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Vol. 81/No. 24      June 19, 2017

(front page, commentary)

Defense of nature, labor falls to the working class

To howls from liberal politicians and pundits and feigned disappointment from imperialist rivals in Europe, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement June 1.

Ratified by 147 governments, the stated aim of the accord is to cut carbon emissions — a by-product of burning fossil fuels. In reality the accord is a sham, allowing the capitalist owners of industry to continue polluting, while its signers turn their backs on the most basic needs of billions of people in electricity-poor semicolonial countries for electrification and industrial development.

Emissions controls are purely voluntary, with all targets for lowering them to be set up by the participating polluting regimes themselves. The effect of the U.S. pullout of a deal Barack Obama said was part of his “legacy” is likely to be negligible. Carbon emissions in the U.S. have been falling since 2005, in large part as a result of the bosses’ “fracking” boom producing natural gas, which yields fewer carbon emissions.

Nonetheless, the U.S. remains the world’s number one per capita producer of carbon emissions, by capitalist industries whose priorities are set by the drive to boost profits at all costs.

All the recent climate summits have been marked by imperialist trade rivalries and hypocritical efforts by Washington and European rulers to weaken competition from Beijing and New Delhi by pinning the blame for pollution on their growing populations. In the days after Washington’s withdrawal from the Paris accord, Beijing’s rulers sought to project themselves as the savior of the world, replacing Washington as a partner for the “more enlightened” imperialist rulers in the European Union.

Over the last five years, emissions in the U.S. have fallen by 270 million tons while Beijing’s have soared by 1.1 billion tons. Polluted air contributes to an estimated 1.6 million deaths in China each year. Liberals have used such statistics to argue “emerging nations” have to accept their second-class status and stop trying to industrialize, expand electrification and improve living conditions. The 1.35 billion people without electricity in the semicolonial world should learn to accept living without it.

But this is a key question for the working class. Gaining access to energy sources in electricity-poor countries is necessary in order to narrow the gap in the conditions of life and the political experience between working people in those countries and toilers in more industrially advanced countries.

Keen to tarnish Trump as the instigator of the earth’s imminent doom, Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris denounced the U.S. withdrawal from the accord as “catastrophic.” Claiming to be “restrained,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Washington’s decision was “highly regrettable.”

Trump’s decision “could set us on track for intensified floods, famines and storms, rising seas and mass migrations,” the less “restrained” editors of the Los Angeles Times said.

There is a decadeslong bourgeois hysteria campaign about imminent environmental catastrophe. If anything, it has ratcheted up a notch today because of the liberals’ drive to bring down the Trump administration at all costs. Liberals say Trump doesn’t care about science or the future and that he was elected by ignorant, selfish workers.

These campaigns are aimed at preventing working people “from recognizing the actual source of these threats to civilization; the capitalist mode of production,” says a statement adopted by the Socialist Workers Party 2007 convention, “The Stewardship of Nature Also Falls to the Working Class: In Defense of Land and Labor,” published in New International no. 14.

The accord left untouched the “cap and trade” shell game in carbon emissions. These schemes let businesses and governments buy and sell the “right” to pollute, providing a lucrative market for capitalist investors. The price of carbon credits has fallen 80 percent within the European Union since 2008, making it cheaper to pollute. A University of Southern California report last September said emissions had increased since the state government adopted a cap and trade program. And Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has now appointed himself as the unofficial U.S. emissary to Beijing to work with China’s capitalist rulers to lead the fight against pollution!

Trump demagogically claims withdrawal from the Paris agreement will boost manufacturing and mining jobs. But jobs will neither be “saved” nor “destroyed” by climate treaties. It is the ongoing worldwide contraction in capitalist production and trade that is the source of layoffs, something neither Trump nor any other capitalist politician has a solution to.

Politics today are marked by the fact workers are looking for ways to fight back against the bosses’ drive to put the burden of the growing crisis of their profit system on our backs, and to take on a government they increasingly see as their enemy.

“If we translate everything commonly thought of as an environmental issue into how to advance the protection of the working class, and how the working class can extend that protection to all, then we can hardly ever go wrong,” the SWP’s 2007 resolution explains.

To move forward, the working class must break from the crisis-ridden twin parties of capital — the Democrats and Republicans — and lead a fight for workers to take political power.  
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