England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Confronting capitalism’s climate emergency: The socialist response

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The climate crisis affects us all, yet the impact it has is massively unequal. Whilst the capitalist class and the rich have the means to avoid some of the impacts of climate change and global warming, it’s the international working class and poor that have to bear the worst effects of it. Those in hyper-exploited neo-colonial countries especially, but also ordinary people in the developed capitalist countries who are subject to living in houses and communities with inadequate infrastructure and emergency services.

It is unsurprising then that young people are increasingly recognising the need for a radical response to the climate crisis, that addresses the unequal distribution of wealth, land, and resources. For example, FridaysForFuture, the youth-led global climate strike movement in its recent website declaration announcing the 25 March climate strikes, very rightly point out how capitalism has caused the climate crisis and forces it onto ordinary people. They also rightly point out that any fightback against it must be part of a “transformative justice process returning power to the people”. Whilst we undoubtedly agree with this, it’s also important to stress that a truly transformative justice process for young people and all the working class would come from a united and international socialist movement that addresses overproduction, imperialism, and colonialism, all of which contribute to the climate crisis and all of which have their roots in capitalism. 

Rebuilding an international climate movement

In the run-up to the March 25 climate strikes, an increasing emphasis has been put on the struggles of indigenous people, such as Greta Thunberg’s involvement in the movement to stop mining on Sami lands in Sweden by British mining companies.  

The worst effects of the crisis have especially been seen on indigenous populations and those in neocolonial countries who find themselves caught in capitalism’s constant search for profitable materials and investment opportunities, leading to big business takeovers of protected land. 

Understanding these root causes of the climate crisis is essential in helping us understand how to tackle it. It won’t be through empty pledges from the United Nations, but an international revolutionary movement that addresses both the general and specific demands of workers and young people.

Such an international movement would have to address capitalism and its imperialist character, and put forward a socialist alternative that stands for the self determination of all working-class people. It would ensure the democratic control of, and right to land for all. This would especially benefit those indigenous communities, from those on Native American territory to those under occupation in Palestine, who are already struggling against the destruction of their land. The constant drive to destroy and profit from these lands and people, is led by both huge multinationals, but also the capitalists of their own countries, whose interests are tied to those of big business internationally and to imperialism.

Working class people are not to blame

Often the working class is told that the responsibility is on them to save the planet. Of course, those of us who can make changes should. But it is difficult to make environmentally conscious decisions when people are trying to find a way to survive under capitalism. The burden should not be on the working class in the first place. Though of course we all contribute somewhat to what we put into the environment, it’s the companies producing the highest percentage of carbon emissions, the corporations polluting the Earth with their constant oil spills, pipeline leaks, and deforestation, and the top 1%  in their private jets, rockets, and yachts, who are overwhelmingly responsible.

It is easy to ask people to make the healthy decision to reject unsustainable industries like the fast fashion industry, or to make changes on how and what they drive. But placing this responsibility on individuals won’t tackle the overproduction that is intrinsic to capitalism. It is hard to reject industries like fast fashion when you’re forced to partake in it, like the sweatshop workers both in the UK and abroad who are forced to work for as little as (and even less than) £3.50 an hour. Moreover, whilst the use of electric cars and public transport is encouraged, it is hard to expect all working people to instantly forgo their fossil-fuel emitting cars that many rely on because of how urban areas are constructed and because public transport has continuously privatised and underfunded. 

How can we win change?

Workers in both these sectors are already striking, from garment and textile workers in Bangladesh and Pakistan, to transport drivers here in the UK. This highlights the potential that exists to link up movements such as those against fast fashion with those of the workers in these industries. Any gain for these workers movements will also be a gain for the climate movement.

The student movement also has a critical role to play in these movements. Along with fighting for gains we can make on our campuses and colleges such as cutting ties that universities have with fossil fuel corporations, we can link our student movements with workers movements. This can be done through calling meetings in schools and colleges following the March 25 climate strikes to prepare for another, bigger wave of action in June to coincide with the UN’s Stockholm+50 conference on 2-3 June, including a clear attempt to connect with trade unionists and their campaigns. 

Likewise, trade unionists can play  a part in linking up these struggles by offering material support to students to help build for the protests, and calling public meetings of their own to  reach out to other movements involved in the climate struggle and the struggle against capitalism.

The upcoming global climate strikes on 25 March as well as the protests in June , will be crucial in building a movement which recognises that capitalist leaders will never be able to fully do what it takes to transition to truly sustainable production and green energy. Instead we will need to put forward and fight for our own concrete demands, as a united front, to tackle the climate crisis. What these demands should include should be a priority to discuss in the movement, and should be decided democratically. But as a start it could include demands for free public transport, an end to all new fossil fuel exploration and for immediate divestment from fossil fuel companies in our universities.  

Alongside this, we need to demand systemic change, including nationalising energy and transport services, safe working conditions and liveable wages for all workers, and an end to the destruction of indigenous communities. These will only be won through an international working-class movement, as part of a broader socialist revolution that links the workers movement with the student movement as well as all other movements involved in tackling the climate crisis and capitalism. 


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