Those who took part in today’s school strikes to draw attention to the climate crisis we face are doubtlessly sincere and caring young people who want something different. Environmentalists put out an appealingly radical message, but when examined it becomes clear that it is a case for the capitalist market with a green tint. Only by abolishing the system which is the cause of rising carbon emissions can the global warming effects be eliminated. It is simply impossible to reform this capitalist system to permanently benefit humanity.
There are members of the capitalist class who recognise that if they are to hold on to their power and wealth, they must appear to take into account the well-informed and vociferous demands of the environmental movement. However, they must also discredit the views of those people who point to the profit system as one of the main perpetrators of ecological destruction and unsustainable resource use. The apologists for capitalism sweep under the carpet the way in which businesses, driven by the necessity to make profit and expand capital, has systematically despoiled and polluted the environment and harmed the health and lives of workers, either at their place of work or where they live. To make money, screw everything and everybody else. This is the profiteers’ mantra.
The corporations propose policies of environmental reform which they believe can be incorporated into their production processes in the interests of the whole of society without endangering rates of profit. It is this poverty of thought which is the most lamentable aspect of their business-as-usual outlook. Capitalists only adopt new technologies and manufacturing methods or make new appropriate products when it is profitable to do so, not because the existing ones happen to be contributing to global warming or polluting the planet.
The Socialist Party has always argued the need for people to take conscious political action to create the framework of common ownership and democratic control of the means and methods of production and distribution, as the only way in which the social problems like pollution can be tackled. A society which was not constrained by private property, commodity production and buying and selling would use as a matter of course the best possible technology at hand to ensure the safety of those working in the plants and the protection of the natural environment. Social cost would be the deciding factor, not commercial cost. Capitalism is unable to do this. It is sheer folly to believe capitalists will adopt an environmentally sustainable plan if their competitors elsewhere in the world market do not. What would the shareholders say to a board of directors which introduced costly practices if it meant that the company lost its competitive edge and market as a result?
Those who believe that the threat to the environment can be dealt with within the capitalist system are hopelessly wrong. These dreamers imagine that politicians whose task it is to run the production for profit system can be persuaded to recognise and act on the danger which pollution brings to the planet. The Socialist Party has been saying for a very long time that people must wake up to the enormous threat of environmental damage which the profit system poses to the world around us. For decades it has been cheaper for capitalists to pollute the air workers breathe than to adopt clean technology. Methods of manufacture which are harmful and disease-spreading have long existed. Ourfood has been adulterated for as long as we have been wage slaves. Animals are made to suffer and die needlessly; endangered species which have no exchange value in the market are free to become extinct. There is nothing new about any of this. In order to make a quick dollar it has long been capitalism’s practice to destroy the Earth’s irreplaceable resources.
The Socialist Party is well acquainted with the arguments that green politics is about pragmatism, that is, cynical compromise. It is about “lesser evils". But why vote to support those who seek to administer the lesser evil when capitalism, which creates the evils, can be abolished altogether? The usual reformist answer is that the lesser evil will take less time to achieve than the grand socialist aim. It is a foolish myth that partial objectives are worthier of support. There is unlikely ever to be a green government, and if there is, then its greatest critics will be the environmentalist movement who will complain that it has sold them out. It is inevitable with reformism; it must sell out in order to fit in with the requirements of the capitalist system.
The Socialist Party is a materialist organisation, but not in the sense that the term is often used: it does not mean that it is obsessed by consumerism and wants people to have more and more “material” goods, such as cars. To be a materialist is to recognise that human beings are rooted in our social environments. Our consciousness is social, and through conscious action we can alter the material environment of which we are a part. The environment is not something “Out There” which must be protected; it is part of us and we part of it. The eco-warrior dream of a non-urban arcadian utopia, undisturbed by influence of Big Business and its needs, is looking backward at a deeply conservative ideal which serves as a valuable diversion for the ruling class.
Capitalism will pass a few minor reforms because the capitalists themselves realise that their investments are being damaged by the filth created by a lack of environmental concern. Just as they passed The Clean Air Act of 1956, so they will attempt a few more self-regulating laws. Needless to say, these laws will be evaded by those rich and powerful enough to do so. Even when the capitalists are agreed on their common interest, there will always be one or two who will try to make a fast buck at others expense.
The world belongs to the rich. We, who produce everything and run the planet from top to bottom, have given it to them. Our task is to take it back from them; to reclaim the planet for ourselves. If you do not stand for the socialist transformation of global society, in the end, you’ll all end up a rather futile reform group, in a pointless crusade, pleading with the master owning-class to make the planet a little bit better.
And we equally must disillusion those modern-day misanthropes who see humanity as a plague upon the planet and preach catastrophism and the apocalypse.