Increased numbers of people around the world are becoming familiar with the existential threat posed by the climate crisis. Many of us are familiar with the consensus that climate change is harmful to us and our planet. However, the roots of this global issue are mainly explained by media and big business figures in terms of humans in general as the main contributors. This ignores the specifics of which groups of people are responsible for such contributions.
Whilst global warming and climate change has been a topic discussed by climate scientists for all about 200 years, it seems that only in the last two or so decades have we actually seen major companies acknowledging the disruption and dangers of it. Although this may seem to some as a positive step forward, we have to ask ourselves the true meaning behind their so-called ‘fight’ against global warming and climate change.
Who does climate change affect?
Whilst it is a global issue which will affect all of the masses, the effects global warming and climate change have first been – and will most likely continue to be – felt most keenly by working class and poor people across the world. Those who are economically stricken under capitalism tend to be less able to afford the facilities to combat the climate crisis. For example, in the Canadian heatwaves of 2021, the majority of those who died were people who could not afford air conditioning. In other areas of the world, people lack affordable heating or insulation. Poor quality housing will inevitably be a disadvantage in many poor communities who will be much less likely to sustain intense weather events.
Those who contribute the least to climate change are more likely to see their homes flooded or destroyed by natural disasters due to the disadvantages of where their communities reside. Although this no doubt impacts hardest on the countries underdeveloped by centuries of imperialism, it applies across the whole world – even in the ‘rich’ countries. A recent report for example by the commissioner of Wales, Sophie Howe explains that “People in our poorest communities, many of those who’ve been hit hardest by Covid-19, are least able to afford insurance and the cost of putting things right after floods and that’s drastically unfair, as is the fact that if you’re Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic, you’re more likely to be at risk here and in other parts of the world.”
The climate crisis also disproportionately affects the working class and poor globally because of large corporations deliberately targeting poorer areas. Corporations will view communities in such areas as being less likely to have the means to fight back. But while sociologists like Arlie Hochschild have described these people as belonging to ‘least resistance personality profiles’, countless examples of poor and indigenous communities organising against exploitation and inhumane treatment exist, in history and today.
This is evident in the company Nestle, who not only produce half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six neo-colonial countries each year but have also been found to be guilty of draining water in local communities even in times of drought. Ignoring the claim for 2.3m gallons of water only, Nestle surpassed this at a tremendous 58m gallons of water. Such actions have been met repeatedly with protests and strike action.
November 2021 began with the annual Conference of Parties, or COP26. COP has been an annual UN conference attended by world leaders since 1995, supposedly to help find ways of tackling climate change on an international level. At the summit in Glasgow, leaders of nations all across the world came to discuss the quickening crisis of climate change and to pretend to be prepared for action. Despite national leaders coming together in a so-called ‘confluence’, the productivity of the conference was extremely low.
Petty arguments between rival capitalist countries continually arose, confirming the already expected uselessness of the conference with even the minimal commitment to phasing out the burning of coal for energy failing to be agreed. World leaders failed to agree on measures reflecting the reality that climate change has to be stopped at its source – that being the burning of fossil fuel for mass production which many of those there immensely profit from. COP26 has helped feed the fossil fuel industry’s bottomless pit of profits by helping direct it towards the prospects of greenwashing.
What exactly is Greenwashing? Greenwashing is a marketing strategy used by companies to give a self-presentation of being environmentally friendly, contradicting said companies’ actual record of (the lack of) environmental sustainability. With increasing public demand for eco-friendly products, greenwashing is a brilliant strategy to help them uphold an appearance of being ecologically aware to help exploit this new consumer base.
Whilst there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, companies disregard this view through re-assuring their customers that their products are ethically created, through the use of vague phrases such as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘sustainably sourced’. The issue with Greenwashing is that it obscures the real source of climate change.
Production under capitalism cannot in any way be ethical due to the sheer amount of waste caused by the system. But capitalism’s chief means of attempting to divert attention away from this is through the idea that we should be ashamed for ‘not doing enough’. While working class people are subdued to shame by large corporations for details such as using plastic or not owning an electric car, only 100 companies bear responsibility for 71% of global emissions.
Although it is important for individuals to be environmentally friendly where possible, the only way to permanently change the course of climate change is to combat those which are in control of the production of such fossil fuels and waste.
How can we solve the climate crisis?
It is so easy to allow ourselves to become pessimistic over the deflating facts from some scientists who suggest it might already be ‘too late’ to solve climate change, with dystopian predictions of what is yet to come. But nihilism will get us nowhere. Although scientists who theorise that some damage of this crisis cannot be undone may be correct, completely abolishing the idea of solving this problem only makes way for us to lose hope in fighting for racial, sexuality, and gender equality as part of a working-class movement to fight for socialist change.
When struggling against those injustices, we are also accepting the fact that the climate crisis makes the fight for a socialist alternative so much more urgent. Radical action which needs to be taken includes fighting for the nationalisation and democratic workers’ control of the energy companies. A study in 2013 found that worldwide fossil fuel subsidies had accumulated to $4.9tn in 2013 and it is estimated that if such subsidies were eliminated, global carbon emissions would have fallen by at least 21% and air pollution deaths by over a half.
To address the climate crisis will mean removing the harmful oil and gas companies from the hands of the elitist capitalist class, to phase out the use of fossil fuels and to find the workers of fossil companies a greener and better paid alternative employment through mass investment and public ownership over all key sections of the economy. This will only be achieved as part of a worldwide, democratic socialist plan of production. The alternative will be deeper chaos and destruction on a global scale.
On 25 March, I’ll be joining the international Fridays for Future climate strike to demand exactly this – the radical action that’s needed. I’ll be mobilising alongside young people around the world, rejecting capitalism (greenwashed or otherwise) and demanding system change – socialist change – to safeguard the planet for future generations.