The following article comes from "COMMUNIST", the Progressive Labor Party journal located here:
Global Warming Driven by the Profit System… ONLY COMMUNISM CAN CREATE A SUSTAINABLE WORLD
The political context – the state of the world Imperialist war threatens to spread from Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iran, and eventually China. This process is leading to World War III, which will most likely involve the use of nuclear weapons, particularly by whichever side is on the brink of defeat, and possibly before that stage.
The U.S. capitalists emerged from World War II as the top imperialist power, but their rivals are fast overtaking them economically. Out-of-control U.S. military expenditures since World War II have the goal of preserving past power over imperialist rivals, but they are now an obstacle to spending on infrastructure and industry, thereby contributing to the loss of U.S. economic supremacy.
Stepping back a little farther, capitalism has been developing as the world’s economic system over the last several centuries and has gone through different stages. Conquest and slavery built the initial accumulation of fortunes in the hands of a small class of exploiters and murderers, with the rise of racism first in the U.S. to justify slavery and then in Europe in the 1700s and 1800s to justify the slave trade, racism grew to justify the seizure of colonies and the enslavement of people from the Western Hemisphere, India, Asia, Australia, and Africa, and to justify the wanton murder of millions of colonial subjects who refused to submit. Racism is still the chief method through which capitalist ruling classes around the world maintain their power over the much larger working masses. Racism has two major benefits for the capitalists, even as it kills millions of workers – it divides in order to conquer, and it greatly enlarges profits through superexploitation at home and abroad.
As the entire world was taken up by colonies in the late 1800s, capitalism reached the age of imperialism, with sometimes local but increasingly world-wide wars to add to colonial holdings at the expense of rival imperialists. World Wars I and II in the twentieth century involved increasing numbers of competing nations, jockeying for alliances and killing tens of millions of workers in the process, with greater and more horrific weaponry. By this time, large accumulations of capital gave rise to concentration in the hands of banks that could lend and thereby shift capital wherever it was most profitable, with the bankers taking their increasingly massive rakeoffs. Big industrialists like J.P. Morgan (railroads and electrical power) and John D. Rockefeller (oil to run rail and electricity), among many other 19th century robber barons, became the U.S.’s top bankers. In more recent decades the inability of U.S. and other capitalists to find profitable manufacturing outlets for their massive capital has resulted in the financial sector’s current use of more complex and inscrutable forms of speculation to concentrate profits, at the same time producing less and less material wealth. The financialization of capital has led to the current worldwide economic crisis in which millions of workers have lost their jobs and homes, and millions more are starving to death – all because of the irrational inability of capitalism to benefit any but a shrinking minority class of billionaires. It has led to increased fascism in the form of gutting of the working class’ standard of living, nationalizing the U.S. auto and other major industries, and the building of nationalism and racism.
Now the U.S. owes much of the rest of the capitalists in the world vast amounts of money, as it has decreased its exports and increased its imports, requiring increasing amounts of borrowing from abroad thereby increasing the U.S. debt. Meanwhile a larger and larger proportion of the spending by the U.S. government is being devoted to the military to maintain the political power of the capitalists over their rivals abroad, even as they lose their economic power. The U.S. has close to 800 military bases spread around the world (Johnson 2000, 2004, 2006 – all references and bibliography at the end). This not only overextends the U.S. empire economically but brings about the intense hatred of the U.S. imperialists by workers all over the globe. Its rival imperialists are waiting in the wings for renewed opportunities to enhance their power as well through such wars, as they have done in the past.
The ecological context – the state of the earth Stepping back still farther, the ecological context of the state of the world is becoming more and more critical. Ecology concerns the many interactions among the millions of plant and animal species on the earth and the rest of the environment, i.e., all of nature. Besides discussing the interaction between classes, we will also look at the interaction between capitalism and the rest of nature (shortened for simplicity to “nature”), an artificial division made only for purposes of analysis. In reality, however, capitalist society is as much a part of nature as taking in raw materials and ejecting the waste products, but in addition it involves the application of human labor to the production process. Social metabolism is central to economics. Some, though by no means all, pre-class societies – for example certain groups of North American Indians – had great respect for nature as their source of food, water, shelter, and clothing. They treated it with great care, preserving and taking only what was needed and being careful that waste products did not destroy nature’s bounty. Other pre-class societies unwittingly destroyed forests and drove many species to extinction as they introduced new diseases and cleared land for farming, sometimes resulting in migrations and clashes with neighboring societies. Capitalism is a form of social organization that systematically destroys nature. It is a system driven not by need, and particularly not by the need to preserve the natural sources of its bounty, but rather by profit. Profitmaking requires efficiency only within the individual business, but the competition inherent in profit-making requires that all businesses maximize profits continually, and particularly over the short term, or go belly up. Worst of all, capitalism prevents the world’s working class from acting in accord with our need to preserve nature for ourselves and for future generations.
Furthermore capitalism, for all practical purposes, prevents us from obtaining food, water, shelter, clothing, and other needs, unless we work for the capitalists and produce more than we are paid – with the excess taking the form of surplus value, or profit. By withholding our access to the necessities of life, the capitalists force us to do their bidding. The world’s working class today is just as enslaved by capitalism’s withholding these necessities as if we were forced to live and work in collars and chains. Black and Latin workers in the U.S. and superexploited workers throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America are held in particular bondage. The superexploitation is enforced by naked military repression and maintained through racist ideology. Marxists call this global form of bondage wage slavery.
On the resource side: capitalists appropriate nature for their own class needs, in effect stealing it from the working class, enforcing their control over us and over the earth through their control of state power. They stripmine and destroy entire mountains, they force overfishing of the oceans in the competitive drive for profits, they clear-cut forests for wood products, they drain wetlands for city development without creating replacements elsewhere. Paraphrasing one author, capitalism turns land into real estate, forests into lumber, and oceans into fisheries (Foster, 2002). And, we would add, turns the world’s working class into profit-producing commodities as appendages to capitalist machines.
Under chattel slavery, workers’ bodies and minds were consumed in backbreaking labor with death coming at an early age. Under wage slavery, dehumanizing exploitation grinds down our bodies (if we survive workrelated accidents and illness).
On the waste product side: capitalists dump toxic or radioactive waste into soil, rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere, with numerous deaths resulting but without our class being able to do much to stop them, since the state protects only capitalist interests. In a few local situations, through long major collective campaigns, workers have forced a few temporary concessions, but the overall destruction of lives and the environment accelerates everywhere else. The capitalists thus literally get away with this type of murder, just as they do through police brutality, poverty, racism, and oil wars. In its single-minded drive for profit, world capitalism is fast exhausting the earth’s resources, and what is left is fast being ruined by waste products. The most important resources fast approaching exhaustion are oil (the lifeblood of capitalist economies) and fresh water (the lifeblood of all plants and animals). The primary waste products include toxic and radioactive substances and most important, as we discuss in detail below, so-called greenhouse gases (GHGs). The most important of these include chiefly carbon dioxide (CO2), then water vapor (H2O), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4), among many others.
Preservation of resources for industry and life itself is vital for humanity but simply not profitable in the short term for capitalism, and short term is the only level on which capital can possibly function. A lapse in profitability means the death of a business, just as a lapse in food and water means the death of a living thing. As a consequence of the necessarily short-term outlook (in effect, blindness) of capitalism, we find ourselves in the new millennium nearing the practical exhaustion of resources that until recently have been regarded as effectively infinite. Much has been written recently about so-called peak oil, i.e., the stage at which large oil discoveries are coming to an end and the remaining known oil reserves are becoming more and more expensive to extract, leading eventually to unprofitability and therefore to slowing of, and eventually an end to, its extraction. The peak is defined as the point where daily production actually starts to decrease, a point which has already been reached in many oil-producing countries, including the U.S. in 1970. Even before this point there will be a failure of still rising global production to keep up with growing global demand. When these cross, such that daily global demand actually begins to exceed daily global production, prices will skyrocket. Even before this day arrives, in an attempt to keep up their profitability, oil companies will begin to jack up their prices faster and faster in anticipation of its arrival. But the oil companies are not quite down to that yet. Five of the 2009 top seven Fortune 500 companies (in terms of gross income) are either oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips) or auto companies (GM, which nevertheless just declared bankruptcy, and Ford), along with GE, that requires oil to run its electrical products. The only other company in the top 7 is WalMart, just displaced by ExxonMobil for first place. Clearly oil profits have not begun to suffer yet, but are on the brink, and the oil companies are fighting a losing battle to maintain their supremacy – both to prevent any competing source of energy, such as nuclear, from displacing oil and to deny that their product is causing global warming. This is similar to the cigarette companies, which for years denied that their product causes lung cancer. Capitalist profit, when it comes into conflict with truth, is the usual winner, at least until truth can no longer plausibly be denied.
While the dynamic of interimperialist rivalry causes continual wars, regardless of the remaining abundance of resources, the imminent approach of peak oil, if it has not already arrived, and the approaching end of U.S. economic supremacy only tend to make these wars more desperate and deadly. All imperialists have a life-anddeath need to secure sources of oil for three interrelated reasons: 1) to run their economies and their military machines, 2) for its profitability, and 3) to control their rivals’ access to this vital resource. These clearly feed on each other, with military power necessary to maintain the other two, particularly concentrated today in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia, with West Africa, the Horn of Africa in the east, Venezuela, Colombia, and other Latin American oil reserves not far behind. This means that as the world’s profitably extractable oil reserves reach their peak and start to run out, each imperialist power will be forced to step up their drive toward war against rivals and to step up fascism at home, first to mobilize their respective sections of the world’s working class into their armies and, second, to override multiple conflicting priorities among their various national capitalists. The current world capitalist financial crisis only intensifies the rival imperialists’ desperation, even as it throws obstacles into their paths. Even under the lengthening shadow of impending climate change, war and fascism in the 21st century threaten to dwarf all of the 20th century world wars, resulting in as yet unimaginable levels of working class death and misery.
And even as the earth is rapidly being depleted of profitably extractable oil, and sooner or later coal and natural gas, GHGs are being emitted at faster and faster rates from electrical energy generation, industrial, and transportation processes, as capitalist economies expand around the world. The current global financial crisis may be temporarily slowing this process, but the trend continues. GHGs are causing a rapid warming of the atmosphere, glaciers, soil, and oceans that threatens to change the earth’s climate radically and to push that change into an irreversible phase with catastrophic results – irreversible, that is, in less than tens of thousands of years, if not forever.
While the depletion of oil will be a major problem for capitalists who depend, either directly or indirectly on oil for their profits, it will also be a disaster for the working class because of the way capitalism has structured our entire way of life. Capitalism has centered its economic activity around the use of fossil fuels for energy for over a century, at the same time preventing the systematic construction of public transportation in favor of the automobile economy, beginning in the U.S., with its roads, service stations, and auto factories, involving as well the entire relationship of cities to suburbs. As oil becomes unprofitable to extract and the cost skyrockets, workers will have great difficulty in most cities and certainly in rural areas getting to our jobs, to buy food, and to access all other necessities of life.
The depletion of fresh water will become a catastrophe as well, both directly for personal use and indirectly through the effect on our food supply. There is no lack of water in general on the earth, since almost 70% of the earth’s surface is ocean, but fresh water that is suitable for drinking, hygiene, and agriculture is fast being depleted by conversion to salt water. This depletion is partly due to the way capitalist agriculture is performed, without an eye toward conservation of this vital resource, but the main cause is global warming (explained below). Furthermore wars are being fought over fresh water sources. For example, Israel’s determination to hold on to the West Bank, seized by war from Jordan in 1967, is based on the fact that the Jordan River and the adjacent underground aquifers are a major source of Israel’s fresh water, even though drought is now depleting both sources. Under these conditions all other considerations take a back seat, including the international condemnation (often hypocritically from other capitalist governments) that the Israeli ruling class receives for its brutal suppression of its Arabic working class neighbors and inhabitants.
But, without trivializing the disastrous effects of oil and water depletion and the coming fascism and wars to secure their control, the impact of their depletion can be repaired once communist-led revolution puts the world under the control of the world’s working class, through clean sources of energy and through desalinization of sea water. What will not be so quickly reparable is the climate. The purpose of this statement
Our statements in this paper are based on very well established science and happen to be in line with the outlook of virtually all climate scientists. The casual observer might not realize that the vast majority of them have proven that global warming is happening and is caused by capitalist (what they call “human” or “anthropogenic”) activity. The confusion on this point is due to past media reports designed to create doubt. PLP does not automatically believe that scientists, even a majority of scientists in any particular field, are necessarily correct, but our in-depth analysis, guided as always by our use of the scientific method of dialectical materialism, tells us that when it comes to the capitalist causes of global warming the majority are indeed correct. Virtually no one in the world doubts that today’s times are desperate because of the current world economic crisis with its devastating effects on hundreds of millions of workers and our class allies, and because of the spreading murderous imperialist oil and mineral wars in the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. But not everyone recognizes that the accelerating exhaustion of extractable oil and fresh water and particularly the ongoing global warming threaten future generations of humanity, and will continue to do so for some time even after “the international working class becomes the human race.”
All of these problems, both economic (the interaction between social classes, i.e., bosses and workers) and ecological (the interaction between humans and the rest of nature), are interrelated in complex ways and, as we show below, are not the result of the industrial revolution or out-of-control consumerism, as the media, various authors, and even many climate scientists claim, but rather of the inherent laws of development of insatiable capitalism, as imperialist rivals all seek to accumulate infinite capital in a finite world.
