Climate breakdown is a political issue, and to stop it we need to tackle it at the root, argues Jim Scott
Absolutely every single aspect of our lives’ is ‘political’, but the most pressing political issue humanity has ever faced is climate change and the impending climate breakdown that will destroy the world around us if we fail to tackle it. In order to halt climate change, we need to get real and deal with the politics behind it head-on.
David Attenborough gave a very powerful speech to the COP24 conference recently, highlighting climate breakdown and the mass extinctions that we face on a global scale if the ‘decision makers’ do not act immediately to reverse global emissions. For once, the BBC ran this topic as a headline story and ran it for an entire day. Yet, with their backdrop of the Polish coal mining industry, the media coverage was complicit to say the least with the fossil fuel industry by the very way in which they framed the story.
I don’t doubt Attenborough’s commitment to this issue for one minute but when the BBC tried to torpedo his arguments by challenging him on his solutions for the Polish coal miners, their families and the effect that losing the Polish coal industry would have on their livelihoods, his answer was along the lines of “things change” and “workers will have to adapt”. Yet if he was politically aware, he would have known the arguments and could have reeled off all the positive alternatives to coal. He could have talked about green jobs, disruptive technologies, disinvestment, and the huge opportunities the green economy will offer coal miners, in terms of high skilled, well paid and secure jobs.
This is the problem with trying to leave politics out of analysing climate change. Climate breakdown is the most pressing political issue of our time, it is simply ludicrous to not recognise that and not to campaign directly on those terms.
I’ve also heard recently of some Extinction Rebellion activists saying that the campaign should be “non-political”. This may be a minority view within the campaign, I’m not sure. It certainly is fair to say that they have hit the ground running and their direct action including blocking bridges has brought significant media attention. They have sent a strong message to the polluters and the political class that they mean business. There is doubtless more to come from XR. However, as with any campaign, we need to identify the root cause of the problem in order to tackle it.
The problem is capitalism
It is no coincidence that the fossil fuel industry has been allowed to lead us into the situation we now face. Oil barons of a hundred years ago were firmly rooted inside governments and were allowed to dictate the way in which our energy sector has developed. Extraction of fossil fuels was favoured over the development of renewable technologies for as long as those in power could get away with it - why? Because renewable energy doesn’t make as much profit. Just think what a hundred years of technological advances in renewables would have bought us had they not steered us down their dirty route for profits.
While it is encouraging that the ‘climate agenda’ has finally hit the mainstream, the Paris Accord and the recent COP24 meeting don’t go anywhere near far enough to scratch the surface of the monumental task we have in front of us, let alone address it. Evidence shows that we will reach the tipping point of catastrophic, runaway climate breakdown in a matter of years - this is very serious. This video from Leo Murray of the 10:10 Climate campaign shows exactly what we are facing if we hit that tipping point.
One rather glaring issue in relation to sea level rises is also often overlooked. Fukushima remains in a very fragile state and still holds the potential to cause a global extinction event. The authorities simply don't know how to deal with the crippled reactor. There are 454 nuclear power stations around the world, usually located in coastal locations. If sea levels rise by just a few meters this could cause many reactors to go into uncontrollable meltdown. Any climate change event which prevented staff from being able to get to work to operate these power stations for more than a week could have exactly the same effect. Nuclear power stations (54 are currently being constructed despite the huge threat they would pose to life if any of these scenarios ever play out). Their construction is in no small part due to the fact that they also produce plutonium for the nuclear arms industry.
All this is because we are now fully entrenched into a global culture of exploitation of the world’s resources. The last forty years of neoliberalism has utterly compounded this. Capitalism relies on the exploitation of the workers, ownership of land and control of the means of production. Simply put, this means exploitation of people and exploitation of our land in the name of profit.
It is politics and the politicians in the back pockets of the super-wealthy who have allowed this all to happen.
If we are apathetic and take no part in the political agendas which influence every aspect of our surroundings, then we ignore for instance, that the metals and minerals found in our smartphones have largely been torn from the ground in Africa. Where corporations with scant regard for environmental protections or employee safety, exploit the workers and force them into terrible working conditions. We ignore that they fund and arm militias and armies to murder and brutally quash legitimate protest.
To ignore politics is to ignore the plastics which are allowed to be sold in our shops and which then end up in our rivers and seas. It is to ignore the child worker whose slave labour for the polluting factory makes our socks and our clothes. The better we begin to understand how all the pieces of this vast political jigsaw fit together, the better equipped we are to begin to create our own jigsaw in order to build the type of world that we all want to see. Namely; a world that won’t be destroyed by the inherent and hardwired greed of capitalism.
Governments around the world, especially our own, are locked into a toxic three-way embrace with the corporations and the arms industry. We see with our governments making laws that benefit the super rich and multinational corporations such as with off-shore tax havens, to such a degree that in Britain tax avoiding companies actually ‘advise’ the government and HMRC on tax law. The revolving door for politicians like Osborne who first grease the wheels for the tax avoiders while in government and then take up seats on the boards of these same banks and companies. It’s the same story for the polluters and fracking companies. They even do both jobs at once while writing the laws that regulate… themselves! 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions and they’re given carte blanche.
So what can we do about it?
One thing that is clear is that the climate chaos will not be solved by individual lifestyle choices. The problem is systemic and so the only solution can be a radical transformation of society. Not only do I think that time has come for us to be openly making this case but I think we need to seriously ramp up our rhetoric on this point.
With global inequality increasing exponentially, neoliberalism is being further exposed each day for what it really is. There are growing calls on both sides of the Atlantic for a ‘Green New Deal’ which encompasses the symbiotic nature of the fight against climate destruction and inequality. The two have to go hand in hand; the alternative is for the ruling class to co-opt the idea of green reforms to further entrench neoliberalism. As Macron recently discovered with his attempt to introduce a regressive fuel tax, such reforms are not only unfair and don’t solve impending climate chaos, but they will never have popular support.
Jeremy Corbyn’s policy proposals which include investing in green technology, defence diversification that would move jobs from the arms trade to green industries and a commitment to massively reducing carbon emissions by turning to renewable energy resources, show that radical transformation of the economy which reverses neoliberalism and mitigates the destruction of our planet is possible – and on the cards.
While such reforms aren’t the ultimate solution to halting climate disaster, they would be a big step in the transition towards a ‘Resource Based economy’ style model. A Resource Based economy means that the finite resources of the planet are treated as the ‘common heritage of all’ and these resources are used sustainably. The fundamental premise of this type of model is that firstly, we only have one planet. And secondly, we have almost eight billion people on this planet who all have an equal right to food, water, housing, health and education.
Technology and automation would not be used as a mechanism to drive down wages as they currently are, but instead to free up people’s time to study, spend more time with family or contribute to society in other ways.
None of this is going to be easy, but the choice is stark: we either allow the corrupt, polluting and exploiting ruling elite to destroy the planet around us, while they prepare to fly off to their mountain bunkers as total ecosystem breakdown engulfs the rest of us. Or we get organised and prove that another way is possible where people and planet do come first.
Jim Scott is an eco-socialist activist, writer and campaigner. He is the co-founder of Stick It To The Tories and has played an integral role in creating and building the anti-austerity and anti-war movements in West Wales. Specialising in rural and creative activism Jim is an active People’s Assembly campaigner.