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An Energy Revolution Requires a Social Revolution

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placard says "fight for our future"

From Red Flag’s leaflet for the 20 September 2019 Climate Strike

The climate disaster is already here for the millions across the world fleeing floods, fires and desertification. But now we have been given a deadline: in October 2018, UN scientists warned we have less than 12 years to keep global warming below 1.5C, the Paris Agreement’s goal, or face catastrophic, runaway climate change.

Since then millions of young people around the world have walked out of their schools, colleges and universities demanding an end to decades of inaction over climate change, in a stroke transforming the global environmental movement. Extinction Rebellion has occupied city centres and taken direct action, with thousands arrested, to raise awareness before it is too late. Seeking to expand the scale of action and draw in workers, the movement has called the first global general climate strike.

We have 11 years. Where do we go from these great beginnings, and how can we reverse climate change and save the world?

System Change not Climate Change

We face massive, systemic obstacles. Capitalism’s need for profit and division into competing blocs mean it can’t end its addiction to fossil fuels. Nonbinding, voluntary agreements since the first 1992 Rio Earth Summit have not stopped global heating – 2018 was a record high for emissions – and now even such “commitments” are under threat as major polluters withdraw from the Paris Treaty (Trump’s US, Bolsonaro’s Brazil) or fail to ratify it (Putin’s Russia).

The rich countries have pledged $100 billion to help the poor countries adjust to climate change, but actually delivered less than half this. Meanwhile annual military spending has risen to nearly $2 trillion. Fossil fuel investment dwarfs renewables because oil and gas are more profitable. Companies that put aside profit to convert to zero carbon in a decade would go bust, while their polluting competitors boom.

This testifies to the fact that capitalism is a dying system. The 2008 financial crisis opened an endless “age of austerity” with attacks on workers’ wages and livelihoods here and on the poorer countries, squeezing them for debt and driving further anti-environmental policies. The system’s destructive side – environmental destruction, militarism – is increasingly to the fore, as growing conflicts, partly driven by climate change and worsening it, convulse the world.

The imperialist Great Powers – US, China, Britain, Russia – are engaged in a deepening cycle of rivalry, sabre rattling and arms spending, with the possibility of nuclear annihilation hanging over us. Social tensions created by austerity have brought climate-denying populists like Trump and Bolsonaro to power, leading to trade wars, the burning Amazon, and a possible Brexit here, which worsen the problem. We need internationalism to solve what is a global problem, not nationalism.

Only socialism can save the planet

A “green” capitalism is a mirage. The market, based on competition and profit, is an engine of inequality and cost reduction not emissions reduction. Rival nation states form a barrier to dealing with global problems. A piecemeal process that preserves private ownership of the means of production in the hands of a few and jealously guards business secrets is utopian.

As long-time environmental campaigner George Monbiot has said: “There’s time, but we can’t do it by pissing about at the margins of the problem. We’ve got to go straight to the heart of capitalism and overthrow it.”


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