is capitalism as it works [never mind when it doesn’t] and that is the endemic problem. They’ve lacked a systemic analysis, so instead often fall back to the territory that is comfortable to them, pushed by neoliberal ideology, that change is reduced to individual actions meanwhile 71% of the damage is coming from 100 corporations. Of course, all these weaknesses of environmental movements are far from every grouping or participant, just somewhat the norm of the movement, especially for deep ecologists [those who care about the environment for its own sake rather than for how it affects humans’].
There can also be an inclination to think that if the right people were in positions of power to make ecological decisions this could solve the problem, but this ignores the general rule that making a profit is the primary motive and if particular people in positions of power are acting to jeopardise that systemic necessity in favour of being environmentally conscious they tend to be replaced by someone who will act to maximise profit. Pinning our prayers on intelligent saviours from above cannot solve the problem. As is observed:
We have a much better chance of making it past the 22nd century if environmental regulations are designed by a team of people with no formal education in a democratic socialist society than we do if they are made by a team of the most esteemed scientific luminaries in a capitalist society. The intelligence of the brightest people around is no match for the rampant stupidity of capitalism.
But that is not to say that all of the capitalists and leaders are as bad as each other. Donald Trump invokes a deserved and unparalleled backlash in opposition for a myriad of reasons, but his actions environmentally may be in contention with the worst of what he offers. From the laughable climate scepticism calling it a ‘Chinese hoax’, to the continued cosying up to big oil and the construction of the Dakota pipeline, to the withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Agreement – an accord which was already a very much insufficient response to the nature of the problem- all goes to show how deeply damaging his presidency is as far as the environment goes. Resistance against Trump should be a focal point of the climate movement, in this country in anticipation of Trump's visit, and elsewhere globally especially in the US. It should be very much united with the other movements and resistances against Trump. Socialists taking part should be keen to make anti-capitalist arguments part of that conversation, to those participating primarily on an environmental basis to help environmentalists ally themselves to the wider struggle against capitalism.
Only under a socialist economic system that democratically takes into account social need when coordinating the distribution of resources can this be shared equitably and efficiently to the real benefit ‘of the many, not the few’, as the vogue phrase goes. It’s a core feature of the logic of markets that they factor in the private costs and benefits in their pricing in the pursuit of profit and fail to properly weight the social costs and benefits which informs consumer behaviour. It is why air travel is so cheap for instance.
Capitalism is wasteful and the way it operates, in its refusal to abide any limits to its growth, places an ever-increasing strain on the planet. This will prove ruinous without strong corrective measures that have proved elusive so far. This is the greatest and most chronic of all the market failures capitalism produces. It is utterly intractable from solving the issues that climate change causes under capitalist conditions and creating this existential threat to life as we know it on this planet is just another component of capitalism that proves its unviability.
When those on the climate change denying right fear so-called ‘watermelons’ in that they look politically green on the outside but have red or socialist politics on the inside – their fears are not so commonly correct. If we are to keep the fruit analogy going, it’s more that they are tomatoes – with the green ones being insufficiently ripe to be edible/achieved unless they turn/develop red/redness. Namely, environmental movements won’t bring about the change they want, unless they are ultimately anti-capitalist too.
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