Capitalism and Global Warming

Global Warming Crisis

Climate change and the implications of climate change are not going away. Evidence from scientists in the field continues to link the environmental crisis with a whole range of problems from rising sea levels to mass migration.


"Rising seas is one of those climate change effects. Average sea levels have swelled over 8 inches with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Every year, the sea rises another .13 inches (3.2mm)".

And the International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated:

"Climate change is expected to trigger growing population movements within and across borders, as a result of such factors as increasing intensity of extreme weather events, sea-level rise and acceleration of environmental degradation. In addition, climate change will have adverse consequences for livelihoods, public health, food security, and water availability. This in turn will impact on human mobility, likely leading to a substantial rise in the scale of migration and displacement".

On August 8, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed how capitalism is dangerously re-shaping the land itself. De-forestation and intensive farming for profit are creating the conditions for potentially irreversible environmental catastrophe. According to the IPCC it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land. The IPCC fell way short of suggesting socialism as the answer. The common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society was not even considered. Capitalism as the cause of the climate warming crisis was ignored. The profit system was never questioned.

And there is some urgency in establishing socialism. In areas of the globe that are ploughed for farming, soil is being lost more than 100 times faster than it can be replaced. The result will be food shortages aggravated by severe weather such as floods, droughts, fire and hurricanes. In turn, this will cause mass migration, war, conflict, barriers at borders, migrant concentration camps, racism and xenophobia. Half a billion people already live in areas of the world experiencing desertification.

According to the report from the IPCC, land use accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Capitalist agricultural production now impacts on more than 70 percent of all ice-free land, a quarter of which has been degraded. C02 is no longer being absorbed by long-lost forests. Land that could have been used to grow trees or more sustainable crops has instead been devoted to profitable but unsustainable types of food production, while monoculture results in the loss of many species and biodiversity.

What of the political response?

What of the political response? Take as examples, President Trump of the US and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.

President Donald Trump has withdrawn the US - the world's largest carbon polluter after China - from the 2015 Paris Treaty on climate change. He believes global warming is just a ruse of the Chinese government. He is supported by the US fossil fuel industry and their "free-market" think tanks producing endless climate change denial reports.

Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro is encouraging the destruction of the Amazon rainforest at the fastest rate recorded. A football pitch of Amazon forest is lost every minute. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research warned (7 August 2019) that Amazon de-forestation increased year-on-year by 278 per cent year-on-year, resulting in the destruction of 870 square miles of - protected - virgin rainforest.

Bolsonararo dismissed his own government's satellite data as "lies" and sacked the director for telling "truth to power". Along with an increase in wildfires. which often occur in the dry season in Brazil, there are also deliberate efforts to illegally de-forest land for cattle ranching and gold mining (BBC NEWS 21 August 2019). The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.

And the areas of rainforest currently being torched include large areas of government and tribal lands where the remnants of the Amazonian native peoples still live. Dependent on the forest environment for their livelihood and supposedly protected from such ruthless incursions.

In Brazil, the Bolsonaro government uses nationalist rhetoric to resist any calls to protect the Amazon rainforest: such protests by voluntary groups, environmentalists and even international governments are resented and brushed aside as illegitimate foreign interference in Brazil's internal policies. Similar arguments were used by Russia (e.g. over the drying up and pollution of the Aral Sea), by China (e.g. over the de-forestation of Tibet), and now by the US and Canada (e.g.over fracking).

It would be wrong to say that capitalist politicians and governments are not interested in the problem and consequences of global warming. Marx pointed out that the state is the "executive of the bourgeoisie", taking decisions in its interest. The British government has initiated several environmental reforms, including attempts to reduce carbon emissions, but they are only related to the UK, not internationally. The EU has also made some steps in this direction but again these measures cannot be enforced globally, while the UN is hampered by its financial dependence on the US for its funding.

True, at one time the fears about the depletion of the ozone layer during the 1980s did result in some international action to switch from one dangerous gas used in refrigeration and aerosols to another, supposedly less harmful product. But since capitalism relies on wasteful consumerism and growth, unless and until the capitalist mode of production itself is seen as the cause of the global warming crisis we cannot expect really meaningful, worldwide action.

The principle problem of environmental reform is that the world is divided into competing nation states with their own interests and priorities. Governments have to weigh up the potential environmental damage caused by flood and fire and pollution, as against making capitalists pay for it in a very competitive global market. No one country can tie itself up in environmental regulations if other countries do not do the same. But as the problem of global warming is a world-wide problem requiring a global solution, the existence of competing nation states means that efforts to solve it can at best only mitigate its worst effects, never getting to tackling the root causes.

