Editorial from the forthcoming January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
People are right to be concerned about what is happening to the environment. Materials taken from nature are being transformed by human activity into substances which nature either can't decompose or can't decompose fast enough. The result is pollution and global threats such as the hole in the ozone layer and global warming.
There really is a serious environmental crisis. The issue is not whether it exists but what to do about it. The Green Party has one view. We have another.
The Green Party sees itself as the political arm of the wider environmental movement, arguing that it is not enough to be a pressure group, however militant, like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Greens, it says, should organise as well to contest elections with the eventual aim of forming a Green government that could pass laws and impose taxes to protect the environment.
We say that no government can protect the environment.
Governments exist to run the political side of the profit system. And the profit system can only work by giving priority to making profits over all other considerations. So to protect the environment we must end production for profit.
Pollution and environmental degradation result from the inappropriate ways in which materials from nature are transformed into products for human use. But what causes inappropriate productive methods to be used? Is it ignorance or greed, as some Greens claim? No, it is the way production is organised today and the forces to which it responds.
Production today is in the hands of business enterprises, all competing to sell their products at a profit. All of them—and it doesn't matter whether they are privately owned or state-owned—aim to maximise their profits. This is 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 jungle economics that prevails today.
Under the competitive pressures of the market businesses only take into account their own narrow financial interest, ignoring wider social or ecological considerations. All they look to is their own balance sheet and in particular the bottom line which shows whether or not they are making a profit.
The whole of production, from the materials used to the methods employed to transform them, is distorted by this drive to make and accumulate profits. The result is an economic system governed by uncontrollable market forces which compel decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.
Governments do not have a free hand to do what is sensible or desirable. They can only act within the narrow limits imposed by the profit-driven market system whose rules are "profits first" and "you can't buck the market".
The Green Party is not against the market and is not against profit-making. It imagines that, by firm government action, these can be tamed and prevented from harming the environment. This is an illusion. You can't impose other priorities on the profit system than making profits. That's why a Green government would fail.
The Green Party fails to realise that what those who want a clean and safe environment are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first.
If the environmental crisis is to be solved, this system must go.