Can Reforms Save The Environment?
The upcoming November UN Conference of the Parties (COP) on Climate Change in Glasgow will be the 26th. There have been 40 Earth Days, while Earth Hours have been ongoing since 2007, plus there have been countless other diplomatic and scientific conferences on the climate. Only someone skilled in sophistry would ascribe to them any significant success. It is accepted opinion that the ‘landmark’ Paris Agreement of 2015 has failed in most of its targets.
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Famine, Pestilence, War and Death, are galloping across the globe, plunging our planet into catastrophe and chaos. Experts raise the prospect of coastal cities sinking into the oceans, deadly flooding, disastrous droughts, desertification and deforestation, devastating storms, decreasing soil fertility and harvests failing, and pollution of land, air and water. And all of it leading to the mass migration of climate refugees. It is described as a climate Armageddon.
The World Socialist Movement (WSM), however, is not parading about with placards calling upon fellow-workers to ‘Prepare to meet thy doom’. We are not predicting the end of the human race, as a species, humans are too adaptive for that. But we are suggesting that many people may possibly see society falling apart around them.
The WSM has been criticised for our sceptical and dismissive response to reforms aimed towards mitigating climate change. Environmentalists have presented a vast array of legislative and regulatory proposals, the Green New Deal being one example, that they insist will provide more time for further fundamental policies which will halt and reverse global warming. The WSM is accused of not possessing any answer to the ecological crises, other than assuming negative attitudes about parliaments passing ‘practical’ measures.
‘Socialism may be the ultimate answer, but we’ll have to wait a long time for it to come and so in the meantime we need to do something right now.’ is what we hear from campaigners.
It is just that procrastination that delays the advent of socialism, which can come as soon as the majority wishes and enacts it. Then decisions will be made with a view to satisfying the real human needs of everyone on the planet, and the removal of harm to the environment. What causes global warming can be addressed with sanity and science.
Instead, we are told that we can learn from the success story of the 1987 Montreal Protocol where the world banned excessive use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to close the holes in the ozone layer as an example of what can be accomplished. What is not mentioned is that there was no conservative lobby opposing government intervention even though the issues were similar with the State curbing the freedom of industry, but back then, the vested interests involved were few and there was little need for any political push-back.
Why are we socialists so sure that government action won’t work? First, we do not deny that some government initiatives might make a marginal difference in curtailing the worst of climate change, however a marginal difference is not enough. What is needed is a massive change, not just in government policy but in the way capitalism ultimately functions, and we don’t think governments can ever deliver that. As far as we’re concerned, under capitalism, the environmental emergency is unsolvable.
World socialists reject the plunder and pillage of our environment in the interests of the rich and not in the interests of ourselves, homo sapiens. The manner in which humans organise to meet their own material needs always has to be the basis of any society. This is its mode of production and it is the same thing as its relationship to the rest of nature. Humans survive by interfering in the rest of nature to change it for their own benefit.
It is a mistake to view this intervention as inherently destructive of nature. There is no reason why it should be. That humans have to interfere in nature is simply a fact of human existence. How it is done depends on the type of society we live under. It is unreasonable to regard human involvement in nature as some disturbing alien force. In fact we are part of nature, so it is natural for us to do so. At present, the way we are encroaching on the environment is destroying the natural balances and cycles, yet the crucial point is that human beings, unlike other species, are capable of changing their behaviour.
Countless scientific studies and innumerable academic papers have been written on the climate crisis. Many describe the effects, but nearly all avoid explaining the core issue and without defining and determining the root cause there can be no real solutions.
Some commentators point an accusatory finger at modern technology and seek a return to pre-industrial pastoral life. Others argue that since technology got us into this mess, then it can get us out of it, so they propose all sorts of techno-fixes and anti-pollution gadgets. Meanwhile the bankers and financiers concentrate their focus on fiscal policies and trading carbon credits.
Whatever their answers, they can never remove the requirement for one corporation to compete against its business rivals. No matter how sound and sensible a policy may be, it cannot be placed in the way of accumulating capital and making profits. And this corporate entitlement to compete will always be safeguarded by the government. The environment becomes a casualty and unavoidable collateral damage.
A great number of people concerned about the environment have been naive enough to believe that their protests and demonstrations would force the captains of industry to take action to head off climate change, even if only because of self-interest. But this is a cruel illusion. The people can demonstrate on the streets all they like. But the CEOs won’t listen as they cannot disregard their responsibility to produce shareholder dividends.
Capitalism is primarily an economic system of competitive capital accumulation derived out of the surplus value produced by wage labour. As a system it must continually accumulate or go into a crisis of stagnation. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. The result is environmental degradation and unmet needs on a global scale. The ecologist’s dream of a sustainable future within the logic of capitalism will always remain just that, a dream. If human society is to be able to organise its production in an ecologically acceptable way, then it must gear production directly to the satisfaction of peoples’ needs and not capital accumulation
Many ecologists talk about ’zero-growth’ and a ’steady-state’ society and this is something we should be aiming at. This is what socialism could do. But if we want this, we cannot retain the market system in which goods are produced to sell at a profit. The market can only function with a constant pressure to generate sales and if it fails to do this, people are made unemployed and incomes are cut. It is a fundamental flaw and an insoluble contradiction in the eco-activists’ argument that they can have a green economy along with a market system. These aims are totally incompatible with each other.
The World Socialist Movement rejects the idea that capitalism has any self-correcting economic mechanism. If nothing changes, the depressing prognosis will be climate chaos and the human tragedies that will accompany it. In this circumstance, a redistribution of resources for a world of abundance, without pollution, disease and squalor makes total sense. The skills and the science already exist, and rather than using them to add to environmental destruction, we can apply them for constructive purposes. Unless the capitalist system of profit-making is superseded the grim reality may be a dystopian future ahead for all of us.