It was the biggest-ever environmental protest the UK had seen, with 300,000-350,000 taking part. There were more than 200 demonstrations across the UK. Around the World, millions more participated in demonstrations and marches. In Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, school-students voiced their displeasure at the lack of action and urgency shown by governments on the climate emergency we all now face. Politicians fell over themselves to jump on the bandwagon but it was a genuine display of grassroots feeling.
The Socialist Party has frequently expressed its anger at the waste and the despoliation which capitalism generates. We are fully aware that the profit system poses a serious threat to the environment and have been sounding the alarm about the state and future of the world’s ecology for decades. We contend that it demonstrates the urgent need to establish world-wide socialism. Then, attention to need would take its proper place alongside unjaundiced consideration of the health of the world’s population, biosphere and resources. The environment campaigners, though deserving credit for exposing the details of this threat, would do well to bear in mind that what angers them are symptoms of a sick world economic system; a cure can only be obtained by removing the cause of the sickness.
Many eco-activists tell us that on the resources/population/ pollution problem they disagree with the Socialist Party claim that, with the present state of our knowledge, and with the present level of technical development, the world is capable of abolishing scarcity. That of course is hardly surprising as our ideas are in conflict with generally held opinion on most things — war, poverty, human nature, leadership, nationalism — even on “socialism”. That does not make our ideas wrong — or right. Briefly their argument is that humanity is heading for various forms of disaster unless population is either reduced or stabilised and technology halted or reversed. We say that the present environmental crisis arises not from population or technology but from the nature of capitalism, the world society in which we live.
When we say that capitalism causes climate change we mean that because production is for profit there is an artificial (an economic) barrier to the implementation of known solutions. The technology are already available by which the pollution of our air, water and land can be avoided; all that is needed is the will and the money to apply them. However politicians are most unlikely to insist on businesses spending money on preventing carbon emissions if this means the loss of their competitive position in world markets. An there are some frightening predictions as to what might happen if nothing is done pretty soon.
Things look bleak but what nearly all the criers of doom assume, and what they fail to question, is the continued existence of capitalism, of production for the market, of buying and selling. When confronted with all the evidence for the need for a new way of life all the scaremongers, can offer is the observation that it will involve governmental intervention, changes in tax and formidable changes in life-style attitudes. If the laws are too harsh, or if the cost involved is too heavy, they will be either circumvented or ignored. The world’s resources are not owned by everybody. They are owned by a small minority who use nature to produce goods to be sold in order to make profits. Production for profit means that costs must be kept as low as possible. In this atmosphere the cheapest methods of production must be used and the cheapest methods are rarely those which have a minimal impact on nature.
Yet in all this there are hopeful signs. There is a growing awareness that pollution is a world problem and that as such needs world answers. Effective action however is hampered by the existing division of the world into competing and often mutually antagonistic nation states. We are in no doubt that our environment could be safeguarded and improved if we gave it our full attentions and energies. The same technology that is causing so much destruction could, properly used, safeguard the future of the planet.
A rationalisation of use of the resources of the biosphere on a world-wide scale is imperative if satisfactory living conditions of future generations are to be guaranteed. The problems which mankind faces in this area cannot be tackled piecemeal. The biosphere, and man’s place in it, must be envisaged as a whole. As long as production is carried on for making profits and not for needs the same problems of pollution, resource depletion and species extinction will remain. If capitalism really wants something then wild life, natural beauty or anything else, will take second place. But campaigning for new laws and more environment protection is not the answer.
Politicians and other authorities cannot put an end to the climate emergency because it means getting rid of the profit motive in society, which they are committed to maintaining. Up to now they have only spread confusion. No amount of legislation and regulation will remedy this crisis. The numerous conferences to deal with climate change are bound to fail in the same way as the disarmament conferences in the past failed, and because of the same reason. The prime cause of global warming is capitalism itself, for capitalism cannot function without polluting the world. No doubt efforts will be made to stem the tide, but capitalism is bound to fail to conquer this problem for it is capitalism itself that is creating it. We need to get rid of a society where a small minority can manipulate nature for their own ends and replace it with one where we all have a real say in how nature is used.