With a record breaking heatwave sweeping North America and the continued failure of world leaders to take action, Nathan Street explains the socialist strategy for combating climate change
In advance of 31 October, when all eyes will be on Glasgow where the United Nations Climate Change Conference (more commonly known as the COP-26) will be hosted, it is important to be reminded of why socialism is necessary to stop climate change.
Of course, actors across the spectrum including the political centre and much of the right will claim to have the solutions to stop climate change, often in a way that greenwashes and features words not meaningful action.
Given the existential threat it poses and the rise of school strikers and environmental movements, political consciousness on climate change has risen in recent years.
Indeed, even in the 2019 UK general election which is widely considered to be the Brexit election, Lord Ashcroft Polls data suggests 16% of all voters said that climate change was amongst their top 3 reasons for deciding how to vote, the 5th most popular reason overall.
The establishment may offer piecemeal solutions that can at times address, or appear to address, one component or another of the environmental crisis. But there are a multitude of interacting environmental problems that can never be adequately solved in its totality within capitalism. Anti-capitalist systemic change is the only route to the radical transformation needed.
Time is running out
The already breaking down climate is beginning to make large swathes of the planet uninhabitable due to sea level rises, an increase in extreme weather and ‘natural’ disasters.
Climate change is intractably linked to other other social issues produced by capitalism. For instance, the effects of climate change act to heighten existing extreme levels of inequality.
Climate change is increasingly a factor in wars, imperialist incursions, and resource conflicts – which can in turn ravage a climate too. It is already the cause of mass displacement, migration and refugees, who then find a hostile environment when they arrive the UK.
High levels of air pollution will increase bad health inequalities and outcomes. Climate change is a driving force behind de-industrialisation, a process that rarely comes with a just transition or green jobs.
Socialists oppose the damaging practices in particular industries as they currently exist under capitalism such as non-renewable energy, mining, farming, fishing, private transport and commercial aviation.
But importantly they recognise that climate change is a systemic outcome of capitalist modes of production, rather than just a matter of the individual behaviours of citizens and consumers.
Thus, the focus of solutions should be with system change, not with individual’s actions. We know for example from the Carbons Major Report of 2017 that only 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.
Capitalism functions by making decisions based on the private monetary interests of owners and shareholders, not on social costs of which climate is a key one.
For many capitalists, inconvenient environmental regulations are lobbied against and mechanisms to avoid following legislation that are detrimental to profits are created. For instance, carbon trading can just be a new commodity to trade and to profit from.
Technological solutions created under capitalism tend to only be developed and adopted if they are profitable. This also means that they are still done at the expense of working people.
That’s why there is growing support for a Green New Deal which can be a step towards taking urgent action against both climate change and inequality.
Bringing climate change under control can only be done by tackling the issue at the root, and that means taking on the system and developing an alternative framework.
A framework that favours long term planning and sustainability, that is internationalist, that places the collective needs of the many above those of the wasteful interests and wealth hoarding of the powerful few, that puts democratic control in the hands of communities and workers on the issues – climate or otherwise – that affect them.
Unity in action
Following on from a burgeoning of environmental movements in the UK recent years, notably in the form of the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the School Strikes for Climate we can expect the movement coalesce around COP-26.
Socialists must be central to building the movement as widely, together with related struggles and making the necessary arguments to fight for fundamental change.
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