There was a time when anyone who spoke of climate change would be identified as a crank and weirdo. Today it is the orthodox belief that has become the language of the Pope, Presidents and Prime Ministers. Every schoolchild understands the meaning of ecology and knows the importance of the environment. Within one generation a revolution in ideas has happened. The outcry against the destruction of the health of our planet is fully justified by the terrible facts. The air is unbreathable. The water is undrinkable. Something has to be done about global warming and carbon emissions, and of course, to a limited extent something is being done, but, importantly too little and too late and the reasons for its slowness and indecisiveness are economic, not technical. Climate summits over the last few decades show a consistent record of failure - unjustifiably high hopes and pitifully poor results sum them up. The Greens and other environmentalists propose reforms of capitalism that haven’t worked or have made very little real difference in the past. The Socialist Party can see no reason why COP26 in Glasgow should be any different. We require to discuss the need, with respect to the ecology of the planet, for a revolution that is both based on socialist principles of common ownership and production solely for needs, and environmental principles of conserving - not destroying - the wealth and amenities of the planet.
Nature is being damaged today because the productive activity is oriented towards the accumulation of profits rather than towards the direct satisfaction of human needs. The economic mechanism of the profit system can function in no other way. Profits always take priority both over meeting needs and over protecting the environment. This is why the Earth's resources have been plundered throughout the history of capitalism without a thought for the future, why chemical fertilisers and pesticides are over-used in farming, why power stations and factories release all sorts of dangerous and noxious substances into the air and water, why road transport has replaced rail transport, why human waste is not recycled back to the land, why animals are injected with growth hormones, why goods are made not to last but with built-in obsolescence. The list of anti-ecological practices indulged under capitalism because more profitable is endless. The ecological concern is not just about protecting the environment. It is about human beings too — the way we live and the quality of our life. With appropriate modification, modern techniques of production are quite capable of providing enough quality food, comfortable housing and decent health for every person on Earth and of doing this without damaging the environment. But the people of the world are up against a well-entrenched economic and social system based on private property, class privilege and coercive economic laws. Reforms under capitalism, however well-meaning or determined, can never solve the environmental crisis — the most they can do is to palliate some aspect of it on a precarious temporary basis. They can certainly never turn capitalism into an ecological society.
With regard to the destruction and polluting of the environment, laws against this are only necessary in a society where the economic tendency is to do this since in a rationally-organised society it just would not occur to anyone involved in producing food to deliberately adulterate it. Laws against plundering and pillaging natural resources are only necessary where the tendency to do this is built-in to the economic system. It also means that such laws, besides being frequently broken, can only be palliatives, attempts to deal with effects while leaving the cause intact.
Political campaigners for the environment have a tactical choice to make. Either they go for more laws and restrictions to try to protect the environment or they go for a radical social change to bring about a society in which the environment wouldn’t need protecting. Try to patch up and change the spots of present-day society or work to establish a new society for the lasting and constructive solution?
The conclusion is clear: if the present environmental crisis is to be solved and the threat to — indeed the actual degradation of — the environment removed, then capitalism must go. It must be replaced by a socialist society. The only social framework within which human beings could live in harmony with, not at the expense of, the rest of nature is easy enough to discern: it would have to be a society which has the aim of production to satisfy human needs, not to make and accumulate profits. In short, socialism.