A reported 1.5 million students from schools, colleges and universities have taken to the streets across the world (#SchoolStrike4Climate) in 2,083 places and 125 countries on all continents. More mobilisations are planned.
Students see the world being destroyed by climate change and pollution, while workers see no future with precarious work and austerity, and women (and all workers who support them) continue to struggle against male chauvinism, sexual discrimination and harassment.
David Attenborough in his acclaimed “Blue Planet” television series graphically showed that glaciers are melting rapidly and seas and oceans have become a global garbage bin. The ozone volume is reducing, increasing the incidence of ultraviolet radiation with harmful damage to skin and DNA for billions of people. A sixth of all species is becoming extinct, the fastest recorded on our planet and 40% of mammal species have lost more than 80% of their population. Water and air are contaminated by chemical agents with adverse consequences for human and animal health.
A recent study by scientists found microplastic ingestion by organisms in the Mariana trench and five other areas with a depth of more than 6,000 metres, prompting them to conclude “it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by plastic pollution”.[i] The students are right: there is a race against time for the survival of the human species, and many others on this planet.
This tragedy is not the responsibility of all humanity, where each one is equally responsible. In the capitalist system, the responsibility lies first and foremost with the industrial giants who put profit before respect for the environment (and life). The automotive industry is an exemplary case: it pollutes indirectly through the private use of its product (considered by many studies as the main cause of air pollution) and directly by the toxic products used in the production chain; and electric vehicles, despite their ‘green’ credentials also have significant environmental costs in the production phase.
This rule applies to all sectors of production. In recent years, it is common for many companies to hype their “green” initiatives. McDonald’s is an emblematic case of the hypocrisy of multinationals: it shouts about high-profile environmental campaigns such as removing plastic straws, while helping to destroy the Amazon rainforest – and a major source of the world’s oxygen supply in order to churn out the meat needed for their burgers.
It is not a new problem. Capitalism has always destroyed the environment through tearing up the earth for resources such as coal, uranium and gold and the processing of these resources has created enormous pollution and destruction of lives.
The capitalism system is responsible for driving ‘over-production’ and depletion of raw materials. According to one study, since 1988 100 multinationals are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, while the richest 10% of the world emits as much greenhouse gases as half of humanity.[ii]
Big companies supported by governments use technology and scientific advances as part of a deadly process of competition. It is an accumulative process that the students are now mobilising against. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, exposed the hazards of the pesticide DDT. DDT, the most powerful pesticide the world had ever known then exposed nature’s vulnerability. DDT is capable of killing hundreds of different kinds at once. Developed in 1939, it was used during World War II, and then extensively in the USA and the world. Like the use of nuclear power for war against Japan (and the world), Agent Orange in Vietnam and depleted Uranium for the invasion of Ira, many harmful inventions came about to pursue imperialist warfare.
Carson explained that DDT contaminated the food chain, caused cancer, genetic damage and the deaths of entire species. Her work was a major influence on promoting conservation, care of nature and regulation. The problem is that capitalism may allow superficial regulation but while it exists it will always resist and overcome any regulations that workers and the peoples of the world demand and force on them.
Science under capitalism is not used to understand all the processes that production unleashes. It is used to maximise profit. What happens to the waste products? It is not their concern unless workers and their supporters protest against anarchic disposal of waste.
And if there is too great a scandal in the West, they simply export the problem, such as toxic waste to Africa, Asia or anywhere they can bribe to take the stuff. DDT is still used today in South America, Africa, and Asia.
Profit system creates disaster
Profit is in the hands of the 1% that concentrates the vast majority of the planet’s wealth in its hands and who are primarily responsible for most of the pollution. The reality is that the frantic race for profit inevitably leads to disaster.
Because of capitalist exploitation nature is abused and exploited and has been for over 200 years. Just as capitalism produces for an “infinite market” it exploits nature as if the planet has an infinite ability to resist its destruction and bounce back.
In 1876, Engels wrote,
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first”.
“Thus at every step we are reminded … that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.[iii]”
And as Engels explained it takes a different type of society to be capable of learning nature’s laws, applying them correctly and learning from mistakes. Which means a few modest daily actions, while conscientious and appreciable will not make the difference. The way to save the planet lies neither in the change of our habits, nor, above all, in the vain hope of convincing the bosses to become “green”.
Many of the politicians who support the multi-nationals also praise the student strikes, but they are false friends and part of the problem. While Merkel recently hailed the climate mobilisations, high school and college students in Germany, as a whole, refuse to be represented by politicians.
Students are forming their own committees independent of such politicians and their politics. We support that and call on them to be build a great alliance and build with all those fighting outsourcing, austerity, the oppression of women and taking strike action.
Keeping trade union struggles separate from those against oppression and for protecting the environment serves no purpose, or rather serves only the capitalists. Only if we can unite women’s mobilisations against male-based violence, struggles against racism and battles to protect the environment with the struggles of the working class, can we win. Win for the benefit of workers and the health of the planet.
Facing climate change means radically reconverting modes of production, transport and energy. It means establishing strict regulations that prioritise environmental conservation over the private benefit of large companies. Investment in sustainable public transport and ending the fossil fuel industry including fracking.
No financial investment fund is willing to give up its multimillionaire benefits “for the good of the planet”, that is why specific anti-capitalist measures are needed, which address the root problem:
- Reconversion of the industry, strict limitation on emissions of greenhouse gases.
- Nationalisation of the main industries.
- Agriculture and local livestock under sustainable criteria.
- Nationalisation of large energy companies.
- Investment in renewable energies and energy saving measures.
- Promoting an extensive public and sustainable transport network to reduce the use of private vehicles.
- Nationalisation of banking to obtain financial resources for these plans. Without resources it is not possible to carry out concrete measures!
- Democratic control by the workers of the different economic sectors. Let us produce according to the needs of the majority and not for the benefit of a few.
Today, it is more than ever necessary and urgent to overthrow capitalism and place production under the control of the popular masses. Only in this way can we try to turn back the clock of the planet and lay the foundation for a life in harmony with the environment and free of exploitation. A life that is technically possible today, but which is hampered by a single fact: control by a tiny minority that derives huge profits from capitalism and its pollution.
That over one million students take to the streets to defend the environment poses point blank the need to remove the cause of the problems – capitalism. Only workers’ government and control of production in alliance with students and all the oppressed can develop a plan for the planet with an international workers’ plan for socialism.
Unite all the struggles to bring down the government of capitalism and build a programme not to reform but to overthrow capitalism. To carry that forward an international revolutionary socialist party is needed.
There is no way to solve the problem of climate change, without tearing down the capitalist system!