The environmental crisis
Extract from the political resolution of the 25th National Congress of the CPI, November 2017
The extraordinary increase in the levels of carbon dioxide and methane, now known as greenhouse gases, since the development of modern industry, with its use of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—has led to an increase in global temperature unprecedented during the existence of the human race. Scientists regard the consequent changes as sufficient to mark a new historical epoch, which they have labelled the Anthropocene. It is the overwhelming scientific consensus that this can potentially make it impossible for the human race to survive.
The deepening environmental crisis cannot be tackled by capitalist methods. This makes the transition to socialism not merely desirable but absolutely necessary to prevent the destruction of the biological environment that is necessary for the reproduction of the human species.
Environmental catastrophe faces all the people of our planet. Global warming, as a result of increasing quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is the most critical aspect of this threat. After much denial, it has finally been generally accepted and has been the subject of many international governmental conferences. None of these has produced the necessary action. They are not prepared to address the fundamental causes; to do so would challenge the system itself.
There is a clear relationship between global environmental destruction and modern state-monopoly capitalism. It is capitalism that is creating the environmental crisis, with its continuous need for growth, its short-term and selfish use of resources, and its unplanned and anarchic nature. If capitalism is not growing it is in crisis.
Capitalism long ago outlived any positive role it played in developing the means of production and contributing to human progress. It can now reproduce itself in the main only through destructive and damaging processes, such as the insane drive for the exploitation of natural resources in more remote and environmentally sensitive areas of the planet and in the ever-expanding military production and destruction.
The human race has now developed to the point where we have the productive capacity not only to feed, clothe and house everyone on the planet but also to deliver a sustainable, renewable-based economy. Only a transition to socialism can make this possible.
It is a class question, already evidenced by the responses to extreme weather and natural disasters: communities abandoned to fend for themselves in Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina; the tsunami in Asia used as an opportunity for market expansion, with fishing communities being relocated and replaced by hotels and holiday parks. It is also the poorer countries that have suffered from the climate changes that are already happening and that are most threatened in the immediate future.
The international conferences on climate have given the appearance that at last governments are taking the issue seriously. At the Paris conference many commitments were made that claim to be addressing the problem. Yet these commitments are certainly too little, and furthermore are unlikely to be implemented, especially as the United States has withdrawn from the agreement.
It is the monopoly ownership and control of production that makes a serious programme impossible to implement, and the anarchic nature of capitalist production and capitalist commodity fetishism that bears responsibility for the environmental catastrophe that we face.
In addition, a significant contributing factor is modern imperialist warfare and its contribution to the pollution and destruction of the environment, especially with its use of depleted uranium weaponry. Military production is the most anti-environmental of all industries, and wars, of course, are hundreds of times worse.
Modern industrialised agriculture, dominated by mega-corporations, has become a major consumer of energy and producer of greenhouse gases. It has displaced millions of peasants from their land. By its use of genetically modified crops and herbicides it is poisoning land and water resources and destroying the bio-diversity wherever it operates. It is poisoning its workers and possibly consumers as well.
Some environmentalists see the source of the deepening environmental crisis in the behaviour of individuals rather than being rooted in the very nature of capitalist society. While changing the habits of individuals can be significant, it removes the question of the environmental crisis from its connection with the nature of the system itself. This “green” argument, however well intentioned, has been used to justify the opening up of sections of the public economy, in such areas as domestic waste collection, water supply, and conservation, for privatisation and monopoly control.
There cannot be a “green” or environmentally responsible capitalism. By its very nature capitalism is anti-environment and anti-people; it will always place the pursuit of profit above everything else. The workers’ movement needs to seriously reconnect with the defence of the environment, build it into its anti-monopoly strategy, and turn it against imperialism. The growing environmental movements must be encouraged not only to see the class nature of the environmental question but to realise that a break from capitalism is the only route to a sustainable society. We have to raise the slogan that we must either save the planet or save capitalism: we cannot save both. The issue has the potential to mobilise millions in defence of the planet.
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