This year's World Environment Day will be hosted in India under the banner of “Beat Plastic Pollution,” aiming to raise awareness and civic engagement alongside creating a global movement to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.
The demand for plastic is growing worldwide, rising from 5 million tons in the 1950s to over 300 million tons in 2017. The UN has estimated that more than 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed annually while 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic. The problem lies in “manufacturing, distribution, consumption and trade systems for plastic,” the whole “global economy needs to change”.
At the same time, 50 percent of this plastic is for single-time use, making the share of plastic in human-generated waste 10 percent. The problem is intensified by the fact that every year, 13 million tons of plastic get into the ocean killing 100,000 marine animals. 70 percent of litter in the ocean is plastic. The major part of this litter in the oceans originates from land pollution as plastic gets into the rivers and finds its way to the oceans. As a 2010 report from The Wall Street Journal estimates, together, both China and Indonesia are the source of more than a third of plastic litter into the global waters.
These facts and figures only add force to the socialist argument that the many social problems facing workers today, including pollution, stem from our subservient class position as propertyless wage-salary earners owning nothing but our ability to work, which they must sell to an employer in order to live. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class in the production process and exists only to make profit and accumulate capital. Workers have no control over pollution, locally or globally, while the state exists only to further the interests of the capitalist class, taking action only when their general or particular interests warrant it. Capitalists only adopt new technologies, working methods or products when it is profitable to do so, not because the existing ones happen to be polluting the planet or killing workers. As socialists, we have always argued the need for workers to take conscious political action to create the framework of common ownership and democratic control of the means and methods of production and distribution, as the only way in which the social problems like pollution can be tackled. It is sheer folly to believe capitalists will adopt an environmental plan if their competitors elsewhere in the world market do not.
A society which was not constrained by private property, commodity production and buying and selling would use as a matter, of course, the best possible technology at hand to ensure the safety of those working in the plants and the protection of the natural environment. The social cost would be the deciding factor, not commercial cost. Capitalism is unable to do this.