Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) - Capitalism and Global Warming - Capitalism and Global Warming

Climate Crisis, Scientists and Socialism

Scientists tend to believe that they operate to provide factual information to political leaders to make wise decisions on behalf of all society. This is a view recently put forward by two scientists, Clare Wordley and Charlie Gardner (We scientists must fight for our world, GUARDIAN 6th September 2019). This is the assumption being increasingly questioned by scientists themselves.

Wordley and Gardner wrote:

"For decades, conservation scientists like us have been telling the world that species and ecosystems are disappearing and their loss will have devastating impacts on humanity. Meanwhile climate scientists have been warning that the continued burning of fossil fuels and destruction of natural carbon sinks, such as forests and peat lands, will lead to catastrophic planetary heating"

They went on:

"We have collectively written tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers, and shared our findings with policymakers and the public. And, on the face of it, we seem to have done a pretty good job: after all, we all know about the environmental and climate crises, don't we?"

And they conclude

"But while we're well informed, we haven't actually changed course. Biodiversity loss proceeds apace - a million species face instinction in the coming decades - and we continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere at ever faster rates. We have emitted more greenhouse gases since 1990, in full awareness of its impacts, than we ever did in ignorance. It seems that knowledge alone cannot trigger the radical global changes we so urgently need".

The two scientists believe that the only course of action is to join extinction rebellion and take part in civil disobedience, citing The Suffragettes, Ghandi, and the US Civil Rights Movement as successful examples to follow. Socialists disagree. These were localised movements which did not substantially threaten the interest of capitalist firms competing to make a profit. Making capitalists less competitive does threaten economic interests. And it will be resisted politically and by the State.

Marx put it this way:

"In the domain of Political Economy, free scientific inquiry meets not merely the same enemies as in all other domains. The peculiar nature of the materials it deals with, summons as foes into the field of battle the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the human breast, the Furies of private interest. The English Established Church, e.g., will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39 of its income. Now-a-days atheism is culpa levis [a relatively slight sin, c.f. mortal sin], as compared with criticism of existing property relations" (CAPITAL, VOL. 1, Preface to the First Edition, p. 92).

As the scientists admit, the lobbyists and the corporations have their own economic interests. The lobbyists for fossil-fuel industries have far greater access to politicians and governments than scientists and supporters of extinction rebellion. In 2018, oil and gas lobbyists alone spent more than $125 (£100m) lobbying politicians in the US. Corporations also finance free market institutes like the Institute of Economic Affairs who deny climate change in pamphlets which are then lazily and uncritically reproduced in the media.

Capitalist firms will continue using fossil fuels like coal and gas and they will be supported by their respective governments to further reduce these costs by subsidies. Governments by themselves will not force onto businesses higher energy costs which will undermine their competitive effectiveness on the world market. If all capitalist countries were to penalise fossil fuel use and heavily subsidise renewable energy then the situation might change.

African countries are supposed to be looking at solar energy but while wealthy nations advocate renewables at home, 60% of aid to African energy projects went on fossil fuels (GUARDIAN July 23rd 2019). Africa has considerable fossil fuel resources and wants to use them to improve energy access and increase economic growth (Fossil Fuels dominate African Energy Investment DW.com 4th September 2018)

Yet, can a global agreement regarding the climate crisis ever be reached? Here is a pessimistic pronouncement from the United Nations:

"Many Asian countries' existing and expanding dependence on coal power is undermining international efforts to fight greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the world on course to see catastrophic impacts from the worsening climate crisis, the United Nations has warned.

Amid surges in demand for electricity, countries including India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam are accelerating their move to cheap coal power. While some of these nations are also upping the quantity of renewable energy in the mix, its total share for power generation remains inadequate.

Asian countries must set more ambitious goals to contribute to global efforts to curb climate change, said Ovais Sarmad, the deputy executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. "There are certain countries in this region still relying heavily on coal and fossil fuels as sources of energy, and in some areas that is growing
" (H. Cockburn, INDEPENDENT 7 September 2019).

It is doubtful if Asian countries will set "ambitious goals" because they exist in a world capitalist system of fierce competition. "The Furies of private interest" have done a very good job. Climate change deniers have produced an "anti-science" which has many believers who want to carry on as though nothing has changed.

Capitalists would rather endanger the planet rather than have their profit-making threatened. The general public might be more aware of the problem of global warming and attacks on the bio-sphere but workers still cling to the consumer fantasy world that capitalism advertiser's project with its mantra "I, I, I", "me, me, me" and "I want, I want, I want". The politics of this anti-science is lies and falsehood instead of truth, faith in political charlatans instead of evidence and ignorance in place of scientific method.

