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Only system change can save the planet

We need to fight for a socialist future where ordinary people sustainably plan society
Issue 2899
Firefighter puts out a wildfire as capitalism causes climate change

Firefighter tries to put out a forest fire (Picture: Pacific Southwest Forest Service)

Capitalism is killing the planet. So, to save the planet, we need to kill capitalism. In its place we need a different system—one that puts human need above competition, profits and greed.

It’s why system change not climate change is a crucial demand for revolutionaries. Under socialism we can decide what we need, how it can be produced and how we organise our resources in harmony with the environment. During revolutionary upsurges workers’ organisations form new ways of running society.

On a mass scale this democratic planning would get rid of the waste and competition that exists at every level of the system. But it’s no easy task to rip apart the current system and replace it with something better. System change requires mass social upheaval from below—a revolution. As Karl Marx put it, only in a revolution will the working class rid “itself of all the muck of ages” and become “fit to found society anew”.

Greta Thunberg and others argue it is possible to save the planet without uprooting capitalism. Many have illusions in technical solutions to the environmental catastrophe. But the main function of “green” technical solutions is to deflect the blame for the chaos of the system away from large corporations and billionaires like Bill Gates and instead centre them as the solution. New technologies that are decades away from being able to produce results don’t address the desperate immediacy of the climate crisis.

Carbon capture, for instance, is not only expensive but unreliable. Wind, solar and tidal power are existing technologies that have the potential to produce enough energy for all of us. But they’re not guaranteed to make the bosses much profit.

For our rulers, the central focus will always be profits. So we have to do more than just reform the system we live in. It’s no accident that our current processes aren’t enough to save the planet—and they’re in the wrong hands.

The chair of Cop28 was able to use the climate conference to make oil deals. And measly promises, like the Labour Party’s £28 billion a year climate pledge, are all too easily torn up to suit the needs of the system.

Another argument is that because the ruling class also lives on the planet—surely it has a vested interest in stopping the planet from burning? Capitalism is a chaotic and contradictory system. Its intrinsic lack of planning means individual capitalists don’t stop and come together—states and bosses are all in competition with each other.

That’s why we have nuclear weapons that threaten the existence of humanity—but no states are in a rush to decommission these deadly weapons. It’s why only a completely new vision—a transformation of society—can save the planet.

As Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto, a revolution will see a “combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country”. This means that system change is the only solution to fixing the relationship between humans and the environment that is so broken by capitalism.

Realistically, the overthrow of capitalism alone will not create a sustainable society overnight. After a successful revolution, the new society inherits many aspects of the old system and has to confront the threat of counter-revolutions. And there’s no blueprint for a new socialist world and the exact form it takes will only be known to those who create it.

Much work will need to be done to redesign our cities, transport networks, industries, food production and distribution systems to be greener. We urgently need to fight for a completely different world that provides us with the potential to create a truly sustainable future. That world is possible—and ever more urgent as capitalism continues to plummet us into chaos.

This is the sixth part of a series of columns that discuss What We Stand For, the Socialist Workers Party statement of principles, printed every week in Socialist Worker (see page 12). For the full series go here

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