The capitalists, as we show below, are systemically incapable of seriously addressing the problem. The pitifully ineffective gestures at addressing global warming by the Obama administration suggest that the U.S. ruling class is also using the global warming issue for other purposes than trying to solve the crisis. In particular, they are trying to rally workers and others around the globe to attack the rapidly developing rival capitalist powers of India and China, who are increasingly using fossil fuels, particularly coal (the dirtiest fossil fuel of all), to catch up with and surpass the U.S. economic powerhouse. II. The science of global warming and its impact on the world’s workers Fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, and their harmful effects The main fossil fuels are coal, oil, and natural gas. They are called fossil fuels because they are the result of animal and plant matter that died and decayed thousands to millions of years ago. Fossils are preserved specimens of dead organisms and therefore contain large amounts of carbon, a universal constituent of all living matter, both plant and animal.
As a constituent of fuel, when carbon is burned to generate energy it combines with oxygen to form the molecule CO2 (carbon dioxide), and CO2 is one of the socalled “greenhouse gases” (GHGs). GHGs act like the glass panes in a greenhouse to keep things warm. Indeed, next to water vapor, CO2 is the most abundant GHG in the atmosphere and is becoming even more abundant since the onset of capitalism’s industrial revolution 200 years ago.
1 GHGs as a whole comprise a growing component of the earth’s atmosphere. They cause warming by allowing sunlight to pass through from outer space to the ground or oceans, thereby warming them. As land and water heat up they radiate this heat away more and more in the form of infrared radiation. Some of the infrared radiation goes back into space, except for that part that is absorbed by the GHGs in the air. So GHGs allow visible light from the sun to pass from outer space to ground level but trap the infrared that is produced by the heating of the ground and oceans. Just think how a car gets hot in the summer when the windows are closed, from sunlight’s entering the car through the windows with the heat being unable to escape because glass, like GHGs, traps infrared radiation. That, after all, is what the glass in a greenhouse is intended to do for the purpose of growing plants. The more GHGs in the atmosphere, the more heat is retained on the surface of the earth and in the air.
For hundreds of millions of years this trapped heat was one of the necessary conditions that permitted life to arise. Without the trapping of some heat, the earth would be far too cold for large organic molecules (i.e., ones containing carbon) to form, and without them life could not exist. So GHGs, until recently, have been good for us. But as with virtually all things that are good for us, this is true only in moderate amounts.
However, in recent decades the GHGs – mostly CO2 and secondarily the increased atmospheric water vapor – have dramatically increased heat trapping, and, as a result, the average temperature of the earth is rising at such a rate that it is about to exceed any previously recorded level. The new feature, in addition to the natural sources of CO2 that have been around for millions of years and the natural places where CO2 is absorbed (mainly oceans, soil, and forests – so called carbon sinks), is the GHG emissions from capitalist use of fossil fuels – what most writers, the media, and the government refer to as human-caused, or anthropogenic, thereby shielding the capitalists from blame and shifting responsibility mainly to the most numerous part of humanity – the world’s working class. While the capitalist sources of CO2 are much smaller than the natural sources, the latter have been balanced by the natural carbon sinks. Now the added CO2 exceeds the capacity of the sinks to take it back out of the atmosphere at the same rate it is being added. Furthermore the sinks are being destroyed so that even the natural sources of CO2 are exceeding the capacity of the sinks to offset them. The result is a steady rise in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.
While oil is the most used fossil fuel in the U.S., the Chinese and Indian ruling classes mainly use coal to fuel their industries and produce electricity. These two countries alone account for more than one third of humanity, and their economies are expanding rapidly, with China about to overtake the U.S. as the largest economy in the world. The coal burning throughout south Asia is producing a brown haze that is causing vast amounts of respiratory illness and is spreading beyond the borders of these two countries. Recall the 2008 summer Olympics, before which Beijing had to clean its air as best it could so that athletes wouldn’t suffocate, an embarrassing situation for the Chinese ruling class.2 Pollution of this extent is not some future disaster, but a real effect even today of burning fossil fuels, and has been for almost two centuries. A visitor to Los Angeles, for example, is struck on many days by the invisibility of the San Gabriel Mountains to the north.
The earth is warming to a degree never previously seen
The current average global temperature is already just 3 to 4ºF below the highest temperatures recorded over the last 400,000 years, and has recently been rising at a rate of approximately half a degree over 30 years. This is a rate of rise never before seen except when the earth is coming out of an ice age (more on this below).
To begin with, how do we know what the earth’s average temperatures have been over the last several hundred thousand years? A record of past surface temperatures over that span of time is found by drilling miles down into deep ice in Greenland or Antarctica or by drilling into ocean or lake beds or into rock and bringing up cores of ice or sediment. The overlying layers are ones that were laid down later than the deeper layers, so the greater the depth the farther back in time we can go to measure such things as the composition and temperature of the atmosphere. There are various indicators of temperature in these layers, including such things as the relative amounts of two isotopes of oxygen (O16 versus O18) trapped in fossil marine animal shells. This permits us to draw a graph of temperatures over hundreds of thousands of years and allows us to see that, while average temperatures have varied significantly, we are soon about to exceed any past temperature for the measured period.
And this despite the fact that the earth’s climate has varied over tens to hundreds of thousands of years by significant amounts. It has gone through alternating periods of severe cold and comfortable warmth (comfortable, that is, for life), called ice ages and interglacial or warm periods, respectively. The most recent ice age lasted about 120,000 years and ended about 10,000 years ago. Geologists find evidence in the layers of rock that during this ice age glaciers covered much of the earth, extending down into what are now low-latitude temperate regions, particularly in the northern hemisphere where most of the earth’s land mass is located and where most civilizations have arisen.
It was not long before this last ice age began that human beings first arose on the earth more than a hundred thousand years ago. Since the last ice age ended 10,000 years ago, we have been living in a period called the Holocene, more recently dubbed the Anthropocene (“Anthro,” again, refers to human beings) because of capitalism’s effect on climate. Societies in many parts of the world independently developed agriculture during this period of relative warmth.
The ice ages and warm periods have switched back and forth with relatively sudden and rapid change from one to the other. This alternating cycle has been found to be synchronized with another set of natural cycles. In the mid-1800s an amateur scientist in Scotland named James Croll discovered that ice ages were correlated with changes in the shape of the earth’s orbit around the sun and the tilt of its axis. Then in 1920 a Serbian scientist named Milutin Milankovitch published extensive mathematical calculations to chart several periodic variations in the shape of the earth’s orbit and hence the distance to the sun, and in the angle that its axis makes with the direction of the sun’s rays. It is the latter that gives rise to the four seasons of the year, which is well known to involve differences in average temperatures over the year in various parts of the world away from the equator. There are three of these cycles, now named after their discoverer, and each of them takes tens of thousands of years — one about 20,000 years (precession, like a top whose spin axis describes a cone in space as it is slowing down), the second about 40,000 years (nutation, a variation in the amount of tilt of the earth’s axis to the plane of its orbit around the sun just as a dying top describes wider and wider cones), and the third about 100,000 years (orbital eccentricity, changes in the degree of elongation of the earth’s slightly elliptical orbit). These cycles are caused in part by the gravitational interaction of the earth and other planets in the solar system (the planets surrounding the sun). The timing of the ice ages and warm periods is in near perfect coincidence with the lesser and greater amounts of average heat received by the earth from the sun due to these variations. Other scientists have noted cycles of sun surface activity involving so-called solar flares, with cycles of approximately 11 years, very much shorter than Milankovitch cycles, and which also cause variations in the amount of light and heat reaching the earth from the sun. But, while solar flare cycles seem to be correlated with a small amount of climate fluctuation over very long time intervals, they do not correlate with the steady warming of the last few decades. Indeed there has been no steady upward trend in solar activity over this recent period.
Jim Hansen, the Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies of NASA, has shown that the greatest change in global average temperature that the solar activity cycle could force is equal to that of about 7 years worth of current CO2 emissions. In other words, over time the effect of CO2 emissions overwhelms the effect of solar activity on global average temperature (Hansen). The recent acceleration of global warming coincides with the onset of the capitalist industrial revolution about two centuries ago, with its machinery that runs mainly on fossil fuels. And in the last 50 or 60 years this warming has accelerated dramatically as industrialization and oilconsuming modes of transportation have rapidly spread over most of the earth since World War II.
A graph of average earth temperature over the last many decades, with the recent sudden rise, resembles a hockey stick lying on its back with the part that strikes the puck representing a sudden rise over the rest of the shaft. The graph is even referred to by that name. It demonstrates that whatever natural cycles have caused climate changes in the past, and continue to do so in the present, only the addition of capitalism-caused GHG emissions can explain the recent upward trend in average global temperature. By way of preparing for the section to come on “tipping,” it should be noted that between ice ages and warm periods the overall range of average world temperatures, as opposed to local weather variations, has been only about 20ºF. Furthermore we are in the fifth warm period that has occurred between ice ages during the last 400,000 years, and we are currently experiencing an average world temperature that is only about 3 to 4ºF below the highest temperatures recorded during the previous four warm periods. A temperature variation of 20ºF is smaller than that between the time when we leave for work in the morning and we get home in the evening. And yet, for reasons that we discuss below, the effects of such seemingly small temperature variations can be extreme, as indicated by the qualitative difference between ice ages, in which much of the earth has been covered by glaciers, and warm periods such as we’ve enjoyed for the last 10,000 years and in which glaciers are mostly found in regions farther from the equator and at higher altitudes.
How current global warming was discovered
Over a century ago a Nobel Prize-winning Swedish chemist named Svante Arrhenius realized that CO2 in the atmosphere, along with other GHGs, trapped heat. But in those days the amount of GHGs was not sufficient to overcome the natural phenomena that affect climate, from forests, soil, and oceans, all of which absorb GHGs, to solar flares and variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, all of which affect the amount of solar radiation hitting the earth and therefore the rate of heat coming from outer space. Only in the last couple of decades has it gradually come to be realized by a growing number of scientists that the magnitude of GHG increase from electrical power generation, industrial, and transportation activity was beginning to shift the balance of all the natural effects. Today the vast majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening faster and faster.
How scientists know that the earth’s temperature is currently threatening to rise higher than ever, with predictable catastrophic effects for the world’s working class
The temperatures recorded in ice and sediment cores, when compared with recent direct temperature recordings, tell us that this warming is taking place and about to rise above previously recorded levels. Furthermore many of the side effects of global warming in the modern era are observable to virtually everyone in the world, so there is no way to hide them.
Consider the following:
a) Hurricanes: Increasingly violent and destructive hurricanes are occurring in recent years. The best known of these may be Katrina in August 2005, but in the same season Wilma was the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, and the total number of hurricanes that year had not been seen for 72 years. In that same year the first hurricane ever to hit Europe landed in Spain, and the first hurricane ever seen in the south Atlantic hit Brazil in 2004.
While no single weather event can be attributed to global warming with certainty, the increase in frequency of previously unusual events can be.
The frequency of more violent hurricanes will continue to increase, because warmer ocean surface temperatures create low pressures that cause such storms in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Like the Bhola cyclone in 1970 that killed 500,000 workers in Bangladesh and India (more than twice the number of Asian workers who were killed by the 2004 tsunami), increasingly violent hurricanes promise to kill or dislocate millions and millions of people. b) Heat waves: Heat waves are now occurring of a magnitude never before seen in certain places. In 2003 a summer heat wave killed 35,000 Europeans, mainly workers, and many thousands in India. The European death toll alone was 12 times the number of people who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. More and more devastating heat waves will result in tens of thousands of deaths. The dwindling energy sources will make it even harder, without a significant rise in the use of alternative energy sources, to compensate for the heat with fans, coolers, and air conditioning. And those destined to suffer the greatest effects are always the working class. c) Droughts and wildfires: Droughts are regional dry periods lasting months to years, involving less than average rainfall or river flow. Their frequency is increasing and results from the ability of warmer air to retain more moisture, thereby limiting, in regions not too near the poles, the amount of both rain and mountain snow that is now the source of most of the world’s fresh water supply.
The lack of rain is already resulting in greater numbers of increasingly destructive wildfires and hastening the drying up of rivers and underground water tables all over the world. Water is one of the most vital components of all life, and its increasing disappearance will not only cause millions and millions of deaths directly from dehydration and lack of sanitation, but agriculture and food supplies will also suffer, with widespread deaths from starvation. Already, as Pakistan’s Indus River, fed by dwindling Himalayan snow melt, dries up and India’s underground water table sinks below the level accessible by wells, agriculture is becoming more and more difficult, promising sooner or later to cause actual famines (Pearce 2006).
