Stewardship of land and labor falls to the working class

By Brian Williams
September 6, 2021
Malcolm Jarrett, then SWP vice president candidate and currently SWP candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh, speaks at July 30, 2019, Allegheny County Health Department hearing, says workers need to fight for control of production to stop U.S. Steel plant poisoning workers, community.
Militant/Tony LaneMalcolm Jarrett, then SWP vice president candidate and currently SWP candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh, speaks at July 30, 2019, Allegheny County Health Department hearing, says workers need to fight for control of production to stop U.S. Steel plant poisoning workers, community.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released its sixth assessment report, provoking renewed hysteria in the capitalist media and among liberal “Green New Deal” proponents that environmental disaster confronts us all today.

The report is “code red for humanity,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres declared, calling for an end to the burning of fossil fuels. It forecasts a “potentially catastrophic future,” predicts the New York Times.

“Human-induced climate change,” the report asserts, is evidenced by “extremes such as heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones.”

But despite prophecies of impending doom, much in the 4,000-page report shows a different picture, that disaster isn’t at our doorstep.

Utterly absent from the U.N.’s findings is any road for how the working class — the only progressive class on earth — can respond to this issue, nor any scientific explanation of the causes of environmental destruction. It is the dog-eat-dog competition for markets and profit that drives the ruling capitalist families to mercilessly exploit all the forces of production, our labor and the world’s natural resources, with no regard for the consequences for future generations.

The questions under discussion are important for working people. “How social labor is organized to transform nature — to whose benefit, to what social and economic ends — depends on the class relations of production. It depends on which class rules, which class holds state power,” says the Socialist Workers Party resolution “The Stewardship of Nature also Falls to the Working Class: In Defense of Land and Labor,” adopted in 2007. (See New International no. 14.)

“Global warming” is blamed by liberals and middle-class radicals for every disaster from forest fires, like those ravaging California, Oregon, Greece and elsewhere today, to hurricanes, earthquakes and more.

But wildfires don’t just happen, they require both tinder and sparks. The real cause of social catastrophes like the Dixie and other fires in California is the refusal of both the government and power companies like Pacific Gas & Electric to take responsibility and to act as stewards of the land. They fail to keep the ground clear of debris and dead plants, to remove fallen trees, and repair and upgrade electric transmission lines and towers. They refuse because to do so would cut into the bosses’ profits.

Similarly, increased death and destruction from flooding fall in starkly different ways on different social classes under capitalism. “Throughout most of the world,” states the SWP resolution, “the poorest layers of the rural and urban populations live on or near flood plains, either to scrape out a living or because better-protected areas are reserved for the propertied classes.”

The U.N. report itself admits that floods are not primarily caused by climate change. In fact, a recent study of more than 10,000 rivers around world shows that most rivers now flood less frequently than in decades earlier, reported the Wall Street Journal Aug. 6.

The Journal wrote it had data “from all climate-related weather disasters such as floods, droughts, storms and fires from the International Disaster Database.” Its conclusion? “In the 1920s these disasters killed almost half a million people on average each year. The current climate narrative would suggest that natural disasters are ever deadlier, but that isn’t true. Over the past century, climate-related deaths have dropped to fewer than 20,000 on average each year, even though the global population has quadrupled since 1920.”

The U.N. climate report says the rate of global sea-level rise has been increasing over the past 50 years. But it doesn’t mention the fact that it was increasing almost as rapidly 90 years ago, then decreased strongly for 40 years. The report also asserts that heat waves across the U.S. have become more frequent since 1960, but at the same time it admits that they’re not more common today than they were in 1900.

Recent reports show some significant progress has been made, especially since governments worldwide banned chlorofluorocarbons in 1987. The move has been more successful than predicted, as the ozone layer has increased in size and carbon dioxide levels cut sharply.

Of course, chemical alternatives were cheaply available to replace the offending ones in air conditioners and other devices, leading to less complaints from profit-driven bosses.

Liberals and others insisting drastic measures are needed argue that the most extreme recommendations in the report rest on more far-reaching and scientific evidence than previous reports. In fact, they are based not on facts, but on computer models that simulate climate changes.

Models on global warming, for example, don’t explain why rapid global warming occurred from 1910 to 1940 when human influences on the climate were much less. The U.N. climate report also has to acknowledge that real-world warming — up 1.1 degrees Celsius in the past 150 years — has been less than projected in previous climate models reports.

Meanwhile, insurance companies are reaping big bucks from predictions of doom and gloom from the climate “modellers.” They’re selling high premium coverage to individuals, families and even to insure other insurance companies for when climate “catastrophe” strikes.

‘A class question’

“Environmental pollution is a social question, a class question,” Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes wrote in Capitalism’s World Disorder. “Workers must not fall into accepting the common view — that is, the bourgeois view — that the environment … is a ‘scientific’ question, a ‘natural’ question, that somehow hovers above classes and outside the class struggle.”

“The working class must also reject all forms of fake science, exaggerations, catastrophism, and crankism,” he said. “[I]f 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 projection to all, then we can hardly ever go wrong. With that approach, we will increase the possibilities for concrete solidarity in fighting against ecological abuses and outrages.”

The latest climate report will be at the center of discussion among those attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, later this year. It will provide a platform for liberal capitalist politicians who blame working people as the source of the problem. “It’s human beings who are adding the greatest amount of fuel to the fire,” John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s envoy for climate, scolded in an interview in the Aug. 3 New Yorker.

“The propertied ruling families,” the SWP resolution says, “try to prevent us from recognizing the actual source of these threats to civilization: the capitalist mode of production, the world imperialist order, and the enormous wealth and power the rulers wring from nature and the exploited producers.”

The conquest of power by workers and farmers is “the only road to peace and the effective defense of labor and of the earth’s land, waters, and atmosphere. Concrete gains for working people can and will be won as byproducts along that road of revolutionary struggle.”