The effect of climate change. Photo: Tumisu The effect of climate change. Photo: Tumisu

Capitalism will destroy humanity. Only working class mass mobilisation and struggle can stop this, argues John Westmoreland

Imagine you are in the back seat of a taxi with a stranger and the vehicle starts accelerating towards a cliff edge. You shout, “Brake, brake”! But the stranger shouts “Faster, faster”! Frightening thought, isn’t it? But no one would be crazy enough to shout faster, would they?

In the week where climate scientists tell us that we are rapidly approaching an irreversible tipping point in climate change, a real cliff edge moment, the politicians driving the capitalist taxi are putting their foot down on the accelerator.

To make the point we only need to consider the policies of the Trump administration.

Jam the accelerator and cut the brake lines!

Since Trump became president 76 rules and regulations, put in place to curb toxic emissions and limit environmental destruction, have either been pulled or are on their way out.

For example, 18 of the rules limiting air pollution and toxic emissions, and 17 of the rules affecting drilling and oil and gas extraction have either been removed or are under attack.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is headed by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who wants to increase the extraction of fossil fuels, and wants to actually stop the monitoring of the effects of mining and fracking. So regulations protecting the atmosphere and water supply from contamination are in the process of being rolled back. The brake lines are being cut.

Trump is a well-known climate change denier. The lobbying of coal, oil and gas companies has successfully played on this, and the results are alarming. Trump’s response to their demands has gone so far as to allow the EPA itself to become the main danger to the environment it is supposed to protect.

As Robert Weissman, the president of a government watchdog group called Public Citizen has said of Trump stacking the EPA with climate denying hawks

It amounts to a corporate takeover of the agency, in its decision and policy-making functions[i]

Trump’s egotistical campaign promise to ‘make America great again’, is part of the explanation for accelerated US pollution. In Trump-world the USA needs to outstrip rivals – in particular China. So US heavy industry will stop China dumping steel on the world market, and at the same time Trump can bolster his brand as the tough talking business guy who gets results.

Clearly capitalist competition is providing the destructive dynamic that threatens us all, and yet, ironically, it is China that is offering a model for high production/low carbon emission that the US could copy – and create jobs.

After the crash

Unless we can persuade the drivers to put the brakes on we are going to crash with devastating consequences. Within two decades we might reach the tipping point, and then a series of domino effects will leave us helpless in the face of total catastrophe.

Greenhouse gases will be released on a new scale. Rain forests will burn. Lands around the equator will become uninhabitable. How will those fleeing this nightmare be received? Presumably the drivers of the EU and USA will build the walls and mount the machine gun posts to stop them. It will possibly be the last bloody chapter of capitalism and organised human existence.

Ironically the first casualty of the climate tipping point will be the world market that the political elites worship. We will only survive if we can learn to live without it.

Socialism – humanity’s safety net

Stopping climate change and the general crisis that late capitalism is speeding towards involves breaking the dynamics of disaster on the one hand, and putting in the infrastructure we need to survive the crisis on the other. We have some grounds for optimism.

Activists across the globe are fighting on environmental issues, holding corporations to account and providing the information we need to shape our future. There is a consensus emerging that we need economic policy to be integrated with environmental and social policy, thus limiting the damaging drive for profits at all costs.

Labour’s flagship environment policy, A Greener Britain, has made a good start, taking on those Tories, often Trump supporters, who see Brexit as being an opportunity to grow the economy at the expense of the environment:

Existing protections should be defended and extended. The stewardship of the environment should be founded on sound scientific principles. A future environmental approach should be developed considering future farming and fishing regimes, preserving biodiversity on land and in the seas and leading the world in animal welfare and food standards[ii]

This is the start we need. If we want to continue eating fish, then fishing has to be integrated with cleansing the oceans of plastic waste, and maintaining the marine environment. Agriculture likewise has to be linked to managing our rural environment.

Labour’s pledge to create a million green jobs, invest in social housing and public transport are all key to securing a better future too.

But breaking the dynamics of disaster cannot be done through parliament and its conjoined state. Both exist to defend and promote capitalism – a bigger and faster taxi. Only mass working class mobilisation can bring the changes we need.

Karl Marx pointed out long ago that unless the working class realises its revolutionary potential, the result could be “the mutual destruction of the contending classes[iii]”. This possibility is in view.

Marx also observed that the liberation of the working class would mean the liberation of all humanity – so we have to liberate the corporate CEOs from the inextricable mess they are in. We need to say very clearly that the future is ours – “Put your hands in the air and step away from the taxi.”

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.