Within four consecutive days in January 2009 the press reported on drought conditions in Texas causing spreading wildfires in the winter and in Argentina and California’s central valley where farmers are seeing their fields dry up, and the dying off of oldgrowth forests in the western U.S., not only due to a lack of water directly, but also due to insects and diseases that spread with the dryness. And in early February, wildfires in Australia were outdoing past years.3
Of even greater importance is the fact that a long term drought in the vast Sahel region of northern Africa beginning in the late 1960s and lasting into the mid 1970s caused widespread famine. In recent years, however, as part of the general shifting of rainfall from one geographical region to another that is part of the global warming effect (see next paragraph), rain has begun to return to this region that stretches 2400 miles across the continent and extends over 600 miles in the north-south direction.
d) Floods: Along with droughts in some areas is an increase in floods in other areas that destroy lives, agriculture, and homes. As the earth warms, the cooler air that is necessary for rain to form is concentrated farther and farther from the equator, leaving more temperate and tropical zones dryer, and causing flooding in more northern regions, and even in southern regions that are not used to such extensive rains. The reason floods occur is that warmer air holds more moisture and saves it up as air masses travel until cooler conditions that cause condensation give rise to rain. Then the rain falls in much greater volumes much quicker, such that the ground is unable to absorb it all and the runoff gathers in lowlying areas, resulting in flooding. Thus the very same phenomenon (i.e., warmer air holds more water) accounts for the increase in frequency of both low and high extremes of rainfall, namely both droughts and floods, and a decrease in moderate rainfalls.
The effects of flooding are well known to millions who have experienced it, and to those who have not experienced them if only from watching Katrina’s effect on New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast in the U.S. and Mexico. Other catastrophic floods in Asia have been reported on TV news. These floods will become more frequent and will cause mass migrations of desperate workers away from these areas.
And, as usual and because of world-wide racism produced by capitalist ruling classes to divide the working class and make superprofits where possible, the people most severely affected will be the impoverished and superexploited black, latin and Asian workers, whether in the U.S. or abroad. It was black workers who suffered the most by far in New Orleans from Katrina, though white workers suffered extreme losses also, with only the richer ruling sections of the city, with their larger and stronger levees, suffering less devastation.
Lesser publicized effects of global warming, however, are even more serious, if that is possible. These include:
e) Large rise in sea level: The rise in sea level results from melting glaciers and ice shelves, particularly in Greenland and Antarctica that together hold more than 90% of the earth’s ice, with Antarctica holding about 10 times that of Greenland. Evidence strongly suggests that sea levels will rise as much as a few feet in several decades. To get an idea of scale, if all the ice in these two islands were to melt, the rise of sea level would be about 220 feet, which could take more than a century. However, if sea level were to rise just 3 feet, given today’s geographic population distribution over 100 million people would be displaced, the vast majority in Asia (see www.realclimate.org). In addition there are entire island nations in the Pacific that will be forced to move as well. It is estimated that 10% of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in the endangered cities. The hundreds of millions of people who will be displaced by this rise in sea level will have to go somewhere, abandoning their homes. The dislocations that this alone will cause are unimaginable, in addition to the social upheavals that will result, including loss of jobs and income, with lost access to food, shelter and transportation. The capitalist response to mass migrations of workers around the world will be martial law and a further intensification of the growing fascism in the U.S. and globally.
The time scale of this sea level rise contains significant uncertainties, mainly because of the uncertainties in how fast the melting of Greenland and Antarctica will proceed. However, there are possibilities of massive acceleration of this melting, which we address in the next section. What is not uncertain is that if things continue as they are today, or change by only token amounts, it is inevitable.
f) Interruption of the normal ocean circulation: There has been progressively more extreme melting of the north polar floating ice cap from one year to the next.4 But it is not just killing polar bears. The addition of fresh water to the North Atlantic from the melting sea ice, as well as from the melting Greenland glaciers which are also made of fresh water, threatens to dilute the salt concentration in the ocean and interfere with the normal circulation that depends in part on the salt concentration. This circulation of ocean currents is called the thermohaline (thermo means heat and haline refers to salt) circulation, and keeps the water moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back, over about a 1600-year period (Pearce 2007).
The progressive melting of the polar ice cap is bringing the possibility of interruption of the thermohaline circulation closer every year. Already the number of vortices in the waters between Greenland and Europe, that take the colder, saltier surface water down to the bottom of the ocean, as a critical part of the normal circulation, have decreased in recent years from an estimated twelve to two, with one of the remaining two already losing its force (Pearce 2007). If this circulation is interrupted it will have a direct effect on climate in places such as Europe that depend on the normal circulation, particularly in the form of the warm waters from the equator that ride the Gulf Stream northeastward. It is the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe temperate at relatively high latitudes. If the normal circulation of currents in the North Atlantic were to cease, Europe would be plunged into much colder temperatures, even as the warmer water remaining instead in the Gulf of Mexico would spawn even more violent hurricanes. For this reason, the thermohaline circulation is called the climate’s conveyor belt.
g) Dying coral reefs: Coral reefs that support a wide variety of fish are dying, and the dying fish constitute a disappearing supply of food for humans. This is a consequence of the ocean’s absorbing increasing amounts of CO2, which in turn causes acidification of the oceans and acts as an obstacle to the forming of shells and skeletons in the many sea creatures that make up coral reefs. The threat to many fish species, and to an important part of the food supply, is exacerbated by the anarchistic relations of capitalism in which giant fishing corporations use large nets to pick up everything in range.
h) Disappearing forests: Destruction of the world’s forests is accelerating through lack of rain and consequent increasing wildfire activity. Forests absorb large amounts of CO2, so greater emissions of GHGs results in less absorption, further increasing the GHG concentrations in the atmosphere. Disappearance of forests will accelerate, destroying the shelter for many of the world’s animal species as well as human inhabitants of, for example, the Amazon region in South America.
Both dying coral reefs and disappearing forests also mean accelerated extinction of tens to hundreds of thousands of species of plants and animals. In fact, as a result of rampant resource depletion and waste product pollution by capitalism, we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction. There have been five such massive extinctions of species over the last 600 million years, with the worst of them – the end-Permian 250 million years ago – causing a loss of 80-95% of all then existing species. All five of these mass extinctions have been traced most likely to major natural events such as super volcanoes, covering vast areas of land or ocean, or meteorite impacts, such as caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago (Benton). We are now again encountering a rapid rate of species extinctions, due not to natural events this time, but rather to capitalism’s structural requirement for maximum profits without regard to the consequencesi) Melting of permafrost: The permafrost (frozen ground water) in the arctic regions, particularly in Siberia and Alaska, is melting and releasing huge amounts of stored methane (also a fossil product). Methane is an even more effective GHG than CO2 by a factor of 25. However, methane is currently far less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2 by a factor of 200 in terms of concentration. This leaves CO2 as the dominant GHG for the time being. But as the permafrost continues to melt, it can only be a matter of time before methane catches up and starts to cause even faster global warming.
Another source of methane lies beneath the ocean floor in the form of so-called clathrates, which are ice particles that will melt as ocean temperatures rise, thus releasing large bubbles of methane into the air. j) Tropical and other diseases: Another likely effect of global warming is the spread of tropical diseases to new geographical locations (Speth). The introduction of new diseases to populations of people or animals that have not seen them before and have not developed immunities can have disastrous effects. Consider, for example, the deliberate use of smallpox by European settlers in the U.S. to decimate the Native American populations and steal their land, or the unintended epidemics of the great influenza of 1918-9 or AIDS, each responsible for an estimated 25 million deaths worldwide, with the AIDS epidemic still decimating the world’s working class. Even the unintentional epidemics caused, or are still causing, far more deaths than they otherwise would have, due to amplification by capitalist-caused poverty and war. (More on amplification in the next section.)
Diseases that are on the rise due to a warmer climate include allergies and asthma, both epidemic even in the imperialist nations. The higher temperatures bring earlier and longer pollen seasons, and ragweed is produced in higher quantities and a more potent form due to both higher temperatures and to higher concentrations of CO2 (Scientific American Earth 3.0, June 2009).
Diseases and insects that kill trees are spreading farther from the equator in North America due to milder winters – for example, mountain pine beetles are increasing by orders of magnitude, killing millions of very old trees in Wyoming, Colorado, and British Columbia, and threatening to wipe out entire forests. There are other types of natural disasters that do not result from global warming or energy depletion, such as tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquakes. But even the widespread destruction of human life from these events are not merely a result of nature’s violence, but rather of world capitalism’s disregard for warning systems and safer structures, at root a complete disregard for the wellbeing of the working classes beyond the minimum that it takes to maintain an adequate number of workers to produce the capitalists’ profits. Tipping: How climate can undergo rapid change in extreme ways from one condition to another, lasting for thousands of years Climate differs from local weather by covering much larger areas. It is well known that weather is unstable and can change drastically, violently, and quickly from one condition to another. Ask anyone who has lived through a hurricane (cyclone, typhoon – all names for the same thing in different parts of the world), tornado, flood, ice storm, or heat wave, if you haven’t had the pleasure yourself. What is not well recognized is that climate (as opposed to weather) can change in extreme ways as well, over longer time intervals. People who lived in Oklahoma in the 1930s and saw the central part of the U.S. turn to a dust bowl (described, e.g., in Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath) know this, and dwellers in the Sahel region of northern Africa are experiencing the same thing today.
The earth has been enjoying a relatively warm period for the last 10,000 years in much of the world, hospitable for the development of agriculture, animal domestication, and the civilizations that have been built on those foundations. Because of this experience and history, many scientists have taken it for granted that there must always be forces that act to stabilize the climate. There are in fact stabilizing forces, but destabilizing forces exist as well.5
Capitalism has had a profound impact on the planet. One third to one half of the earth’s land surface has been transformed by human action; CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 30% in the last 200 years of industrial capitalism; more than half of freshwater sources are now in use by human beings; over 20% of ocean fisheries have been depleted or are on the brink of being so; 25% of all bird species have already been driven into extinction by human activity; and the rates of species extinctions are now 100 to 1000 times that of eras prior to human domination of the earth (Foster 2002). It is estimated that 5 to 25 thousand species go extinct each year – that’s about 14 to 70 per day – out of some 20 to 100 million animal species total (Benton).
However, the interrelationships among various phenomena involving climate are very complex. For example, air-borne aerosols such as CFCs also have a cooling effect on the earth by reflecting sunlight away. In fact, Crutzen has pointed out that in the complete absence of any aerosols (not just CFCs), global average temperatures would be rising much faster from the increase in GHGs. Indeed there have been suggestions that aerosols might be able to reverse the trend toward runaway global warming, but that will only mask the disease by affecting the symptoms and will fail in the long run if GHGs continue to multiply. Besides, precisely because the interrelationships are so complex, the side effects of such a project might be difficult to predict. Contrary to the illusion that climate is always stabilized by natural forces, the very existence of numerous past ice ages lasting tens of thousands of years, suddenly alternating with warm periods lasting thousands of years, is demonstration enough that rapid extreme climate changes have occurred and certainly can and will occur again. We pointed out that the difference between average world temperature during a warm period and during an ice age is only about 20ºF. We further mentioned that we are now within 3 or 4ºF of the highest temperatures recorded during the last 650,000 years. Since the onset of capitalism’s industrial revolution with the accelerating rise in GHG emissions, that difference is rapidly decreasing toward zero and average world temperatures can be expected to go several degrees beyond within 20 to 30 years. Such seemingly small variations in average global temperature can give rise to dramatic changes in climate.
Consider for example the freezing/melting point of ice. If the air temperature around a glacier is just below the freezing/melting point, the ice stays frozen, but if it is just above it, the ice melts. This change can happen with only a fraction of a degree of temperature difference. When the average global temperature goes up, say, 1ºF, there will be regions at the edges of glaciers where the temperature is on the borderline between freezing and melting that will now see melting temperatures, causing the glaciers to shrink. These regions continue to move farther away from the equator as the average global temperature continues to rise, so that the glaciers shrink more. The opposite occurs in times of cooling, and the edges of the glaciers move closer to the equator. This example all boils down (to use an inappropriate phrase) to the sudden change between water and ice at a particular critical temperature. So it isn’t the size of the temperature range that matters so much as the place of that range in the overall temperature scale. A range of 20ºF centered around 50ºF, for example, would not make nearly as much difference as a range of 2ºF centered around 32ºF (water’s freezing/melting point). Destabilizing phenomena involve feedback mechanisms that cause a change to accelerate once it starts. When self-reinforcing, or amplifying, feedbacks set in and reach a certain stage, events can become irreversible for long periods of time, in climate phenomena tens to hundreds of thousands of years. This is commonly called a “tipping” point. Tipping is one example of a well-known and quite general phenomenon in Marxist, or dialectical, understanding of all aspects of reality, often referred to as one of the laws of dialectics. This law observes that quality and quantity are inseparably linked and in particular that, in all phenomena, sufficient quantitative change leads to qualitative change. This is often referred to simply as “quantity into quality.” However, the prevalence of “quantity into quality” in both nature and human affairs includes both easily reversible and practically irreversible effects. For example, a melting ice cube in your kitchen can be frozen again by putting it back in the freezer, but melting glaciers cannot be so easily refrozen. It seems that those qualitative changes that are practically irreversible are precisely those that involve amplifying feedback. It is such changes that climate scientists refer to as tipping. While both stabilizing and destabilizing forces are all around us, there are different levels at which one or the other type becomes dominant. With regard to global climate, for example, even as the earth has repeatedly tipped back and forth between ice ages and warm periods, it has not gone beyond those limits for billions of years, because, beyond the destabilizing effects, stabilizing forces eventually have kicked in again to limit the range of variation.7 Nevertheless, the current trend toward the highest temperatures ever recorded represents a clear and present danger, particularly for the world’s working class. Understanding tipping is the key to understanding the climate crisis, as well as communist revolution and countless other phenomena
Examples of tipping include the following (some of which have been introduced above in a different context):
a) The initial warming of the North Polar region causes melting of the polar floating sea ice, which makes the region darker (ocean is darker than ice) and therefore better able to absorb the sun’s heat and less able to reflect it away, resulting in further warming and further melting and so on. In the past this has also happened in reverse, with initial cooling causing increase in size of the ice cap, in turn increasing the reflection of sunlight with still further cooling. b) The initial warming of the arctic results in melting of the permafrost that has been frozen in the ground for thousands of years, mainly in Siberia and Alaska, releasing tons of trapped methane from decomposing animal and plant matter. Methane is one of the most effective GHGs, leading to further heat trapping and warming, leading to further melting, etc.
