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Editorial The environmental and class struggles must be fought side by side

THE Katowice summit on climate change sounds the alarm over the catastrophic consequences of business as usual.

David Attenborough warns of the “collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world.”

As UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s speech made clear, the science readily justifies such anxiety: the 20 warmest years on record have been in the last 22 years, with the four warmest the last four.

The frequency and ferocity of natural disasters is increasing, with immense natural and human costs, and sea levels are already rising.

Much of the world’s agricultural land and many of its cities will soon be at risk.

None of this is new, and nor should it even be contentious, though in a world where the presidents of huge countries such as Brazil and above all the United States are now prepared to deny a reality that stares us in the face it was worth Guterres reiterating the scientific evidence.

The public expect action. The extraordinary mobilisations of the Extinction Rebellion movement in Britain are a case in point.

If we are “way off course,” it is not because the public are not interested in environmental issues but because governments are failing to act. 

And the uncomfortable truth is that it is not merely denialists of the Trump variety which are failing: Climate Action Network Europe concluded this summer that most EU states would miss their Paris Agreement targets. 

The record of Britain’s Tory government is appalling, providing subsidies for the most polluting energy sources such as fracking while cancelling support for alternative fuels. 

David Cameron banned subsidies for on-shore wind farms and cut subsidies for solar. The result is that last year Britain’s investment in renewables fell 56 per cent, compared to a 24 per cent rise in China.

Britain’s myopic energy policy is not down to Conservatives’ in-built hatred of the environment. It is because they are a capitalist party whose purpose is to smooth the way for capitalist firms, whose behaviour is dictated more than ever by short-term profits. 

The dozens of meetings ministers have held with the fracking industry in the last three years, the willingness to change the law to suit the interests of a dirty and dangerous industry, all point to the fundamental inability of a capitalist government to tackle long-term problems if these involve confronting corporate power.

That does not render all environmental campaigns futile pending socialist revolution. Whaling was big business, but was largely brought to an end by public pressure; a similarly bold campaign around the overuse of plastic, which is now poisoning the oceans, could also score big wins.

It does mean that the environmental and class struggles need to be waged together. 

The huge “gilets jaunes” protests in France are dismissed by President Emmanuel Macron as rooted in opposition to a “green” fuel tax rise. But that rise takes place in a context of raids on ordinary people’s wages and rights: it takes the form of a further squeeze on a working class under attack.

Making cars more expensive is not a solution unless you provide alternatives. 

Tory ministers annually refuse to force down runaway train fares on the grounds that it is unfair for non-passengers to subsidise passengers: as if a current system where both subsidise a handful of grasping rail tycoons is somehow preferable.

This is why Labour’s insistence on renationalising the railways and encouraging public ownership of the buses, with incentives for people to use them including free travel, is so crucial. 

Western governments’ environmental policies are merely tinkering on the brink. We must do more: but that involves an approach that an economy owned and controlled by a wealthy few is incapable of taking. 

Climate chaos brings a fresh emphasis to Rosa Luxemburg’s observation that we stand at a crossroads: “either transition to socialism, or regression to barbarism.”


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