Socialist Alternative

“Bla bla bla” as the world burns: capitalism is killing the planet – it has to go

Editorial first published in Socialist Alternative’s monthly paper on 1 December

Boris Johnson’s opening remarks set the scene: “it’s one minute to midnight on the doomsday clock”, he said. This reflected a change in rhetoric among many government leaders worldwide. They have been forced, primarily by the youth revolt that was the international 2019 climate strikes movement, to acknowledge in words the gravity of this crisis. Gone are the days of open climate change denialism, and climate change minimisation, at the tops of Western governments, it seems, at least for now.

However, this change in words only further exposes their criminal lack of action. In this regard, COP26 was an unmitigated failure. Millions around the world looked on with heads in hands as world leaders failed to “agree” on even the most elementary facts, perhaps most prominently: that the burning of fossil fuels such as coal for energy use needs to end.

Moreover, despite the pleas of representatives from nations around the world whose lives are already being destroyed by this capitalist crisis, and who face the devastation of their lands and communities, nothing more than vague assurances of good intentions were forthcoming.

As Greta Thunberg eloquently put it, their words amount to little more than bla bla, while the world burns around them.

A Failure of Capitalism

This failure will come as no surprise to our readers. We, together with many of the tens of thousands who took to the streets of Glasgow and other cities around England, Wales and Scotland on 5 and 6 November, do not look to the chambers of capitalist governments and corporations for a solution. We have hope for the future, not because of anything that was done or said at COP26, but because of the mass protests which took place, the biggest environmental protests in Scottish history, which may point towards a revival of the global climate movement.

However, socialists have an important role to play in explaining precisely why COP26 failed so badly. We must explain that the problem is not the incompetence or lack of moral fiber of this or that government leader, but the capitalist system itself. It is the fundamental nature of capitalism – a system based on both private profit-driven economic activity, and endless national competition and conflict – which has taken the climate crisis to this point and which makes a capitalist solution to it impossible.

Tory Ministers assure us that “the market” will “innovate” to solve the climate crisis in some imagined future, but today, it is precisely the capitalist market which is dictating and driving increases, not reductions, in fossil fuel emissions. While there are undoubtedly big bucks to be made – often by the same mega polluters themselves – in renewables, fossil fuels remain far more profitable. Indeed, in the last 5 years, the global financial system has invested more than 20 times more in oil and gas alone, than in new renewable energy projects. On the basis of capitalism, the markets will continue to follow the money.

Another factor standing in the way of a solution which was present in COP26 is the fact that at a time when the world is more in need of coordinated global responses than ever before, the system is dragging us in the opposite direction: into a new period of even more intense national antagonism and competition, most importantly in the form of the New Cold War between US and Chinese capitalism. Imperialist powers weaponise the climate crisis to further their quests for world domination, and countries continue to increase fossil fuel burning in order to get ahead of their rivals.

We Need a Socialist Green New Deal

The concrete solutions to the climate crisis that we need all point decisively away from the logic of the for-profit system. To carry out the scale of change we need in the short time-span necessary, we need to change the motor of the world economy, and put planning for the needs of people and the planet at the heart of things. 

A Socialist Green New Deal is needed, with unprecedented public investment into planet-friendly transitions in industry, agriculture and transportation. Contrary to the obsolete myth of “jobs vs climate”, this would create millions of high quality and necessary jobs, both for workers to transition from fossil fuel-heavy sectors and for millions of unemployed and underemployed workers. Demands for free and quality public transport and mass jobs programmes, together with fighting for improved housing, wages and conditions for all workers could serve to unite the whole of the working class in the struggle for a better future.

However, such a Green New Deal would need to mobilise the wealth of society in a planned and publicly controlled way. This requires the taking of the world’s major corporations into public ownership, run under democratic control. This is what “system change” which has become so universally understood as necessary in the climate movement, looks like in practice – fundamental socialist transformation of the economy and society.

Climate Struggle is Class Struggle

While young people were again at the forefront of the protests in Glasgow, the voice of the organized working class was not absent from COP26. In the runup to the summit we saw several industrial disputes come to a head, with significant concessions won by important groups of workers who showed they were prepared to take strike action. 

Greta Thunberg made an important and necessary statement calling for striking workers to join COP protests, and ISA member Amy Ferguson, who spoke alongside Greta on the main stage after the Fridays for Future protest in Glasgow on Friday 5 November, clearly explained how it is this power of the working class to organize and strike, paralysing the capitalist economy that must be mobilised by our movement if we are to halt the climate catastrophe. Taking the climate strikes movement to the next level means going beyond student strikes alone, and raising the prospect of economic strikes uniting workers and youth to show we have the power to force the change we need.

Socialists on the streets

Socialist Alternative realised several months ago that COP26 had the potential to be a turning point for this movement. Moreover, we were determined to ensure that critical voices at COP26 would not be confined to NGOs or timid protests which put the blame on working people’s individual behaviour. We set about mobilising for an international socialist red bloc which would call out the real polluters and point the blame where it belongs – the capitalist system – while putting forward a real perspective for system change through socialist change.

This resulted in hundreds of ISA members and supporters from all continents who formed a lively and dynamic contingent on protests throughout the weekend in both Glasgow and Edinburgh (see photo report on page X). Our contingent attracted hundreds of enthusiastic workers and youth, many of whom are joining Socialist Alternative, which is a dynamic and growing force in Scotland, England and Wales. Become one of them and get in touch with us today!

As we chanted from Kelvingrove Park to Glasgow Green to all corners of the globe — “Our movement is unstoppable — a socialist world is possible!”