Monday, November 21, 2016

The real issue before us

“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquests over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivatable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of those countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture . . .Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature - but that we, with flesh, 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 know and correctly apply its laws.” Engels, "The part played by labour in the transition from Ape to Man"

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Marrakesh this week for international climate talks, recently said it “pissed him off” that there wasn’t a single question asked about climate change during the six hours of televised presidential and vice presidential debates prior to the election, despite the fact that queries about climate change were the fourth most popular question category submitted by the public for the town-hall debate. Since January, the broadcast television networks barely reported on climate, even though this year is on pace to be the hottest one in the books, setting a record for the third year in a row. Out of more than 1,700 evening, morning, weekly and Sunday public affairs news programs aired between January 1 and October 31, the four commercial broadcast networks that provided moderators for the debates — ABC, Fox, CBS and NBC — collectively aired only 32 segments and 24 briefs on the topic, a total of 56 pieces. And most of the evening news segments ran less than two and a half minutes in length, while each brief was no more than three or four sentences long. One other point to consider is when the networks aired the bulk of their climate stories and briefs. Nearly two-thirds of the segments (20 of 32) aired on one of the network morning shows, as did more than 85 percent of the briefs (21 of 24). Why is that important? Because nearly twice as many viewers watch the evening news shows. The relatively few climate-related segments that did air on ABC, CBS and NBC was nowhere near what it should have been given the magnitude of the problem. 
Besides their scanty coverage, the networks missed some obvious opportunities to make the climate connection. For example, all of the evening newscasts reported on the devastating rains and flooding in Louisiana last August. It’s a failure to connect the dots. Far from being something that happens in the year 2100 or whatever, climate change is already having devastating effects in much of the planet.

 Many environmental campaigners do not seek a socialist society but instead argue that a regulated and reformed capitalist system with the right application of science and technology can be the solution to the climate change crises we face today. The World Socialist Movement insists that only in a society that produced to meet human needs and not for profit can a solution be found. Businesses ignore the detrimental impact of their production processes because it is in their economic interests to do so. The various Green Parties might think it is a new idea that the controlled redevelopment of capitalism can be politically stage-managed through legislation and a taxation system but is an old and failed idea.

The central contradiction in the arguments of the Greens is that they would be seeking massive government subsidies for what they consider to be desirable objectives. Yet at the same time they have given little thought to the economic viability of those enterprises who profit from particular energy supplies, use of materials, and industrial and manufacturing production methods from which government tax and derive their revenue from. Where do they imagine a green policy get the money? The structure of commodity production and the specific production methods adopted are not something determined by free choice. They are determined by competition in the market. It is unrealistic to imagine that capitalist manufacturers can embrace ecologically sound policies in part of the world capitalist economy, making it significantly less competitive due to lower productivity and higher costs than the rivals elsewhere. A government committed to a green agenda still depends on its tax revenue on the prosperity of the national economy the inevitable result of imposing higher costs on the capitalist economy, would lead to the rapid demise of such a government. Such policies are a political dead-end which can only have the effect of delaying real solutions. The problem does not resolve itself solely as a question of who runs capitalism. There will still be future trade recessions, a balance of payments crisis, currency crises and of course, industrial strife.  These consequences would magically disappear. The continuation of capitalism on its blind and uncontrolled course is a gamble on the conditions of life itself.

Within capitalism, the resources of the earth do not represent the natural environment in which human life, as part of nature, must find its own equilibrium. They take on an economic form, functioning as the material elements of capital. The economic drive which governs their use is the accumulation of capital, which is itself governed by the economic laws of commodity production. This inevitably results in the inability of society to consciously regulate its relationship with the natural world. The function of the working class is to apply its labour-power to natural resources for the object of profit and capital accumulation. Thus oil, coal, natural gas, metals, the land, seas, forests, and atmosphere function economically for the object of capital accumulation. This is the system which so many environmentalists wish to perpetuate.

The abolition of capitalism will eliminate the economic constraints which at present severely limit the use of production methods. Production for use will consciously regulate production and this will include a choice of methods limited only by available technique and practicality. Socialism will also end a vast amount of waste and vastly increase the number of people available for performing useful work. Socialism will establish direct co-operation between producers and goods will be produced directly for need. In these circumstances, production for need will not be solely confined to material consumption. It is a vital need that human activity should interact with the natural environment in non-destructive ways. Socialism would have no difficulty in applying a principle of conservation production which would include working within existing natural systems without altering them. This would be the only safe way to proceed. While many safe renewable sources of energy may at present hopelessly uneconomic under capitalism, socialism would have no difficulty in developing and applying this existing technology.

Socialism would bring into use means of production, permanent installations, structures and goods which would last for a long time, and even when redundant could be re-cycled for other uses. With its shoddy goods, built in obsolescence, and the pressure of the market to constantly renew its capacity for sales, capitalism is incapable of applying this production principle. Conservation production would mean employing methods that avoid using up and destroying natural resources. For example, uniform machinery could be designed with the minimum number of wearing parts which, with simple maintenance, could be easily replaced and the materials re-cycled and used again. For parts of machinery not subject to wear, durable materials which do not deteriorate could be used. If for some reason such machinery became redundant, the materials involved could be recycled and used again. The principle of conservation production could establish the practice that once materials became socially available after extraction and processing, they would be available for permanent use in one form or another.

Socialism reflects the kind of world which is the aspirations of the environmentalists, one where society could make definite decisions about how best to provide for needs and then be free to implement those decisions outside the economic constraints imposed by capitalism. There can be only one way to achieve this — through the success of the world socialist movement. It is inconceivable that the life of world society can achieve equilibrium with nature unless it first achieves unity and common purpose within its own organisation.