Workers Vanguard No. 877
29 September 2006
On Global Warming
2 September 2006
I have been a long time supporter of the policies and program of the International Communist League and reader of Workers Vanguard and Australasian Spartacist. I know on occasions WV has over the years mentioned even written quite at length about global warming and environmental issues but given the prominence of green movements around the world and their not inconsiderable political influence in governments and exposure in the corporate media, I feel more critique is warranted sometimes in WV. In todays Australian Newspaper (a prominent mouth piece of Australian corporate capitalism) there is a long article on Al Gores opinions on global warming and his belief in its authenticity. I would like to make the following points, both questions and statements. Why has a section of the capitalist class and the corporate media become converts to some degree of GW? To what degree is GW some form of latterday malthusianism? Scientific evidence from drilling in Greenland ice caps and other geological evidence has shown enormous climate change in the past (the ice ages, etc) and even in historic time there was a warm period from about the seventh to the eleventh century and also the mini ice age in Europe in the seventeenth century. Many factors cause climate change such as the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun, the wobbling of the earth on its axis and others such as volcanic and sunspot activity. I am well aware as you are of the vast increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution which is the cause of the phenomenon called the greenhouse effect. WV has in the past run excellent articles supporting evolution and debunking creationism and intelligent design and often defending the gains of the enlightenment so why not a similar critique of environmentalism.
I know it is the view of the ICL (and mine too) that untrammeled capitalism is the main cause of the despoliation of the earth. Engels first noted this when he wrote about the working class in England in the nineteenth century. The difference between creationism and evolution is that the latter is absolutely scientifically valid and creationism is just religious cant and superstition but global warming does have an element of scientific truth. The fact that so many well meaning people today believe that the number one issue today is to save the planet and their solution to it is to pressure capitalist governments to solve the problem and that we should return to a more technically simple existence may be because of this. WV could occasionally publish articles (or an article) highlighting the marxist position on this issue. To me much of environmentalism is secular apocalypticalism and can be easily manipulated by the ruling class for its own ends when it suits them.
Reader D.B. raises a number of important issues that deserve fuller treatment than can be given in this immediate response. For a summary of our Marxist position on the general topic of environmentalism, we direct our readers to our most recent extensive article on the subject, In Defense of Science and Technology—An Exchange on Eco-Radicals and HIV Denialists (WV No. 843, 4 March 2005), which is available on our Web site. Our fundamental difference with the environmentalist movement is our view that overcoming ecological problems such as air and water pollution, or dealing with the problem of global warming, fundamentally raises the need to get rid of the irrational, profit-driven capitalist system and set up an internationally planned, socialist economy. This in turn requires workers revolutions to expropriate the means of production which today are owned by the capitalist class.
Because environmentalists accept the capitalist system as inevitable, they are reduced, at best, to impotent appeals to the capitalists to stop degrading the environment. More often than not, the policies advocated by environmentalists to supposedly protect the environment and conserve energy by discouraging overconsumption dovetail with capitalist austerity policies. In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, we wrote an article on the world oil market, which stated: The ecology activists are right in one important respect: the massive burning of hydrocarbons—whether oil or coal —is in the long term bad for the earths atmosphere. The answer, however, is not to save oil by cutting the living standards of North American and European working people (The World Oil Racket, WV No. 535, 27 September 1991).
A collectivized economy based on international planning would make possible a qualitative development of the worlds productive forces, doing away with economic scarcity and laying the basis for the elimination of classes and for the withering away of the state. It would also permit the development and full utilization of renewable sources of energy and other industrial technologies.
There is broad agreement today among scientists that human beings contribute significantly to global warming, especially through the burning of fossil fuels. Still debated—understandably, given the complex nature of the issue—are the questions of how grave the consequences of global warming will be and how rapidly they might manifest themselves. The possible consequences evoked by a number of scientists are extremely serious: rising sea levels and coastal flooding, climate shifts causing populated areas to become arid or inundated, destruction of forests, extinction of many animal and plant species. An extreme projection is that if the oceans warmed sufficiently, huge amounts of methane now frozen under the sea could be released, possibly causing mass extinctions.
That some capitalist spokesmen like Al Gore have expressed alarm about global warming is hardly surprising given the possible economic and social disruption it threatens. Yet much bourgeois hand-wringing over this issue is pure cynicism. British Petroleum, which is under criminal investigation for a major oil spill on Alaskas North Slope this March, earlier won plaudits from environmentalists for its vague promise to limit emissions of so-called greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from its installations around the world.
Regarding the question of Malthusianism—that is, the idea that much of mankind is condemned to perpetual poverty because the earth is permanently overpopulated compared to its resources—we noted in the article referenced above:
Moreover, the development of communism will be accompanied by a corollary downward drift in the present population hypertrophy. Evidence of this can already be seen under capitalism in the industrially advanced countries of the world—e.g., Japan, North America and Western Europe—where economic and technological advancement has effected, not through fiat, a substantial reduction in the birthrate. Under communism, both the division between town and country and economic dependence on the family will virtually disappear. No longer will poor peasants or agricultural workers be compelled to have more children in order to ensure enough manpower to work the land. Human beings will have far greater mastery over both their natural and social environments.
Additionally, communist society will be based on a thoroughly different set of social values from those that exist today. The liberation of women from patriarchal domination will mean complete and unhindered access to birth control and contraception. Communism will elevate the standard of life for everyone to the highest possible level. By eliminating scarcity, poverty and want, communism will also eliminate the greatest driving force for the prevalence of religion and superstition—and the attendant backwardness, which defines the role of women as the producers of the next generation of working masses to be exploited. A prolonged, mild population shrinkage based on increasing material abundance and progressive social ideals will go a long way toward ensuring that there are enough resources to guarantee the well-being of all.
The organization of industrial production under capitalism necessarily leads to degradation of the environment because capitalist firms are motivated solely by the need to maximize profits. Environmentalists, through their promotion of schemes to save the environment under capitalism, help perpetuate the very system that is at the heart of the problem.
Readers particularly interested in these questions may wish to consult our pamphlet Enlightenment Rationalism and the Origins of Marxism as well as the following articles: Eco-Radicalism and Bourgeois Politics (WV Nos. 695 and 696, 28 August and 11 September 1998) and The Evolution Wars: Religious Reaction and Racist Oppression—Hail Charles Darwin! (WV No. 854, 16 September 2005).