Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) - Capitalism and Global Warming - Why Capitalism Is Destroying the Planet

Until the cause of a problem is pin-pointed and understood then a solution is not forthcoming. Scientists are saying that we are facing an environmental crisis because of climate change. Scientific papers are published showing the reality of global warming. However, none conclude that the cause of global warming is capitalism.

We are told by politicians and newspaper editorials that 'human-beings' are to blame, or it is the fault of individuals or rich countries or specific industries. Attention is diverted away from the capitalist cause.

No scientists are brave enough to tell the truth. And that is global warming is caused by capitalism. It is caused by a social system.

But what's the evidence for global warming and how do we know it's being caused by capitalism?

What is Capitalism?

We live in an integrated world-wide social system based upon commodity production and echange for profit.

On the one hand there is the capitalist class supported by its government, who own the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of everybody else.

Then there is the majority working class, the wealth creators, who are forced to work and are exploited in the productive process; a class who produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries.

This social system is known as capitalism for the very good reason that capitalists compete on the market to make a profit, reinvest their capital to make more profit and expand capital as an anti-social object in its own right.

Capitalist production has historically left a trail of environmental pollution, damage and despoliation. From the smoggy and polluted cities of the 19th and 20th centuries described by Frederich Engels and others, to deforestation, acid rain and carbon monoxide emission, the profit motive has created a polluted world undermining bio-diversity and environmental harmony.

The rapid climate change we are now seeing is caused by capitalism using oil, gas and coal for commodity production and exchange for profit. And the fossil fuel industries, who have long known about the capitalist cause of global warming, have paid journalists, some scientists, and free market institutes to deny reality. They have paid them not to tell the truth.

Individual capitalists under pressure of competition have not been interested in the environment. They invest capital in production and buying the ability of workers to work in order to make a profit. In the past the cost of pollution has been picked up by other capitalists. However, global warming has created an environmental crisis which conflicting nation states and their governments cannot agree to a solution. Capitalism, the cause of global warming, cannot mitigate the problem.

How do we know the world is getting warmer?

Our planet has been warming rapidly since the beginning of industrial capitalism.

The world is now about 1.2C warmer than it was in the 19th Century. The average temperature of the Earth's surface has risen by about 1.1C since 1850, some eighty years after Adam Smith wrote the WEALTH OF NATIONS claiming to show capitalism and the market to be harmonious and benign.

Furthermore, since the middle of the 19th Century, each of the last four decades has been warmer than any that preceded it.

These conclusions come from analyses of millions of measurements gathered in different parts of the world. The temperature readings are collected by weather stations on land, on ships and by satellites. Science shows the cause of global warming but does not name this cause.

Multiple independent teams of scientists have reached the same result - a spike in temperatures coinciding with the onset of industrial capitalism.

Scientists can reconstruct temperature fluctuations even further back in time. Tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments and corals all record a record of the past climate.

This places contemporary global-warming into some context. In fact, scientists estimate the Earth hasn't been this hot for about 125,000 years (BBC NEWS 13 October 2021 and 26 October 2021).

How do we know capitalism is responsible for global warming?

Greenhouse gases - which trap the Sun's heat - are the important link between temperature rise and human activities associated with capitalism. The most important is carbon dioxide (CO2), because of its abundance in the atmosphere.

Scientists can tell it's CO2 trapping the Sun's energy. Satellites show less heat from the Earth escaping into space at precisely the wavelengths at which CO2 absorbs radiated energy.

Burning fossil fuels and deforestation of the Amazon leads to the release of this greenhouse gas. These activities accelerated after the 19th Century and productive techniques associated with capitalism, notably the factory system, so it's no surprise that atmospheric CO2 increased over the same period.

The evidence of where this extra CO2 came from has been pin-pointed. The carbon produced by burning fossil fuels has a distinctive chemical signature. Tree rings and polar ice both record changes in atmospheric chemistry. When examined they show that carbon - specifically from fossil sources - has risen significantly since 1850.

Analysis shows that for 800,000 years, atmospheric CO2 did not rise above 300 parts per million (ppm). But since Industrial capitalism, the CO2 concentration has soared to its current level of nearly 420 ppm (BBC NEWS October26 2021).

Computer simulations, known as climate models, have been used to show what would have happened to temperatures without the massive amounts of greenhouse gases released by capitalist production, deforestation and the use of fossil fuels.

They reveal there would have been little global warming - and possibly some cooling - over the 20th and 21st Centuries, if only natural factors had been influencing the climate.

Only when human factors associated with commodity production and exchange for profit are introduced can the models explain increases in temperature.