c) Warming of the air results in less rain, with the dryness giving rise to wildfires that destroy more of the forests, which are then less able to absorb CO2, leading to more CO2 in the air and more heat trapping and less rain, and so on. The edges of the Amazon jungle (the largest rainforest in the world) are fast contracting. In the past, initial cooling has increased the rainfall and snowfall, in turn producing growth of the forests which absorb more CO2, giving rise to still further cooling.
d) The ice on Greenland and Antarctica is melting faster and faster, which, among other things, causes that portion of the ice that extends out over the edge of the land and rests on either the ocean’s surface or its floor to give way. When this occurs the inland ice sheets, previously retained by the edge ice, slide faster and faster into the ocean. Meanwhile because the land part of Antarctica is partly below sea level, the warming ocean is sliding in under the ice sheet, further hastening this process. While there is compensation by snowfall, it is not enough to keep up with melting in Greenland and it is not clear which will be dominant in Antarctica in coming years. As stated above, the speed with which this melting will proceed is uncertain, but this kind of uncertainty is characteristic of all processes that involve amplifying feedback. It is very difficult to anticipate all sources of such feedback, so that processes can speed up tremendously and make yesterday’s predictions of time scale obsolete.
e) Warming soil absorbs less CO2 resulting in more heat trapping and therefore more warming of the soil and still less CO2 absorption. This has also happened in reverse in the past.
f) The warming ocean causes the CO2-trapping plankton on the surface to sink to lower depths, becoming less available to trap CO2, etc. The main point is that tipping is everywhere around us and is reaching irreversible levels in all of the above climate examples. Once these processes take off by themselves, human beings may not be able to halt these runaway processes before all their catastrophic results come about – even under communism. Of course, the past history of alternating ice ages and warm periods suggests that eventually a new ice age may well develop, though given the new situation on the earth’s surface with accelerating capitalism-caused emissions of GHGs this is not assured. But in any case, it would be hundreds or thousands of years away.
The reason we cannot be assured that a new ice age will develop in the distant future is that current GHG emissions from capitalist electric power plants, industries, and transportation modes, in addition to the ongoing but changing natural processes, could very well introduce a qualitatively new situation on the earth. This new situation could possibly have an effect at the level of alternations between ice ages and warm periods. To understand that this is possible, consider, for example, another irreversible change that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago on the earth’s surface. The atmosphere once contained very little oxygen (O2). Only after the development of the earliest life forms that began producing O2 as one of their “waste” products during photosynthesis,8 was it possible for oxygen-requiring species to develop. These include virtually all currently existing plants and animals. The resulting proliferation of self-replicating plants and animals changed the very conditions under which life initially arose out of simple molecules. Conditions on earth are now such that it is no longer possible for new life to arise from anything other than existing life. Thus new qualitative developments can lead to still other developments that prevent a return to former conditions.9
A quite different, but more immediate, example of practically irreversible change was the development of capitalism out of feudalism, a process that took a few hundred years from the 1300-1400s to the 1600-1800s. Once the capitalist market, money, and competitive profitmaking took hold, feudal landowning was irreversibly wiped out, but the struggle required countless political and military battles before that war was finally won. Similarly, the growth of communism out of capitalism will require time and mass violent struggle between the world’s working class and the capitalists, but happen it will. The earliest attempts at organizing communist societies in the Soviet Union and China in the 1900s did not yet reach the stage of irreversibility, and capitalism was eventually restored over several decades in both these countries.
How scientists know that capitalist-produced CO2 is the main cause of the recent warming trend
This is the most critical issue in the entire scientific investigation of global warming, because it determines whether or not it is possible for the world’s working class to do anything to prevent, reverse, or at least blunt the predictable catastrophic results. While past warming trends, prior to the development of capitalism a few hundred years ago, were indeed due to natural cycles, if the current global warming is due to natural cycles independent of GHG emissions from capitalist industrial and transportation activity, then there is not likely anything we can do to prevent it. But fortunately the evidence indicates that this is not the case. So let’s look at it.
Coinciding with the increase of average earth temperature over the last several decades is a dramatic and steady rise in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. For almost 50 years, from 1958 to 2006, a scientist named Charles Keeling made daily measurements of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere from near the top of the world’s largest (in volume, though not in height above sea level) active volcano, Mauna Loa in Hawaii (over 13,000 feet high above sea level, but 56,000 feet high relative to its base below the ocean floor). He found that, in addition to the annual fluctuation due to seasonal effects, consisting mainly of the spring/fall cycle of leaves in forests, there has been a steady rise in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere from around 315 parts per million (ppm) to around 380 ppm in 2006. By 2009 it had risen to 388 ppm (a difference of 73 ppm over 51 years), a very significant and rapid rise of atmospheric concentration of a very effective GHG.
In order to compare the measured CO2 concentrations over the last 51 years or so with the concentrations prior to 1958, there has to be a way to measure those earlier concentrations. Just as drilling into ice cores permits scientists to measure global temperatures in the near and distant past, it permits the measurement of atmospheric concentrations of CO2, since small bubbles of air become trapped in the ice and the CO2 concentrations can be measured in them directly. This is how we know that just before the beginning of capitalism’s industrial revolution 200 years ago, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was around 280 ppm, for a rise of 35 ppm from 280 to 315 ppm up to about 51 years ago when Keeling began his measurements. So in the last 51 years or so there has been a rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration more than twice the size of that of the previous 150 years (73 ppm versus 35 ppm), and this rise is continuing to accelerate (a rise of 8 ppm between 2006 and 2009, or 2.67 ppm per year, versus a rise of 65 ppm between 1958 and 2006, or 1.35 ppm per year). One thing that lends particular urgency to the need to end the emissions of CO2 immediately is that today’s emissions stay in the atmosphere for a century or more. This has been likened to a car with an accelerator but no brakes (Kolbert). So in summary,
• At least since the work of Arrhenius in the late 1800s, there has been no question that CO2 does indeed cause heat trapping.
• There is no proposed mechanism, supported by evidence, for the recent rise in average earth temperature other than the recent rapid rise in CO2 emissions and the accelerating atmospheric concentrations that result.
• The rise in CO2 emissions is definitely correlated with the two-century growth of capitalist manufacturing industries and oil-based energy plants and transportation.
III. Past attempts to deny global warming or its capitalist cause, and the more recent emphasis on greenwashing tokenism Who is behind the denials of global warming and its capitalist causes?
What are some of their arguments?
The Party’s publications have often pointed out the antiworking class nature of the environmental movement – a movement dominated by the petit bourgeois and professional classes and begun in the 1940s with the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation-backed movement to transform agriculture in the superexploited nations (the so-called “third world” or “developing nations” or “lesser developed countries [LDCs]”) toward a U.S. agribusiness model and subsequently developed as a general theoretical ecological movement mainly in the 1960s.
The recent climate scientist e-mail battle is part of a larger capitalist dogfight going on in the ruling class. Oklahoma’s Senator James Inhofe, the highest paid U.S. politician by the small oil companies (almost 2/3 of a $1 million this decade), using hacked e-mail messages from a few climatologists in the U.S. and U.K. created a furor by falsely claiming that the climatologists have lied when they state that the earth is warming.
Like the inter-imperialist fights, this battle within the U.S. ruling class reflects disputes between different sets of capitalists. Global warming denialists are similar to the tobacco companies, who denied that smoking causes cancer. They represent the smaller capitalists from the south and southwest that are held in check by the main imperialist butchers from Wall Street.
Today Al Gore is the main flag bearer of the the ruling class “environmentalists,” whose targets have expanded to include not just their local rivals, but also China, India, Russia, and other rising powers. The big guys Gore represents have killed millions in their wars for oil and their penchant for murder makes Inhofe look like a street punk.
That being said, street punks still need to be exposed. A handful of scientists and other writers have been paid handsomely to continue to deny, with no evidence at all or with made-up lies, that neither resource depletion, or global warming is a problem. Still other of these paid scientists or their misled followers admit that global warming is occurring but deny that capitalist activity has any significant effect, maintaining instead that it is part of a natural cycle, nothing can be done to reverse it. Various foundations have been set up and funded to mask the capitalists behind the denial movement, including the Cato Institute, the Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Tech Central Science Foundation, and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (Romm, p. 142).
Among these possibly misled writers are columnists George Will and Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post), John Tierney (New York Times), and the late writer Michael Crichton, whose novel State of Fear has perhaps caused more popular confusion than any other piece of writing. It matters little whether the denialists know they are lying or are just misled, since greed and gullibility in this case lead to the same outcome. The denialists have in the past generally been given equal time by the media, which in turn are controlled by the big moneyed interests, including the oil and coal companies and their financial backers. Those media articles or programs that in the past gave sole airing to the fact of global warming, without raising doubts, were in a very small minority. The big capitalists both fight and use the denialists. Even while they hawk for the small time domestic oil bosses, the denialists serve the needs of the Rockefeller capitalists as a useful foil to build fear among people in the environmental movement about demanding too much, and keep the liberals in the picture as the lesser evil. Much the way in which the Tea Party movement was useful in giving Obama an excuse to serve the big bosses needs on health care, the auto industry and everything else.
A good illustration of the extent of this control can be found in a comparison survey published in Science about 5 years ago and covering the 10 years from 1993 to 2003. The authors reported how scientific journals have handled the issue of global warming versus the way it is handled in the mass media. Of a total of approximately 10,000 journal articles on global warming in that 10 year period, close to 1,000 articles were randomly chosen, and, of the 700 or so that discussed the cause of global warming, not a single one, without exception, opposed the view that GHG emissions from human (read capitalist) activity were contributing to, if not mainly responsible for, global warming — for a score of ~700 for human (capitalist) causation to 0 against. In other words, climate scientists find no more controversy in the concept that global warming is caused by capitalist activity (though many would hesitate to publicly use that word) than they do that the sun, and not the earth, is the center of the solar system (Kolbert p. 164).
Meanwhile over the previous 12 years, out of more than 3500 articles in four of the U.S.’s main newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and Wall Street Journal), only 6% of a large random sample supported this conclusion without equivocation (Gore p. 262, Romm p. 216). Denialists have granted that variations in atmospheric CO2 concentrations and temperatures over past millennia are indeed correlated, i.e., when one goes up the other also goes up, and vice versa. But they have argued that the cause and effect is the reverse of that claimed by climatologists. That is, they argue that the warming of the earth is in turn causing a rise in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, rather than the other way around. The evidence they provide for this contention is that comparisons of past temperatures with CO2 concentrations demonstrate that the onset of rises in temperature have preceded rather than followed rises in CO2 concentration. Therefore, they argue, it cannot be true that rising CO2 causes rising temperature.
However, initial rises in temperature in the past may indeed have begun before and caused CO2 concentrations to rise, but amplifying feedback of rising CO2 in turn causes a continued rise in temperature. Amplifying feedback has been ignored by the denialists. Furthermore with the onset of capitalism’s industrial revolution, there is now a new and added source of CO2 on the scene that was not present until two centuries ago. It turns out that it is not just denialists who fail to take amplifying feedbacks into account. Many of the climate predictions by scientists fail as well to include the effects of amplifying feedback, which often results in gross understatement of the severity and imminence of the expected catastrophic outcomes – one example of the limitations of capitalist science. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has rightly been accused of minimizing the effects of global warming in order to achieve consensus, but at the price of sorely underestimating what needs to be done to avert catastrophe and therefore all but guaranteeing that it will come to precisely that.
Another of the arguments used by the denialists that the current global warming is not due to GHG emissions since the industrial revolution is that from about 800 to 1300 AD, there was a warm period in Europe called the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). They argue that since this occurred before the industrial revolution, fossil fuel burning could not be the cause of global warming. It is true that the MWP was not caused by the subsequent industrial revolution, but it is not true that this warm period covered the entire earth. Indeed the IPCC has shown that during those centuries the average temperature of the earth was slightly cooler than it is now, even though the local temperatures in Europe were admittedly warmer.
Indeed a common distortion by the denialists is to focus on one region of the earth and ignore the earth as a whole, or describe one short period of time and ignore the longer term trends. This lends itself to the willful misuse of the truth to twist the truth, since climates in different parts of the world almost always behave differently from each other and short term changes may not reflect longer term trends. It is only by considering the earth as a whole, and focusing on change over sufficiently long periods of time, that an accurate scientific assessment of climate change can be made. But even if it were true that the MWP involved the entire earth and was due to discoverable natural causes, that would not have any bearing on the capitalist causation of the current upsurge in warming. Still another argument has used invalid data to try to show that it is solar cycles rather than GHGs that are causing the current global warming (see Damon and Laut concerning one such attempt by Danish authors). These claims have been picked up by the press and continue to be defended by the authors even after the errors have been exposed in the scientific literature.
