By Estelle Cooch
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Should we all unite to save the planet?

This article is over 10 years, 9 months old
The last in our series looks at the environmentalist challenge to Marxism
Issue 2248

More and more people are worried about the environment. Despite the efforts of climate sceptics, people can see that climate change is causing havoc around the world.

Some environmentalists argue that global warming is such a huge problem that all other concerns should come second.

They point out that, if the planet is doomed, every fight to save jobs, stop racism or end war becomes irrelevant.

And they say that climate change affects everyone, so we all have an interest in stopping it—regardless of our class.

But devoting ourselves purely to campaigning over the planet isn’t the same as creating a force with the power to win real change.

It risks sidelining struggles that can challenge the powerful and make a sustainable world more possible.

And because the rich have specific interests that go against taking action over climate change, trying to unite across classes will only weaken the fight.

The interests of the ruling class in relation to the environment are contradictory.

Some capitalists see that climate change threatens the very environment that their system relies on. And some can profit from dealing with it—those making money from renewable energy, for example.

However, the reason for capitalism’s existence is the accumulation of profits.

The interests of one capitalist or the security of the environment come second to that.

There are immense pressures on our rulers to prop up the system as it is.

The big polluting industries—oil, coal, gas and nuclear companies, the car industry and so on—are very powerful.

They are intertwined with governments.

So in Britain, for example David Cameron has tried to paint the Tories as a green alternative.

One of the reasons that the Tories can get away with this “greenwashing” is because support for the environmental movement is so broad.

But in reality the Tories are pushing policies that threaten the planet further.

This means that any serious action on climate change must take on the power of business and the states that back them.


Some environmentalists, seeing these enormous barriers within capitalism to saving the planet, flip the other way.

They conclude that the only way forward is for people to make individual sacrifices.

They say we must recycle, use a bicycle instead of a car, and so on.

But it’s the actions of the big companies and governments that do most damage to the planet. And workers have little choice about these things.

Individuals can attach small wind turbines to their homes to generate a tiny amount of energy.

But if governments switched their multi‑billion pound subsidies from nuclear power to renewable energy, it would make a much bigger difference.

Some environmentalists want even greater sacrifices.

They say that climate chaos is inherent in development and growth.

Some end up saying that the poorest in the world must stay poor—because any more development is bad for the planet.

The problem is not development itself, but capitalist development.

Development has created a world that can meet the needs of everyone.

Industrial development and new technologies actually give us the means to tackle global warming

—the development of renewable energies or more efficient transport for example.

This potential is squandered because the system is organised for profit.

The solution isn’t to shun development. It’s to shun the chaos of capitalism and fight for a sustainable world.

Global warming hits the poorest hardest. Fighting it doesn’t mean ordinary people must sacrifice—it means we will have a much better quality of life.

We can squeeze some reforms out of our rulers. But there are powerful interests against saving the planet.

It would be much easier to stop climate change if we lived in a world democratically controlled by workers.

We need to replace capitalism, a system driven by competition for profits, with socialism, a system organised collectively to meet the needs of everyone.

Getting there requires more than simply fighting over the environment.

We need to look to the force with the power to make a new society, the working class, and back every struggle that makes our class more confident to make it.

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