Editorial: System change not climate change

In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body set up by the United Nations to provide governments with information on climate change, warns that we have about twelve years to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels and that drastic action will be required to achieve this. Temperature rises above 1.5 C risk catastrophic consequences for life on this planet. Recently, scientists have been warning that global warming has been escalating at a faster pace than previously predicted. Sir David Attenborough has added his voice at the opening of the UN climate change summit in Poland (also known as COP24) by warning that unless decisive action is taken civilisations may face collapse and much of the natural world may become extinct.

Given these and other warnings over the years, this is surely the wake-up call to galvanise governments into action? Well apparently not. Since 1992, governments have come together in periodic summits to attempt to thrash out agreements to combat global warming but have achieved little success. Either they are reluctant to accept carbon emission targets or find ways to dodge them. In June 2017, Donald Trump announced the United States withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. At the COP24 summit, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait objected to a summit motion ‘welcoming’ the IPCC report, preferring to ‘note’ it instead, which would make it easier for them to ignore it.  It seems easier for governments to negotiate trade deals than to combat environmental degradation. As intractable as the problem of Brexit is, it is a safe bet that it will be resolved long before the environmental crisis. What is holding us back?

Capitalism depends on the drive for profits, which must take priority over everything else. Capitalists compete with each other in the market place and have to keep their costs to a minimum, otherwise they may lose out to their competitors and their businesses may fail. Green measures that may increase business costs will have to be ignored. Nation-states face the same pressures, as they compete on global markets. Governments, which look after the interests of their respective capitalists, seek to protect their lucrative extractive industries. Hence Donald Trump’s reason for pulling out of the Paris agreement was that it was bad for US businesses and jobs. Seen from this context, prescriptions by environmentalists for people to change their lifestyles – to  reduce their consumption of meat, to use public transport rather than private vehicles – will not resolve the crisis.  If we are to have an environmentally sustainable future and avoid ecological catastrophe, we cannot rely on the capitalists and their governments to achieve this for us, we, the working class, must organise quickly to rid ourselves of capitalism and establish a society of common ownership of the means of living where we will be to plan production in a rational environmentally friendly way according to human need. We strongly urge workers to join us in this urgent task.