Brutal heat calls for a system change

The 21 hottest days globally (since daily records began in 1940) were in July 2023 (Source: Copernicus EU climate agency). July was the hottest month since record keeping began in 1880. (Source: NASA). Shown above: A group of kids in New York City adapt to the inescapable heat. PHOTO: Shutterstock
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July 2023 was the hottest month globally since record keeping began in 1880 according to NASA. It was also the fourth straight month of record-breaking worldwide ocean surface temperatures. The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reported that August was the second hottest month after July. It called sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic “truly unprecedented.”

Along with every other credible institution studying the planet’s climate, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that, “It is unequivocal that human activity is causing climate change.” Global warming is real. There is a planetary climate emergency.

Yet still there are those who campaign to convince us to disbelieve our own lived experiences. They aim to continue capitalist business as usual. But to persist with an economic system that is on track to wreck our civilizations — and the ecosystems that sustain them — is surely a definition of madness.

A wakeup call. The list of flash points in this growing, global emergency this summer alone is grim. There were vast wildfires across Canada. Greece suffered the European Union’s largest single recorded fire. There were record high land temperatures across the northern hemisphere on every continent. Record high sea temperatures included the “hot tub” measurement of 101.1°F (38.4°C) in Manatee Bay, Florida. The southwestern U.S. saw record drought while the Northeast suffered severe flooding. Latin America had record-breaking temperatures during the Southern Hemisphere winter. Australia recorded its highest July average temperature since comparable records began. Temperatures beyond 37.8°C (100°F) have been recorded north of the Arctic Circle, and Antarctic sea ice extent is at a record low for the Southern winter.

Millions of people face displacement, as island, coastal and floodplain communities disappear into rising waters. Water and food supplies are in jeopardy on every continent and every ecosystem on the planet faces disruption.

Systemic action urgent. The planet-wide crisis demands an organized, communal response, but capitalism by its very nature promotes competition and chaos. All societies now need major adaptation and mitigation strategies to deal with climate disruption. These actions must be systemic: they must address the root cause of the disaster. Only a planned economy based on publicly-owned and controlled property can mobilize society on the scale necessary.

To quote Steve Hoffman in Ecosocialism: The solution for survival on planet Earth, “What’s needed is revolution … a total restructuring of society … humanity internationally  does not have time to beat around the bush. Socialism is the answer and we need to get on with it.”

Individual actions like recycling more household waste and buying locally sourced food are positive, but far from enough.

While we build the revolutionary movement, activists can pressure capitalist governments and corporations to take action to slow down the pace of climate change. Governments could mandate a rapid shutdown of the fossil fuel industry, coupled with a massive expansion of renewable energy. Corporations could cease making things that are engineered to fail. Why shouldn’t a fridge or a car be something that lasts a lifetime?

How to fund this? Tax corporations — many of which contribute precisely nothing to the public purse. Use some of these funds to reverse the centuries-long flow of wealth from poorer regions to the capitalist heartlands. Every community must have the resources to face the challenges of the next decades.

But governments and corporations will not act out of social responsibility. It will be necessary to force, and as soon as possible, replace them. And there’s only one way to do that: mass action, in the streets and workplaces.

Resist the backlash. Governments everywhere are enacting laws to criminalize environmental protest. In many Australian states, for example, conservation groups are now treated like drug-dealing gangs and face jail for simply blocking roads to fracking or logging sites. In the U.S., 42 anti-protest laws are in force in 21 states.

There’s one very obvious response to this authoritarianism: build a mass, radical, pro-environment and anti-capitalist movement that’s too big and too damn determined for governments to crush. A mass movement will encourage and support the younger generations and the Indigenous communities that so often are in the front lines of push-back against rapacious development and the ravages of a rapidly warming climate.

Many people now living face the near certainty of mass displacement, social breakdown, pandemics and starvation if there is not enough mitigation of the global climate emergency. Despite the fine words contained in U.N. resolutions, and greenwashing of the completely unsustainable economic system, human society must rapidly come to terms with a new environmental reality.

There is no reason for despair. Doomsayers are just as dangerous as deniers, as far as taking action to take back our planet from the forces now wrecking it.

We are equipped with diverse tool sets and millennia of development and evolution. We need to and can take control of the powerful technologies that we have built and use them for our collective benefit.

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