This summer the Gulf region and the Carribbean were pummeled by a record-breaking series of hurricanes knocking out infrastructure and devastating the lives of thousands. Wildfires have ripped through the western United States, incinerating homes and creating hazardous air quality in countless cities. This is a horrific warning of the coming human and environmental catastrophe we face if we don’t seriously address climate change.
The warming oceans are leading to more violent storms. Warming air and land are creating tinderboxes in regions of the country. The broader issue of melting ice in both polar regions and shifts in the seasons are harbingers of a much more violent shift in weather and climate as we get closer to a fast-approaching climate tipping point.
Yet, incredibly, we face a Republican administration that rejects a scientific view of climate change and instead is subservient to the interests of the coal, gas and oil industries. The Clean Air Act is being dismantled, there has been a doubling down on support for carbon-based extraction industries, and the administration is seeking to open up the Alaskan wilderness to oil extraction.
Future generations will need to prosecute the key players in this deliberate ravaging of our planet, and the hundreds of thousands of lives, mainly working class and poor people, that will be lost due to the poisoning of the air and water, and starvation resulting from destruction of crops due to fires, an inhospitable growing climate, and flooding.
Building a Powerful Movement
The election of Trump has been a lightning rod to bring millions of people into the streets and into political activity. Socialists seek to point towards real solutions to climate change but also a strategy that can mobilize the broader working class into political activity to fight for these solutions.
In his presidential campaign last year, Bernie Sanders argued for popular policies that would be a huge step in the right direction including:
- A massive investments in energy efficiency and clean, sustainable energy such as wind and solar power.
- Create a Clean-Energy Workforce of 10 million good-paying jobs by creating a 100% clean energy system.
- End the huge subsidies that benefit fossil fuel companies; to tax polluters causing the climate crisis.
- Create clean, domestic energy alternatives to power our cars and trucks; support workers in their transition into clean energy jobs. (BernieSanders.com)
The burning question is how to fight for and win these policies.
While Sanders has played an important role publicizing these green energy policies, unfortunately, he is pointing to the Democratic Party as a vehicle to achieve them. Is this possible? Can the Democrats really deliver such policies? If not, how can we create a force that can do that?
Where’s the Democratic Party?
The signs are not at all good. Surely, at a time when the attention of the country has been riveted by the devastating consequences of hurricanes and wildfires, the Democratic Party should be connecting the dots to climate change and using this opportunity to build support for transformative policies. However, this hasn’t happened. Incredibly, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a “hawk” on climate change, recently commented “We have a lot of time to make that point.” A fantastic opportunity to build support for addressing climate change has been squandered.
There has been almost total silence from the Democrats on climate change since Trump was elected. Rather than expose the Republican agenda, they have been looking to build bipartisan support for the most mediocre bill: the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act. This Act offers market-based solutions, including a mild carbon tax alongside a sizeable reduction in the corporate income tax, despite the fact that carbon taxes have proved totally ineffective. Yet even this has only been signed onto by one Republican.
It is because climate change demands transformative policies that the Democrats are paralyzed to act. The Democratic Party establishment is desperately courting corporate money for the 2018 election. But their corporate backers are demanding a doubling down on policies that maximize their profits! This is why the Democratic Party establishment is desperately trying to demonstrate that they are not beholden to the Sanders agenda. This again shows why working people and the poor need their own political party accountable to them only and based on their interests.
The Limits of Capitalism
Are the owners of the major corporations interested in addressing climate change? As any economics textbook will confirm, corporate CEOs are mandated to maximize their shareholders’ dividends. It is this profit motive that drives capitalism. It is also the driving force behind neo-liberalism – to get government off the back of big business and win business-friendly policies. This is why corporate America broadly supports Trump’s relentless drive to eliminate environmental regulation.
Some people will point to the development of the market in solar energy, wind energy, and electric cars as evidence that capitalism can respond to the climate crisis. However, this actually confirms the limits of solutions based on the capitalist market since these investments are based on the potential making profit in certain niche markets. While this can help bring solar power and some electric cars to the marketplace, this is not a model to retool the heart of the economy.
A National Plan for Energy and the Climate
Our economy and society needs to be re-organized around green energy. But, this come directly into conflict with profits of the fossil fuel corporations and other sections of the ruling class who ferociously resist any such policies. Another major problem is that individual capitalist governments are often unwilling to take decisive steps because this would create a competitive disadvantage with other countries. The corporate-friendly policies of governments explain the repeated failure of earlier climate change conferences to reverse climate change at a time when the problems were not so advanced.
This conflict between profit maximization and the necessary overhaul of the economy poses the need for bold and extensive direct government intervention through public ownership of key sectors of the economy, in particular the big energy companies. This would allow the development of national and international plans to mobilize and direct resources to address climate change. It will mean standing up to and trampling on the interests of corporate owners. It will also mean putting aside national interests to focus on an overall international solution.
At a time when the consequences of the 2008 crisis are still shaking the political establishment and with another crisis on the way, with the rise of nationalist candidates and political parties, governments around the world are growing increasingly inward-looking. This exposes the complete failure of capitalism in this period of crisis to deal with deep structural problems of society like growing inequality, poverty, lack of affordable housing, access to affordable health care, etc., as well as climate change. This poses the urgent necessity to build a political movement and a political party which takes no corporate cash and represents the interests of working people. This movement will fight for all possible reforms now on the road to ending capitalism on a global basis, and building a new society based on democratic socialist planning.