As I see it, there are two dimensions to the climate crisis facing humanity: conquering global warming in the long term and managing its consequences in the short term. Both are critically important.
Conquer Global Warming
The New York Times and other media are reporting on a document released this week by the United Nations in preparation for a conference this Fall in Glasgow of participant nations in the Paris Climate Accords. It’s a sobering report, to say the least. The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres is quoted as saying it shows “the world is on a catastrophic pathway.” While 200 countries have pledged to reduce emissions that heat the atmosphere, 70 countries have yet to do so and and others have reduced their pledges. As the New York Times reports,
All those pledges, taken together, are far short of what’s needed to limit global temperature rise to levels that would avert the worst impacts of warming, the report confirms. When it was reached in 2015, the Paris Agreement set a target of limiting average temperature rise compared with preindustrial levels to well below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century.
Since then, because of advances in research, the scientific consensus is that the rise needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees C; beyond that threshold, there is a far greater likelihood of devastating consequences, like widespread crop failures and collapse of the polar ice sheets. So far, global temperatures have risen about 1 degree C since the late 19th century.
Chances appear slim for any significant reduction in emissions sufficient to slow the rise in global temperature — the band-aid — and I submit that action to halt climate change altogether — the cure — are ruled out by the inherent workings of private enterprise capitalism. Again, quoting the New York Times,
“Governments are letting vested interests call the climate shots, rather than serving the global community,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said in a statement.
Those “vested interests” are the super-wealthy families, corporations and the governments themselves that exist specifically to serve those families and corporations. These are not unchecked excesses to be reined in through legal reforms, they are the essence of capitalist society. There is no such thing as capitalism without an upper class — or ruling class — comprised of families possessing wealth and power way out of proportion to the rest of society, without the enterprises or resources from which they derive this wealth, without workers whose labor they exploit for profit, and without a government that serves these family’s interests above all else.
Capitalists derive their wealth and power from profit and they don’t make decisions that undermine their ability to maintain their profits, wealth and power. Quarterly return on investment is everything. They understand that the types and magnitude of change needed to make any serious dent in climate change is not profitable. Trust me, if it were profitable, they’d be leading the charge!
To the extent that changes are made in this current system, the burden will fall first and foremost on the backs of working people. Capitalists will be loathe to sacrifice anything while working people will be made to sacrifice with higher prices, job displacement and unemployment, reduced services, and even their lives. That’s assuming changes will actually be made, but as we’ve seen thus far there’s little being done beyond rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.
There is no way the planet can ultimately be saved under capitalism. Whatever is done will be too little and too late. It is imperative that the rule of capital be replaced by socialism under governments run by and for the working class and farmers. It is possible. And I’m not naive; Socialism won’t be a panacea. The damage to the planet is so far advanced, conquering global warming will be daunting challenge even with a united effort by the working class worldwide. But at least then we’ll have a chance!
While fighting global warming, workers in charge give us an opportunity to solve many other problems as well. 940 million people in poor and underdeveloped nations bled dry by capitalism — 13% of the world’s population — have no access to electricity. This is appalling in 2021! The resulting hardship is indescribable. Up till now it hasn’t been in capitalism’s interest to correct this, and if it was it would be done in a way that would exacerbate global warming. The working class can harness the human and physical resources needed, and scientific knowledge, to electrify the entire world while also conquering global warming to the greatest extent possible.
Under Socialism, ‘No One is Left on their Own’
Meanwhile, climate change is a living reality today that working people are forced to endure in the present. Reuters reported that as of September 5, at least 13 people were killed in Louisiana by Hurricane Ida and over 600,000 were without electricity, some not expected to have power for weeks. In New Jersey 27 were confirmed dead. In New York, 17 were confirmed dead, some having died in illegal basement apartments.
By contrast, no one died in Cuba, a socialist country led by the working class. As reported by the Militant,
Nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from the highest risk zones before the storm hit the Isle of Youth Aug. 27 and then Pinar del Río province[.] In Pinar del Rio 22,000 head of cattle were moved to safer ground. Special efforts were taken to maintain health services, including to continue supplying oxygen to medical facilities.
As soon as the storm passed the Union of Young Communists mobilized students, young soldiers and workers to clean streets, parks and schools. Brigades of electrical workers sprung into action to restore electricity.
This same scenario has been repeated for decades in storm after storm. In past storms, it’s been reported that evacuations not only include people and livestock but also people’s refrigerators, appliances, TVs and other items of importance.
Back here in the United States, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told people there to hunker down and shelter in place for 72 hours during Hurricane Ida. In effect, everyone was on their own. The governor rationalized this by saying people needed to wait for help until it was safe for first responders. One reason people resist calls to evacuate and end up stranded is they don’t trust they’ll have anything to come back to. In 2020, overall losses from the hurricane season in North America came to $43 billion of which only $26 billion was insured. We’ve all seen people on TV news explaining they still hadn’t yet recovered from past storms when Ida hit.
But as we saw in Cuba, no one should have been left on their own in harms way, no one should have died, and no one should be left to suffer personal losses alone that they’ll never recover.
In Louisiana working people mobilized to meet their own needs when U.S. and state government help was woefully inadequate. As reported in the Militant,
The United Cajun Navy — working people and small-business owners who first came together to rescue people by boat during Hurricane Katrina, 16 years ago to the day when Ida hit — organized yet again in the face of government inaction. They headed to the hardest-hit areas of Louisiana, including Houma and LaPlace. They sent crews with rafts, tractors and chainsaws to clear roads and to aid as many people as possible. In the absence of adequate shelters, the Cajun Navy has not been evacuating people. “We tell them to keep hunkering down,” the organization’s president, Todd Terrell, told the media. “We don’t have any place to put them.”
The group has distributed truckloads of food, water, other necessities and even hay for ranchers to feed their cattle. Their actions show the power and potential of working-class solidarity.
Working people have organized to help each other out. In Metaire, a western suburb of New Orleans, workers and small businesses pooled their resources and set up barbecue grills, cooking meals for hundreds of their neighbors.
Build a Labor Party
Clearly our system now is not working. Each year we see increasing storms of increasing severity, more fires, more droughts and similar crises. It makes no fundamental difference whether a Democrat or Republican is president. Congress is hopelessly dysfunctional. And corporations continue their pursuit of ever-higher profits at the expense of the planet and workers such as those fighting back at Nabisco and Warrior Met Coal.
Capitalism has had its chance. It’s time now for the working class to take over. A practical start would be to build a Labor Party based on the unions and working class, independent of the Democrats and Republicans, and to back fights like the workers at Nabisco and Warrior Met.
Title image was created by NASA and is in the Public Domain. It depicts Earth’s long-term warming trend, showing temperature changes from 1880 to 2015 as a rolling five-year average. Orange colors represent temperatures that are warmer than the 1951-80 baseline average, and blues represent temperatures cooler than the baseline.
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