At one level the denialists have been well aware of the power of doubt. “Conservative” New York Times columnist David Brooks has admitted as much, saying in 2005, “Global warming is real (conservatives secretly know this).” According to Joseph Romm (physicist and past Assistant Secretary of Energy under Clinton), Frank Luntz is a corporate and political consultant who makes his living by teaching how to lie in order to create doubt and to cover the lies in minor admissions of truth. He has been extremely active in proposing phrasing for politicians and scientists who choose to deny global warming and its human causes. For example, he has proposed use of the term “climate change” instead of “global warming,” since the former is less frightening, and that denialists use the three words “safer,” “cleaner,” and “healthier” as often as possible to convince the listener that they care about the environment. Luntz’s 2002 memo to Bush, entitled The Environment: A Cleaner Safer, Healthier America, is available in multiple locations on the web since it was leaked, and has been exposed by a number of environmentalists (Romm, Luntz).
In summary, denialists have either offered no scientific evidence for any alternative hypothesis and have merely denied and denied, or they have offered “evidence” that, on closer examination, proves to be false. They have also ignored the effects of amplifying feedback and have generally highlighted isolated local events to the exclusion of global phenomena examined over time. Unfortunately the doubt they have planted in the past has, at least until recently, been enough to have a paralyzing effect on public awareness and on the potential insistence that something be done about the emissions, even by environmental groups.
Instead of only denials, the U.S. ruling class has started to use “greenwashing” as pressure against China and India
Particularly beginning with the Obama campaign, there has been a shift in the U.S. media and government from denial to “greenwashing” (a play on whitewashing and green, the symbol of nature). Greenwashing involves the admission that the earth is warming but with a distorted anti-working class content that generally lays the blame on an overconsuming and overpopulated working class, without recognition that capitalism determines what people consume and overpopulation is a relative term concerning what portion of the working class capitalism can employ. Furthermore greenwashing substitutes proposed solutions that appear effective but are at best mere tokenism for ones that could actually stop global warming.
The tokenism includes such things as lowering GHG emissions by such small amounts, and over such long time frames, that they are wholly inadequate and would not be in time to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate change. The U.S. rulers need to guarantee that they don’t have to change the infrastructure of capitalism or end their extremely profitable oil-based industries. Indeed the reasons given publicly for the meagerness of these proposals center around economic feasibility.
The underlying motivations for this shift in emphasis from denial to greenwashing involve the attempt to make it look like the politicians are getting serious about the issue, and, even more importantly, to put pressure on the rising economic powers, particularly in India and China. The U.S. rulers have an imperative need to try to slow the rapid economic advance of their imperialist rivals, especially China, whose capitalist ruling class promises to take the title of World’s Largest Economy away from the U.S. in the next decade or two. China’s industries, as well as India’s, thrive on coal more than on any other source of energy. Their pollution of the world’s atmosphere through the burning of coal is well known, as we mentioned above. The U.S. rulers have the illusion that they will be able to force a cap on carbon emissions in both India and China in order to slow their economic growth, and at the very least to isolate their governments from the rest of the world. The U.S. ruling class is aware of the way that Bush’s complete denial of global warming and its fossil fuel basis, along with the major contribution of the U.S. to climate change, helped to isolate the U.S.
A trip by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India in July 2009 ended in her being taken to task by the Indian government for even suggesting that India slow its economic growth in order to slow GHG emissions. They pointed out that the U.S. had been spewing vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere over the entire 20th century and even before, and had no right to point to India as the guilty party.
Nevertheless in order to lessen their own isolation and increase that of India and China, and even more importantly to find other ways to attempt to slow the economic growth of these two challengers, the U.S. rulers are now taking steps that appear to address global warming. However, as we show below, these steps, whether by design or by negligence, are wholly inadequate to prevent catastrophic climate change. We also show that world capitalism is incapable of stopping climate change, for structural reasons that go beyond the will of individual capitalists and their politicians.
homelessness, starvation, drugs, filling of prisons, and use of working-class youth as cannon fodder in wars. Additionally the pollution and methods of waste disposal caused by capitalism not only destroy the lives of workers in various localities, especially in black and Latino neighborhoods, but threaten now to ravage the earth and imperil the future existence of humanity. The main way the capitalists get away with this criminal activity is through their control of state power and their ever-present use of racism and nationalism, as well as sexism and sectarian religious wars, intended mainly to divide the working class and render us too weak to fight for political power.
The capitalists, of course, would also suffer major destruction in the process of global warming-caused catastrophes, but unwittingly they share at least one characteristic of suicide bombers in taking down as many innocent victims with them as they can, though their own death is unintended. Herman Melville’s popular 19th century novel Moby Dick told how whaling Captain Ahab, in his single-minded determination to seek vengeance against the huge whale who cost him his leg, was willing to take his entire crew down with him. Modern capitalists have become Captain Ahabs, and vengeance against the whale has become the single-minded drive for profits. They may not be mentally unbalanced like Ahab, but they are structurally incapable of consistent system-wide actions to save themselves or to save the earth from the GHG-driven consequences of global warming.
Many authors, including Al Gore, claim that there are ways to induce capitalism to save itself and the earth, through the profitability of alternative sources of energy that neither pollute nor cause GHG emissions. Note that they all accept the need for profitability, recognizing that this is what motivates capitalism. We discuss below why the internal contradictions of capitalism make it impossible to stop irreversible climate change, including the fact that profitability will accrue at least temporarily only to a small number of old and new corporations but not to the system as a whole. This will make it impossible for capitalism to make all the necessary changes to end GHG emissions. This in turn is one reason why it is an absolute necessity that the world’s working class, led by its communist party PLP, remove the capitalists from their throne as soon as possible, seize political power, and thus rid ourselves of the main obstacle to our attempts to save the planet for our class around the world and for our descendants.
V. Ineffective proposals to stop global warming and why capitalism cannot solve the problem of catastrophic climate change Approaches to stop global warming Various international meetings among capitalist governments have produced schemes to reduce GHG emissions such as “cap and trade” or “carbon tax.” Cap and trade on an international basis means that, according to an agreed on formula, each government would set a limit or cap on the total GHG emissions permitted to its own industries. Within that overall cap then each industry is allotted a certain proportion of allowed GHG emissions. Any corporation that finds it can actually continue to make profit while emitting less than its allotment is permitted to “trade” (or, more appropriately, sell) the unused portion of their allotment to corporations that emit more than their allotment. The latter then buy the right to exceed their allotment from those who can profitably stay under their allotment.
Cap and trade has several problems even if it were possible for international agreement to be reached. First, the proposed caps are still much too high to prevent disastrous climate change. Second, the competing ruling classes differ on the method for distributing the GHG allowances. Third, there is no global enforcement for any nation that exceeds even its allotted cap. In the U.S. the rulers have discussed auctioning the allotments or simply having them given away by the government, with the latter being proposed in the Waxman-Markey bill, but this is still in dispute. Furthermore, the Waxman- Markey bill allows planting of trees to absorb CO2 instead of cutting GHG emissions without any way to confirm any trees will even be planted in the U.S.
Even more significantly, the bill calls for reducing emissions (not atmospheric concentration, which will continue to increase) by a mere 17% below 1990 levels by 2020, during which time the climate change problem will continue to worsen. As of this writing the bill has passed the House. If it also passes the Senate, where further compromise and watering down is likely, Obama will surely sign it. The publicity will largely present it as a major step toward saving the planet. But the working class and the rest of humanity will be left with nothing but a load of greenwash.
Even the most ambitious target from the European Union, that calls for a reduction of emissions 80-95% below 2000 levels by 2050, allows continued increase in GHG concentrations.
A carbon tax, the main alternative proposal, would be a straightforward tax on all products using carbon inputs. Put aside, for the moment, the incredible difficulty of assessing the carbon content of each product within a country since each capitalist will lobby vigorously for low assessments. Such taxation would have to be international, since otherwise countries that taxed carbon would force up the price of most of their goods and make them uncompetitive internationally. That would not last. But international pricing agreements would also be extraordinarily difficult to enforce in a competitive world given the fact that most products include some level of carbon. Any modest decrease in CO2 emissions, let alone CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, due to the tax would be insufficient to reverse global warming. And whatever taxes are in fact collected will only be passed on to the working class as in increased price, thereby adding further burdens to workers trying to obtain all the many carbon-containing necessities of life.
Alternative sources of energy and problems with most of them
Along with such caps, alternative sources of energy have to be found. There are a number of such sources that have been touted, including solar, wind, hydroelectric, wave, tide, agriculture, geothermal, and finally nuclear. Each of these alternatives, with the possible exception of one form of nuclear (more below), has apparently insurmountable problems that prevent them from satisfying any but a token proportion of energy production. Solar cells and wind farms are being set up by various profit-seeking companies, but they are unable to replace any but a small amount of capitalism’s energy requirements. For example, in order to have a major impact, enough solar cells would have to be set up to cover much of the U.S. southwest, and delivering it by the construction of vast stretches of new power lines to widespread areas would be prohibitively expensive. In addition, the weather is not always sunny and the cells would have to be freed of desert dust continually. Wind has similar problems of large land requirements and intermittency, though parts of Europe are looking toward locating windmills offshore.
Hydroelectric has already been exploited in the U.S. to a very large degree, for example on the Colorado River, but global warming is decreasing the amount of snow melt and consequently of river flows. Lake Powell behind the Glen Canyon Dam above the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam below the Grand Canyon are drying up. Their current levels are already tens of feet below their past levels.
There are other problems with most of these alternative sources. These include the increasing amount of energy and materials that have to be put into them in order to get energy out of them (Heinberg). Aside from the profit considerations that dominate all capitalist decisions, some of these alternative forms of energy may not be practical even after capitalism becomes history.
Agriculture offers a source of alternative fuel, such as ethanol, but a move by farmers to switch from growing corn for food to growing it for fuel has resulted in an increasing scarcity of food and rise in food prices internationally, leading to an increase in the already devastating amount of starvation around the world. It is not merely the switch in crop use that causes this devastation but rather the planlessness and competition inherent in capitalism. Moreover, according to some studies, it actually takes more energy – in the form of transportation, fertilizer production, and oil-powered farm equipment – to produce ethanol than it can yield, but at best the gain in energy is minimal, while the loss in food is monumental. This is just one illustration of the way that the capitalist market cannot satisfy the most basic daily needs of the working class over the short or long term.
Why current proposals cannot solve the problem of global warming
To the small degree that any capitalist governments are beginning to clean up their industrial pollution, it is because of the immediate effects on water and air which cuts into profits by making it more expensive to obtain these components in usable form for manufacturing purposes. The fact that it is the working class who bears the overwhelming burden of death and disease from this pollution does not motivate the capitalists one bit. According to an article in the 8/8/09 issue of the New York Times, another motivating force is now the Pentagon and some U.S. intelligence agencies, who are beginning to realize that the effects of global warming will have an impact on the use of the U.S. military to intervene in social disruptions that threaten capitalist stability in various parts of the world. In addition, they realize that many military installations around the world will be directly threatened by sea level rise and other climate events, as happened in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed Homestead Air Force Base and in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan badly damaged Naval Air Station Pensacola, both in Florida. They are already studying ways to protect major naval stations from such events in Norfolk, Va. and in San Diego. As a result, some of the military ideologs are beginning to call for the U.S. to take initiative around cutting GHG emissions. But these military interests are going to come into contradiction with other ruling class interests, as we show below, and will necessarily be downplayed in favor of profit maximization and protection of capital installations.
In addition, the Pentagon’s warning that the military might have to intervene to prevent instability is laughable. The military thrives on instability and often provokes it, as they have with the two invasions of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, the propping up of Israel in the midst of competing Arabic oil nations, the creation of two separate countries out of one in both Korea and Vietnam after World War II, and the list is endless. We interpret what the Pentagon is saying to mean that they only like instabilities that they think they can control, though they are almost always wrong about that.
On the level of individual businesses, there are a growing number of new green businesses in the world, particularly in Europe and the U.S. Many of these may be profitable in the short run, but in order to end GHG emissions all other capitalists, including many of the largest corporations, would have to tear down and replace any old equipment that pollutes and emits GHGs, and take tremendous losses in massive long-term investments. Auto companies would have to start producing vehicles that run on a different fuel from gasoline, when it takes years to introduce such minor changes as airbags. Governments at all levels would have to make a general switch from private to public transportation, when it takes years to repave a beltway or build a subway. Cities and suburbs would have to be rearranged to make this possible, when it takes years to build a housing development. Home and building heating and electricity would have to be powered by clean energy. And all the plastics and other materials that rely on oil as a critical ingredient would have to be replaced by other materials either not yet invented or not profitable to produce.
Some capitalists pundits use the real dangers of global warming to build support for a more openly fascist ruling class. Tom Friedman wrote glowingly about the Chinese ruling class’ efforts to clean up the skies over Bejing for the Olympics by ordering the temporary closing of thousands of factories in the area. The liberal ruling class, who Friedman represents, need more fascism to compete with their Chinese, Russian and many other competitors would love to use global warming as a way to win support for more fascist methods to discipline the various sectors of the ruling class. But more centralized capitalism would never put the needs of the world’s working class first, and any solutions they come up with would be centered on the preservation of their profit making needs.
Various capitalist defenders propose technological solutions such as trapping emissions from factory smoke stacks and dumping them into the ocean or putting them back underground after extracting the coal and oil. Aside from the extreme expense of this process, what this would do to the oceans and what leakage from these underground sites would do to the atmosphere and soil are unknown. Ideas such as these are not seriously being investigated but rather are thrown up as a smokescreen to mask the inability of a profit system to reverse the destruction of the environment – a smokescreen that itself adds to global warming both metaphorically and in fact. In addition to technological solutions, there are numerous proposals for increasing energy efficiency, i.e., decreasing the amount of energy used per amount of product or amount of use. But in the 1800s a British economist named William Jevons discovered what was erroneously called a paradox that is named after him, that whenever the amount of energy used per unit of production is decreased and hence the drop in demand for energy lowers its price, then the amount of production, and hence the use of energy, will increase to offset the decrease. In fact, the increase generally overtakes the decrease, resulting in a net increase in energy usage (Monbiot).
This has also been seen recently in consumption patterns as well as production patterns, with the rise and fall of oil prices. When gasoline became very expensive in 2008 the amount of driving decreased in the U.S., and when the price of gas dropped again the miles driven increased again, so that there has been a tendency to keep the amount of money spent on gas the same. But this isn’t really a paradox, which means a logical contradiction. Rather it is the normal way that supply and demand works in commodity markets in capitalist economies. And that is part of the way that the structural planlessness of capitalism works to prevent preservation of the environment.
Those corporations like ExxonMobil, whose profits are based purely on producing the GHG-causing fossil fuels, are, as we mentioned above, among the largest and most profitable businesses in the world, and they are not about to see their businesses die. Nor are the Wall Street financiers, who control these corporations, about to interfere with their primary cut of the take. Through their control of the government by way of bought-andpaid- for politicians and intellectuals they can delay any changes and continue to cause massive confusion about global warming, among other methods.
Capitalist corporations, in order to survive competition, resist having a long-range outlook for their return on investment. So do the stockholders, or they will put their money into other corporations that do bring in quick returns. The corporations must make back their initial investment in plant and equipment quickly, so that their future profits become pure gravy. Concern for the environment, on the other hand, is a long term process that requires giving up the concept of profit in favor of satisfying human needs. Capitalism does not operate to satisfy human needs.
Competition to create new markets calls for a continual stream of new products that have little to no use value to the consumer. After all, how many different products can we actually need? Up to the time of any new product’s introduction we have always gotten along fine without it. Through massive and inescapable advertising, we are attracted to products like iPods, plasma TVs, cosmetics, clothes fashions, or giant SUVs. The continual introduction of useless or harmful products produces increased useless consumption of resources and increased harmful dumping of waste, with accelerating destruction of the environment at both ends of the process – natural resource inputs and waste product outputs (Foster 2002). As one of the original founders of the PLP once put it, “In order to continue to expand its profits, capitalism creates wants instead of satisfying needs.”
Furthermore, on a global scale, because of interimperialist rivalry, the race of each imperialist nation to beat out its competitors results, not only in devastating wars, but also in the overexploitation of natural resources such as oil and important industrial minerals. This race for control takes place in those parts of the world where the resources can be extracted the most cheaply, such as in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, and there is no way that the imperialists can develop a stable agreement to share these resources, since competition rather than cooperation is inherent in the profit system. Under these circumstances money, resources, and human labor are exploited to the exclusion of any consideration of the production and dumping of waste.
There have been published studies of various business efforts in many countries toward sustainable energy and clean waste management, i.e., toward greening the economy or at least their own businesses. These include both businesses cleaning up their act and others starting up to provide the materials necessary for such clean-up, such as the manufacture of windmills or solar panels. The studies conclude that these moves are necessarily extremely limited in scope and grossly inadequate to make any real difference (Speth).
No capitalist government or politician in the world is even mentioning the need to put an immediate and complete stop to CO2 emissions
The main discussion at international government meetings about climate change – such as the UNsponsored Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, that produced the Kyoto Protocol – is not about ending GHG emissions but rather is only about decreasing the annual rate of global GHG emissions. Even if the rate of global emissions were to decrease each year, there would still be annual emissions (just less than the year before). A mere decrease in the rate of GHG emissions would still involve a continued increase in the GHG concentration in the atmosphere, as we pointed out above. The only way to prevent a continued increase in GHG concentration is to drop the rate of emissions completely to zero. GHG emissions are not the direct cause of global warming; the direct cause is GHG atmospheric concentrations.
The difference between rate of emissions and atmospheric concentration is like the difference between income and wealth. Income is the amount of money you take home each year, while wealth is the amount of money (or assets) you have been able to accumulate over the years. Of course, if you barely scrape through, you are unable to accumulate any wealth, which characterizes the vast majority of our class around the world. Still another way to understand the difference is to think of GHG emissions like the water coming out of the faucet in a bathtub, with the height of the water in the tub like the GHG concentration in the atmosphere, and the drain like the carbon sinks (soil, forests, and oceans). If the drain can’t let out water as fast as the faucet lets it in, the height of the water will rise, until it reaches the analogy to a tipping point and overflows. Of course, like all analogies, these have their limits of applicability. For example, there is no equivalent to the top of a tub with regard to the atmosphere, and the planet can continue to get warmer without practical limit. In other words, in order to halt global warming and stabilize the average temperature around the world, it would require not just a decrease in the amount of GHG emissions per year, but rather a complete cessation of all emissions of CO2 – zero, none, no more use of any fossil fuels at all, or at least the complete capture and successful disposal of the waste products (a technologically difficult and very expensive process at best for stationary industry, and practically unfeasible for vehicles, ships, and planes). Energy production everywhere in the world would have to be mainly through means other than oil, coal, and natural gas. Even more importantly, attempts would have to be found to reverse the effects of the CO2 already poured into the atmosphere, since CO2 stays around in the air for a century or more and continues to do its work. Even if all GHG emissions were to cease tomorrow, without ways of reversing its effects, such as through the planting of massive new forests, we would still see a warmer and warmer earth for decades because of self-sustaining processes already set in motion – e.g., melting glaciers and permafrost – and because such methods as new forests would take decades to grow and catch up. To give an idea of the consequences of these completely inadequate targets, the 2007 IPCC report estimates, as their best scenario, that if global GHG emissions were to be lower in 2050 by 50-85% below those of 2000 (rather than 1990), there would still be a rise in global temperature by 2.0-2.4ºC (3.6-4.3ºF), and a rise in sea level by 0.4-1.4 meters (1.3-4.6 feet). But their estimates of the sea level rise take into account only the thermal expansion of the oceans (i.e., the expansion of the volume of sea water in the world due to the higher temperatures – all materials expand with temperature). They take absolutely no account of the contribution from such amplifying feedback mechanisms as the melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice shelves or any other glaciers in the world, which would make the sea level rise that much greater. In addition to all these obstacles to preventing catastrophic climate change under capitalism, in conditions of world-wide depression it becomes even more unlikely that any significant portion of financial investment will be directed toward ending GHG emissions, particularly since it would require the destruction of trillions of dollars worth of existing plant and equipment, with massive losses to the businesses involved.
Oil, gas, and coal profits stymie the discovery and development of alternative energy sources, particularly nuclearMajor capitalist interests hold back any serious competing effort to solve the global warming crisis. Take the case of a method of nuclear energy production called the Experimental Breeder Reactor or the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) (Blees, Koch, Hannum, et al.). The IFR and its breeder reactor10 predecessors were developed beginning during World War II and, in particular, during the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were further developed by scientists at the federal Argonne National Labs, located in Idaho and near Chicago. The Argonne scientists claim to have shown that IFRs can be made safe from accidents, with successive stages of the process using by-products of the previous stage so that by the end of the process almost 100% of the energy inherent in the uranium is captured, and safe and easily manageable waste is produced in the process. In current nuclear plants no more than 1% percent of the energy in the uranium is captured, which not only makes them tremendously inefficient but also requires far more uranium as fuel to produce an equivalent amount of electrical energy. Furthermore no weapons-grade material is available in the IFR process, since the plutonium needed for weaponization is both produced and then consumed by IFRs, without its ever being enriched to the level required for bombs.
Are IFRs a promising alternative to fossil fuel and other forms of nuclear energy production? Maybe. But we won’t know for certain now, since under the Clinton/Gore administration funding for the project was completely terminated, and the Argonne scientists were warned to be quiet about it. The lame excuse used was that the project would threaten non-proliferation efforts, but that excuse is transparently phony when the U.S. continues to sell all sorts of weaponry to allied governments of the moment, such as Israel and India. No further government funding has been made available, at least in the U.S., but several other countries have built such reactors, including France, Russia, and Japan, so that more information should be forthcoming in the next few years.
One problem with any form of nuclear energy is the fear that it engenders in the public, aided by the media that exaggerate the dangers. This fear rose significantly as a result of the publicity surrounding the accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1979. However, the reactor was soon brought under control, and there were no known deaths or cancers resulting from the accident, a point that would be easy to miss from the media reports.
Seven years later a much more serious accident occurred in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine, part of the former Soviet Union. While statements vary as to the number of people killed, they range from about 30 to 60, mostly firemen putting out the fire who suffered radiation sickness plus 10 children from thyroid cancer (out of 2000 children who were successfully treated for thyroid cancer and who lived). Other estimates of the number of deaths due to cancer over the next couple of decades (ranging up to as many as 4,000) have an unproven relationship to Chernobyl and are disputed by most scientific studies of the aftermath (Cohen, Morris). But because a third of a million people were relocated to places distant from the remaining radioactive plant, nuclear energy became an even greater source of fear, which has slowed tremendously the development of this alternative source of energy.11 Given capitalism’s disregard for the safety of workers and neighboring inhabitants, this fear seems far from irrational. But a steadfast refusal of many environmental organizations and members even to investigate IFRs is indeed irrational. However, in a communist world controlled by, and run for the needs of, the working class rather than for capitalist profits, it should be possible for nuclear energy to be safely developed and used along with other energy technologies such as solar, geothermal, and wind to provide for the needs of the world’s workers.12 Interestingly, a plant that burns coal to produce electrical power creates more radioactive waste products (uranium and thorium) than any nuclear plant, a fact that is kept well hidden by the coal companies and their subservient media. In fact, people living close to coal power plants are exposed to more radiation than those living close to nuclear power plants (MacKay, Blees), but even that amount is far less than the amount of radiation that people receive from natural sources, such as cosmic rays or radon from the ground, plus that from medical applications. China relies almost exclusively on coal for energy, while other countries use varying mixes of coal, natural gas, and oil, as well as nuclear. Nevertheless coal is a very popular source of energy around the world, producing right around 50% of electricity in the U.S. In addition to the radioactive waste produced by coal plants, coal is far more polluting and creates about one third more CO2 per unit of energy produced than power plants that use oil and almost twice that produced per unit of energy by natural gas. It is estimated that pollution from coal plants (including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) kills 2 million people a year throughout the world and 50,000 a year in the U.S. (Cohen, Morris).
The fears of nuclear energy are fanned by the coal and oil companies, for whom nuclear energy represents serious competition. But consider that the 1984 leakage of the chemical methyl isocyanate from Union Carbide’s (now owned by Dow Chemical) plant in Bhopal in central India is conservatively estimated to have killed almost 35,000 workers, including both employees and those who lived in the vicinity of the plant – 10,000 of whom died immediately and up to 25,000 who have died from its long term effects since. (An Indian judge, in response to continuing mass protests by workers, has recently – a quarter century after this mass murder – ordered the arrest of Warren Anderson, who was the CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the disaster.) The Bhopal murder dwarfs the effect of Chernobyl two years later and indicates just how little regard the capitalists have for the lives of workers. It also indicates how successful the oil companies have been in generating fear of nuclear power, when it would make much more sense for people’s fear to be focused on the chemical industry, particularly the oil companies themselves.
Why capitalism will never be able to solve the problem of global warmingBut the obstacles inherent in capitalism to preventing irreversible climate change are, first, that qualitative that individual capitalists make. Only profit maximization is their goal. Second, even if the dominant wing of any national ruling class seeks to discipline the rest within their nation, the world-wide anarchy and competition prevents such enforcement through any other means than war. Interimperialist rivalry would prevent any national bourgeoisie, whose position in the world economic market is threatened, from complying with any agreement or treaty. Ending GHG emissions, as we pointed out above, would require that each national government and private capitalist interest spend enough to reconstruct all of electrical power generation, industry, and transportation so that they would accept as input alternatives to fossil fuels. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, obstacles to expenditure of this magnitude is the absolute need of each imperialist power, driven by international competition, to maintain and continually enlarge their military. The U.S. military costs almost as much as all the others in the world put together.
But equally important, the military essentially runs on oil. According to the Energy Bulletin, the U.S. military is the single largest purchaser of oil in the world. “The Army calculated that it would burn 40 million gallons of fuel in three weeks of combat in Iraq, an amount equivalent to the gasoline consumed by all Allied armies combined during the four years of World War I.” This amounts to about 2 million gallons a day (or 50,000 barrels a day – a barrel is 40 gallons), which amounts to about 13 gallons a day per soldier (http://www.energybulletin.net/node/13199). Retrofitting all the tanks, other land vehicles, ships, and planes to run on alternative fuels is simply prohibitive to the U.S. ruling class. U.S. rulers would force global temperatures through the roof before they would see their empire lost to rival imperialists. And this is just as true of all the other imperialist powers in the world, compounding the obstacle to the point of insurmountability.
