As global temperatures rise, so does the need for revolution

Young people are angry about the climate crisis. Melbourne protest as part of the School Strike 4 Climate in 2023. Photo by Alison Thorne.
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“We cannot afford to wait any longer. We are already taking action, but we have to do more and we have to do it quickly,” said Celeste Saulo, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation in a recent statement. In the same statement, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Humanity’s actions are scorching the Earth. 2023 was a mere preview of the catastrophic future that awaits if we don’t act now. We must respond to record-breaking temperature rises with path-breaking action.” On face value, it’s hard to disagree with either assessment, except for one thing. They refer to the symptoms of the climate emergency, not its cause.

Still, it’s worth reviewing those symptoms.

New research by scientists at the University of Queensland has found that three to five billion people — up to two-thirds of the world’s population — will be affected by projected rainfall changes by the end of the century, unless the world rapidly ramps up emissions reduction efforts.

Every day last year was one degree Celsius above the global average for that same day in the pre-industrial era. Half were 1.5°C above the corresponding average, and two whole months — August and September — were the hottest on record. Both land and ocean temperatures were the hottest in the 174 years of available data. The hottest ten years on record were the last ten years.

The latest CSIRO report shows that Australia’s climate has warmed by an average of 1.47 °C since national records began in 1910. Sea surface temperatures have increased by an average of 1.05 °C since 1900. Rainfall in the north of the continent has increased since the 1970s, while that in much of the south has decreased. Record-breaking floods and bushfires are becoming more frequent, leading to what the UN generally refers to as “internally displaced persons” — climate refugees. Many communities face the threat of devastation. This reflects the situation in parts of the world, where coastal, island and riverine communities are being ravaged by the intensifying climate crisis.

More than 550 of our native animals in Australia are at risk of being lost, pushed toward the brink of extinction by climate change and associated effects such as habitat destruction, catastrophic fires, invasive exotic species and a parallel decline in native plant communities.

This litany of dire news is made worse by a prediction from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service that, because the global temperature effects of El Niño always lag behind its peak, there is a “reasonable probability” that 2024 could surpass the 1.5° C “target” set by the 2015 UN Paris Agreement.

Returning to the ineffectual, if well-meaning, laments by Saulo and Guterres, here’s the thing: something happened to trigger the crisis, some 200 years ago. It was not the Industrial Revolution itself, because that has led to many advances for humanity as a whole. It was the rapacious, unplanned, brutal political ideology which drove the implementation of the modernisation of the global economy.

A meaningful response to the climate crisis begins with naming and understanding its roots. This name is capitalism. Karl Marx showed that capitalism not only robs working people of the true value of their labour and alienates them from the land, it robs the soil of its nutrients. His point was that the tendency of capitalism to destroy the natural environment in the drive for profits and the pursuit of endless expansion is, as we would now say, unsustainable.

Marx’s insight leads to the clear conclusion that only the end of capitalism will lead to the mitigation and reversal of the ecological (and so economic) crisis that faces humanity.

When we see the state of things, one cannot help but be saddened and angered by what has been done to our planet and its peoples. To paraphrase Marx, the task is to go beyond interpreting the world — the point is to change it!

What’s needed is a mass ecosocialist movement, led by revolutionary organisers, to lift the dead hand of capitalism from the earth and build the foundations for a healed planet and a bright future.

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