The Fight for the Planet is a Fight for the People
Last September, in an outpouring that far exceeded expectations, 400,000 people turned out for the People’s Climate March in New York City, joined by thousands of solidarity events worldwide. At the front marched indigenous peoples and other frontline communities most impacted by environmental justice issues, followed by unions, clergy, scientists, anti-corporate campaigns, peace and justice groups, celebrities, and just plain people – families, students, elders. Creativity flourished as signs, costumes, and giant puppets imaginatively expressed their hope for a better way to live and thrive, and their ideas on how to get there. The following day, thousands of protestors shut down Broadway for several hours in a Flood Wall Street action, with over 100 arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
The backdrop to these actions was a United Nations Climate Summit – yet it is obvious that global capitalism is inherently unable to take any action that will put the welfare of the earth and its peoples above the profit motive. The current exploitation and destruction of the environment stems from the qualitatively new economic conditions that result in a scramble for resources, markets, and profits. It’s part of the general destruction of capitalist society.
Over the past decades, transnational trade agreements and organizations promoting the free flow of capital across borders, such as the World Trade Organization and NAFTA, have exacerbated the climate crisis, as covered in Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: the Climate vs. Capitalism. They promote the transportation of goods and food over long distances and also entrench a high emissions and energy intensive form of agriculture that makes global food production comprise 19-29% of greenhouse gas emissions. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank over the years have encouraged export-led development, which translates into high emissions and low wages. Unrestricted trade has led to exports being responsible for 48% of China’s growing emissions.
Using the terms of these treaties, countries are suing each other for subsidizing alternative energies, favoring locally owned energy cooperatives and requiring local content. (However, fossil fuel companies receive subsidies with impunity, and pay nothing for polluting, so green energy can’t compete.) These agreements may even give multinationals the leverage to overturn grassroots victories against fracking. The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership even gives corporations the right to sue sovereign countries. This treaty had also included a vague reference to climate change, but even that has been deleted in the latest draft.
Global agreements, supposedly designed to address the issue of climate change, have failed their stated purpose. At U.S. insistence, the 1987 Kyoto Protocol, instead of capping emissions, set up international carbon trading, a free market scheme that allows corporations to receive carbon credits for supporting projects that are ostensibly good for the environment – and allow them to pollute somewhere else. Predictably, manufacturers have been gaming the system. (Ironically, the U.S. Congress never even ratified the Kyoto Protocol, even with its weak provisions.) At the 2009 UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen, a non-binding agreement was signed to limit emissions to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit); since all are free to ignore it, emissions are rising rapidly. The world is on track for a rise of 3-4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. In a four degree warmer world, scientists project that ferocious heat waves will scorch the earth’s surface, there will be no ice at either pole, and sea levels will rise 82 feet, submerging the coastlines and cities where nearly half the world’s people live.
Klein points out that the political right understands much better than the liberal left that environmental health is incompatible with capitalism, and that’s why they are climate deniers. Big Green, the term given to large national environmental groups such as Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources Institute, have relationships with, and accept money from, the fossil fuel industry. Thus they are cozy with Al Gore and support solutions only within the realm of capitalism. But those market-based solutions such as carbon credits and “cap and trade” (which combines carbon credits with a cap on emissions for industries) and even carbon taxes imposed by national governments, run afoul of industries’ need to compete in a global capitalist economy. The results are exemptions and loopholes that render those measures ineffective.
One particularly perverse solution is the carbon trading scheme REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). This initiative has removed indigenous peoples in Brazil from their land, where they are no longer able to fish or cultivate food. Families are then given a sum of money insufficient to live on. Indigenous communities are thus divided and told that if they do not support REDD, education, health, and transportation projects will be suspended. Then the government can sell carbon credits to multinational corporations to offset their pollution in other parts of the world. This “solution” has set off protests in the Amazon region and Africa.
In his January 2014 article “Green Capitalism: The God that Failed,” Richard Smith cites examples of green and/or organic industries and certifications, that have succumbed to the capitalist need for expansion and maximum profit, as well as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that have adopted a business model in their quest for donations.
