Profit or Planet? — Don’t Let Capitalism Cost Us the Earth


If you’ve been paying attention to the weather the last several years, you can see why the debate about how to respond to the threat of global warming is becoming more mainstream: The problem can no longer be ignored by the establishment. When even oil-man George Bush, in a recent State of the Union address, refers to the “challenge of climate change,” you know it’s serious.

Once phase one – denial of the problem – becomes impossible, the ruling class moves on to phase two: save face by pretending to deal adequately with the situation. But we can’t afford to pretend; we can’t afford anything less than the truth.

Speaking of truth, Al Gore’s recent film, An Inconvenient Truth, gives a good example of how the establishment takes on global warming. While the film has helped generate much-needed awareness of the issue, it fails to empower its viewers with real answers on what is necessary to stop global warming. Gore advocates free-market solutions, green consumerism, and voting for Democratic politicians rather than explaining the need to build mass movements to challenge the giant corporations who are wreaking environmental havoc.

It is also ironic that someone who claims to stand for the wise use of our natural resources wastes them – and his viewers’ time – on a public relations ploy. I haven’t done the math, but I estimate 35% of the film featured Gore in the limelight with the environment as barely a stage prop.

Many, especially those in power, will argue that “the market has a green thumb,” but it is clear that we cannot leave the fate of our planet to be decided by corporate initiatives. Someone referred to the evacuation of New Orleans as a “free-market evacuation,” because those with enough resources were able to flee to higher ground while the city’s less fortunate were left behind to live or die as best they could.

As with so many other things, when it comes to global warming working people and the poor suffer first and suffer worst. Who can forget those images of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, with desperate people wandering through the flooded streets of a wrecked city? Unless we take decisive action, for many, many people these will be images of the future.

The current assault on ordinary people’s quality of life is also an assault on the environment. Will the same set of policies that gave us NAFTA and CAFTA provide a solution? These free trade agreements were entered into for the purpose of finding cheap labor and little or no environmental regulations – which is what the corporate world is really about.

From its beginnings, capitalism has always looked on both human beings and the environment as a means to the all-encompassing end of amassing profit. From its beginnings, the labor movement has struggled for environmental justice, fighting for better conditions in workplaces and communities.

Working people need to win the struggle to protect the environment in the same way we won struggles for the weekend, civil rights, and any number of other truly worthwhile things. Building a democratic, fighting movement in the streets that campaigns against the destruction of the environment and on working-class issues is the best place to start. We can struggle against unemployment by calling for massive public works programs designed to clean up the environment.

We can force corporations to quit devastating the planet through the practice of planned obsolescence – the immensely irresponsible and unnecessary production of shoddy goods that have to be replaced in a short time, so the market can be stimulated and profits can keep rolling in to pay for things like personal jets for corporate execs.

We can work for a world without the waste of military production, and support the development and use of renewable energies such as solar, wind, and water power. And we can fight for our workplaces to be democratically run by the people who work at them and live nearby, rather than by CEOs thousands of miles away who are safe from local environmental impacts.

Global warming is an international problem, and it calls for an international solution. The response of isolated individuals in the face of disasters like Katrina is naturally not enough to cope with the situation. Nor is it enough to prevent future disasters by simply “shopping green” as concerned individual consumers.

It’s time to focus on the stake we all have in what is produced – and how it is produced. Massive cooperation is needed to plan and implement a solution, but we cannot expect such cooperation from a system based on competition. Socialists fight for a democratic, cooperative economy by calling for democratic planning designed to satisfy human needs rather than corporate greed.

The chaotic capitalist system threatens catastrophe to the world as we know it. When it comes to the question, “Profit or planet?” the answer we give is “Plan it.”