Climate change due to global warming is the greatest danger facing humanity at the moment (although some make a good case for this being the spread of the ability to make nuclear bombs). With growing concern now about the destruction wrought on of the earth’s life support system, the bumbling politicians have little or nothing to applaud. The world’s leaders simply recommitted themselves to agreements they have already and elsewhere committed themselves. If anything, it is nothing but the affirmation by the global executive of capitalism that it is “business as usual, because there’s profits to be had.” Big business is saying that rather than creating international laws that compel us to respect human rights and the environment, we will instead make a promise to do so but in an increasingly globalised world if mega profits are threatened those pledges are broken very damned quick. Thus, such voluntary codes of practices are in truth not worth the paper they are written on. Plenty of opportunities is provided by flexible mechanisms for the governments of richer countries to indulge in creative accounting. It is possible for governments, with a bit of nifty handiwork, to claim cutbacks in their country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions although actual reductions may not have taken place. Furthermore, a country might even increase its emissions and still be credited with a reduction. Insane? Yes. But this is actually capitalism functioning efficiently.
Bearing in mind all the previous world summits where policies were subordinated to the interests of commerce is it any wonder that people have little faith in them? The simple truth is that we trust governments to solve environmental problems we do so at our peril. They serve to administer the present system on behalf of a minority for whom environmental protection is an obstacle to profit, to whom any means is legitimate in the pursuit of that profit. Capitalism cannot be trusted to run he world in the interests of humanity first and that if we are ever to take control of this planet and run it, then we must do so ourselves, without leaders and with a view in which production is freed from the constraints of profit and where each person will have free access to the benefits of civilisation.
When you consider the future of the planet you are faced with two choices. You can continue to support the defenders of capitalism – they come in many disguises - and acquiesce in the destruction of the natural global environment. Or stand in their way by joining the struggle for socialism and the destruction of a system that prioritises profit over the world we live in. Choose. Capitalism, and with it the worsening of every environmental problem. Or socialism, that places control of the earth in the hands of the majority who will tend to it with respect and without the barriers profit places in the path of production?
Socialists have been warning about the effects of capitalism’s production methods for well over a hundred years, and how they impact on the wider environment. And what are offered are capitalist remedies, and to make it all the more attractive there are profits to be had – well, the master class have to have some damned incentive before they act. And the best capitalist politicians can think up is to tempt the master class with the whiff of profits to come if they agree to mend their ways. The very people who have disregarded the effects of their production methods on the natural environment for hundreds of years are now being asked to show it some mercy! Global environmental catastrophe can be halted by throwing money at the problem!
Right across the planet the economic system that governments defend plunders and squanders the Earth’s non-renewable mineral and energy resources and with one object in mind – profit. All over the world, it pollutes the seas, the air we breathe, the forests, rivers, and lakes, upsetting natural balances, eco-systems and defying the laws of ecology. Clearly, this destruction and waste cannot continue indefinitely. It should not and must not and no amount of money is going to redress the delicate balance. Socialists have long argued that it is quite possible to meet the material needs of every person on this planet without destroying the natural systems on which we depend and which we are a party to. So what stands in the way? Why isn’t this done? The simpler answer, which we must not get tired of reiterating, is that under the present economic system, production is not geared to meeting human needs but rather to accumulating profits for a few. Consequently, what we produce and the methods and the materials we employ are not decided rationally and democratically but are dictated by market forces. Production today is in the hands of business enterprises of one sort or another, all competing to sell their products at a profit. All of them – and it does not matter whether they are privately owned or state-owned – aim to maximise their profits. This is not the result of the greed of the owners or managers, as some Greens claim, but an economic necessity, imposed by the forces of the market. If a business does not make a profit it goes out of business. “Make a profit or die” is the law of the capitalist jungle.
Under the demands of the market, businesses only take into account their own narrow financial interests, ignoring wider social and ecological considerations. The whole of production, from the process employed to the choice of what to produce, is distorted by this drive to make and accumulate profits. The result is an economic system governed by anarchic market forces which compel decision-makers, however, selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste. So it’s no wonder that nature’s balances are upset today and that we face problems like global warming. It’s no wonder that the Earth’s easily accessible resources are plundered without a thought for the future; that the power stations and factories release all sorts of dangerous and noxious substances into the air and water; that chemical fertiliser and pesticides that get into the food chain are used in agriculture; that animals are injected with hormones, fed unnatural diets; that human waste is not recycled back to the land; that non-biodegradable plastics and textiles are produced; that lead is put into petrol; that goods are made so as not to last, etc. The list of anti-ecological practices imposed by market forces is endless.
You name the dodge and the profit-greedy have thought of it. The perennial problem is that countries are reluctant to promote the investment in more environmentally friendly methods of production and transport because their respective governments, being the executive arm of the capitalist class, prefer to bow with suppliant knee to powerful fossil fuel lobbies, rather than openly acknowledge that we are ecologically fast approaching the point of no return. In spite of all the evidence that suggests that deforestation, present production, and transport methods are primarily responsible for climatic warning – the disappearing polar ice caps, global flooding, rising sea levels, vegetation dieback, the loss of thousands of species of life, and that the speed and scale of global warming has no precedent – the world’s governments still insist these wasteful, though profit-generating methods must remain. Companies can get excited about the profits to be made from trading in pollution credits – whilst the planet we inhabit faces environmental catastrophe from pollution – says much about the insanity of the system we live in and very much begs the question: are you with us or against us?
If capitalism is presently incapable of solving the more pressing problems faced by humanity, we can well ponder what a difficult time ahead we face in a world in which we are increasingly at the mercy of the elements. For many, environmental issues are new. As socialists, forever scrutinising the effects of the capitalist mode of production, we have been aware of them for generations. In fact, Engels had this to say:
“At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing over nature – but that we, with flesh and blood and brain, belong to nature and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly. We are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote social effects of our productive activity, and so are afforded the opportunity to control and regulate these effects well. This regulation, however, requires a complete revolution in our existing mode of production…in our whole contemporary social order” (Dialectics of Nature, 1875).
