“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,” explains Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes in the book Capitalism’s World Disorder. “With that approach, we will increase the possibilities for concrete solidarity in fighting against ecological abuses and outrages.”
For liberal capitalist politicians and the middle-class left the opposite is true. They whip up dreaded predictions of the planet’s imminent destruction, claiming the crisis is so immense it overrides the class divisions that exist. They seek to prevent working people from understanding that the capitalist system is the source of environmental destruction and that the working class is the only force capable of waging a successful struggle to end the rulers’ pollution of the earth and its atmosphere.
Their views were ballyhooed when over a million schoolchildren from more than 150 countries took off school — aided greatly by their teachers, parents and local liberal governments — to express opposition to “climate change” Sept. 20.
The actions were organized to lobby the United Nations Summit on Climate Change taking place in New York three days later, where some governments echoed the claims of disaster and made empty calls for cuts in carbon emissions. The event had nothing to do with addressing the damage done to the environment by the capitalist classes’ profit drive and their plunder of the sources of all wealth — land and labor.
Heads of state from over 60 countries attended the summit to advertise steps they have made to implement nonbinding pledges trumpeted at the 2015 Paris summit. The meeting was also a forum for rival powers to vie for business advantage.
Teenage “climate activist” Greta Thunberg — who is being touted for the Nobel Peace Prize — claimed, “We are at the beginning of a mass extinction.” Those who failed to act on her prophecies were “evil” people, she said. Her remarks echoed those she made earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where she said, “I want you to panic.”
The day of the protests, the New York Times ran a lengthy op-ed by former Democratic Vice President Al Gore rife with similar catastrophism. He said the human race can only “avoid truly catastrophic, civilization-ending consequences if we act quickly.”
Do workers have to sacrifice?
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the only world leaders who would be permitted to speak would be those ready to present significant new initiatives by their government to cut carbon emissions. But the speakers’ list put the lie to that claim as not a single obligatory measure was adopted at the event.
Almost all the proposals bandied about amounted to one thing — working people have to sacrifice to save the world. Give up your car, no more air travel, only plant-based food at McDonald’s, and the like.
Guterres demanded no new coal plants be built worldwide after 2020. Another U.N. official told countries in Africa “not to get into coal.”
Calls to restrict which kinds of energy sources can be built by governments in the semicolonial world, countries whose development was stunted and distorted by colonial exploitation, amount to a demand that the 840 million people who live without electricity continue to go without. Close to 600 million of those live in rural Africa.
The role of such catastrophism is the maintenance of capitalist rule, Jack Barnes explains in an SWP statement in New International no. 14 entitled, “The Stewardship of Nature Also Falls to the Working Class.”
The propertied ruling families try to disguise the real threat to civilization and the environment, “the capitalist mode of production, the world imperialist order, and the enormous wealth and power the rulers wring from nature and the exploited producers,” he says.
Their aim is to instill fear and paralysis among working people, the better to rationalize sacrifices.
Bezos has his own answer
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, one of the world’s biggest companies, issued a “climate pledge” the day before the protests. He boasts Amazon will have net zero carbon emissions by 2040. But Bezos is not banking on this being sufficient to save the planet and is planning his escape from the rest of the human race with a select few who can afford to join him. He’s investing in a project to shuttle cargo and people to the moon. He claims space will need to be colonized as population growth and energy consumption on the earth are “too high.”
These forces utterly disregard the possibility of scientific advance. For decades those who promoted the fallacy of overpopulation — which denied any road to increase food production — used it to deflect responsibility for hunger, malnutrition, unemployment and poverty from the system of capitalist exploitation onto the world’s toiling majority, who the rulers deem to “procreate too rapidly.”
“Science and technology,” Barnes says in the SWP statement, “has established the knowledge and means to lessen the burdens and dangers of work, to advance the quality of life, and to conserve and improve the earth’s patrimony.”
“But under capitalism,” he points out, “this liberating potential is turned into its opposite.” The propertied rulers’ pollution of the earth’s atmosphere “is part of the price the toilers pay for the inevitably increasing world disorder of imperialism.”
A working-class road forward
As SWP candidates join workers’ picket lines and other protests, they say workers and their allies can map out a class-struggle road against the capitalist rulers despoliation of land and labor. They urge workers to break with the twin parties of capital — the Democrats and Republicans — and form their own party to speak and act in the interests of working people here and abroad.
Workers need to organize and fight, to build unions to fight for workers control of production in factories, mines and energy monopolies, to protect those on the job and more broadly from the ravages produced by the dog-eat-dog capitalist system. This includes the fight to control emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases and other steps to prevent the fouling of the air, water and soil.
Such a course points in the opposite direction to middle-class hysteria and dependence on the capitalist rulers and their institutions, like the U.N. It advances the fight to put an end to the rule of the capitalist class — the source of all environmental destruction.