To avoid the necessity of reducing emissions and thus hindering capitalist expansion, so-called “bridge fuels” are being pushed. Counted among these fuels is nuclear power and natural gas, including gas gained through fracking, which, in addition to safety and health considerations, lets off the greenhouse gas methane. The capitalists argue that these fuels can be used as an alternative to dirty energy until renewable energy is a significant reality. But in fact, these energy sources are really serving as the capitalists’ alternatives to renewable energies themselves.
Bizarre technical fixes are also being explored by geo-engineers. These include covering deserts with vast white sheets to reflect sunlight back into space; fertilizing oceans with iron to pull carbon out of the atmosphere; and pumping sulfate into the stratosphere to block the sunlight, also known as the “Pinatubo option” (named after the volcano in the Philippines that had a major eruption in 1991), and which scientists project would cause serious drought in Africa and possibly Asia. All of these options would upset the balance of nature in ways already known and not yet imagined.
Pushing From Below
Where does hope for the planet lie, if we can’t trust Big Green, international accords, market based strategies, or technical fixes? The biggest push comes from below, in particular the environmental justice movement. People are fighting for their basic necessities, such as clean air in China and the right to water in California, Detroit and Bolivia. The Idle No More movement in Canada is asserting indigenous rights to clean water and traditional ways of life to combat tar sands exploitation and other desecrations.
Worldwide, there are many efforts to impede extractive industries. In the Greek Skouries Forest villagers are fighting proposed open pit gold and copper mines; in Inner Mongolia, herders have rebelled against plans to turn their fossil fuel rich land into the country’s “energy base”; in Pungesti, Romania, farmers mobilized to prevent shale gas exploration by Chevron. China is experiencing many large and militant protests against the construction of new coal-fired plants, and pollution accounts for more demonstrations than any other issue.
Closer to home, the legacy of Love Canal, one of the first rebellions of a community against chemical pollution, lives on. In a “cowboys and Indians” alliance, ranchers, indigenous tribes, and residents in Montana and Idaho are working to block enormous big rigs carrying equipment to the Alberta tar sands for the Keystone pipeline. People in Baltimore, Maryland; Philipstown, New York; and Martinez, California are fighting the transportation of crude oil through their communities, after the derailment of a train carrying Bakkan crude in Quebec killed 47 people. Residents of Mossville, Louisiana are fighting yet another chemical plant in that community first settled by freed slaves. Increasingly, the NIMBY (Not in my Back Yard) movement is becoming NIABY (Not in Anyone’s Back Yard). All of these movements face the fascist drive that pushes back at anything that tries to prevent maximum profit.
Although the recent midterm elections were overall bad news for the environment, many grassroots initiatives succeeded. Fracking was banned in San Benito and Mendocino counties in California and in Denton, Texas, where fracking was practically invented. In Richmond, California, home of one of the country’s largest oil refineries, voters rejected candidates that Chevron had backed with $3 million, in favor of a Green/Progressive Democrat alliance that had previously blocked Chevron’s expansion.
According to the Pew Research Center, a higher percentage of non-whites think climate change should be a priority than whites or the general population. As these are also the people who face challenges getting to the polls in the current voter suppression push, this is yet another reason to oppose measures that take away voting rights.
System Change Not Climate Change
The focus of the struggle for basic necessities, such as food, housing, and healthcare, also includes the struggle for clean water, air, and land, as well as slowing climate change and other environmental issues.
Many people support unrestricted growth because of the prospect of good jobs building pipelines, in mining, or in manufacturing industries that pollute. But jobs and the environment are only in contradiction under capitalism. In reality, environmental measures create many more jobs such as in mass transportation, installation of solar and other renewable energies, and recycling. Yet because these measures are not profitable in the capitalist world, they are not fully realized. In a cooperative society these priorities can be reversed, and workers can be aided in their transition to work in these beneficial industries.
The Global Climate Convergence, supporting the call of People Planet and Peace over Profits, annually recognizes these issues with the Earth Day to Labor Day campaign. The One Million Climate Jobs coalition of South Africa states “by placing the interests of workers and the poor at the forefront of strategies to combat climate change, we can simultaneously halt climate change and address our jobs bloodbath.” These are just a few of those who are starting to recognize that only with a society not ruled by the profit motive can we have both a thriving humanity and a healthy planet.
March/April 2015 Vol25.Ed2
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011