By Cassandra Devereaux
The Coca-Cola corporation is worried that a lack of access to fresh water will impact its ability to produce soft drinks. Apple sees opportunity in the increase of natural disasters causing greater dependence on iPhones. Alphabet Inc. sees a potential boost to their Google brands, writing “If customers value Google Earth Engine as a tool to examine the physical changes to the Earth’s natural resources and climate, this could result in increased customer loyalty or brand value.” Disney is afraid that the rise in hot, muggy weather will mean fewer visitors to its theme parks. Home Depot happily notes that rising temperatures will drive air conditioning sales. Visa, Inc. anticipates the problems that will come from wars over dwindling resources and the climate change driven rise of global pandemics, specifically as these affect international travel. “Any such decline in cross-border activity could impact the number of cross-border transactions we process and our foreign currency exchange activities, and in turn reduce our revenues,” they grimly note. However, other companies look [at] the rise of an era of pestilence as a positive. Pharmaceutical goliath Merck & Co. licks its chops anticipating the profits to be made as plagues the population, reporting, “as the climate changes, there will be expanded markets for products for tropical and weather related diseases including waterborne illness.” Climate change is accelerating, and according to the CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, bastions of capital are ghoulishly calculating the impacts to profits.
Some have hoped that capitalism would be the force to stave off the very disaster it has brought upon us. For decades, neoliberal ideologues such as former Democratic presidential candidate and vice president Al Gore have championed “green capitalism” as a solution to climate catastrophe. Products like energy efficient light bulbs and solar panels would reduce energy consumption, they argued, while profiting corporations. Building wind farms and solar farms could create whole new avenues of revenue for entrepreneurs to pursue they reasoned. Of course, the influence that the fossil fuel industry can buy has stood in the way of any meaningful transition to renewable and efficient power sources. Indeed, the nature of laissez-faire capitalism forbids any such “green capitalist” transition. The inefficiency of fossil fuels is not a disincentive to profit. To the contrary, it means theirs is a product that needs constant replenishment which allows them to sell it on a constant basis.
Under capitalism, since profit is the highest value, any side effects (such as environmental degradation) are a second thought. This can be perfectly summarized by then-President-Elect Donald Trump’s statement, “We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.” Such a statement makes perfect sense to the capitalist class. They live in climate-controlled penthouses and mansions while the workers they exploit and whose value they steal suffer below, out of sight. Climate change will only inconvenience them should their wealth no longer serve as a shield. In order to generate this wealth, they must dial up the severity of their theft while destroying regulations that would reign in their ecological destruction, creating a vicious circle of destruction and profit. Therefore, capitalists accelerate the environmental catastrophe they inflict upon the world. Given that such avarice is married to shortsightedness, it is evident that in this way, capitalism is an extinction-level event.
This is far from hyperbole. The past half billion years of life on Earth has seen five periods of mass extinction. We are now entering the sixth mass extinction. This current period, named by scientists the Holocene extinction, represents the greatest species die-off since the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years gone which saw the extinction of the dinosaurs and 76 percent of all living species. The baseline for die-off is estimated at one to five species a year. Scientists estimate that we are currently losing dozens of species a day, a thousand to ten thousand times the norm. An estimated 35 percent to 50 percent of species loss is projected for mid-century, wreaking havoc to the global ecosystem. This will spur the ravages of those diseases such as malaria that pharmaceutical companies are so eager for, as well as starvation, as the food supply is endangered. The loss of access to fresh water that Coca-Cola wrings its hands considering will mean people dying of dehydration, passing from life weak and parched as the salty seas rise.
And rise they will. The United Nations Environment Programme has issued a press release that reveals that even if our current practices ceased today, we are still “locked in” to a change in temperature at our ice caps of three to five degrees Celsius (approximately five to nine degrees Fahrenheit) by mid-century. This will mean increasing the acidification of the oceans that is already ravaging marine life. It also means a thawing of the permafrost, releasing even more greenhouse gasses, described in the report as a “sleeping giant.” Even should the Paris Climate Agreement targets be met, current permafrost will be reduced to 45 percent of its current size by 2050, releasing an estimated 1,672 billion metric tons of carbon gasses. This would mean an even more drastic acceleration of climate change exceeding current estimates. Food shortages are already affecting indigenous peoples living in the Arctic. By 2050, this is expected to drastically expand to afflict millions. Arctic sea ice has already declined by 40 percent over the past four decades, and arctic summers are expected to be ice-free by the 2030s. Coastal regions will face sea rise and far more frequent and devastating natural disasters such as hurricanes, while drought zones spawn ever more frequent wildfires and continue the desertification of vast regions. If the claims of this report are true, as there is every reason to accept, it might be said that we’re moving from a model of saving the planet to a salvage operation paradigm.
