England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Climate change: A runaway train under capitalism

By Alison Gaughan, Socialist Alternative West Yorkshire

As much of Europe and North America burns, weather pattern changes, and climate-related displacement becomes a reality for millions, experts agree that we have less and less time to mitigate the effects of human activity on the climate.

Last October the UN reported on the inadequacy of pledges for actions by 2030 by governments around the world. Even if all these are enacted fully (which is unlikely) there will still be a 2.5C rise in global temperatures, leading to catastrophic climate effects. Meanwhile indigenous people and peasants in the neo-colonial world are still being met with violence as they try to defend environments which are reaching their tipping points.

So, what is the response of capitalist politicians after the hottest June on record, followed by one of the wettest Julys? Rishi Sunak is doubling down on anti-green policies. Sunak intends to drop funding pledges to support neo-colonial countries to mitigate climate change. It is claimed that money spent on environmental issues is money that will not be spent on other humanitarian needs. But humanitarian aid in countries that are becoming unliveable due to the climate crisis is a moot point, and does it really have to be a zero-sum game?

Adding climate to the culture wars

In addition, the government is rolling back on any useful policy to tackle the climate crisis at home. Following an unexpected by-election win in Uxbridge, fought on the issue of Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ), the Tories have concluded that what voters want is less green policy. The government wants to make climate a new front in the culture wars along with trans rights and asylum seekers. Moderate NGOs such as Greenpeace are being mentioned in the same breath as terrorist organisations.

Just in the last few months, the government has decided to cancel EU laws on air pollution and max out the North Sea oil reserves (see page 7). To prevent catastrophic global heating, it will rely on a completely unproven technology: carbon capture and storage (this is analogous to heading straight towards a wall and not hitting the brake because someone might invent an airbag). Perhaps none of this is surprising from a party who in 2022 took £3.5m in donations from the fossil fuel industry, major polluters and climate deniers. Even less surprising from a party of whose members only 27% believe in the existence of the climate emergency (compared with 82% of the country).

Labour offers no green alternative

Given the recent U-turns on any sort of progressive policy, the prospect of a Labour government is not hopeful. The £28bn-per-year climate investment programme has been postponed, nationalisation plans rolled back, and there are no plans to overturn the Tories’ decision on the Rosebank oil field. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves cites ‘fiscal responsibility’ for these decisions.

What is clear is that the environment is not safe under any capitalist government. The scandal in the English water companies is a fine example of the effect of trusting private investment. Over 70% of these companies are now the property of overseas investors with little or no accountability. Since 1989, £72bn has been paid out in dividends and £60bn of debt accumulated, meanwhile underinvestment in the water infrastructure meant that on 301,091 occasions, sewage was allowed to spill into our rivers. It will be the working class that will end up paying for the necessary improvements in the midst of a cost-ofliving crisis, with bills increasing by up to 40% by 2030.

Capitalism is killing the planet – fight for socialism!

Capitalism will always prioritise profit. Fossil fuels are profitable in the short term, and while these companies are posting record profits, they can afford to influence politicians, who will continue to offer tax breaks – subsidies in effect – to the most polluting industries. It is not enough to have profits under capitalism, profits must increase, meaning more manufacture and more energy use. So, we shovel more and more coal into the furnace to keep the capitalist steam train running. Even if we swapped some of the fossil fuels for renewables, the acceleration can’t go on forever.

We need to have a massive overhaul of the way we create, store and use energy and this requires investment. Investment in energy-efficient buildings, in renewable energy sources, in public transport and in solidarity with the neo-colonial world. None of these investments are the most profitable in the short term so they are not attractive to capital. However, it is not true to say that they are unaffordable. Billions are being spent in military budgets due to the new cold war and the war in Ukraine. Energy giant Shell posted £11.5bn profits in the first six months of this year, BP posted £8.5bn in profit in the same period. The money is there, it’s just in the wrong hands. We must nationalise energy, water and transport to take these obscene levels of private profiteering and put it to the best use – reinvestment into society.

Everything that we need to do is possible under a democratically planned socialist economy, but this will take a mass movement to achieve. It shows that fighting for the climate is inseparable from the class struggle as a whole, which is why ISA members have been at the forefront of action from the indigenous members in Brazil fighting for the future of the Amazon to our Mexican section who are supporting the building of a national assembly to defend water rights.

Ultimately the choice is to let the capitalists carry on feeding their profit addiction until they – and the rest of the world – burn up, or to fight for a system that works for people and the planet. What we don’t have is time to lose


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