People's World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth
Structural Causes of Climate Change
A World to Win’s contribution to the discussion for the Cochabamba Conference 19-22 April
1. Capitalism is the structural cause of climate change
The structural cause of global warming is the transformation by capitalism of the framework of production and exchange between human beings into an alienated, one-sided relationship.
Capitalism considers nature not as the ‘whole’ of which we are a part, but as a resource to be exploited. And this reductionist approach includes the people who inhabit the planet, and labour on behalf of the corporations.
Because it is a system based on private appropriation of the means of production and the exploitation of labour, capitalism operates in direct opposition to humanity’s given relationship as part of nature.
This alienated relationship with nature is constantly exacerbated and intensified by capital’s inherent need to expand year on year to reward shareholders and combat falling rates of profit.
Human interaction with nature takes place today within the framework of global capitalism and the all-powerful corporations. As a result the other side of the exchange – the restoration and care of the eco-system – is either absent or of secondary consideration.
Changing nature to obtain the things we need is the life activity of human beings, and this essential relationship is primary and absolute. But every absolute contains a relative. Tipping points can be reached where eco-systems collapse and life – at least as we understand it now – is no longer viable.
For capitalism, anything that is not directly related to generating profit is an ‘externality’. Martin Wolf, editor of the Financial Times, called climate change ‘the ultimate externality’, and wrote: ‘It is not in the interests of profit-seeking businesses to internalise externalities, since they will then be unable to compete with competitors who do not.’ Quite rightly, Wolf concludes that this means that the corporations will not tackle climate change and that political action is needed.
But governments of most countries, with only a handful of exceptions, accept that the profit-driven market responsible for global warming and ecological destruction is nonetheless the only possible framework for relations in human society. They have imposed the rule of profit in every sector, including agriculture, public health, transport, environment, land use, energy, fuel extraction and telecommunications. They are a million miles away from challenging it.
The Stern Report called climate change the ‘greatest ever market failure’. However it is a market failure that governments are ignoring and have chosen not to address. The market failure of banks and global finance was not treated in the same way at all.
We saw this reality in operation at Copenhagen where leaders of rich countries abandoned the United Nations Framework Convention in their desperation to pursue a growth at any cost.
These political leaders are the messengers of powerful corporate and financial interests. They do not represent our interests. It is their power to impose these decisions on us that we need to change.
There is no more mileage in the concept of ‘sustainable capitalism’. Only a revolutionary transformation of the state and the ownership of the means of production can enable humanity to usher in a new era of not-for-profit sustainable production for need.
2. The market can’t save the planet
It is not surprising that when it comes to tackling climate change, these governments turn to capitalist markets – the only functioning mechanism they recognise – for solutions.
Recognising the serious nature of the climate crisis and the effects of global warming, some governments around the world and organisations like the European Union have employed leading scientists to compile reports about it, such as the Stern report in Britain. They have attempted a number of measures, such as limited development of sustainable energy, recycling, insulating buildings, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner forms of fuel, some limits on car use, increasing the cost of waste disposal, and so on. But the profit motive and the anarchy of capitalist production means that such measures have little effect. They are dwarfed by the ruthless, unregulated activities of the global corporations.
Despite the fact that throughout the operation of the Kyoto Protocol, emissions of greenhouse gases have continued to increase, not decrease – capitalism does not view the market in carbon as a failure. It is a source of profit, and at present carbon credits are being bought up cheap by many traders looking to an upturn in the world economy when they will be able to sell them profitably.
A further shocking example of the corporate neo-imperialist response to the crisis of global warming is the ‘global land grab’, where 40 million hectares of land have been bought up by corporations and countries’ sovereign wealth funds. Now individual investors are also pouring money into private land investment funds.
This is the obvious capitalist response to the 50 per cent increase in the price of staple foods that took place in 2008.
However it means that the mass of humanity faces famine on an unprecedented scale and that land – the very resource we need most – is being alienated in a reinstatement of the colonial plantation system at a more advanced level.
But there is a significant difference. Governments are at best acquiescing in, and at worst promoting and profiting from, these land sales. This underlines the fact that the anti-imperialist struggle for independence is an incomplete process which can only be completed in new struggles for independence from the rule of the corporations and their client élites.
3. Unequal development
We cannot accept a model for development where the élites get rich, whilst the poor, the workers, farmers and the landless, and indigenous people pay the price.
New-style post-imperialist governments, such as those of China, Indonesia and India, claim the right to unfettered growth so that they can transform their urban working class into perfect consumers in the American model.
This claim is not to be trusted. Because as soon as capitalism enters crisis, in any and every country, workers cease to be valued consumers to become instead the superfluous unemployed and homeless.
Significant cuts in carbon emissions must be agreed across the world. But the idea that carbon should be cut in the West so that China, India and Indonesia can continue down this well-worn and disastrous profit-driven road, is not ‘climate justice’ or justice of any kind.
Fair and equal development, can only be achieved within an international model, which challenges the right of the corporations and their client governments – wherever they are in the world – to go on destroying land, people and eco-systems in pursuit of profit.
The international bodies formed by the capitalist states cannot be forced to deliver this change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is dead in the water; just as the UN could not halt the war in Iraq, it cannot stop the powerful nations shaping climate talks in the interests of the corporations and ‘growth at any cost’. The only functioning international body the big nations are committed to is the World Trade Organisation, the enforcer of globalisation, driving to commodify everything.
A new kind of international co-operation is needed, based on revolutionary struggles for democracy and self-determination in every country. It can bring together the peoples of the planet in a democratic forum to plan together to halt the growth in emissions and to mitigate the impacts that are now inevitable. They would draw on all the expertise represented by climate scientists, world food and health experts and support each others’ development towards self-government and economic independence.
31 March 2010