Over 400 new coal mines underway or announced as of June 2021. 118,500 new oil and gas wells projected to start up in 2021-2, 468 new oil and gas pipelines or pipeline expansions in active development as of February 2021. Behind the empty words of COP26, the terrible reality is that the capitalist class is investing trillions of dollars in expanding extractive industries and the production of CO2 emitting machines.
The personal consumption alone of the capitalist class is responsible for world-altering carbon emissions. The highest-income 1% emit 15% of global emissions, more than double the poorest 50%. The world’s 300 largest superyachts alone generate as much CO2 as the 10 million inhabitants of Burundi.
These people lack the self-restraint to curb their pleasure-emissions; they are not going to forgo the profits available from unregulated fossil capital.
It’s not inconceivable that at some point in COP’s 26 year history, world leaders might have agreed to a small regulatory measure, like a carbon tax. Instead they have used moral pressure to produce nothing, appealing to a class is psychopathically indifferent to moral pressure. The absence of any global sanctions on emissions means fossil capitalists have continued to expand. CO2 emissions in 2019 were 56% larger than when the COP process started in 1995.
Far from restricting the growth of fossil capital, governments have been acting as its mouthpiece. A recent Greenpeace report reveals different governments have been lobbying of the IPCC asking them to water down their scientific assessments. The boss class does not like reality, and so they are asking the scientists to fabricate a new one!
These are symptoms of what novelist Amitav Ghosh has called the “Great Derangement”. It is a result of an economic system that is out of control. The work that we are put to, the commodities that we are served up, the environment we are forced to live in, the ever escalating ecological catastrophe, are all caused because economic life is driven not by rational human interests but by the blind pursuit of private profit.
While the organisation of human work is out of control, we have no hope of effectively halting, reversing global warming or adapting to climatic conditions that are now unavoidable.
The pandemic demonstrated what it was like to have a natural force impose itself on our civilisation, forcing human society to bend and adapt to its logic. It has also shown the gaping gulf that exists between our scientific knowledge and our ability to act on that scientific knowledge.
How many lives saved, how much misery avoided, if we just had a form of rational democratic government that followed the science, even with all science’s imperfections and errors? Instead, two billion workers worldwide lack the financial means to isolate. Billions more are denied vaccines, healthcare and testing. Instead of society’s resources being spent on these rational ends, the capitalist class has used the cover of the pandemic to further ramp up inequality.
During the financial year 2020-2021, the world’s 2775 billionaires increased their wealth by $5 trillion: more than the GDP of pre-pandemic Japan. By privileging private profit over the collective need to bring the pandemic under control, capitalism imposes terrible acts of social self-harm.
As society is forced to bend and adapt to the logic of climate change, this way of organising human work threatens civilisational collapse.
If the capitalist class are organising us, the world’s workers, to flood an already glutted atmosphere with hundreds more gigatonnes of carbon, it is incumbent on the labour movement to start demanding preparations are made for the coming storms. We should force our bosses and local politicians to confront the future that their class is preparing for us and demand the resources we need to make adequate preparations to safeguard our communities and livelihoods.
The people who have least responsibility for this crisis – workers and the poor – will bear the heaviest burden. Research from the Climate Vulnerability Monitor in 2010 estimated the people of the global South bear 82% of the total costs of climate damage, and that share will have risen as impacts become more extreme. In coming decades, large areas of the Earth will become uninhabitable.
In 2014 the UN-linked International Organization for Migration reported that “Forecasts for the number of environmental migrants by 2050 vary... between 25 million and one billion”.
If we are to avoid war and population collapse, we need to serious preparations for the planned resettlement of displaced people. Towns and cities that currently sustain millions will be wiped off the map. The labour movement should draw up detailed plans for how we can ensure everyone gets the basics of food, water, housing, healthcare, education and safe passage and run campaigns to agitate for climate preparations at work and in politics.
To avoid climate catastrophe, human work needs to be directed according to rational economic plans rather than the deranged logic of profit-maximisation. Organising around such plans is the means by which environmentalists and labour movement activists can awake the slumbering giant of the world working class and forge a social force capable of organising our labour to avert catastrophe.