Capitalism has caused global warming. Capitalism is causing global warming. And capitalism will continue to cause global warming until it is abolished and replaced by a social system which produces directly for social need instead of profit and takes into account the effect of production on the environment: socialism.

This is what the politicians want to deny. They all support capitalism and the interest of the capitalist class. They are swayed in their deliberations by multi billionaires who own the oil wells, the gas supplies, the coal mines, the fossil fuel industries and those who are cutting down the tees in the Amazon and other rain forests. They are powerful economic and political forces.

What impact is capitalism having on the planet?

The level of heating Earth has experienced already is predicted to cause significant changes to the world around us.

Already, people in poorer countries will suffer the most as they do not have the money to adapt to climate change. Many farms in developing countries already have to endure climates that are too hot and this will only get worse.

Worldwide, climate change is destroying livelihoods, infrastructure and communities, forcing people from their homes, towns and even countries. In 2016 alone, extreme weather-related disasters displaced around 23.5 million people. This does not include the people forced to leave their homes as a consequence of slow-onset environmental degradation, such as droughts, sea level rise and melting permafrost.

Bangladesh is on the frontline of these impacts. Scientists have estimated that some 18 million people in Bangladesh will be forced to move by rising sea levels by 2050

The impact of capitalism on global warming has led to climatic changes which have been observed and recorded by scientists. They include:

* The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melting rapidly
* The number of weather-related disasters has increased by a factor of five over 50 years
* Global sea levels rose 20cm in the last century and are still rising
* Since the 1800s, the oceans have become about 40% more acidic, affecting marine life
(BBC NEWS October26 2021).

The human cost will not only mean flooding of many coastal regions but increasing, drought, loss of food production, increased starvation and migration. It will mean conflict, violence and war.

Has not the past been warmer?

There have been several hot periods during the Earth's past.

Around 92 million years ago, for example, temperatures were so high that there were no polar ice caps and reptilian creatures lived as far North as the Canadian Artic.

That should not comfort anyone, however, because capitalism was not around. At times in the past, sea level was 25m higher than the present. A rise of 5-8m is considered enough to submerge most of the world’s coastal cities.

There is abundant evidence for mass extinctions of life during these periods. And climate models suggest that, at times, the tropics have become dead zones, too hot for most species to survive.

These fluctuations between hot and cold have been caused by a variety of phenomena, including the way the Earth wobbles as it orbits the Sun over long periods, volcanic eruptions and short-term climate cycles such as El Nino, a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

For many years, groups of so-called climate deniers, like the journalist Lord Lawson, and the free-marketeer Lord Monckton, have cast doubt on the scientific basis of global warming. They have sought to show capitalism fitting the spurious Adam Smith model of market harmony and self-adjustment when the reverse is true. They are just ideological shills, paid advocates of capitalist interests.

However, the majority of environmental scientists who publish regularly in peer-reviewed journals now agree on the current causes of climate change but refuse to draw attention to capitalism and commodity production and exchange for profit.

The latest IPPC report released in August 2021 said it "is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land".

However "humans" are in fact the capitalist class, a minority in society who have the largest carbon footprint by their excessive and wasteful consumption of wealth. The military are also a sector of large carbon consumption. Then there are the cars produced, the aircraft, shipping chemicals, processed foods and so on. These take place as a consequence of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. Harmful industrial processes like agriculture, fishing, logging, mining and so on are also contributory factors to global warming. When the UN refers to "human beings" they should be referring to the capitalist class.

For political reasons, the UN report will not say that capitalism that has caused global warming and if a solution for global warming exists it will not be found in the profit system. The UN report dare not conclude that the profit system should be politically and democratically replaced by world socialism, through the action of a socialist majority and not by political leadership. As Bob Dylan rightly sang in 'Subterranean Blues': "Don't follow leaders".

Politicians will not say that international rivalry is an impediment to solving global warming. They will not dare say that commodity production and exchange for profit is the cause of global warming. They will not say that profit interests are the driving consideration not meeting human need or the environment.

Socialism would not be impeded by the profit motive and capitalist growth. Common ownership of the means of production and distribution under democratic control would quickly phase out fossil fuel production and expand renewable energy systems, improve the energy performance of housing and decarbonise the world economy. In a society not divided by class and competing nation states, buildings, automobiles, transportation systems, industrial production processes would expand the availability of clean energy sources for zero emissions. The means of production will be moved to the poorer areas of the world to solve poverty and the negative effects of the environment. A global problem would be resolved by a global social system in which the principle driving force would be "from each according to their ability to each according to their needs".

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: |