Avoiding climate catastrophe means challenging the capitalist system

August 27, 2021
Placard reads: 'If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved.' Photo: Niek Verlaan/Pixabay

Capitalism now dominates the world, including in the countries of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China. The capitalist world remains divided into nation-states, each with their own ruling classes and competing interests.

International capitalist “competition” is extolled as the positive driving force for the good of humanity. However, international coordination and cooperation — not competition — is needed to avoid a horrific future for humanity and other life forms from a rapidly changing climate.

There is an unequal divide in the world, between a handful of imperialist countries, and the majority of countries that are exploited and dominated by them.

Imperialism in the so-called “advanced” capitalist countries experienced rapid outward expansion in the last quarter of the 19th century and onwards. This happened because the growth of monopolies in those countries concentrated large anmounts of wealth that could not be profitably invested “at home”.

This led to rising competition among the imperialist countries to plunder the wealth and natural resources of the exploited countries. This competition grew to such an extent that it led to World War I — initially fought between European powers, but which the United States joined in its final stages.

After an interim period of about two decades, this intensified inter-imperialist conflict led to WWII, which was even more devastating, and now included Japan.

The US emerged from WWII as the dominant capitalist power — militarily and economically — imposing a “Pax Americana” that has prevented a new inter-imperialist world war (so far). However, economic competition among the imperialist powers has re-emerged in the past half a century. This competition has raised the threat of (and regional) conflict again and accelerated global warming.

Climate criminals

None of the imperialist powers want to be the first to rapidly eliminate fossil fuels, since this would remove their economic advantage.

Since the industrial revolution, the imperialist powers have been responsible for most of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to burning fossil fuels.

Marxist economists point to the fact that even though most of the production of surplus value today occurs in the Global South due to outsourcing, most is expropriated by the imperialist North, by control over technology (patents and other mechanisms), and unequal trade relations due to greater labour productivity, etc.

Countries of the North have a moral responsibility to fund and resource countries of the Global South to address climate change and reduce emissions without paying a severe economic price. However, that is not how imperialist exploitation works.

Money and resources flow in the opposite direction, and the imperialists are not about to change that.

Moreover, the ruling classes of all countries dependent on fossil fuels have large fixed capital investments in them, which they are loath to lose.

It isn’t easy to take on Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Gas. So we should not be surprised that they have done virtually nothing to date to stop rising GHG emissions, let alone reduce them.

What can be done?

We cannot trust capitalism to do what is necessary to avoid runaway climate change. The problem is not their consciousness, but their system and its inherent logic.

Increasingly severe weather is in store worldwide for the next decades. But, as more ordinary people — workers, farmers and other oppressed classes — become aware of the crisis, they will be open to becoming organised to fight it, if people today, no matter how small in number, begin this work.

Organising ecosocialists can be the start. We also need to convince those affected by global warming that they have to take anti-capitalist measures, like fighting the fossil fuel industry.

Workers in fossil fuel industries today will have to be convinced through concrete proposals that cutting back on fossil fuels will be accompanied by opening new clean energy industries on a scale far larger than any proposed today.

Transportation and much more will have to be revolutionised. To transform the economy in the necessary direction will take vast planning that will encroach deeply on capitalist interests.

Another task will be opposing capitalist politicians and parties that stand in the way.

As this fight develops, new tasks will emerge.

If such a movement — based on the working and oppressed classes — becomes powerful enough, it could force capitalist governments to begin to take partial steps against global warming.

The process will be uneven country by country, and there will be successes and failures.


The alternative — to rely on the capitalists and their system to eliminate the coming catastrophe, left to their own devices — is truly a utopian pipe dream.

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