Complete change is needed to combat climate change and it will never happen under capitalism. What may take place if we are lucky is piecemeal reforms too little and too off-set the chain of environmental tipping points that will quickly cascade out of our control and result in calamitous catastrophe. Piecemeal measures within the framework of capitalism will run up against the logic of the system, where accumulation of capital always comes first. The changes that are necessary to save the planet from ecological destruction are not compatible with a society that is based on profit. Capitalism is the culprit behind global warming because it is based on the endless production of goods and services running on or made up of fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases when used. Such changes can be fully compatible, however, with a society based on cooperation. To make such a society will mean organising to make a revolution and overthrow capitalism. The only possible solution is socialism focused upon the vision of establishing harmony between humanity and nature.
It is clear that capitalism, as an economic system, cannot stop ecological collapse and it is equally clear that the environmental lobbies, such as Friends of the Earth, think that capitalism can solve these problems. For them it is simply a question making the world wake up to the need for urgent action. Reversing climate change could, they think, be achieved without any fundamental change to capitalism if only our leaders would listen and begin to move capitalism towards sustainability and zero growth. The threat to life on Earth stems from the way the capitalist system operates, the result of which is a continual and relentless demand for growth and reduction of production costs. The capitalist system is a juggernaut heading for a cliff band it has its own internal system of steering which cannot be altered. It must be clear to anyone with eyes to see that we face an urgent crisis yet the ruling representatives of capitalism are indifferent. Scientists and economists start from the assumption that the ecological crisis can be solved within the capitalist system, but the truth of the matter is that the required policies are cannot be implemented namely because this environmental crisis cannot be solved within capitalist relations of production. The capitalist system requires continuous accumulation of capital. If capitals do not accumulate they will collapse, and there is therefore a general struggle for accumulation of capital, which means growth and expansion of markets, throughout the entire system. This drive for accumulation is derived from the internal functioning of the system and cannot be avoided. As Marx wrote, for capitalism, the watchword is: “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!” Capitalism is a productive system which produces for profit not for human needs. It is based on the separation of the working class from the means of production; a separation which enables the capitalist class to extract unpaid labour from the working class. This unpaid labour is converted into surplus value and forms the basis of capitalist profit. Capitalism has to “expand or die”, which is why all national economies measure their success in terms of growth, measured by GDP. Only when the ecological problems start to affect profits will capitalists start to treat them seriously and by then it will be too late to do anything about it. Capitalism’s continual drive for growth shows that the forces propelling this drive come from the workings of the capitalist system itself, not from the immorality of the capitalist class. They are material forces, they are not ideological ones. Consequently the attempts of environmentalists to persuade the capitalist class to “wake up” and to adopt a zero growth/steady state economy, reflect a failure to understand the dynamics of capitalism, and are therefore futile.
Environmentalists are hopelessly utopian in believing global warming and ecological degradation will be reversed and human society will develop a harmonious relationship with nature because the corporations will commit to environmental targets and the good of society, an ideal world where customer stock ownership schemes, cooperatives, community interest companies and social enterprises dominate the economy and advance policies which recycle, where local food and local energy production will be the norm, all this brought about by popular campaign pressure which will show the capitalists the errors of their ways, and persuade the CEOs to stop producing for profit and if need be, enforced by government regulation and legislation. The idea that capitalism can be reformed to become a benevolent system is very typical of many environmentalists. In their utopia the basic structures of capitalism remain intact but the distribution of the social product is changed to end inequality. Institutions of capitalism, such as the multi-nationals become enlightened charitable enterprises. The market becomes harnessed and controllable and the main international bodies of global capitalism, the UN, World Bank and IMF police the system.
Such a perspective through rose-tinted glasses totally disregards that the present world order is driven by the struggle for profit which leads to competition and national rivalry. These are the fundamental and inherent characteristics of capitalism. An exploitative economy constantly striving for profits, built upon the necessity of expansion and operating under relentless competition conditions cannot possibly lead to their green utopia. The whole scenario of reformism is full of contradictions and is quite unachievable.
The entire system of production based on wage labour and capital needs to be replaced with a system which produces for human needs. A higher form of society requires to be built. The means of production and distribution need to be converted from capitalist class property to social property. Instead of the present system in which workers are alienated from the means of production and from the products of their labour, a free association of producers producing for the needs of humanity, must be developed. We call a society of property owned in common and freely associated producers, producing for human needs, society where the free development of each will be the condition for the free development of all, socialism.
Humanity will have a common interest and will be able to work towards achieving it. Working time will be reduced and the mass of the population will be drawn into the running of that new society. All will have a common interest in solving the ecological problems inherited from capitalism. With the abolition of capitalist society, all its waste, its cruelty, its wars, together with the misery, agony of toil, ignorance, brutality and mental degradation it inflicts on people, will be ended. Socialism will draw on the abilities of all and produce for the needs of all. It will be able to balance these needs with sustainability. It will then be possible to roll back and repair the damage capitalism has inflicted on the planet. It will be a society which will inscribe on its banners:
“From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”