In our “A World to Win” series, Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance seeks to give voice to the ideas and demands of radical young people involved in the struggle to make the world a better place.
In this week's article, Lucinda Donovan puts the case for why green capitalism cannot solve the climate crisis.
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Climate change is a very real and looming threat, which will disproportionately affect the young and the poor. If the rate at which we are currently consuming continues, it is estimated that our ecological overshoot would be so high that we would need up to three Earths by 2050. So, the question is not, “Is climate change taking place?” but “What can we do to stop it?”
It is a complex and undeniably international question. It is a question that we must grapple with because this ecologically threatened future will be ours. One thing is certain — those answers are not going to be found within capitalism.
No system where profit outweighs the needs of the majority will ever provide the answers needed to tackle climate change.
A system that can create an ecological disaster such as the tar sands in Canada could never provide the answers.
A system that wants to put a massive coalmine in the Galilee Basin could never provide the answers.
A system willing to destroy an ecological marvel and entire habitat like the Great Barrier Reef could never provide the answers.
A system willing to cut down acre upon acre of rainforest and pollute river systems and oceans, all for the sake of profits will never provide the answers to our ecological crisis.
Some still argue that this destructive system can be reformed; that through laws and legislation we can make it better; that we can have green capitalism.
But this is a myth. Naomi Klein, in This Changes Everything says it best: "What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity's use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered growth.”
These things are mutually exclusive. You cannot have a contraction in capitalism's use of resources and at the same time say that we need infinite, continuing growth to achieve ever-increasing profit margins. Eventually one of them has to give. The quality of life and state of the earth that we and future generations can expect to have are all dependent on which one gives.
That is not to say that some corporations and economists have not realised there is a problem. Some have elected to ignore it or claim that climate change is a scare tactic, or the result of faulty science. Others acknowledge that they value their profits more than the Earth's future. A majority understand the danger and the need to act, but they will never act in a meaningful way.
“Green” products or lifestyles are the environmental equivalent of throwing a bucket of water on a house fire. What does it matter if Apple plants a few acres of trees if they create products — made from increasingly rare raw materials such as oil, lithium and coltan — that are designed to be replaced within a year or two?
We do not just need greener cars we need fewer cars. Will General Motors or Toyota fund public transport? What does it matter if businesses promote organic foods if thousands of acres of forest are being cleared for crops? Will the palm oil industry replant the rainforests and lose its profits? The answer, of course, is no.
Other attempts at curbing the destructive accumulation of profit through ecological destruction, such as carbon pricing and emission trading schemes, have also done little or no good. Corporations and governments find a way around such legislation via loopholes or gaps in the legislation. As long as a system prioritises profit above everything else — including the health of the planet — it can never be the answer to our ecological crisis.
So what is the solution? What is our way out? The only way out of complete ecocide is ecosocialism.
Ecosocialism is a combination of socialist political thought with an understanding of ecology and its overwhelming importance over anything else being achieved on this planet. It is a desire to work with the environment, not merely plunder it for resources.
Under ecosocialism, the entire basis for production would change. Instead of production for profit, ecosocialism would use production as a way to meet human needs. It would mean the end of built-in obsolescence of products, the end of relentless consumerism and the waste it produces, the end of destroying the environment and the lives it sustains because capital needs to be reinvested.
Democratically-run collectives would become the norm, allowing people to manage their own needs. Green cities, with collective spaces for gardens, fewer cars and more public transport would be necessary, as well as many other important, life-improving projects because profits and budget surpluses would no longer be the sole motivators.
Amid these changes, direct democracy would be implemented, resulting in all people having a say in the laws and policies that guide the society in which they live.
While ending capitalism is necessary to save our environment, it cannot be done at once. Ecosocialists agree that capitalism has to go, but they also recognise that the only way forward is through collaboration with mainstream organisations that are not socialist. They also agree that a range of environmental reforms must be pursued, especially those that radicalise the people fighting for them and that bring together the disparate branches of the environmental movement.
Only through building a democratic, grassroots, popular movement committed to ecosocialism, will we have any hope of securing an environmentally sustainable, just future. As a member of the generation facing the choice between environmental destruction and environmental repair, I know which path I am taking.