Socialist Worker

As planet burns, our rulers can only offer hot air

Only the most radical measures can save us, says Sophie Squire

Issue No. 2779

Glasgow prepares for Cop26.

Glasgow prepares for Cop26. (Pic: Daniel/Flickr)

The Cop26 climate conference won’t come up with the radical solutions needed to avert ­climate breakdown.

Temperatures have risen faster in the past five decades than any other 50 year period in 2,000 years.

A knock-on effect of rising­ ­temperatures has been more extreme weather in the form of wildfires, flooding, heatwaves and hurricanes.

Sea levels have risen higher since 1900 than in any hundred year period in the past 3,000 years.

Rising oceans are now ­threatening to submerge whole islands, ­displacing entire communities.

26 reasons to protest at Cop26
26 reasons to protest at Cop26
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The science is clear. Man-made climate change, primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is ­threatening the future of the whole of humanity. This is an emergency. All alarm bells should be ringing.

But instead, world leaders once again sit at another Cop conference to make empty promises—as they have done for almost three decades.

The decisions made by this ruling class have not only delayed action over climate change but has made the crisis worse.

For capitalists, the Cop process is less about saving the planet and more about prolonging a system reliant on fossil fuel production.

We need to move away from ­climate conferences that won’t give ordinary people a say to a more democratic and equal system.

Protests at Cop26 must be a sharp kick at the bosses and world leaders. But they must also be used to argue, society can be run differently.

The people who benefit from wrecking the planet

We are told by those at the top to make personal choices to reduce our carbon footprints.

Recycling, eating less meat, flying less and not using plastic straws are all cited as ways to lead greener lives.

But blaming individuals lets those who are responsible for the climate crisis off the hook.

Politicians’ climate promises will only cut carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2050
Politicians’ climate promises will only cut carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2050
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Just 100 companies have produced 71 percent of all greenhouse emissions, according to a 2017 Carbon Majors Report.

From 1988 half of all emissions were produced by 25 companies and state owned infrastructure. And while these firms pump out poison pollution, the bosses grow richer.

The CEO of oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell, Ben van Beurden, doubled his yearly wage in 2018 to £17.2 million.

This was 143 times more than the average worker at the oil and gas giant.

From January 2019 the head of ExxonMobil, Darren W. Woods, received a pay rise that brought his earnings to over £10 million a year. The previous year, the company exceeded £15 billion in profit.

A recent report found that 43 members of the House of Lords have shares in the fossil fuel industry, most over £50,000.

Ten percent of Tory peers have financial interests in oil and gas.

Protests at Cop26 can show the bosses that their destruction of the Earth has not gone unnoticed and ordinary people know precisely where to direct their anger.

How the system got hooked on oil

The environment’s survival is conditional on one massive change being made—a complete end to the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

But to break entirely from fossil fuels requires a break from a system of capitalism. This would mean severing a relationship that has lasted for over 100 years.

The industrial-scale use of fossil fuels started around 150 years ago.

As capitalism grew, fossil fuels were used to power industries. They weren’t more efficient or cheaper than, say, water power. But they fitted with the class interests of capitalists in the creation of big factories and the disciplining of workers.

Later, the widespread production of plastics, found in almost every product and made from oil, also boosted the industry.

States have fiercely competed for control over fossil fuel reserves, even waging wars that have led to death and misery for millions of people.

To this day most countries rely on fossil fuels for over 80 percent of their energy needs.

Despite the warnings in 2021, states poured money into fossil fuel companies to stimulate economic growth after the Covid-19 lockdowns.

If they have their way, the ruling class will keep burning fossil fuels to keep profits coming in.

Smashing a system reliant on oil, coal, and gas will have to mean a transformation of everything. System change is the only chance we have of reducing emissions and averting catastrophe.

Why capture tech won’t save planet

World leaders will claim a whole host of new technologies can save the planet from climate catastrophe.

They will be backed by billionaires including Bill Gates, who says technology is our saviour—but only if it is bought from them.

Investment in carbon capture, hydrogen power and direct air capture will be a great priority for those in power.

The first problem with many of these technologies is they simply don’t deliver enough.

Cop26 conference—‘We’re turning Glasgow into a city in revolt’
Cop26 conference—‘We’re turning Glasgow into a city in revolt’
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New green technologies will never be a sufficient replacement for the need to stop burning fossil fuels.

Direct air capture technology that harvests CO2 directly from the air is a favourite of the Tories and other world leaders alike.


