Socialist Alternative

Despite Dire Warnings, Environment Is Secondary To Profit Under Capitalism

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Every day the news cycle is flush with grim warnings from renowned scientists telling us that we urgently need to change course to avoid the most deadly impacts of climate change. In the US alone, a climate-change-fueled extreme weather event causes over $1 billion in damage every 3 weeks!

From “once in a lifetime” flooding every few years, to extreme heat events, and deadly wildfires, climate warning lights are flashing. Yet the priorities in the biggest economy in the world aren’t focused on addressing the crisis: instead all signs point towards acceleration. 

The US military is the largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world, and has a larger carbon footprint than entire countries. Democrats have crowed about the “victory” of capping the military budget to a 1% increase this year, but that’s still $849 billion invested in worsening the carbon balance sheet. 

This amount of military spending reflects the real priorities of the political establishment–even when the US isn’t technically at war. That figure doesn’t even include the blank check written to give the Israeli military “whatever it needs” to carry out its genocidal war on Gaza, including Biden’s new plan to spend $18 billion to provide fighter jets to Israel. It also doesn’t account for the historic $75 billion in US aid propping up Ukraine’s military.

The True Cost Of Military Spending

Beyond just the burning of fossil fuels to transport military equipment and personnel around the world, the weapons the US and other nations are urgently stockpiling have no purpose other than destruction, which in turn pushes other ecological tipping points into hyperdrive.

Already, one in ten people globally are experiencing hunger, and topsoil depletion, which is essential to crop growth, is already on track to hit 90% in the next 50 years due to unsustainable farming techniques. The current priorities of the ruling class mean previously fertile land like Palestinian olive groves and Ukrainian wheat fields are bombed into barren wastelands. 

Lack of access to clean water is cited as both a driver of, and a weapon in, war. Already one in three people don’t have access to safe drinking water, but bombs drop on precious reservoirs, water infrastructure, and groundwater to further punish ordinary people in pursuit of global domination. 

Why Don’t Biden Or Trump Care About The Brutal Impacts Of Climate Change?

Lives lost, communities destroyed, business as usual disrupted: aren’t these the kinds of things political leaders are supposed to care about? Why are emissions that drive climate catastrophe still going up despite constant promises to the contrary?

Neither presidential front runner is putting forward a green jobs program to massively expand public transit, high quality housing, and other major projects that would make a huge impact on climate change. One reason is the opposition by big business, which sees it as a threat to their profits. But another key reason is the pressure to outcompete China. US global prestige and competitiveness have been in decline for over a decade. China’s expanded global influence has provoked what Socialist Alternative has described as a “new cold war”.

The escalating tensions of the new cold war undermine any push for the necessary global plan to address the climate catastrophe. The drive for singular global economic domination over resources and markets is foundational to capitalism, and whoever sits in the White House will face pressure from big business to ruthlessly pursue the top spot.

The signature pieces of legislation in Biden’s presidency, the CHIPS act and the Inflation Reduction Act, have as their central priority keeping an edge on China. Despite public transit being more sustainable and affordable, Biden has prioritized handouts to car companies to produce electric vehicles to outcompete China. In contradiction to his denunciation of fossil fuels, Biden is underwriting oil pipeline expansion to power data centers deemed necessary to a rapid AI roll out to stay ahead of China. 

In short, the scramble for control over raw materials and short term profitable industries is more important for both parties than the immiseration of billions and preventable deaths of millions. And that’s the rub. Capitalism is fundamentally unable to prioritize the livability of the planet over this quarters’ profits. 

We urgently need to build an environmental movement that fully breaks with the empty promises of the pro-war Democrats. Already young people are coordinating international walkouts on the climate and against the war on Gaza. This kind of international movement is urgently needed–climate catastrophe isn’t contained by borders.

This momentum should be built on by concretizing demands of a permanent ceasefire, and an end to the global military build up. Such a movement, to win, will need a serious strategy for escalation that includes organized work stoppages. 

Beyond ending the wars, the next thing to tackle is major industries like rail, airlines, healthcare, and food production which are currently run for profit. The anti-war, environmental movement should advocate to rapidly take major companies that are responsible for essential goods into public ownership, so these industries can operate sustainably and for the public good. A planned economy, operating on a global level, is the only way to make the rapid, systemic changes that are necessary in time to head off the most deadly impacts of climate catastrophe. 

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