Friday, September 20, 2019

We need change to solve climate change

We are on a climate change path that, unless radically altered, will lead to an unsustainable global warming of seven degrees Fahrenheit or greater. We also face the most serious employment crisis since the Great Depression, with wages that have stagnated for four decades and economic inequality now at levels not seen since the 1920s. A few unions have supported strong climate protection policies and have actively participated in the climate protection movement; many have stood aloof; a minority have feared their members’ jobs are threatened by some climate protection measures.

Organized labor’s approach to climate change has been primarily employment-based. Unions like green jobs, but they fear the potential job losses from phasing out carbon-fueled industries. This should not be surprising because unions are organized primarily to look after the specific employment interests of workers. Even the most far-sighted trade union leaders have a very difficult job: They must represent the immediate interests of existing members, some of whom may face job losses in the transition to a low carbon economy, while keeping in mind the longer term social and ecological concerns. The AFL-CIO and most unions have failed to endorse the basic targets and timetables that climate scientists have defined as necessary to prevent devastating global warming. They have promoted an “all of the above” energy policy that supports growth rather than reduction in the fossil fuels that are responsible for global warming.

Those in organized labor who are skeptical about climate protection efforts identify genuine problems in the policies proposed by environmentalists. They point out that the closing of coal-fired power plants, for example, will lead miners, truck drivers, and utility workers to lose their jobs—in many cases, the only well-paid union jobs in their localities. They argue that projects like the Keystone XL pipeline will provide jobs for workers who suffer from historic rates of unemployment. They maintain that a prosperous economy depends on cheap and abundant energy—so restrictions on fossil fuel energy could well lead to economic catastrophe. And they point out that restrictions on fossil fuel energy are likely to lead to rising prices for the energy to heat our houses, run our appliances, and drive our cars—price increases that will most hurt workers and the poor and further increase our society’s unjust economic inequality. But criticizing the weaknesses in mainstream climate policy proposals is not a strategy for combating climate change. Many mainstream climate protection programs—whether proposed for congressional legislation or for international agreements—embody or at least take for granted  austerity policies that will gouge workers, increase insecurity, aggravate inequality, and enrich speculators, while leaving our climate-destroying fossil fuel economy largely intact.

Nearly 12 million Americans are officially unemployed today, more than 8 million want full-time work but are only employed part-time, 2.6 million want to work and have sought work within the past year but are not currently looking for work.9 So a labor reserve of more than 20 million workers is available to go to work protecting the climate. Many unions are painting a portrait of themselves as an obstacle to climate protection. By putting workers  back to socially constructive work labor organisations can lead the struggle for a more just and sustainable economy

The Socialist Party are not the only ones who understand that capitalism cannot deliver a sound self-sustainable society. other writers too have contributed their critiques. Although we cannot  agree 100% with everything in the article the following is an extract that expresses much of our own view.

What has posterity done for me that I should do something for it?” 

The environmental crisis is different from all previously experienced crises in world history. For the first time in the history of mankind it seems probable that the human species will nearly wife itself out within a few decades. That means that the ecological crisis is not limited to certain regions, but has a global dimension. The continuous degradation of the natural basis of life impairs the material basis of livelihood of a large part of humanity. A growing number of climate related catastrophes are generating frequent emergency disaster situations. The main cause of the destruction of nature on the one hand and that of the world-wide process of impoverishment or economic-social exclusion on the other are the same: the capitalist economic system.

The most serious defect of capitalism that is the cause of its unresolvable contradiction to sustainability is its growth dynamics. It is not just that the greedy capitalists want to have more and more. Brutal competition also compels them to try to earn and accumulate/invest more and more. “Expand or perish“ is an inexorable law of capitalism. Since no entrepreneur wants to perish, it generates a growth compulsion. Because of the ever larger investments that they are compelled to make to remain competitive, they must search for and create ever larger markets. In capitalism, all firms can make a profit only if the economy as a whole grows. The satisfactory functioning of a capitalist economy is so strongly dependent on continuous growth that even a growth rate below 2% is perceived as a crisis. But sustainability, as we have argued above, requires economic shrinking. Capitalists are willing to contribute to environmental protection by producing more and more filters, sewage treatment plants and so on, but they can never be interested in any kind of shrinking of the economy.

Capitalists as capitalists are not interested in such growth in benefits to society; they are only interested in increasing their sales so that they can make more profit. Increase in sales can result either from selling more goods and services or from charging higher prices for less goods and services sold. But competition generally makes it very difficult for any entrepreneur to make more profit by selling less at a higher price. Long-lived and easily repairable products are therefore, generally, of little interest to entrepreneurs. Built-in obsolescence is therefore rational policy in capitalism. Any policy of drastically reducing resource consumption, which is ecologically necessary and inevitable in the long run, would, firstly, entail a massive redundancy of plants and equipment and destruction of financial capital (share value) in the mining industry. That would then, secondly, lead through a chain reaction to a general crisis in the economy. What factories, machines and workers in all other branches of the economy actually do is to transform raw materials and energy into goods and services, which are sold at a profit. If they are now allowed to process only one-fourth or one-tenth of the hitherto processed quantities of raw materials and energy, as some protagonists of sustainable development demand (Weizs├Ącker et
al. 1995; Schmidt-Bleek 1993), then a proportional quantity of factory and machine capacity and a corresponding part of the labour force would become superfluous. The end result of all that would be a great depression.

Competition also results in the compulsion to increasingly automate and rationalize production. A firm that does not do this will perish. That is why it is not possible to solve the problem of unemployment within the framework of a capitalist economy – not even if it is growing, let alone if it is compelled to stop growing or shrink.

Also the on-going dismantling of the welfare state is the result of a particular kind of competition: In the context of globalization, industrial locations compete with those in other countries to woo transnational capital.

Without questioning this system, we cannot halt or even credibly protest against this “race to the bottom“. Also societal sustainability is impossible within the capitalist system

Eco-capitalism is, therefore, a misnomer, a self-contradictory term. We cannot have both ecological sustainability and the growth dynamics of capitalism. Whatever fiscal, financial or direct regulatory tools governments might choose to use – green taxes or tradable pollution certificates or depletion quotas –, a shrinking capitalist economy would mean a catastrophe for the whole society, a never-ending great depression. Moreover, no capitalist can willingly accept a low-level steady-state economy. Therefore, the state must take up the task of organizing the retreat. It must be a planned retreat, otherwise there will be terrible chaos and calamity. The
state must overrule the primacy of profit and growth compulsion. That means, an economic framework-plan must take the place of the chaos of a free market economy. Society must consciously reach an agreement on what, how much and how to produce, how much energy and how many resources are to be allocated to what.

In order to ensure that an eco-socialist society does not become an authoritarian one, suitable forms of active popular participation at all levels must be created. Since the economic regions would be small – or of amanageable dimension – and largely self-provisioning, the political units would also be small or of a manageable dimension. So it can be made possible that the concerned people are included in the decision-making process.

A socialist society is not only a necessity that arises from the growing scarcity of resources and the imperative of conservation of the natural basis of life, it is also desirable if we consider equality, justice, co-operation, solidarity and freedom to be highly important values. A solidary and peaceful coexistence of individuals and the peoples of the world requires an eco-socialist society, in all countries of the world

Sourced from
Sarkar, Saral & Bruno Kern (2008) Eco-Socialism or Barbarism – An Up-to-date Critique of Capitalism. Mainz, Cologne: Initiative Eco-Socialism.

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