Last week, in the Tories’ net zero review, direct air capture was described as a “possible marketbased solution” for achieving net zero.

Some have argued that planting trees and maintaining natural habitats would be a less expensive and more effective way of reducing emissions.

All of these technologies and initiatives have one crucial thing in common—they keep the fossil fuel industry intact.

New technology is not bad. Socialists believe that in a different kind of society, innovation would be able to flourish.

But under capitalism, the drive to develop new technology is primarily motivated by profit, not by people’s needs.

As it stands those in power know the fossil industry will deliver more profit than renewables like wind and solar.

Technology already exists that could cut emissions.

The problem is, it’s in the hands of the wrong people.

Where should climate battle go after COP26 finishes?

Protests at Cop26 are an opportunity to rage against government inaction and the system as a whole.

But they are also an opportunity to strengthen alliances and build a stronger and more diverse climate movement.

After Cop26 ends and world leaders leave Glasgow, activists must continue protests, direct actions, rally’s and summits.

We meed more of the energy and initiative of the school climate strikes and Extinction Rebellion.

Protest at Cop26 to tackle climate inaction
Protest at Cop26 to tackle climate inaction
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We need to defend protest rights against the Tories imposition of their new police bill.

One important alliance that must be strengthened is between the climate movement and organised workers.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg was right to encourage striking council workers to join her for protests in Glasgow on 5 November.

And it was good to see that the GMB union, whose members planned to strike during Cop26, responded to this call.Most workers will agree that something drastic needs to be done to fight climate change.

But unfortunately some union leaders don’t agree with what that radical change would mean.

Unions such as the GMB and Unite argue for the continuation of the fossil fuel industry, more airports and the development of nuclear power to save and create jobs. But moving away from fossil fuels can create jobs.


The same week that Thunberg called for strikers to join demonstrations, the GMB released a statement backing new funding for the Sizewell C nuclear power station.

Nuclear power will always be a dangerous process that leaves the problem of storing radioactive waste that takes tens of thousands of years to decay.

Arguing for a just transition shouldn’t just be about retaining jobs.

It should be about calling for new and better, greener jobs.

Every industry must be made to be greener.

Is there a force that can bring change?

If you and those you live and work with had a say in how things are run, would you organise society the way it is now?

Most of us wouldn’t.

The world is organised in ways that are utterly illogical. And the way our leaders act in the face of a climate crisis is a perfect example of this.

Scientists have been clear since the 1970s that fossil fuel emissions would result in environmental destruction.

But almost nothing has been done because the bosses, with governments cheering them on, are only motivated to increase their profits.

Those in power are driving us past a point of no return, and so control of society must be wrestled away from them for our continued survival.

Greta Thunberg and striking workers to unite at Cop26 protests in Glasgow
Greta Thunberg and striking workers to unite at Cop26 protests in Glasgow
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The only group in society that has the power to save the planet from their deadly system are the working class.

We are often told as individuals that we hold very little power.

And it is true that in Britain the level of class struggle is very low.But recent mass protests from Chile to Lebanon, Sudan to Hong Kong have shown that ordinary people can fight back.

The reasons for these protests might be different, but all raged against the same capitalist system.

A fight against one aspect of capitalism can become a fight against all it produces—poverty, exploitation, inequality and climate crisis.

We must look to these sparks of resistance as proof that when workers act collectively, they have the power to bring about tremendous change.

The climate crisis is already leading to poverty and misery for workers—especially in the Global South.

For workers everywhere, there will come a point when we can no longer suffer falling conditions, stagnating wages and the devastation caused by climate change.

The crucial task for socialists is fanning the flames of resistance, and encouraging workers to see their enormous potential power.

Workers don’t own the warehouses or the call centres. They aren’t the ones hosting big climate conferences. But they are the ones that keep the world running, as was brought home sharply during the pandemic.

Workers withdrawing their labour stalls bosses’ profits and their system. It could stop fossil fuel production for good.

But a movement of working class people can’t stop there. A total transformation of society is desperately needed to protect humanity against the effects of climate breakdown.

In order to build a truly democratic and sustainable society, we need a revolution against capitalism.

The Revolutionary Alternative to Capitalism’s Climate Disaster Sunday 14 November, 2pm on Zoom Speakers include, Sabrina Fernandez (Brazil), Alex Callinicos (Britain), Özde Özbay (Turkey), John Molyneux (Ireland), Gyekye Tanoh (Ghana) and Michelle Robidoux (Canada).  Register for your (free) ticket at

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