Why ecosocialism is not just a good idea but a necessity

June 17, 2024
Against First Nations agreement, Tamboran has been given permission to extract millions of litres of water each year to frack for gas in the Beetaloo Basin. Photo: Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation

As the climate emergency and extinction crises deepen, more activists are realising that the capitalist system is the main barrier to the urgent changes needed.

All the warnings from the overwhelming majority of scientists and appeals to reason are coming up against a roadblock: the capitalist pursuit of profit.

The cost of renewable energy has been lower than fossil fuels for years and it continues to fall.

Yet since the Paris Agreement on climate was adopted in 2016, the world’s 60 biggest banks have committed US$6.9 trillion ($10.4 trillion) to the fossil fuel industry.

The reason they continue to fund fossil fuels is because they can still make huge profits by doing this, even though it comes at a terrible ecological and social cost.

Research by Climate Analytics shows that, in the three decades to 2018, the 25 biggest emitting oil and gas companies in the world made US$30 trillion in profit while a partial accounting of damages linked to their products was US$20 trillion.

On this calculation, these companies could have paid for the climate damage they caused and still made US$10 trillion in profit!

Perversely, governments around the world continue to subsidise the fossil fuel industry at a growing rate.

The International Monetary Fund calculated that global fossil fuel subsidies amounted to US$7 trillion, or 7.1% of world gross domestic product, in 2022, a US$2 trillion rise since 2020.

The Australia Institute (TAI) reported on May 13 that federal and state government subsidies to fossil fuel producers and major users totalled $14.5 billion in 2023–24, a rise of 31% on the $11.1 billion recorded in 2022–23.

“$14.5 billion equates to $27,581 for every minute of every day, or $540 for every person in Australia,” the Fossil Fuel Subsidies in Australia 2024 report explained.

We are told by governments that we cannot stop mining and exporting more coal and gas because this will hurt “the economy”. 

However, under capitalism the economy does not serve to produce the goods and services that society needs. Rather, it serves an increasingly small number of very rich people to maximise their profits.

Capitalism has revealed itself to be a system that not only excels in exploiting workers but which also pits the victims of exploitation against each other, while systematically destroying the liveability of the planet.

The capitalist economy — “the market” — allocates a zero value to the nature all life depends on.

Nature is treated as an “externality” (in economic jargon) and therefore capitalism systematically disrupts multiple life-sustaining ecological systems.

As it also creates regular economic crises, it has distorted the development of the world, creating a handful of rich countries and a majority of poorer, super-exploited countries.

The rich countries are the base for most of the giant global corporations that monopolise key sectors of the economy. The governments of these countries maintain powerful militaries to protect their global economic hegemony.

The ongoing genocide in Gaza is part of this.

The rich countries have launched a new arms race that not only risks escalating into nuclear war, but also drains public funds that should be used to address the climate emergency.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found global military expenditure rose by 3.7% in real terms last year, to reach a new high of US$2.24 trillion.

Ecosocialist writer and academic Jason Hickel explained to a recent conference in Havana, Cuba, ecological breakdown is being “driven by the capitalist economic system, and — like capitalism itself — is strongly characterised by colonial dynamics”.

The richest countries are responsible for around 90% of all cumulative gas emissions driving global heating, while the countries in the global South suffer 80–90% of the economic costs and damages and 99% of deaths inflicted by climate breakdown, Hickel added.

Hickel’s central point was that “the climate crisis cannot be solved within capitalism, and the sooner we face up to this fact the better”.

The world desperately needs to abandon capitalism and transition to an ecosocialist system which brings the economy back into collective ownership and democratic control, starting with the liberation of critical social and environmental resources, such as housing, energy sector, health and education.

But more than just social redistribution is required, as economic development under capitalism is severely distorted: It wastes a huge amount of resources to produce stuff that is not needed and is often destructive. 

Ending wasteful and destructive economic activity will eliminate dumb jobs, allow a radical shortening of the work week and free up human creativity and sociability in the process.

But can humanity rise to the challenge of democratising the economy?

Every day brings more evidence that there is no choice but to do so. The advances in technology, now used by a handful of global social media monopolies to manipulate us, could instead be used to enhance democratic participation and decision-making as well as effective planning and organisation to serve social needs and ecological sustainability.

[Peter Boyle is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.