This paradigm shift can be understood by turning again to a United Nations report. The UN Refugee Agency has described a growing category of refugee. In a 2015 report, it estimates that for every second that passes, one person is displaced by natural disasters. Some of these are due to earthquakes, but the remainder are what is being termed “climate refugees.” As ocean acidification and climate change drive extinction, chaos in the ecosystem is expected to cause many more to migrate for food. Others will be driven from their homes by increasingly frequent natural disasters, rising sea levels, wildfires, drought and desertification. These people need us to secure essential resources, such as food and access to potable water. The ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, attests to the bourgeoisie’s indifference to the proletariat’s need for clean water. Climate refugees will also need habitable land free from regular destruction by increased natural disasters. To date, projected effects of climate change have proven far too conservative. Given current projections, estimates of climate refugees range from 200 million to one billion by 2050. This will mean mass migration across ever more militarized national borders.
The flaring reactionary hostility toward migrants we see today is a mass of contradictions best embodied by the president of the United States. He calls climate change a hoax and mocks the very concept, but builds a sea wall around his posh Irish resort to protect it from rising seas. He guts the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental regulations, therefore accelerating the very catastrophes that cause the conditions that give rise to climate refugees. Then, he wants to build a wall to render this country one enormous gated community for wealth and power (and their servants and slaves) to thrive in.
Inasmuch as the United States is defined by capitalism, Trump is not an aberration, but instead the quintessence of this empire’s character.
The challenges facing us are grave. We must salvage what we can from the destruction we have wrought to regions that will soon be hostile to habitation or drowned by rising seas. The changing ecosystem will require us to rehaul our methods of food production to allow sustainability and ecological stability. Likewise, production of the goods and services that we will need to live must be done while transitioning to renewable energy as immediately as possible. Shifting climates and flooding are expected to drive plagues such as malaria, leptospirosis, tularaemia and viral haemorrhagic diseases. Medical care and pharmaceuticals will not only need to be available to all, but accommodate the escalating needs.
As the danger is to the entire planet, so must socialism be global. Socialist states today exist in a world economy dominated by the imperialist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie while also suffering from economic warfare in the form of imperialist sanctions. In providing for their people they face conditions that render carbon emissions reduction difficult for them to manage. Given the breadth of the challenge before us, it is not enough for socialism to exist in isolated pockets but it must become the dominant system of our world and all its peoples. This means that we must at last drive a stake through the cold, dead heart of global capitalism and destroy the horrific system that allows a vampiric bourgeois class to feed off the value of a worker’s labor. Capitalists can no longer be allowed to condemn wage slaves to ever greater degradation while hastening the destruction of all inhabitants of our Earth.
The Christian Bible ends with a final book in the form of an apocalypse. An apocalypse is an ancient allegorical literary form that served to describe coming disaster, using dramatic symbolism in order to impress upon the reader the need for immediate change. In this particular story, commonly titled the Book of Revelations, the arrival of four horsemen is presented. Each represents a different disaster: war, famine, pestilence, and (mass) death. These are supposed to be understood as dire, eschatological portents, a warning of imminent end times. They are an urgent plea to change or face collective annihilation. But the writer could not have anticipated capitalism, which hears the rapidly approaching thunder of these horses’ hoofbeats only as revenue challenges. The capitalist rolls out the red carpet for these dire horsemen while salivating over the profit opportunities they represent.
Victory over capitalism will not be an assurance of success in averting the worst repercussions of climate change, but it is a prerequisite that allows us to begin to do so. Educated, informed proletarians must then work toward the greatest possible ecological health of our planet. On the other hand, to blithely continue under capitalism is a guarantee of catastrophic failure. It makes certain that these impending disasters will grow ever graver. Capitalism means exponentially more people dying while trying to flee their homelands across militarized borders into hostile, xenophobic nations. It means children dying of thirst, dehydrated and too weak to even be afraid anymore. It means starvation of old and young alike. Per the concerns expressed by corporations like Visa, Inc., it means war over ever more scarce resources as systems break down. Capitalism can’t save us from the environmental catastrophes of its own making. Capitalism is indifferent to the common good and to life itself. The very notion that there is a solution under capitalism runs counter to its internal logic and animating force. Neoliberal salvation is a fairy tale. Survival and thriving requires communism.
In 1916, a year before the Bolsheviks’ victory over the tyrannical tsar and the liberation of the Russian proletariat, Rosa Luxemburg wrote, “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.” Over a century later, we must extend this assessment. Our current crossroads may no longer be merely “socialism or barbarism.” We must now make the choice between achieving socialism or leaning into the mass extinction now underway. Revolution or capitulation, communism or capitalism, life or death; this is the choice before us. In the name of life, let’s fight toward the final victory and together start solving the many challenges ahead.
¡Hasta la victoria siempre! Ever onward to victory!