Is there a solution to the ecological disaster?
Even before the world leaders sit down at the climate change conference in Copenhagen, it has been widely predicted that it will come out with nothing concrete, nothing binding, nothing effective in the face of a perspective of planet-wide ecological catastrophe; that the best that can be hoped for is another conference in 2010. The following article explains why we cannot expect any real solutions from those whose first concern is to maintain the present social system.
Capitalism is destroying the planet
First there is global warming:
- Levels of the two of the most important greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, have reached their highest point for 650,000 years. This means that the average temperature on earth will increase by between 1.1 and 6.4% over the next 100 years;
- Rising sea levels could lead to the disappearance of entire islands and even countries like Bangladesh. This would result in the forced displacement of hundreds of millions of people;
- We are seeing increasingly violent storms, such as hurricane Katrina. Some experts think that this risk has gone up threefold in the last ten years;
- Deserts are spreading. Right now there is a terrible drought in seven countries in east Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. 23 million human beings are under threat because of repeated bad harvests and there are no food reserves. This drought is also hitting Australia and the American southwest, and in the past few years disastrous wildfires have also menaced whole cities and regions. In central Asia, the Aral Sea in Russia has practically vanished.
Then there is the manufacture of poisonous products, and toxic wastes being spread everywhere, in the air, the waters and the earth. Everyone immediately thinks about nuclear energy, about Chernobyl and all the radioactive waste. But there are also products like mercury which pollute a number of waterways or coastal waters. There is asbestos which is present in buildings in all countries. There are also the pesticides, used for the needs of intensive agriculture. These poisons are largely behind the decline in the bee population, for example. The production of these pesticides brings to mind the factory in Bhopal, in India, where an explosion resulting from inadequate investment in safety measures killed nearly 30,000 people and contaminated large parts of a city of 800,000!
And what can we say about the way the huge mountain of waste is managed? Here the governments and the companies of the world show their total irresponsibility. Once again nuclear waste is in the forefront. France has sent its nuclear waste to Siberia in simple metal barrels and deposited them in the open air! The documentary by Yann-Arthus Bertrand, Vu du ciel, revealed how China is dumping its nuclear waste into the lakes of the high plateaux of Tibet, one of the essential lungs of the planet, and is thus putting billions at risk! In Italy, particularly in Naples, garbage of all kind is accumulating in huge dumps and there is an explosion of disease among local residents. The French state has recently got rid of a boatload of toxic waste in a suburb if Abidjan on the Ivory Coast. There were deaths and thousands of people were contaminated. In June 1992, the Food and Agricultural Organisation already announced that developing countries, especially in Africa, had become a ‘dustbin' in the service of the west. The oceans are also being used as a dustbin. La Repubblica online of 29 January 2007 described an island of a new kind, something straight out of a horror movie by Tim Burton: a "garbage island", situated "in the Pacific Ocean, thirty metres deep, and 80% composed of plastic and the rest by other waste products from all over the place. This ‘island' weighs 3.5 million tons"!
Finally, to terminate what could be interminable, we also have to underline the incessant pillaging of resources. The equatorial band around the planet is being laid waste by the deforestation of Amazonia, equatorial Africa and Indonesia...much of this, irony of ironies, to produce bio-fuels. And while the oceans represent 60% of our food resources, they are being stripped bare: thousands of species are on the verge of extinction. A large part of humanity is thus faced with famine. In short, the destruction wrought by capitalism is now threatening the very survival of humanity.
The bourgeoisie has no solution to the catastrophe
Faced with catastrophe on such a scale, the bourgeoisie is now ringing the alarm bells. An "unprecedented coalition" of French organisations for the defence of the environment and human rights has posed a "climatic" ultimatum to the states attending the Copenhagen conference.
Either these countries sign an agreement which will lead world greenhouse gas emissions to stabilise then decline before 2015.
Or our planet will heat up beyond 2° centigrade, the threshold beyond which the consequences for humanity and the planet will be disastrous. According to the same coalition, the world's climate could even pass a point of no return and become completely uncontrollable.
The Nicolas Hulot foundation made a very similar appeal: "the future of the planet, and with it, the fate of a billion hungry people who have no spokesman, is being played out at Copenhagen. Choose solidarity, or slide into chaos. Humanity is at the crossroads".
It's true: humanity is at the crossroads, but certainly not at Copenhagen. We are in a sinking ship and we need to abandon it, which means that we have to understand how capitalism functions.
