Capitalism is putting our planet under immense stress. As the climate crisis escalates, ordinary people are being forced to pay the price of corporate greed in the form of climate migration. The shift in climate is leading to ever-more extreme and devastating disasters. The catastrophe is impacting millions of lives with people displaced from their homes in parts of the U.S., in Central and South America and in Asia. This situation is only going to worsen so long as profit exists. The frightening reality is that the ruling class is willing to risk the planet and all who live here for their material privileges, profits and power. As climate change continues to show its destructive might — with ice sheets melting and entire islands submerging into the sea — we are faced with the threat of a world more unjust and more barbaric under capitalism.
The concept of a “climate refugee” is a relatively new phenomenon. It refers to people who have been forced to leave their homes — either temporarily or permanently — because of environmental disruption, jeopardising their existence and severely affecting their quality of life. Perhaps the most shocking example of this is the destruction in rural Bangladesh, where people are forced to flee their homes and escape to neighbouring countries or relocate to big cities.
The South Asian country is situated on the Ganges River delta — the world’s largest delta — and is considered to be one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is the ninth largest and seventh most densely populated city in the world. It is also now one of the fastest-growing, with a population of over 23 million people expected to increase by more than 3% in the coming year. It is no coincidence that growing climate devastation has coincided with an increase in the population in the country’s urban areas.
In Bangladesh, millions of people are being forced to flee rural areas. Coastal flooding is occurring more frequently, destroying crops and rice fields that sustain villagers. Saline water continues to push further inland. Dangerous storms have demolished homes and, in some cases, entire towns.
A heavy burden on women. Inside the densely populated and overcrowded slums in the capital, one young woman describes being forced to flee from the regional area of Rangabali with her family. “We did some farming — watermelon, lentils and chillies,” she says, “but the flood washed everything away.” They had no choice but to move to Dhaka. The lack of agricultural job security and the difficulty making a living through farming has left many desolate, unemployed and unable to provide for their families. In Bangladesh, desperate families impacted by disasters caused by climate change turn to marrying off their daughters at the age of 16 or even younger. Others force their sons to work as child labourers. Research has shown increased rates of child marriage in rural areas affected by climate-related disasters.
This situation has had a particularly catastrophic effect on women, who are not only burdened by domestic labour, but struggle to provide for their families when their husbands or brothers abandon them. Flooding and similar disasters take a terrible toll on the health and well being of these women. Cyclones in Bangladesh lead to increased salinity of the water supply. This has necessitated change to the way water is collected and managed. Almost all domestic chores and household water collection is performed by women. Droughts and increasingly saline water make it more difficult to access safe drinking water. Hazardous collection increases the risk of picking up diseases such as dysentery, diarrhoea, and skin rashes. Women have to travel farther to access safe water, causing physical distress. They also have difficulties managing menstrual and reproductive hygiene in flood and cyclone-affected areas.
City labourers. The urgency of what is unfolding in rural Bangladesh is indisputable. But for those who flee to the cities to escape rising waters, life is just as tough. The cities are the centre of the country’s huge textile and clothing industry — the second largest in the world. Local factory owners operate on tight margins to meet the demands of global brands. The mostly female workforce churns out the goods — their labour producing profits along the supply chain. Capitalism depends on the labour of these workers, exploiting them for profit. The interests of big business tragically outweigh the need to preserve human life. For those who have escaped climate disasters, long work hours, low pay and unsafe working conditions can be just as bad.
The devastating tragedy of the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 showed the world that unsafe working conditions can lead to the horrific and preventable deaths of innocent workers. The eight-story building, which housed a garment factory, collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers and injuring another 2,500. The majority of people who lost their lives were women. Women are the ones who face the double oppression that comes from being forced to sell their labour in the workplace and being made to work domestic chores in the home for free. Now they are quite literally being swamped by rising water levels as well.
As climate catastrophes continue to wreak havoc on our planet, the link between climate change and the unfolding climate refugee crisis is unmistakable. One of Radical Women’s placards reads: Capital has the ability to move around the world – why can’t people? This simple question encapsulates how the capitalist system with its bloodsucking thirst for profit is stacked against rural Bangladeshis. It is devastating that people are forced to flee — their homes inundated as flooding and cyclones continue to destroy farmland and leave people in poverty and despair. Globally, we have witnessed floods devouring homes and wildfires making the air unbreathable. Big oil ignored research decades ago, which showed that carbon dioxide buildup would cause global warming and change weather patterns. Capitalism caused this crisis and is incapable of solving it.
The only solution that offers a way out of this disastrous mess is a total and complete transformation of society, and a full transition to socialism under the control of workers. But to ensure the security and longevity of this planet, we need a realistic plan to build a broad, anti-capitalist movement that will take the reins of power and direct all of society’s resources into combating climate change, while aiding those most affected around the world, such the people of rural Bangladesh. We need to recognise those fleeing climate disasters as refugees. Open the borders and welcome those forced to flee their homes.
Crucial to combating climate change is getting the profit motive out of the energy industry. Nationalise all spheres of this industry under workers’ control. Capitalism generates more wealth than it knows what to do with. Demand the provision of full compensation through corporate taxation to victims of the climate crisis, like the countless numbers who are now identified as climate refugees in Bangladesh.
We have the power to take control of society and reshape it to solve these issues. After all, our lives and the survival of the planet depend on it.