Governments in the US, at a state level, are trying to introduce measures to minimise the effects of global warming but like all capitalist politicians they come up against severe economic constraints. The need to make profits and minimize the burden of taxation is primary capitalist considerations. And states with sources of fossil fuels are interested in continuing to sell them on the world market despite the environmental consequences.

No state can take all necessary environmental measures despite the protestation of groups like Extinction Rebellion. If one state were to take the necessary measures unilaterally, involving higher energy costs for their capitalists, this would make their industries' commodities less competitive on world markets. So they are only going to take action if other states will do the same. Hence the various climate change conferences and the endless UN debates and reports over the decades as the problems have become worse.

At these conferences each state is trying not to disadvantage itself and to prevent other states getting an advantage over them. So what emerges is the lowest common denominator. Talking the talk and not walking the walk. Talking about the environmental problem facing the planet costs nothing, while doing something effective about it comes up against intransigent national interests.

The only framework in which the world can rationally tackle global warming is the establishment of common ownership and democratic control of the Earth's natural and industrial resources. This is not something capitalism's politicians and governments are interested in; they try to ignore the protests from environmental scientists and the green movement. And environmentalists shy away from naming capitalism as the cause while dismissing the socialist solution needed to be taken consciously and politically by the majority of the world's population.

The effects of climate change fall most heavily on the world's poorest people. But no country or class can escape the consequences of the climate crisis. Capitalism has never been a greater threat to humanity's well-being and survival.

Why Socialism will Effect Radical Environmental Change

It is easy to see why capitalism's governments and even intergovernmental agencies are unable to do much about this rapidly advancing environmental crisis, apart from publishing reports of what is going on. They can and do tell us - via TV reports and scientific studies - about the forest fires burning the Arctic forests, releasing the ancient methane stored in the permafrost; about the rapid disappearance of glaciers in many continents and latitudes; about how islands are disappearing under the rising seas; about the growing problem of air pollution in cities; about how several cities have come within a whisker of running out of water as even their groundwater has been depleted; about the many ways the loss of habitat has resulted in the danger of elimination for many species, including bees; about how competitive pressures have led to overfishing in once luxuriant fisheries; and so on and on and on.

Capitalism's ideologies, such as nationalism and the so-called 'free market' competitive 'beggar my neighbour' ideology of the neo-liberals, contribute to this catastrophe. Governments compete rather than co-operate. And so do businesses. On their profit and loss balance sheets, the value of the wild, of wilderness, of clean air and unpolluted fresh water, of the natural biosphere on which humanity depends: all this is rated by their accountants as a zero.

So there is no way capitalism is able or incentivised to address this problem. And time is fast running out.

But we socialists have been pointing to capitalism as a dangerous problem - for another reason - for over a century. Our reason has to do with our knowledge that this class system exploits us as workers. A tiny handful of the world's population owns and controls the vast majority of the planet's resources. And for that minority's profit-making, they are destroying or endangering the Amazon rainforest, the fertility of the soil, the beauty of birdsong, the real wealth of biodiversity, and the possibility of our children growing up with fresh clean air and unpolluted water.

Now, capitalism's endless lust for profits has polluted even the deepest trenches of the Atlantic Ocean and the remotest islands of the Pacific, while fracking permanently pollutes and removes from the water cycle the pure waters of hundreds of Canada's lakes. Today is the time: our Mother Earth is warning us that time is running out. We cannot any longer afford to ignore these warnings, and the plight of those millions of our fellow humans being driven from their homes as hapless refugees, desperately fleeing conflicts largely caused by the effects of climate change.

And so it is now that we Socialists demand that our case be heard, and that we unite worldwide to end this dangerous, warlike and wasteful, chaotically competitive, greedy and consumerist system. And we socialists demand that we unite and work together to create a co-operative global system which will enable humankind to work together, in harmony with the eco-systems of the planet.

The fact is that Socialism is our best - arguably our only - hope for a viable future. Production and distribution could be democratically organised so that materials are re-used, waste largely eliminated or treated and the environment protected. Socialist society would use technology and science to understand the world better, so that human activity becomes aligned with the environment and the bio-sphere.

Socialism offers a way of living that isn't dominated by profit, greed, exploitation, ever-increasing wasteful production, wasteful consumerism, and environmental damage. Socialism would make possible a really democratic running of society, where common ownership of the means of production and distribution would allow people to have actual democratic control over decisions and processes which affect us, our families and the social and natural environment.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.