A damning report last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that we have just 12 years to take action before a global temperature rise by 1.5°C takes place. We are now not just facing climate change, but an existential crisis, posing the question of what world younger generations will inhabit. 

By Tom Costello, Socialist Alternative – (CWI publication in England and Wales)

The effects of the crisis are already being felt globally. Climate scientists this year have found that the permafrost in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted. A new global surge of wildfires is under way – in California, forest fires rage over an area roughly 500% larger than that in 1972. 

But the scale of the crisis is revealing itself most in the neo-colonial world. 350 million people in South-East Asia and Africa have been facing killer heatwaves this year. Temperatures of up to 48°C in Northern and Central India have already claimed the lives of over 36 people – the real figure is likely to be higher. At the current rate, there will be a huge spike in climate refugees before 2050, forced from their homes as vast areas of the world are rendered inhospitable. 

It is in this situation that a new generation of young people and workers have begun to ask: how do we face up to the crisis? What sort of political change will be necessary to address it? It is in this situation, and in the context of a growing global climate revolt, that the International Executive Committee of the CWI met on 12-16 August in Belgium. Socialists from more than 20 countries, with representation on every continent of the world, discussed and debated to develop a common answer and common programme to resolve this crisis.

Youth showing the way

With growing outrage and fear over the climate emergency developing globally, politicians are facing increased pressure to find answers. The old answer – that working class people are to blame as consumers – has proven to be completely unsatisfactory. 

A product of this development is seen in the United States. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the US House of Representatives and a self-described democratic socialist has introduced the idea of a ‘Green New Deal’. Proposing that a tax hike for the super-rich be used to fund green jobs and sustainable infrastructure projects, it has managed to generate mass approval among working and middle class Americans. A recent poll conducted at Marist College, New York, found that 63% of respondents supported the idea of a Green New Deal.

This reflects a wider social trend internationally. Workers, students and young people in particular have begun to look around for increasingly radical ideas, while the political establishment and the ruling class have offered nothing but false promises and empty gestures. There is a growing recognition that the current economic system is incapable of meeting the needs of the planet. A recent Carbon Majors Report found that just 100 corporations around the world are responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. 

It has been no surprise to many that the dissatisfaction and anger of millions of young people has found its expression in the #YouthStrike4Climate. The movement was sparked in August 2018 when a 16-year old student, Greta Thunberg, began organising demonstrations outside the Riksdag (Swedish parliament) in Stockholm, to demand immediate action to save the climate. It has since has exploded, with 1.5 million people across the world walking out of schools and colleges on March 15. The next wave has been labelled an ‘Earth Strike’, following Greta’s call for workers to stage walkouts to expand and develop the resistance. 

During a recent speech to the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland, Thunberg said: “We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. If solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.” This reflects a growing mood on the #YouthStrikes. But in many ways, the consciousness is moving in an anti-capitalist direction. To a wide layer of youth, capitalism’s drive towards endless profit-seeking all else renders it totally incompatible with genuine climate justice.

Global revolt 

A constant theme in the week’s discussion has been the high level of internationalism on display during the strikes. There is a widespread recognition that, because climate change cannot be tackled in a single country, the movement must have a global character, based around strong links between campaigns in all countries. The CWI, as a united and international organisation of socialist fighters, has at every step encouraged this process and integrated it into every aspect of its work in the climate movement.

It is vitally important that we build solidarity across borders between the #Youth Strike and the organised workers movement. In Northern Ireland, workers have occupied Belfast’s Harland & Wolff shipyard in protest at job losses. In a period of declining profitability, 130 jobs are set to be lost. The logic of the capitalist market dictates that, where there isn’t a profit to be made, working class communities must go through further hardship. This will add to the problems of a new generation of young people, currently entering into an increasingly precarious labour market.

The Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) has played a key role, through its influence in the Northern Ireland trade union movement, in supporting the workers’ demands for nationalisation to save jobs. We have connected the demands to the climate movement, calling for a system of democratic control, for the workers to be re-skilled in production for renewable energy equipment, as part of a transition towards 100% green employment.

This working class orientation is adopted in all the sections of the CWI. On the other side of the globe in Australia, the students’ strikes have taken aim at the Queensland Labor government, which has given approval for fossil fuel giant Adani to open a new coal mine that would mean nothing but disaster for workers, aboriginal people and the many endangered species that live around the mine.

Coal mining in the region will affect the quality of water in the Galilee Basin, providing water to 20,000 people. The Socialist Party (CWI in Australia) has enthusiastically intervened, raising the need for public ownership to deliver paid training in renewable energy jobs for communities reliant on the fossil fuel industry. 

This reveals a common internationalist approach, which will be revealed in Paris at the Climate Action Summit on the 21st September. The CWI will carry out an international intervention, both at the Paris summit and in strikes and protests around the world, under the banner: “system change not climate change – fight for a socialist alternative!” 

Democratic plan for the planet

As Marx put it, capitalist production “undermines the sources of all wealth – the earth and the working class”. This idea guided the discussion at the CWI’s IEC meeting. We have re-affirmed our common Marxist approach to the environment, linking the destruction of the planet to a system that thrives on the exploitation of working class people around the world.

Any action that capitalist governments will be able to deliver will be too little, too late. We must act with the knowledge that capitalism is not suited to take on the task of addressing the climate emergency, and steering the world towards a clean and sustainable future for humanity. A programme to tackle the crisis will first have to guarantee free, accessible and high-quality public transport. This would be matched with massive public investment to guarantee ecological housing for all. 

But this will require a broader change. We must take on the capitalist system itself. This would have to involve, as a first step, taking the energy companies, transport, agribusiness and major industry out of the hands of the profiteers. A system of workers control and management would be able to lay down the basis for an international democratic socialist plan of sustainable production, based on the need of people and planet and not of an exploiting elite.

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