It is the very laws of capitalism that are pushing the bourgeoisie to destroy the planet. We live under a monstrous system which turns everything it produces, including waste itself, into a commodity, not to satisfy human need but to make a profit. This can reach absurd levels, such as the invention of recent summits: the legal possibility of buying ‘the right to pollute'. Capitalism is above all the law of the strongest and the reign of competition. In response to this law we have seen the rise of huge industrial concentrations and of mega-cities which crowd millions of human beings together: Tokyo - 36 million; Mumbai - 26 million; Mexico City and New York - 21 million each; Kinshasa - 17 million....and obviously these concentrations play a major role in the ecological crisis. Competition also means war. The production and upkeep of military material (not counting the millions of people who fall victim to wars) is a vast abyss of human and natural energy. An aircraft carrier consumes several thousand litres of fuel in an hour, for example. Finally, capitalism is a totally anarchic and irrational method of production. A commodity can travel thousands of miles to find a buyer. Countries may be selling food products to the other end of the planet, while the local population is dying of hunger because they don't have the means to pay for food!
Contrary to all the propaganda which puts the blame for all this on the individual ‘citizen', making us feel guilty by arguing that if the planet is doing badly, it's because we take the car to work, or we let the tap run when we are brushing our teeth, or we don't recycle properly, it's the capitalist system of production as a whole which is responsible for the grave ecological imbalance which, if it persists for too long, could eliminate humanity altogether.
Now, a certain number of celebrities like Al Gore and Nicolas Hulot, as well as pointing to a genuinely terrifying reality, also call on us to push the great and the powerful to coordinate internationally and find the solutions. Obviously any solution to the ecological problem has to be found on an international scale. A child can see that. But these appeals to the world leaders are a way of hiding reality. The world leaders they call on to take the necessary measures are quite simply the representatives of the national bourgeoisies and a mere glance at the decisions they have been taking for over a century demonstrates that we can expect nothing from them.
These bourgeoisies have produced war after war. Since 1939 not a day has passed without a murderous conflict somewhere on the planet. And it is when they are at war that they reveal most clearly their utter cynicism towards nature and towards human beings: poison gas, chemical weapons such as defoliants, bacteriological warfare, atomic bombs and most recently phosphorus bombs. The recent wars in the Gulf, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, to give only a few examples, have shown just how effective they are in destroying human lives and the environment.
As for the decisions that will be taken or have been taken already, it's not hard to see their ridiculous side. We've mentioned the idea of buying the ‘right to pollute', but there's also the carbon tax, car-free days, etc. And we have already seen the future of ‘green energy' such as bio-fuels under capitalism. Over the last two years, no less than 30 countries have been hit by hunger riots because a large part of their agricultural produce has been diverted towards the development of bio-fuels, and speculation over these products led to rapid price rises. Renewable energy or more long-lasting forms of energy production are used mainly by states and companies (often the biggest polluters of the lot, like Total or BP) to show us that another kind of capitalism, a green capitalism, will enable us not only to save the planet but find a way out of the economic crisis. In reality, the ecological catastrophe, like unemployment, war and all the other horrors engendered by capitalism, prove only that this system is bankrupt and has led humanity into a complete impasse.
Only the working class can build a new world in harmony with nature
Only one class can overturn this suicidal society and offer a different future to humanity: the working class. The working class exists and struggles on an international scale, and it has already proved this by its attempts at world revolution in 1917-19, which put an end to the butchery of the First World War. And today we can still see that the workers the world over are waging the same struggle, whether in Rio, New York or Cairo. Everywhere its basic demands are the same: decent living conditions for all.
The motor, the dynamic of these struggles is the opposite of the law of profit and competition: it is the solidarity of a class which is associated by nature. The mutual aid, the cooperation, the fraternity which develop through the workers' struggle lays the ground for a society freed from all exploitation.
Some will object that the experience of Russia has only brought us Stalinism and its corollary, productivism. We can't go into any detail here about the enormous lie that is Stalinism=communism. But let's just look at the question of productivism. Stalinism had respect neither for nature nor for human life. But this was very different for the revolutionaries of 1917. In fact ‘ecology' was already part of their struggle. At the beginning of the 1920s, there was a commissariat of the environment animated by Bolsheviks like Lunacharsky, Bogdanov, Borodin and others. By the end of the 20s this commissariat had managed to establish 60 Zapovedniki, protected spaces for the preservation of all species. But Stalinism rapidly destroyed such initiatives in the interest of a frenzied capitalist productivism, whether in industry or the countryside. One of the results of Stalinism's management of the environment has been the disappearance of the Aral Sea. In the USSR overall, over 20% of the land has been completely laid waste.
The working class, through its international revolution, is alone capable of opening the perspective of a radical transformation of the relationship between man and nature. This is why the most conscious minorities should not be limited to a purely ecological combat, but should direct their energies towards reinforcing the struggle of the working class.