Stopping destructive climate change requires socialist change

Photo: Paul Mattsson

Photo: Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) livestreamed a rally on 26 September on the critically urgent theme of a ‘socialist solution to the capitalist climate catastrophe’.

Hosted by CWI secretary Tony Saunois, the worldwide panel of speakers delivered a devastating critique of how the unsustainable profit-driven global system is destroying our environment, and heating the planet to temperatures which threaten human civilisation.

Eko John Nicholas from the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria) graphically explained how that tropical country is experiencing both prolonged drought in the north and extreme flooding events in the south due to climate change.

Likewise, Ashley from the Independent Socialist Group in the USA told the rally that this summer was the hottest recorded in US history. Parts of the country are experiencing unprecedented drought, with the federal government declaring for the first time a water shortage along the Colorado river.

And on top of never-before-experienced heatwaves, and even ice storms in Texas, the recent Hurricane Ida, second only to Hurricane Katrina in its ferocity, laid waste to Louisiana and devastated New York City – with people dying in their basement apartments from flash flooding.

Alexsandra Setsumei Ol from SOL (CWI in Germany) also reminded viewers of the terrible ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ floods in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium which left 186 people dead, hundreds injured, and many more homeless. The cost of destruction in Germany alone is estimated at €5 billion.

‘New normal’

But such cataclysmic events are, in fact, becoming the ‘new normal’ as the planet heats up due to greenhouse gas emissions from capitalist production, transport and agribusiness.

Of course, it’s always the poor and the working class who are forced to pay the price. As Tony stated in his introduction, most of the global victims of climate change are living in the ex-colonial countries.

Eko explained how the lack of investment in infrastructure in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, means that more frequent floods have polluted drinking water. Only 10% of the city’s population now has access to clean water.

Despite the country’s oil and gas wealth the living conditions of the masses have actually worsened. While the profits are siphoned by corrupt governments and big energy companies – which also continue to flare off gas from its oil platforms, contributing massively to greenhouse gas emissions – many people living in the oil producing delta region suffer ill health from terrible pollution.

Rushme Madhavan from New Socialist Alternative (CWI in India) explained how the extreme nationalist Modi regime has given the green light to multinational companies to continue their polluting industries (especially the ‘recycling’ – ie dumping – of waste products from Western countries), while the workers only have an expensive privatised healthcare system to treat their resulting health problems.

Judy Beishon, on behalf of the CWI International Secretariat, explained that capitalist governments around the world have failed to tackle this climate emergency and environmental catastrophe.

Any measures that have been undertaken are inadequate, uncoordinated, and based on market solutions like carbon-trading schemes, which don’t actually cut greenhouse gas emissions.

She told viewers to expect much ‘greenwashing’ by the likes of Boris Johnson, Joe Biden, and other capitalist politicians, as well as by major corporations, at the forthcoming COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

As Ashley pointed out, Biden has allowed more oil exploration and gas fracking permits to proceed than his reactionary predecessor Donald Trump.

In the UK, a large sum – £7.5 billion – of the government’s so-called green initiatives (solar panels, home insulation, etc), is borne not by the treasury but by a regressive green tax on our energy bills, hitting the poorest hardest.

Governments and capitalist companies around the world do understand that the cost of not fixing climate change will cost their profit system dearly. This understanding of the need to act is writ large by the Covid pandemic.

According to the International Monetary Fund, if Covid is not contained it could cost the world economy £3.3 trillion by 2025. Whereas, the estimated cost of supplying vaccines globally is only £70 billion.

Yet, despite the fine words and pledges of vaccine supplies by Biden, Macron, et al, less than 2% of world’s poorest populations have received one vaccine dose.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical giants with their monopoly on vaccine patents continue to prioritise orders for the advanced capitalist countries. Yet millions of doses stockpiled in the West will be dumped as they reach their expiry dates this year.

Capitalist competition

In reality, as Judy explained, capitalism is incapable of acting collectively, at least to any meaningful degree, to halt rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the onset of economic crisis is leading in the opposite direction, with increased competition rather than cooperation between capitalist countries.

So what can be done to halt devastating climate change? Judy said that many young people are rightly sceptical and despairing at capitalist politicians ability to solve the climate emergency.

Some may look to the Greens as a political alternative. But as Alexsandra explained, in Germany the Greens’ radical rhetoric has not been matched when entering into coalitions with establishment parties. In short, they sell out at the critical moments (see ‘German Greens: The image and reality’).

Similarly, Ashley explained that the sizeable DSA left wing in the Democrats, while talking up a ‘Green New Deal’ has allowed such commitments to be watered down by the Democrats in Congress, including by radical figures such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who want to make such a policy acceptable to the capitalists.

A green new deal has to be fought for outside of the Democrats and Republicans, which are wedded to capitalism. Policies to deal with climate change and the environment have to be part of the struggle to build an independent working-class movement for socialism.

Judy concluded by saying that what’s needed is a fundamental change in capitalist production to provide clean, renewable energy, along with non-polluting economic growth, to deliver higher living standards for all.

This is only possible under socialism which, by removing the profit motive, would allow workers to democratically plan production internationally. We urgently need mass workers’ movements to challenge capitalist governments, linked to thorough socialist change, ie taking the major corporations into public ownership.

Tony summed up by appealing to those new to the CWI to join our ranks in their respective countries and fight for these ideals as the only realistic way to halt catastrophic climate change.

  • See also ‘Climate change, capitalism, and the struggle for socialism’ at
  • The CWI rally ‘socialist solution to the capitalist climate catastrophe’ can be viewed on