The conclusion is clear: If our needs are to be met while at the same time respecting the laws of nature, the present market-driven profit system must go and be replaced with a system capable of producing the essentials humans need, but in an ecologically friendly way.
Most Greens believe that things could be put right with a change of government policy, which is exactly what Labour now proposes. What is needed, they say, is a government that will pass laws and impose taxes – on air travel, motoring, and high emission vehicles - to protect the environment. But experience shows that no government, no matter how well-meaning or determined, can protect the environment. Governments exist to run the political side of the profit system. They do not have a free hand to do what is sensible or desirable. They can only act within the narrow limits imposed by the market system. This is why the reformist policy advocated by the Green Party, Friends of the Earth etc. is not working. At most, it could only succeed in slowing down the speed of decay, not in making the profit system work in an environmentally friendly way. Those who want a clean and safe environment are up against a well-entrenched economic and social system, based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding law of profits first. What Greens should work towards is not a change of government, but a change of society.
If we are to meet our needs in an ecologically acceptable way, we humans must first be in a position to control production or, to put it another way, to consciously regulate our interaction with the rest of nature – and the only basis on which this can be done is the common ownership of productive resources. Once the Earth’s natural and industrial resources have become the common heritage of all humanity, then production can be geared to meeting needs in an ecologically acceptable way, instead of making profits without consideration for the environment. These include types of farming that preserve and enhance the natural fertility of the soil, the systematic recycling of materials obtained from non-renewable energy sources while developing alternative sources that continually renew themselves (i.e. solar energy and wind power); industrial processes that avoid releasing poisonous chemicals or radioactivity into the biosphere; the manufacture of solid good made to last, not planned to break down after a period of time.
We are talking about a system of society based on common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. That is the only basis on which we can meet our needs whilst respecting the laws of nature. And it’s the only basis on which we can begin to successfully reverse the degradation of the environment caused by the profit system. The only effective strategy for achieving a free and democratic society, in harmony with nature it to build up a movement which has the achievement of such a society as its sole aim.
The threat of global warming is clearly a global problem that can only be dealt with by co-ordinated action at world level. But this is not going to happen under capitalism. As a system involving competition between profit-seeking corporations backed up by their protecting states, it is inherently incapable of world-wide cooperation. There never was any such cooperation. Just the opposite, in fact. The inevitable clashing interests between different states, each seeking to pursue the interests of its profit-seeking corporations, breeds war rather than cooperation. Look what happened last century. Look at the invasion of Iraq this century. So it’s not going to happen. There is not going to be any coordinated world action to deal with global warming as long as capitalism is allowed to continue. Something will be done but it is bound to be too little, too late.
It’s certainly going to be too little. These days, when private corporations have governments under their thumb much more than in the recent past, what is being proposed is not even state intervention to force carbon-polluting corporations to limit their emissions in the overall capitalist interest. It’s to try to use the mechanisms of the market to solve the problem: fiddling about with the tax system to make investments in anti-pollution measures more profitable; establishing an artificial world market and price for carbon. Anybody can see that this is not going to work. Changing life-styles is no more a solution to global warming than letting the invisible hand of the market get a go.
Having said this, individuals do have some responsibility in the matter. Capitalism - the cause of the problem - only continues in the end because people put up with it. Most people don’t see any alternative to working for wages, producing for profit, using money, the world divided into states, the existence of armies. These attitudes both reflect and sustain capitalism. And every time people get a chance to vote, a majority back politicians committed to maintaining the capitalist system as the way of organising the production and distribution of wealth. So capitalism continues. As do its problems, including the threat of global over-warming. Maybe as this gets nearer people will be driven to consider an alternative. Global warming can only be tackled by global action. And effective global action will only be possible within the framework of a united world. A united world is only possible on the basis of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources being the common heritage of all humanity.
Our priority remains the same – abolition of the profit system and the establishment of a system of society where the earth’s natural and industrial resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled. Socialists are no different from others in desiring an environment in which the safety of all animal and plant species is ensured. Where we differ from our political opponents is in recognising that their demands have to be set against a well-entrenched economic and social system, based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding law of profits first. It has long been our case that human needs can be satisfied without recourse to production methods that adversely affect the natural environment, which is exactly why we advocate the establishment of a system of society in which production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit. We are not talking about nationalisation or any other tinkering with the present system, but rather its entire abolition and replacement with a global system in which the earth’s natural and industrial resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled; a society in which each production processes takes into consideration not only human need but any likely effect upon the environment.
Once the Earth’s natural and industrial resources have ben wrested from the master class and become the common heritage of all humanity, then production can be geared to meeting needs in an ecologically acceptable way, instead of making profits without consideration for the environment. This the only basis on which we can meet our needs whilst respecting the laws of nature and to at last begin to reverse the degradation of the environment caused by the profit system. The only effective strategy for achieving a free and democratic society and, moreover, one that is in harmony with nature, is to build up a movement which has the achievement of such a society as its objective.
The "carbon trading" and "green taxes" favoured by green capitalists are just tinkering with the market system, whereas if carbon emissions are to be stabilised and the consequences of global warming tackled effectively it is the whole market system of competitive production for profit that must go. Its replacement would be a world without frontiers where the Earth's natural and industrial resources have become the common heritage of all humanity. Only then will a world body capable of taking the necessary co-ordinated global action exist. Only then can the Earth's resources be used to satisfy people's needs not to make a profit for those who own and exploit them. The buying and selling of the market system would be replaced by giving and taking in accordance with the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs".