Rising global temperatures are intensifying the effects of extreme weather events across around the world. Wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, and severe storms are becoming the norm, not the exception. Extreme weather events spread disease and other serious health impacts. For already vulnerable populations, the health risks can be deadly.
Extreme heat can cause cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory effects, and even death. Urban heat islands amplify impacts on cities, while long hours in the heat put farm workers and other outdoor laborers at severe risk too. Extreme cold can cause hypothermia, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, and (as with heat) death. Prolonged exposure due to homelessness or housing insecurity puts transient populations at extreme risk for cold exposure in particular. Then there’s hunger, which twice as many people are at risk of suffering by 2050, due to droughts and infectious diseases.
“Climate change is already contributing to the burden of disease and premature mortality,” reports the European Academies Scientific Advisory Council. “Without prompt and effective action, the problems are forecast to worsen considerably.”
In short, the climate crisis is also a health crisis. Our communities are already paying the price.
The World Socialist Movement holds little optimism for any who hope capitalism can be a kinder, more equitable, better regulated version of itself. Although dissatisfied and disillusioned, many people still cling to the hope of politicians coming to their senses and taking control before it’s too lateand save the world from the ravages of global warming and climate change. But as we have seen it is business-as-usual which is their overriding concern. We must recognise the unequal struggle environmentalists face for what it is – them against us; power against the people and, unless collectively we abandon hope’s triumph over experience, it will ever be thus.
Socialism, and its productive and extractive processes, will be driven primarily by consideration of human need, and the way to define and then provide that need will be one of socialist society’s most pressing debates. In capitalism there are no such concerns. It follows the money, wherever it leads, even into the depths of hell, while human society and the environment inevitably get dragged down with it. The creation of a co-operative commonwealth will not automatically provide all our ecological problems with a solution.
Under capitalism, the profit motive and the short-term nature of planning combine to cause pollution and destruction of the environment. Socialism would be unable to simply stop interfering with the world we live in, since production of any kind assumes some sort of interaction with our environment. Nor can we say now how much mess capitalism will leave behind for socialism to grapple with. To what degree, for instance, will global warming have gone beyond the tipping points of no return? There are no easy answers to such ecological questions and we cannot just dismiss them.
However, we can point out that satisfying human need and caring for the environment will be at the forefront of socialism’s priorities. If they come into conflict, decisions will have to be taken about whether to emphasise one or the other in a particular case. The answers cannot be given yet, since we do not even know just what the questions will be. But from anything other than a capitalist perspective, caring for the world is part of satisfying human need, since we are part of the planet and must always live within it. A society which lived as far as possible in harmony nature would be a socialist one, and that such a possibility cannot be realised under capitalism.