We were witnesses and surely participants on the 27th of September 2019 world day demonstrations against “Climate Change”. After years of petitioning governments, Kyoto Protocol, Paris Accords and the very recent United Nations report on the devastation of Climate Change on our home (Planet Earth), people have now joined together around the world and have taken up the banner against the environmental disaster of our age. There is no need to continue enumerating all the studies and all the conferences that have shown how Climate Change is at the center of our understanding of how capitalism and imperialism are at the center of our climate disaster.
John Foster Bellamy in recent Monthly Review article (1) showed quite clearly that “Changes on a scale that can be seen as dividing major geological epochs, previously occurring over millions of years, are now taking place over decades or at most centuries due to human action” (2). Throughout what is called the “capitalist golden age” after World War II, led a level of exploitation of our natural resources, the resultant pollution of our atmosphere and human oppression faced by the working class people of this planet, that we have not seen in years past. There can no longer be any doubt that our particular predicament today is a direct result of capitalist accumulation. The constant race to exponentially increase the accumulation of profit, has led working class citizens to become victims within their own house. Of course we must take up the struggle to settle this environmental issue, but the greater struggle is against the system that has produced such a catastrophe.
Climate skeptics such as Rex Tillerson, a past president of Exxon Mobil, the Koch brothers, and the champion of the skeptic-scientists Sherwod B. Idso, are just the tip of the iceberg among those who by their opposition continue to pursue the ravages that capitalism has done to the planet. There are also lobbyists, collaborators, false grass roots organizations and institutions such as the radical right wing libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, the radical conservative think tank of the Heritage Foundation and the Canadian radical Think Tank the Fraser Institute. Of course, the many that have rejected the idea of Climate Change, try by a false propaganda strategy to show that in reality they have the planet at heart. But of course as the message says “continue to buy our fossil fuel products in order for us to continue our good work”.
However there are others who we might dare call enlightened capitalists, see the need for fundamental change regarding Climate Change. These are the capitalists who see that we can improve the environment while at the same time remain capitalists. These eco-capitalists have now become the tenors that most people unfortunately believe. We can still live our middle class life of course and here we are talking about those who live in advanced capitalist nations, and still save the environment and our planet. In other words, let us all hold hands and recycle, get rid of plastic, drive electric cars, stop taking planes, develop organic gardens, etc. which in itself are good practices that we should all be following. However, when we scrutinize these messages we can see that the onus to struggle against Climate Change becomes squarely the responsibility of working people and the real polluters and culprits the major transnational capitalist companies, get a free pass.
In other words, the reformist approaches, on the one hand try to show us how reforms are the true bases of capitalist democracy and on the other hand show us how capitalism once restructured can save us all. In other words, environmentalism is good for capitalist longevity and profit making. However, the conceptual idea that not only lead us in the immediate battle for reforms but also the long term struggle for the destruction of capitalism is ecology.
The philosophical concept of ecology instructs us that humans are not the center of the universe, certainly not our planet. It also teaches us that humans are not above neither below other forms of life on our planet but are at the same level and in equilibrium with all the other species, which have been here longer than us. The different religions that have oppressed us throughout the ages, tell us that we are superior to all other species because we were made in the image of god. What this tells us is that we can do to the planet what we want, which the capitalists have done, because god somehow will take care of us. Well this is not what is happening right now. In other words, as ecology reminds we have to start to understand that we are also part of nature, yet the one that has spread disaster throughout the planet i.e. war, extraction, pollution etc. without ever thinking of our fellow species on this planet. Yes our fellow species have shown us throughout that they are more ecological than we are. We who claim because of our so called intellect, science and gadgets that have kept us happy and alienated, are at the top of the higher ranking of the species that inhabit the earth. May be if we had paid a little more attention to our fellow human beings like the Native Peoples, instead of imposing upon them a policy of genocide, we would probably be on a more enlightened road of ecology.
If we embrace ecology, and not environmentalism, we would have understood how we have colonized and destroyed this planet, including all forms of animal species. It is only then can we understand and see the fundamental difference in what the capitalists and their supporters, who pass themselves off as progressives (which means nothing today), are offering to the working class. Ecology ultimately projects us toward the future and the meaning of system change.
When we saw the young demonstrators brandishing signs like, “It is not a question of Climate Change but of system change”, this was a direct reference to the philosophy of ecology and the understanding that we as humans are not superior to other species but are actually fully responsible for the continuation of capitalism. And to see it as the prime enemy of the planet, all forms of oppression, war, racism, imperialism, all forms of discrimination and bigotry.
Ecology pushes us forward towards the future, but it also carries with it a social solution not only for the planet but one for all exploited people on this earth. Ecology intertwines the struggle for an integrated planet, combined with a social structure that wishes to end all forms of oppression and exploitation. Contrary to environmentalism, which separates the question of Climate Change from system change which ultimately leads to simply a reforming process that keeps intact the capitalist system, ecology incorporates the element of system change not as an attachment but as integral to future for human life on this planet. Human life without capitalism and imperialism has to be the order of the day for working citizens who have the planet at heart. This is why we must embrace ecology because it leads eventually towards a social consciousness that helps us embark on fundamental change regarding Climate Change but also system change.
This does not means we must not give up on necessary reforms it order to make life and the planet habitable. What we are saying is that we must combine the two, while also pointing out that simple reforms will only lead us back to square one. The hard struggles of the working class devoid of class struggle resting on social consciousness have shown over the decades that the reforms gained can be taken back. Austerity imposed on social programs is a good example. The destruction of capitalism does not succeed by an accumulation of reforms fought over many decades. Reforms, as we have said earlier provides an important space for a betterment of human life, but history is there to prove that they do not suppress capitalism.
The idea of ecology over time has led some activists to understand that the order of the day is eco-socialism. A new system of thinking that goes beyond environmentalism, reforms, social democratic policies and social liberal policies. This we will dwell upon further in the series of these articles. We have embarked on a struggle for the present but let us not forget the ultimate case for the future.
Climate Change is on our agenda. However when we look at the chaos and rivalry of certain imperial powers (such as the United States, China and Russia) all vying to create a new world order, we should not forget the question of the rise of nuclear weapons and the militarization of our planet. In the next article we will try to confront this challenge.
1 John Foster Bellamy ‘Imperialism in the Anthropcene’, Monthly Review, July 1st, 2019.
2 IBID page 2.
Donald Cuccioletta, PhD, is a Historian, Activist, Author and Coordinator of “Les Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme”(NCS)