Worse yet, as profitably extractable oil supplies peak, the use of military force by all competing imperialists to secure their sources of fuel is already increasing dramatically, heading us inexorably toward World War III. So peak oil produces its own amplifying feedback to increase the very use of the oil that is becoming harder and harder to obtain. Meanwhile the atmosphere becomes overwhelmed by GHG emissions, heading us inexorably toward irreversible and devastating climate change. Neither World War III nor climate change can possibly be escaped so long as capitalism rules the world.
In addition to continuing GHG emissions with its irreversible climate change and continuing wars for control of oil, so long as capitalism exists the world’s working class will continue to suffer from wars also for control of water and minerals, from exploitation, from racism, from sexism, and from poverty and disease. Misguided attempts to cure one of the symptoms while failing to remove the cause will not bring benefit to our class. So while the vital need by the world’s working class for communist revolution is ever present and immediate, the imminence of catastrophic climate change, and its incurability under capitalism, add to that vital need immensely.
VI. Other ineffective proposals to stop global warmingA. The role of the state The capitalist class holds state power, and actions that interfere with profits are forbidden by the government, regardless of who is elected. Therefore since a world free of GHGs, with clean and adequate energy sources for the needs of the working class, would interfere with the profits of the vast majority of capitalists, we cannot look to capitalism to solve the problems. Capitalism, after all, is the cause of all these problems, and not because it hasn’t been pointed out or has never occurred to the ruling class. A few non-Marxist writers have pointed out that capitalism, because of its concentration on growth, stands in absolute contradiction to preserving the environment for future generations. But these writers generally believe that growth is merely a “fetish” among capitalists, as though overall economic growth were something over which the capitalists have control and could be convinced to give up (Speth). However, capitalists only have control over their own corporations, and competition drives each to maximize profits and grow, in order to survive. The growth of all is an unintended consequence of the growth of each. So, while it may also be a fetish, there is nothing that capitalism can do about it. Competition, profit maximization, and wage slavery drive economic life under capitalism. Only replacing it with communism will meet our needs around the world and permit us to stop global warming.
Many authors argue that green businesses can be profitable. Certainly new installations may very well become profitable, even within a few years after start-up. The problem is the trillions of dollars, euros, yen, rubles, yuan, rupees, etc. worth of existing plants, buildings, houses, mines, and vehicles. A system that runs on exchange value or money will not willingly destroy its own massive investments in these forms of physical capital. Indeed only through wars is capital ever deliberately destroyed, and then it is always that which belongs to rivals – elevated at such times to the status of “enemies” in order to win the working class to fight our class sisters and brothers and die for capitalist profits.
Only a system in which use value, rather than exchange value, is the basis of society can even contemplate removing GHG-producing physical capital from its productive base. But a system that the working class controls for its own collective needs (communism), rather than a system that relatively small class controls for its own individual profit (capitalism) can in fact act in this way. The capitalists’ refusal to destroy their own profit-producing capital holds even when that profit is destructive of much of the rest of the world.
When environmentally oriented authors call for the government to regulate the capitalists they are merely subscribing to the myth that the government (or in Marxist terms, the state) stands above society and mediates among the various classes. This myth was exploded a century and a half ago by Marx and Engels and elaborated on ever since by Marxists, most famously perhaps by Lenin in his book State and Revolution. The misunderstanding of political power and the nature of the state is the central flaw in all calls for the state to intervene to save the environment. It’s like calling on a tiger’s tail to protect you from its fangs.
Individual actions like conserving electricity are hopelessly inadequate
Another form of illusion promoted by these well-meaning authors is that if each of us individually changes our habits we can prevent tipping into irreversible climate change. Suggestions abound, such as switching to hybrid cars, insulating our houses better, getting fluorescent bulbs, and instituting other energy-conserving changes (Gore, Monbiot). All these are things that are good to do for those of us who can afford it, if only to save ourselves money in the long run, but the overall effect, even if all of us who could afford it made these changes, would be like a mosquito on an elephant’s bottom. As one author puts it, “If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little” (MacKay). Indeed the Associated Press just reported (8/5/09) that Obama’s “cash for clunkers” program, which has already spent over $1 billion paying people to trade in their gas guzzlers for newer vehicles with better gas mileage, has saved no more gasoline (or GHG emissions) than would be saved if everyone drove one hour less a year. This is a stunning example of greenwashing tokenism as far as saving GHG emissions is concerned, though clearly the quarter of a million new cars that have already been sold as a result of the program have helped the auto companies through the recession. But this is most likely temporary, since these sales come at the expense of future sales, perhaps leading to a later plunge back into crisis. The amount of governmental hot air, concerning the slowing of global warming, outweighs the reality by such a dazzling amount that despite Obama’s posturing it becomes clear that merely appearing to attack the climate crisis is his underlying motive.
Still another example of a particularly misleading movement that is growing (again) among the petit bourgeoisie is the call for people to band together in communes, apart from capitalist society, to grow their own food and escape the starvation that threatens to result from global warming. This escapism cannot possibly sustain itself in the midst of drought, wildfires, flooding, peak oil, and fascist martial law, and it is simply a way of opting out of the necessary struggle against capitalism’s GHG emissions.
The illusion that individual or small scale actions can solve the crisis, even if many people participate, amounts to blaming the working class along with the capitalists for the destruction of the environment. That is, if any workers refuse to go along with the charade, they can be blamed for hastening the destruction of the earth’s atmosphere. And even if we do go along, the claim that we could save the earth by decreasing our personal use of GHG-producing technology, implies that our personal patterns of consumption and usage are, at least in part, the source of the problem. But the working class does not control the patterns of consumption; the capitalists do. When the capitalists build suburbs and destroy or prevent construction of public transportation, we are forced to buy cars. When they raise rents and lower taxes on mortgage interest and lower the initial interest rates on ARMs (adjustable-rate mortgages), we are pressured to buy houses. Then after a couple of years when the interest rates on the ARMs go up and we are laid off and our homes are foreclosed, the media and politicians add insult to injury by blaming us for our irresponsibility in buying the house in the first place. When they increase the work week and lower real wages to the point that both spouses have to work, thereby decreasing the time available to feed our families, we are pressured to buy fast foods. The working class is not to blame for struggling to survive in the only ways that this system permits – at least the only way for us to survive as individual families. The alternative is to struggle to survive as a united class, about which more below.
In the language of dialectical materialism, this illusion – that if enough people act individually we could save the earth from global warming – demonstrates that not all quantitative changes lead to qualitative change. Only when the level of organization is appropriate to the job – in this case at a social level and throughout the world – and the effort is sufficient to reach the boundary of a qualitative transition, does quantitative change give rise to qualitative change.
Why charging capitalists a price for their resource depletion and pollution cannot work A third form of illusion is common among pro-capitalist economists and holds that the only thing needed for capitalism to be able to preserve the environment is for the dual damage, caused by depletion of resources and by pollution from waste products, to be incorporated into the pricing system of the capitalist market economy.
They claim that if a way can be found to assign a price to the harmful effects on the environment, then if, say, emission of GHGs has the correct price put on it and the government imposes that price on each corporation in the form of a tax, the corporations will then hold down on resource depletion and cut their emissions. There are several things that guarantee that these proposals will fail to preserve the environment for future generations, but the main one concerns the failure of the pro-capitalist economists to understand the difference between exchange value and use value.
As Marx explains near the beginning of his masterwork Capital, use value is a qualitative, rather than quantitative, concept and varies from one thing to another and from one person to another. For example, the use value of a pair of shoes concerns things such as the way a person uses it and how many shoes the person already has. The exchange value of a pair of shoes, on the other hand, is a quantitative concept and is loosely measured by its price in the market place. Price derives from the process of production, rather than from consumption and use. In particular, price is determined in the first instance by the amount of labor time that goes into producing the product. But this holds only in a capitalist economy where things are produced for the purpose of selling them and making a profit for the owner of the factory, rather than for the purpose of satisfying a need of a consumer, though some products do also satisfy some needs. In this context, a pair of shoes and everything else produced in a capitalist economy become commodities, items to be traded for money.
In order to prove that the price of a commodity is determined in the first instance by the labor time involved in its production, Marx shows that the classical economists’ claim that price is determined by supply and demand is only a partial answer and not a complete one. He shows that it is true that if supply exceeds demand, i.e., if there is more of a particular product produced than can be sold, its price drops. And that if demand exceeds supply then its price rises. With either shift the amount produced in the next period of time also changes, so that if there is oversupply then less is produced in the next round which causes the price to go back up, and if there is undersupply then more is produced in the next round which causes the price to go back down. Either way the price tends to return to that amount that it would be when supply and demand are in balance.
The question left unanswered by many bourgeois economists, then and now, in their zeal to explain price changes, is what determines the price when supply and demand are in balance? And that’s where he shows that only the amount of labor time that goes into the production process can begin to determine that price. Price, after all, is nothing more than the measure of how many of one product are worth how many of another. And this can only be determined by the relative amount of time is takes to produce each one. For example, a pair of shoes is worth less than a car primarily because it takes a lot fewer person-hours to produce a pair of shoes.13
With regard to the environment, things like mountains, oceans, forests, glaciers, fish, wild animals, and air have only use value. They cannot possibly have exchange value, since there has been no human labor time involved in their production. Therefore there is no unambiguous way to determine a price for the various aspects of the environment, and any way that the economists devise to do so is completely arbitrary.
Indeed, the only reasonable price that we can assign to nature, under circumstances of imminent irreversible destruction and the resulting catastrophic effects on humanity and the rest of the animal and plant kingdoms, is $(infinity). Let the capitalists pay that price for the right to devastate our environment.
Of course, if the government were to put a sufficiently high price on anything, even short of $(infinity), it could certainly exert some influence in one direction or another, but again, the government belongs to the capitalists and will not harm profits in favor of the needs of the working class. True, on September 2, 2009, the U.S. government slapped a huge $2.3 billion fine on Pfizer, the drug company, for wining and dining doctors in order to get them to prescribe more of its drugs. This is the largest fine against a drug company, and the largest punishment in a criminal case, ever. However, contrary to superficial appearances, this is not a case of the government siding with the working class against a drug company that gouges the public. Rather it is an example of infighting among capitalists, with the drug companies having gained for years at the expense of other major corporations, like the auto companies, who have had to pay toward health care coverage for their workers.
Similarly, the government, obeying its influential masters in the fossil fuel and related industries – like ExxonMobil, GM, and Ford – already uses all kinds of direct and hidden subsidies to pump up fossil fuel profits – from using trillions of dollars of our tax money, to build the interstate highway system to accelerated depreciation, to tax write-offs for offshore drilling, to (most important of all) fighting wars for oil in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Meanwhile there are meager, if any, subsidies for alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind, and nuclear plants. How then can we imagine that the government would ever reverse the direction of these subsidies to oppose the interests of the fossil fuel and related industries, which is what it would have to do to reverse the emissions of GHGs?
Capitalism even puts a price on human life The following is an example of the way economists and medical statisticians confound exchange value for use value that may help clarify this issue. When calculating whether a particular medical screening study is worth doing – what they call “cost-effective” – the statisticians choose a measure of the value of a human life that might be saved by the screening test. They want to see how much it would cost to do the screening compared to what saving a person’s life is worth, or more precisely to what the added number of years to a person’s life are worth. Leaving out many of the complexities and cutting to the core idea, they assign a value to each added year of a person’s life due to the screening test. They base this value on an estimate of the average expected annual earnings of the person, given their particular line of work. In other words, each added year of a person’s life is worth what she/ he would be expected to be paid. By this measure, each year of a worker’s life is worth only about 1/300 of that of a CEO of some large corporation, and that’s if you are employed. But the use value of a person’s life is not a quantitative item. Rather it is a qualitative thing that is valued differently by each other person with whom the individual comes into contact – spouse, children, parents, siblings, neighbors, fellow workers, and friends. There is no such thing as the exchange value of a person’s life. Not only is this confounding of use value with exchange value a logical error, but in the case of human life it leads to fascist conclusions. The Nazis assigned exchange value to human life and called people with disabilities who were unable to work “useless eaters” and exterminated them to save the Reich money.
More recently, a memo along these lines was issued by Larry Summers. Summers is the past chief economist for the World Bank, past Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, and past president of Harvard. He became infamous and was forced to resign as president of Harvard for his moronic and harmful comment that women lack the aptitude for science and math. Summers issued a memo while at the World Bank (printed in the UK magazine The Economist in 1992 and in Foster 2002) that said in part:
Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (Less Developed Countries)?... The measurement of the costs of health-impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country of the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.
But rather than these expressions of sheer contempt for the well-being of the world’s working class ending his career, Summers is now Obama’s director of the National Economic Council.