If scientists have wasted 30 years or more trying to explain their science to politicians what chance has extinction rebellion. Environmental pressure groups all accept the capitalist cause of ecological problems while revolutionary socialist change is never on the agenda.

What will joining extinction rebellion achieve?

What will joining extinction rebellion achieve? Not a lot.

The reality is that we live in a class-divided world where a small minority own the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the majority. The profit motive is primary. Furthermore the world is divided into competing nation states with their own interests.

While this state of affairs continues to exist there will be no effective way of resolving the environmental crisis.

In their book "THIS IS NOT A DRILL" (2019), extinction rebellion accepts that there is a capitalist class (they call them the 1 per cent, p. 5). They refer to the destructive power of capitalism as "a war against the planet" (p. 5). But they reject a socialist political programme to replace capitalism believing:

"...it is a moral imperative to rebel against a system that is driving extinction, exterminating species and cultures" (p 7).

Yet changing "hearts and minds" is not enough. Not only must awareness of capitalism be a political awareness but it also means taking political action as socialists. Democratic political action is necessary to gain control of the means of production; to take away ownership from the capitalist class and then be in a position to formulate the necessary steps to stop the widespread use of environmental pollution, and to protect the biosphere, including protecting the rainforests, coral reefs and wild life species. As a socialist movement it has to be a political imperative undertaken by socialists not a moral one.

But extinction rebellion does not have the political means to effect the necessary radical and revolutionary change. Their web site states:

"Over the last 40 years (representative) government has proved itself incapable of making the long-term policy decisions needed to deal effectively with the climate and ecological emergency"

Have they asked themselves why? They half admit the answer when they state that politicians and governments "are lobbied by powerful corporations". What they will not admit is that those politicians exist to serve the interests of the capitalist class and that the government, to quote Marx, is the "executive of the bourgeoisie" (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).

Extinction Rebellion thinks only a small number of committed activists are required for a tipping point to occur; that a citizens’ assembly can prevent the lobbyists and corporations from gaining the ear of politicians. For they forget who politicians and governments serve. What if the "citizens' assembly" imposed constraints on British companies and corporations making them less competitive with other countries not constrained by environmental edicts? What if a non-socialist citizens' assembly agreed with the corporations? The strategy pursued by extinction rebellion is hollow and naive; much like the anti-capitalist occupy movement of a few years ago.

The Urgent Need for Socialism

What is required as a matter of urgency is for the means of production and distribution to be held in common by the world's population under democratic control so that production would not be as now, primarily for profit. Only then could we ensure that environmental issues are treated with the importance the scientists agree is needed.

Capitalism has to be abolished and replaced by socialism. The scientists and supporters of extinction rebellion might not like to be told this. Far easier to protest but protesting against entrenched economic interests changes nothing. It becomes part of the problem.

Without the existence of nation states, renewable energy like solar and wind turbine farms can tap into the energy of the sun and wind unrestricted by artificial geographical constraints. With the abolition of capitalism, the waste associated with the profit system's food production, war, commerce, advertising, political bureaucracy and business travel would also disappear. The rain forests and the seas would be protected as a global resource held in common and would no longer be at the mercy of politicians, influenced by lobbyists, and logging companies and farmers, all motivated by profit.

Only socialism will be in the position to place great weight on decarbonised production processes based on renewable energy, recycling technologies, biodiversity, stock replenishment, sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices and other areas necessary for a balance between production directly for social use and the environment. Already there exist tried and tested eco-buildings, passivhaus and zero carbon houses in a construction sector which is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The technologies developed in this form of eco-construction would be useful to a socialist society. Socialism would not start from scratch but develop and utilise existing sciences and technologies.

Socialism will be technologically "innovate" for the benefit of all society without the constraints of profit-making, competition, markets, buying and selling and class exploitation. Socialist production will ensure sufficient quality housing, food, transportation, communication, health and so on is provided to all the earth's inhabitants, but still balance our ecological inputs and outputs. Scientific evidence and reason will prevail instead of sectarian economic interests and ignorance.

Before climate change and other environmental problems can be addressed effectively there first has to be socialism. And socialism established democratically and politically by a socialist majority. Nothing short of this will do.

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: enquiries@socialiststudies.org.uk | www.socialiststudies.org.uk