The global environmental crisis may seem abstract to some unless they’re fleeing deadly fires or ferocious storms. These disasters appear to be local and can be hard to connect to each other.
But scientists worldwide, in overwhelming numbers, say that fossil fuel use and other unregulated industrial production are causing disastrous, intensifying global heating, deforestation and pollution. Millions of species have been eradicated and human settlement has come too close to wild animal populations. The worldwide spread of Covid-19 is just the latest result of all this.
The crisis is existential, and urgent. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2018 that we had only about 12 years to contain global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, in order to avoid the most catastrophic harm. This was a call for dramatic change.
Millions of people worldwide have mobilized around this issue, including a series of Global Climate Strikes in 2019 that more than 6 million people joined. Yet government action has been minimal, and the greenhouse gases that drive climate change continue to rise. The question we must answer is how to achieve the action that people want and need? How do we win our way through to the solutions that the situation demands?
“Green” capitalism? The environmental movement has mostly focused on fighting fossil fuels and building sustainable energy. Large companies, even in the most polluting industries, spend serious advertising money promoting their “green” initiatives. And because capitalists have found that green energy can be profitable, they are pouring trillions of dollars into it, with leaders of major environmental groups such as 350.org and the Sierra Club as cheerleaders. There is so much more that needs to be done, and fast.
The recent film Planet of the Humans (see August 2020 Freedom Socialist review) correctly describes the crisis and the fact that current green energy solutions (biomass, solar, wind) require as much planetary damage to produce them as the benefits they deliver.
In fact, depletion of natural resources and rising greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. One example is that the rate of tree cover loss was 2.8% higher in 2019 than 2018, the equivalent of a football field every 6 seconds for the entire year. Among other things, trees absorb and store carbon dioxide, and when forests are razed, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rise.
This ruin of the planet is baked into the laws of capitalism. The system is fundamentally anarchistic, needing constant growth and placing profit over all. It dominates nature and ignores social costs. The damage to the planet since the beginning of industrialization is the result of the capitalist economic system. Expecting the beneficiaries of the same system that got us into this mess to get us out of it is irrational.
Ecosocialism — the practical solution. While Planet of the Humans does a good job of describing the urgency of the problem and suggesting that capitalism might be an “issue,” it proposes no concrete solutions. It suggests that all technology is bad. And it makes disturbingly vague comments on the problem of overpopulation without addressing racist arguments that scapegoat people of color and poor countries for it.
In Ecosocialism: The solution for survival on planet Earth, Steve Hoffman outlines the Freedom Socialist Party’s clear, ambitious, and necessary plan to make the transition. Socialism puts the ownership of industries and nature’s resources in public hands, removing the profit motive completely. Workers of all types — production, technical, and scientific — democratically control all aspects of making and delivering goods and services for human needs. Gone is the chaos, over-production and spectacular waste of the capitalist economy. We no longer need to hope “the market” will reach high enough profitability for change to happen.
In a human needs centered socialist economy, environmental racism can be eradicated because people of color have led the movement for change. Shutting down and cleaning up toxic production and storage facilities can be prioritized, workers transferred to safe jobs, and families gain access to fantastic housing and schools. And with full economic and social power for all, women gain control over their own reproduction, which has been shown to reduce family sizes.
The energy industry must be nationalized first, to transition quickly from destructive forms of energy. The fossil fuel and mining industries lurk behind even “sustainable” energy, such as shoddy solar planned obsolescence and continuing reliance on polluting forms of backup energy. Until we remove profit from energy production, we won’t be able to select the right technologies, but in a socialist economy we have the power to make the best choices.
All sectors of the transportation industry — autos, airlines, and railroads — must be nationalized, and integrated transportation systems designed to eliminate the need for individual transport and enable cities and towns to be redesigned.
Capitalism consumes so much energy for wasteful purposes that it is difficult to know what the real need is. An example is the military. The U.S. military alone is the largest user of petroleum products in the world. In addition to stopping its murderous exploits, shutting it down would make a noticeable dent in greenhouse gas emissions.
We must begin massive reforestation immediately. Deforestation is the second largest contributor to global warming and also has the effect of releasing nature’s pathogens to society. We must transition away from industrial farming such as monoculture crop production and unregulated raising of animals for slaughter. These are the primary drivers of deforestation.
A planet to save. The problems we face are urgent, difficult and complex, and we will not change them by falling back on the past. It will take a united effort of working people, indigenous communities, and the young leaders of today’s environmental movement. While many argue that we don’t have time to wait for a socialist revolution, it is not an either-or proposition. We must fight for reforms while building for the only realistic solution. We don’t have time to delay. Our house is literally burning down.
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