Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) - Capitalism and Global Warming - Global Warming, Class Interest and Socialism

Capitalism Causes Global Warming

The governments of the world met in Glasgow at Cop26 in November 2021 to discuss the impact of global warming and what could be done about it. The conference was full of politicians fighting their own particular nationalist corner, environmental reformists unable to blame capitalism and well paid PR representatives of the fossil fuel industries and other commercial interests. Outside, groups like Extinction Rebellion took part in futile direct action gestures which only filled up the police cells.

We are told by scientists that the consequences of global warming are happening right now with heat waves in Canada and the US Pacific North West, rising sea levels, flooding in the Far East, melting ice caps and then there is the drought and potential "water wars". Brazil, for example is increasingly susceptible to drought, affecting the profits of its industries and agribusiness. A recent article on Brazil's water problems stated:

"The country with the most freshwater resources on the planet steadily lost 15% of its surface water since 1991. Gradual retreat in the Brazilian share of the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland, left water covering just one-quarter the area it did 30 years ago. And the data only went up to 2020 - before this year's drought that is Brazil's worst in nine decades"
(A P New 26 August 2021).

What was not discussed at Cop26 was the relationship between commodity production and exchange for profit and global warming. Capitalism, a global system based upon the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by a minority capitalist class to the exclusion of the rest of society was not questioned and held to account. Capitalism was not mentioned. It was invisible.

Global warming denialists among politicians, the media and capitalists still are a powerful force. Politicians, like President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, for example, reject any relationship between global warming and cutting down the rain forests. Economic growth cannot even be questioned. Researchers said the destruction of tropical primary forests in 2020 released 2.64 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2020, equal to the annual emissions of India or 570 million cars, more than double the number on the road in the United States (AL JAZEERA 31 March 2021). Follow the science not the politicians.

What can be done? Become socialists. Understand capitalism. Work towards the establishment of socialism. Only the establishment of socialism will get us out of this environmental mess.

Without understanding the capitalist cause of global warming, the actions of vested interests and the driving force of the profit motive and capital accumulation, a solution to the problem of environmental degradation will not be forthcoming. The only solution to global warming is a socialist one: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. And the socialist solution to global warming is last thing on the mind of the environmental groups, capitalists and their politicians at Cop26. Had world socialism been established twenty five years ago we would not now be in this perilous situation.

The Futility of Environmental Reformism

Global warming requires a global response which capitalism, broken up into numerous competing nation states, is incapable of securing. There are too many vested interests championed by their respective governments for a holistic solution to global warming to take place within the profit system. Nation states will not willingly carry out necessary changes to the way they carry out production and distribution if it means competitors steal a commercial advantage.

And then there are the interest groups. The fossil fuel industry, for example, funds free market institutes, pays lobbyists and has politicians in their pocket. The fossil fuel big five have spent €251m lobbying the EU since 2010 (GUARDIAN 24 10 2019). Some of the world's largest fossil fuel companies have lobbied the UK government to support a gas "compromise" ahead of the COP26 UN (CHANNEL 4 NEWS). And The American Petroleum Institute receives millions from oil companies - and works behinds the scenes to stall or weaken legislation (GUARDIAN July 19 2021).

According to the environmental pressure group DeSmog, the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free market institute populated by market fundamentalists, was revealed to have received funding from oil giant BP in a 2018. IEA director Mark Littlewood told an undercover reporter that the oil company uses access facilitated by the think tanks to press government ministers on issues ranging from environmental and safety standards to British tax rates. When contacted for comment, the IEA admitted it had received funding from BP every year since 1967
(https://www.desmog.com/institute-economic-affairs).

Another country pursuing rapid economic growth is China.. China now accounts for more than half of the world's coal-fired generation capacity. During 2020, coal-fired power rose nearly 2 percent in China while it receded nearly everywhere else. Economic growth demands energy and although renewable generation is rising in China it is not enough to keep up with electricity demand. Over the past five years that demand grew by nearly 1,900 Terra Watt per hour (TWh). China's National Development and Reform Commission NDRC authorized 15 coal mines to restart production across the Shanxi and Xinjiang regions in the north, amounting to about 44 million tons of coal delivery. Other mines are reopening elsewhere (Power Engineering International August 10 2021).

Cop26 will fail to deliver and the environmental reformers will have wasted their time while the capitalist class will still be making their profits from fossil fuels. Until private ownership of production and distribution is abolished politically and democratically by a socialist majority the devastating consequences of global warming will continue.

Oil Interests and the Capitalist Class

The capitalist class rarely articulate their own interests through the public media. They usually pay journalists and PR consultants to fight their corner. So it was with some surprise that the oil tycoon, Sir Ian Wood, was given space in the BBC NEWS (24th August 2021) to defend his class interests and the profit he, and similar capitalists, make from oil production.

What Sir Ian Wood did not say was that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions over the last three decades.

The Carbon Majors Report, from the Carbon Disclosure Project, found that just 25 of those companies are the source of more than half of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 - the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established.

The most polluting investor-owned companies on the list were ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron, while state-backed Saudi Aramco, China's coal industry and Russia's Gazprom have been the top three greenhouse gas emitters overall (INDEPENDENT 09 Jan 2018)

Sir Ian Wood argued against the claim made by environmentalists that the oil sector should be shut down. He ran the family-owned Wood Group - one of the world's most profitable oil supply companies - until his retirement as chief executive in 2006.

In an interview with BBC Scotland, he said:

"If we do that we will damage the environment. If we don't have our own oil and gas we'll have to import it because we just don't have any other resources. And if we import it we'll have more potent gas and we'll do more damage to the environment - it would be, frankly, absolutely crazy. It would be detrimental, environmentally.

Predictably he said that shutting down the oil fields would result in loss of jobs.

"Right now there's 71,000 jobs in oil and gas in Scotland. And if they went out there quickly then these jobs would go".

Choice of fuel and fuel production is not taken democratically and in the interest of all society. Choice of fuel is about costs, markets, and cheap commodities. The choice fuel is the market not environmental considerations.

Appealing to workers in the oil and gas industry is an often used tactic to gain support from sections of the working class. However if the oil and gas industry were unprofitable and losing out to alternative energy sources, the likes of Sir Ian Woods would have no hesitation in sacking these workers and investing their capital elsewhere. Employers have no interest in their workers except when not is profitable to do so.

Workers have their own class interest: the establishment of socialism

Workers should have no loyalty to their employers or the industry they work in. They have their own interests to pursue which are diametrically opposite to those of Sir Ian Wood and his class. Workers are not tied to the interest of the capitalist class. Workers have an interest in struggling for higher pay and better working conditions; a struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. It is irrelevant who employs them.

And workers are exploited whether in the Fossil fuel industry, the energy renewable industry by the likes of Sir Ian Wood or owners of so called 'green companies' producing wind farms, solar panels and heat pumps.

Workers are forced to sell their ability to work for a wage or salary. The working class produce more social wealth than they receive in their pay packets. They produce, what Marx called, "surplus value". Surplus value is parasitically lived on by Sir Ian Wood and his class in the form of the unearned income of rent, interest and industrial profit. The only interest Sir Ian and his class have for the workers they employ is how much profit they can extract from them.

Workers are not just unthinking hands. Socialists are members of the working class. And we see that the problems facing our class and the world we live in is about having control over our lives free from the dictate of employers like Sir Ian Wood and his class. It is a struggle to abolish employment, labour markets, the wages system and class exploitation.

Socialism is the only social system that can address the global environmental problems created by capitalism. By removing private property ownership and the profit motive, production and distribution can be balanced against environmental considerations and directly meeting human need.

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