Sunday, December 18, 2011

Socialism and Ecology

Socialist Resistance
August 1, 2011

If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger. That is the response of international capitalism to the threat of runaway global warming. For decades, the green movement, to its credit, has been warning about the threat to the world environment from polluting industries and consumerism. The destruction of the ozone layer due to the use of Chloro- Fluoro-Carbons in aerosol sprays and fridge coolants was identified almost too late for them to be banned. Years later, the effects of this pollutant are still felt in a big way over the north and south poles.

A far greater danger is that of uncontrollable global warming leading to abrupt climate change, all caused by the massive burning of fossil fuels. The likely results of this have been detailed elsewhere and are predicted to be far worse than the destruction of the ozone layer; drought, desertification, floods, melting of the ice caps and the Asian tundra, rising sea levels, inundation, famine, massive population migration and so on. Unless the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be reduced from 387 to 350 parts per million in a limited number of years, it may be too late to do anything about it. Even Prince Charles said (a year or two ago) that we had only four years to save the planet.

The message from the international scientific community has been overwhelming. The trends and causes are real and very dangerous. Yet the ideological and energy-company-funded climate change deniers first questioned the evidence, and when that failed, decided to rubbish the scientists themselves.

The ‘climate gate’ scandal provided the excuse for kicking the whole public discourse into the long grass. The scientists at the University of East Anglia had their emails hacked (sounds familiar?), and media outlets such as the Murdoch backed Fox News went into a feeding frenzy over alleged malpractice by the relevant scientists. This conveniently happened just before the Copenhagen summit on climate change in 2009, and this is where Obama, with the help of Ed Milliband, pulled the plug on the whole escalating scandal and effectively removed the issue from the headlines. The finger was pointed at China, but not at the main cause of the problem, the requirement for massive fossil burning to keep capitalist production and growth in the driving seat.

In the past, in the era of the Soviet Union, the phrase “better dead than red” was used. Now it seems that, without being spoken openly, the phrase “better dead than green” is the guiding principle. No matter that the enquiries about the activity of the accused scientists in ‘Climategate’ ended up deciding that the evidence for global warming was as strong as ever, the job of rubbishing had been done, and business could return to normal. Slow – moving technological fixes operating quietly in the background could do the job; the system did not need to be changed. The result is, of course, that Carbon Dioxide emissions are still rising, and not falling.

What a contrast to the frantic moves to save the banks after the crash of 2008! If the environment was treated with the same importance as the banks, it would have been saved a long time ago. But that is not a priority of capitalism. Once, again, we see that we will have to change the system if are to get what we want. The struggle to get rid of capitalism must go alongside the battle to avoid irreversible climate change. Once again, the need for a socialist society is justified.

One of the leading environmentalists in the UK, George Monbiot, came up with a cunning plan a year or two ago to stop global warming; it concerned what to do with fossil fuels, and his answer was? Leave them in the ground. Now, that may have been a bit over the top, for example many pharmaceuticals can be developed from oil, but he was demonstrating the urgency of the problem. He also linked the struggle to save the environment to the “C” word – capitalism, at one of the London climate change demonstrations. When so many other non-socialist ecologists have come to the same conclusion as the scientists, it is the job of socialists to make the link between the problem and the economic system we live under. We link the effect to the cause and then point out the remedy, a red-green remedy.


It is clear that we cannot rely on the system to reform itself. Apart from the sustained political attack on the radical green movement, look at the lengths the state has gone to infiltrate fairly innocuous green activist groups and act as agents provocateurs. The system is not listening. Either it believes its own propaganda or is hopelessly over – confident about saving itself and the ruling classes that administer it. We cannot leave the struggle for a green future to them.

So, the struggle in the here and now for renewable energy production, for public transport to replace private and for a mass programme of green house building must go alongside our struggle for a socialist future. A relentless campaign against advertising-led consumerism, permanent unsustainable growth and polluting industries must be part of the socialist agenda. The details of how all this could be done and how it could reduce unemployment at the same time have been worked out very effectively in the pamphlet “One million Climate jobs”. (see

Nuclear Power

The Fukushima disaster has produced different reactions amongst environmentalists. There has, on one hand, been a powerful condemnation of the whole business; the nuclear industry is inherently unsafe, closely linked to the military and must be shut down. Nuclear power is not a substitute for fossil fuel burning and it is not a viable low-carbon alternative to renewable energy. This is probably the mainstream view. For example, see

On the other hand, George Monbiot has taken the opposite view. Despite the catastrophe, the level of harm done to humans and the environment has been relatively modest, certainly when you compare it to the coal industry, for example.

The least that can be said is that this powerful and potentially catastrophic source of energy cannot be left in the hands of the capitalists. For them, a reliable source of concentrated energy to feed their industry is as important as the military link. Safety and environmental protection are not at the top of their priorities. The nuclear industry must be fully nationalised and placed under democratic worker, community and social control. New builds must be opposed. Any money for research and investment must go into renewable energy sources instead. End the subsidy to the nuclear power industry.

Under socialism it is possible that a very safe, democratically controlled nuclear power system could form part of the energy production matrix, but in the opinion of this pamphlet, unlikely. We should be looking in different directions.


Cars are inefficient, oil-guzzling, polluting, congestion and accident causing, individualistic and anti-social. Their hour is up. It is time to move to integrated public transport, free at the point of use. Cars should be relegated to the margins, to be brought onto the roads only for specialist use, such as for the disabled and elderly. Electric cars are an improvement, but are still anti-social in that they will still ferry one or two people about in the main. Compared to a bus, tram or train, this is still highly inefficient.

Already, under capitalism, the problems have been realised and alternatives sought. In Hasselt (Belgium), in Zagreb and Newcastle (Australia), free public transport systems have been introduced. They have cut down congestion and proved viable. Such systems would become the norm under socialism. And once the roads were free of cars, they would become much safer for cyclists and for walkers. George Monbiot had some very novel ideas on how to do all of this in his book “Heat”.

Under socialism, there would be no need for this mega industry, persuading the population of the need to accumulate ever more goods, in order to realise the profits of industrial production. There would be no need for the cultural vandalism of constantly interrupting TV programmes with mindless appeals to buy this or that new junk product. There would be public information items, to be sure, but tastefully inserted at appropriate times. There would not be the pollution of the eye of vast advertising hoardings, or the visual sponsorship of sporting and cultural events. If we end the system of generalised commodity production and its attendant advertising industry, new resources would be released for socially useful activities and goods.

Change the System, not the Climate

In South America and other places, the struggle to save the environment is being led by the indigenous peoples of the forests. They live in pre-capitalist, maybe even pre-class societies, but they can teach us a lot about sustainable living, the value of living the simple life, the importance of preserving the environment from capitalist exploitation and vandalism. They plan what to do with the future of the next seven generations in mind, not the next seven weeks, months or years of your average capitalist. Their fight is our fight.

In the nineteenth century, Engels noted; “At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature.” On the other hand, “we have the advantage of all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” That is, we can organise society in step with nature’s limits.”

Marx wrote; “From the standpoint of a higher economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men”. He was scathing of the capitalist economic notion that the air, rivers, seas and soil can be treated as a “free gift of nature” to business. “Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations.”

The Indigenous of the Amazon, the Native North Americans and the Aborigines would have sympathy with these sentiments. So should we.

To bring the whole population of the Earth up to the standard of living of the most affluent and continue this capitalist drive for ever higher growth, we would need two or three Earths. For those that sign up to this absurd ideology, why not take a trip to Mars and get to work? For the rest of us, it is time for eco-socialism.

There is no alternative.

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