It came as disturbing news that June was the hottest month ever recorded in the UK and the planet had its two hottest days ever at the start of July. What did the Tory government say about these latest consequences of climate change? Nothing; its silence was deafening.
Then, when Tory environment minister Thérèse Coffey answered questions in parliament on 6 July she didn’t mention climate change and not a single MP questioned her about her government’s lack of action on it. The closest it came to it was a Tory MP asking what steps are being taken to plant trees, which prompted Coffey to point to a few planting projects and farcically add: “Vote blue, go green”.
In reality, the Tories are as divided on the environment as on all other key issues. Tory peer John Gummer, outgoing chair of parliament’s climate change committee, declared last month that there was no satisfactory progress being made against climate change. Among his committee’s criticisms was the government’s present handing out of 100 new licences for drilling North Sea gas and oil.
That was followed within days by another Tory peer, Zac Goldsmith, writing a scathing letter of resignation from his ministerial post as international environment minister, in which he said that prime minister Rishi Sunak is “uninterested” in climate change. Among other complaints, he pointed to the government’s withdrawn commitment to give £11.6 billion of foreign aid for environmental purposes.
‘Fiddling while Rome burns’
The phrase ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ comes to mind, although much of the planet is in peril, not just a human domain. The urgency for far-reaching action is clear from the temperature graphs. Despite over 40 years of international climate conferences, global warming is heading rapidly towards the maximum increase of 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels that was set in the 2015 Paris agreement.
It is not technological potential that is absent. For instance, the International Energy Agency has said that, if all planned projects are deployed, solar panel manufacturing capacity would exceed levels needed to meet net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Rather the failure stems from fundamental obstacles in the capitalist system.
Capitalist governments won’t commit to the massive investment needed, for changes such as enabling power infrastructure to fully use renewable energy. It would mean increasing already very-high levels of public sector debt, which they want to keep within the limits that will be tolerated by the top financial institutions.
It was one thing to increase it to bail out their system in the 2007-08 financial crisis, and later in the Covid pandemic, but for them, the worsening climate crisis can be shunted into the hands of future governments and generations. Neither will the necessary amounts of investment come from the private sector, with its focus more on short-term profit opportunities than the needs of society.
Adding to the ‘status quo’ reliance on fossil fuels are the links the governments of major capitalist powers across the globe have with fossil fuel industries – as well as with big business overall and its interests.
Another barrier to stopping climate change under capitalism is the impossibility of achieving the necessary global cooperation. Supply chains cross many borders, but the top manufacturers and service providers are based economically and politically in nation states, which they use as a base to defend their interests while competing with other companies globally. Competition is inherent in the system rather than cooperation.
“Climate change is out of control”, lamented UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in response to the start of July heatwave. Climate change is out of control because capitalism is out of control – and cannot be controlled. As a system it has been in existence for less than 400 years, a pinprick in the timeline of humanity on the planet, yet in that short time it has outlived its usefulness, caused escalating damage to the environment, and is rotten ripe for removal.
Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, as with the Tories, treats climate change as an issue to be juggled around with other issues they view as concerns of voters. The Sunday Times (9 July) reported on moves by Starmer, along with his close supporters in the shadow cabinet, to shift Labour’s stance away from a so-called ‘green agenda’ in order to focus more on ‘economic change’.
An indication of this came in their recent decision to delay implementation of a pledge to spend £28 billion a year on green initiatives from the start of a Labour government. However, Labour has no real economic change on offer either (see pages 8-9) and the pressing issues faced by working-class people certainly include the environment. They are in the frontline of vulnerability to extreme weather events and pollution; and most have great concern about the planet and all life on it.
Starmer and Co have made it crystal clear that they won’t take any significant steps towards the far-reaching action needed: decisive measures to utilise the colossal wealth hoarded by the super-rich, along with nationalisation of the banks, energy firms, transport, infrastructure, agribusiness and other key companies – together with calling on workers’ movements internationally to build towards doing likewise.
The solution to climate change is through building mass, democratically organised, working-class based forces that can challenge and remove this rotten system, and replace it with socialist societies based on need, not profit.
While these forces are being built, struggles will inevitably take place – as many already have – to fight for resources to reduce the impact of temperature extremes, fires, floods, storms, etc, on ordinary people. Capitalist governments will continue to try to pass the burden of funding those resources onto working-class and middle-class people, and will no doubt use environmental issues, among others, when propagating division to try to undermine workers’ unity.
In these class battles, workers’ movements and new workers’ parties will need programmes that can bring workers together. Regarding the environment, this means advocating the raising of living standards for the poorest in society without it being at the expense of better-paid workers. It also means insisting on the creation of well-paid, skilled jobs to replace those lost during the phasing out of polluting or potentially dangerous industries – including nuclear power.
No guarantees from capitalist bosses or their political representatives can ever be trusted on these issues. Only democratically based decision making by representatives of the working class will make socialist measures in the interests of the majority in society possible, together with a sustainable environment.