Racism is central to capitalism’s handling of the environment
Summers’s targeting LDCs, as a dump for toxic waste, is code for workers with darker skin and is an example of the extreme racism that characterizes capitalism – in this case with Obama’s full approval. What has come to be called “environmental racism” is rampant within the U.S., as well. Examples include Hurricane Katrina, which exhibited for all the world to see the genocidal neglect first of the levees in the black working class sections of New Orleans, and after the storm surge broke the levees and flooded those sections of town along with white working class sections as well, the horror stories began in earnest. The superexploited black workers who were unable to afford private transportation were told to fend for themselves, were then accused of thievery when locked stores with spoiling food became their only source of survival, were given toxic trailers to live in by FEMA, and were actually blocked by the sheriff department from taking even the footbridge out of town. Thousands of white workers suffered the same fate as they were trapped along with their black brothers and sisters. Homes and jobs were lost permanently, in most cases. Other examples of environmental racism include the following facts: Three fifths of the largest hazard material landfills in the U.S. are in black or Latin working-class neighborhoods. These represent 40% of the total toxic landfill in the U.S. The percentage of black and Latin workers in communities with toxic waste facilities is twice that percentage in communities without such facilities. Sixty percent of black and Latin workers live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites and 50% of Asian, Pacific Island, and Indian workers live in such communities. Fines paid by polluting companies for cleanup of toxic waste were six times higher in communities with a majority of white workers (Jones).
The corridor from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, occupied by a disproportionate number of black working-class families, is known as Louisiana’s Cancer Alley because of all the toxic waste and measurably higher rates of cancer. These few examples can be multiplied many fold in the U.S. alone. But workers with darker skin all over the world are the victims of disproportionate disease, injuries, and deaths from capitalism’s neglect of the environment and the so-called “natural disasters” that result from global warming.
The problem at this time is not overpopulation – it’s capitalism (imperialism)
One of the most fascist ideas subscribed to unwittingly by many honest authors and other people, but pushed deliberately by capitalist ideologs, is that overpopulation in the world is the main cause of both global warming and resource depletion. It takes the racist form of blaming all those “poor people” with darker skin, particularly in the “lesser developed countries.” Or, as New York Times liberal columnist Thomas Friedman puts it in his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, the main cause of global warming and resource depletion is the increasing number of “middle class” people who have the money to buy all the junk that capitalism imposes on the world. While he makes some gestures to deny that he is blaming them for wanting what “middle class” Americans have had all along, the effect is still to provoke anger against workers in India, China, and the Middle East oil states (Friedman).
Many of these authors claim that the earth’s carrying capacity has been exceeded by the 6.8 billion people. But they cannot identify what that maximum carrying capacity may be. In today’s world the problem is not too many people, but rather capitalism’s enforced poverty, racism, and exploitation and their uncontrolled spread by imperialism. In addition, as we have indicated above, it is the capitalists, in their imperative drive to sell commodities in order to realize profits, who completely determine the consumption practices of the world’s working class, or at least that section who can afford to buy things beyond the basics needed to sustain life. Friedman, however, blames these consumption practices on the workers themselves.
Long ago Marx showed how capitalism produces a reserve army of labor, i.e., unemployed workers, no matter how big the population may be. The 6.8 billion people could be reduced by half or more and there would still be unemployment, poverty, disease, and all the other horrors of capitalism. Indeed when the world’s population was half its present size in the early 1960s (less than 50 years ago) these scourges were just as prevalent. There is no solution to resource depletion and global warming – nor to poverty, racism, exploitation, and war – outside of world-wide communism, as we show below. VII. Communism, and only communism, can solve the problems of resource depletion and global warming
The key to solving the climate crisis, and all other crises caused by capitalism, is class struggle rather than competition Communism is the only form of organization in which the world’s working class will be capable of solving all these problems and restoring a sustainable relationship between humanity and the rest of nature. Competitive forms of social organization, such as capitalism, are not capable of taking any actions along these lines, other than token ones. Because of its inherent necessity of expansion, the history of capitalism has gone from primitive forms of accumulation, involving theft on a grand scale, enslavement, and genocide, beginning a few centuries ago, to cover the entire world a little over one century ago, such that different nation states could no longer expand without clashing with each other. This began the age of interimperialist war (World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf Wars I and II, Afghanistan, and hundreds of smaller local wars). Through such wars, each imperialist state tries to destroy its competitors’ factories, oil fields, farms, mines, and even entire cities, or to capture and hold them.
At the end of World War II, the U.S. was the only advanced capitalist country whose industry remained intact, which made the U.S. ruling class king of the world for more than six decades – a situation that is fast coming to an end. So while imperialist rivals try to destroy each others’ capital, they fight to the death of millions of workers to preserve their own. Yet to lower CO2 emissions to the extent required to save the planet from climate tipping would require destroying much of their own capital, something that will not be done as long as they are in control.
As long as capitalism exists, with its expansionist tendencies, we will be incapable of solving the problems of humanity’s interaction with nature, in which nature is used up in the drive for profits and the waste products choke and starve us. Only communism will permit us to halt our accelerating advance toward the edge of a proverbial cliff.
How communism will allow the world’s working class to solve the problems of resource depletion and global warming
With an end to the class of competitive profit-seekers, the world’s working class, under the leadership of its communist party (PLP) will be able to make plans and to carry out those plans. In particular, PLP will organize everywhere in the world a process that engages all workers in collective discussions, debates, and planning at every level, from the smallest community and workplace to the largest centers of production and living. Then these ideas will be consolidated into globally unified action to meet the working class’ needs.
Examples of this type of detailed planning involving all workers have been demonstrated, for example, in Chinese factories in the early years of the revolution where, with the leadership of communist workers, all the workers took time out every day to meet and discuss the production process. Out of these meetings by those who actually work the means of production came improvements, for example, in industrial production of steel. Another example in China was in the hospitals where, with the leadership of communist hospital workers, doctors met with nurses, orderlies, patients, and their families to plan how to take care of patients’ sicknesses and injuries. And everyone, including doctors, shared in the hospital housekeeping tasks. As a result of this collective cooperation on every level, many improvements in surgical techniques and medical treatments were produced, some of them the best in the world.
Until their defeat – caused by errors that were perhaps inevitable in the earliest attempts at blazing new social trails – the Soviet and Chinese revolutions showed that coordinated planning by the collective working class under the leadership of its communist parties can achieve monumental and unimagined feats of overcoming poverty, starvation, and disease. The list of “impossible” feats include, among others,
• the transformation in 10 short years of primitive Soviet industry into an industrial giant capable of defeating the massive Nazi war machine,
• the dismantling of a major portion of this industry and its transportation and reconstruction in a safe position east of the Ural Mountains, safe from Nazi bombs,
• the development of the Chinese Communist Party into a force capable of defeating the Japanese imperialist invaders during and after World War II,
• the mobilization of the Chinese masses to wipe out diseases such as schistosomiasis and TB that continue to plague workers even in today’s capitalist world. The main cause of the defeat of these working class revolutions was a failure to eradicate all traces of capitalism. In particular, the major errors included retention of a wage system that forced workers to consider their own income before their contribution to the welfare of the entire working class, cooperation with certain capitalists who were erroneously thought to share interests with the working class, retention of a division of labor that kept many workers from being able to contribute to their class’s welfare to the maximum of their commitment, and the lack of one single communist party to lead workers everywhere in the world. These errors played the role of negative feedback that led to the restoration of capitalism. What was lacking in the qualitative changes, brought about by armed communistled working-class revolution, were sufficient forms of amplifying feedback that could have led to consolidation and retention of working-class state power. Such forms of amplifying feedback will, in future communist revolutions, include first and foremost correction of the errors listed in the previous paragraph. These corrections will take the form of abolition of the wage system, destruction of the entire capitalist class and its competitive ideology, sharing of all forms of labor from manufacturing to scrubbing floors to raising children to garbage disposal, and the building of one single mass communist party throughout the world, including billions of workers. Many other forms will certainly emerge as the process of revolutionary change proceeds. Amplifying feedback will occur as cooperation among workers around the world to satisfy human needs inspires each to contribute to the welfare of our entire class and to do so to the maximum of her/his ability. Furthermore, motivated by the shared struggles to wipe out all vestiges of capitalist ideology and practices and by the visible benefits that our entire class will gain from these struggles, the world’s working class will learn to develop these abilities to heights that are unimaginable today.
The hazards of continuing capitalist exploitation of the working class are now clear. In order to save ourselves, our class has to remove this obstacle to cooperative action and establish workers’ power everywhere in the world through communist revolution and reconstruction. Only then will we be able to rebuild the world. This revolution will come by building PLP among millions of workers, soldiers, students and many others to create a communist movement that will turn the bosses crisis and wars into a fight for workers power.
When the world’s working class is able to rationally plan the production only of things we really need – whether materially, psychologically, or esthetically – coordinated and cooperative planning by a communist society, without the interference of the profit motive, will permit us to act according to our needs.
The deaths of hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters in Haiti are only the latest example of the destitution, danger, devastation, and disease that affects the majority of our class today. Crisis and war are growing every day. Just imagine a world in which no one can escape catastrophes such as that now faced by our Inuit brothers and sisters, who have to move farther inland, or by our cousins in the South Pacific who have to move from their island homes to mainlands, both because of the current sea level rise, or, to take an earlier example, by 500,000 of our impoverished fellow workers in Bangladesh and India who died in the Bhola cyclone in 1970 (even more than the number of our classmates who were killed by the 2004 tsunami in Asia), or the millions of us who have died in the wars in the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other places; or the thousands of us during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans, who lost our homes if not our own lives or those of our relatives, friends, and neighbors. These catastrophic events have happened first to those of us who are most victimized by the racism that capitalism spawns and that poisons the entire planet. We described above how workers in the Soviet Union and China, with communist leadership, were able to achieve the “impossible.” This time the world’s working class will do the “impossible” and defeat resource depletion and global warming, as well as put an end to imperialist war and the other miseries of capitalist rule.
1 Furthermore the amount of water vapor is highly variable and mainly dependent on air temperature, which in turn is mainly driven currently by concentrations of CO2, so CO2 is the one to watch, though the warming-caused release of methane may eventually overtake CO2.
2 Secondarily contributing to the Asian brown haze is the burning of firewood, for warmth and cooking, by the impoverished working class, who can’t afford other forms of fuel. However, this particular contributing source to the Asian haze has an unclear impact on global warming. While burning of wood definitely adds choking pollution to the air, its net contribution to climate change has two contradictory aspects. The reason is that the carbon that it adds to the atmosphere has only recently been incorporated into the wood out of the air as forests grow; it does not come from fossil fuels that took up the carbon millions of years ago. So burning of wood is only recycling back to the atmosphere carbon that the wood has more recently absorbed from it. Additionally some aerosols, such as white smoke, end up reflecting a certain amount of sunlight back into outer space and therefore actually have a cooling effect on the ground, while black soot does add to global warming as it absorbs at least as much heat from the ground and oceans below as it reflects into
space and therefore traps the heat. 3 It is now proposed by an increasing number of investigators that the cause of the collapse of the Mayan (in Mexico), Akkadian (ancient Mesopotamian, in present day Syria and Iraq), Anasazi (in the U.S. southwest) and other great civilizations was not war but rather years of drought-produced dehydration and starvation. Global warming will only make such droughts more commonplace.
4 This, however, will not raise sea level, since the ice is already floating in the ocean and not resting on land like glaciers and ice sheets.
5 Examples of stabilizing forces include oceans (through plankton on the relatively cool surface), soils, and forests (through their photosynthesis) each of which absorb much of the CO2 emitted by factories and vehicles, as well as by natural sources, thus blunting the warming effects of this major GHG.
6 The illusion that humanity cannot affect the climate is as wrong as the mistaken notion, shared even by many workers, that our class is incapable of overturning capitalism and organizing a communist system throughout the world to serve the interests of the working class and our allies. Big changes in social organization have been, and can and will again be, brought about by a determined working class led and organized by communists using dialectical materialism as a scientific guide to theory and action, just as we workers will be able to use our communist system to repair the planet once we have power.
7 But even these stabilizing forces have their limits, because in a few more billion years the sun’s core will run out of hydrogen, and, as other similar stars have done, the sun will then grow explosively in size into a so-called red giant, engulfing the earth’s orbit and those of other planets. That will be the destabilizing event to literally end all destabilizing events as far as the planet earth and humanity are concerned.
8 Photosynthesis is a chemical process in green plants, in which sunlight is used to convert CO2 to O2.
9 It is of significance to the working class that the discovery of the general process under which life initially arose out of nonliving simple molecules was made principally by two Marxist scientists in the 1930s, working independently – A.I. Oparin in the Soviet Union and J.B.S. Haldane in England. Even staunch anti-communists credit these two communist scientists with this earthshaking discovery. 10 A breeder reactor is a nuclear reactor that breeds further radioactive fuel as a by-product of using the initial uranium to produce energy. Breeder reactors are not yet used in U.S. nuclear plants, but are being evaluated in Japan and some European countries.
11 The fear runs so high that in the early 1980s, even before the Chernobyl accident, the name of the then new medical imaging modality, originally called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), was changed to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in order to remove the word “nuclear” from the name.
12 In 1986 the Argonne scientists deliberately set in motion the start of a Chernobyl-type accident with an IFR, and the reactor passively shut itself down before any danger arose, an inherent aspect of the very design of the reactor.
13 Luxury items, like 40 karat diamonds or newly found Van Gogh paintings, are something of a special case and do not affect the general truth of Marx’s argument. University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2003.