Monday, April 01, 2013

Socialism vs Climate Catastrophe

This graphic shows the extent of Arctic sea ice on Aug. 26, 2012, the day the sea ice dipped to its smallest extent in more than three decades of satellite measurements, according to scientists from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center. (Image: NASA)
The standard social democratic view of ‘eco-socialism’ is that we can reform capitalism to avoid Climate Catastrophe (CC). For example:

Ecosocialism is at the junction of anti-capitalist environmentalism and socialism free from productivism, in a project that proposes an alternative society of hope. This is no utopia with which reality should comply, but a rational human response to the double impasse of capitalism and the obsession with productivity. Our thoughts and political actions are radical: they go to the root causes. We therefore fight what drives the system: consumerism geared towards material accumulation thus widening social inequalities, the productivity-oriented system which exhausts our ecosystem’s resources, the globalisation of the economy that allows for social and environmental dumping. We point to the real culprits: the financial oligarchy and the ideologists who advocate "free and fair" competition and trade.”

 Near-Term Extinction

Yet if we continue to use fossil fuels in this way for the next 20 years in futile attempts to reform capitalism this will guarantee we have no future. Why, because 2 degrees becomes 6 degrees and with catastrophic consequences. The most recent scenario from Guy McPherson shows that we are headed for ‘near-term’ human extinction whatever we do. He says that we can prolong the term of the extinction by collapsing industrial society now. But of course as a non-Marxist he does not say it is capitalism rather than industrialism as such that is the problem.

While McPherson talks of stopping Arctic drilling as the one positive feedback that we could control, he does not envisage the link between this and a wider social revolution globally that can make a difference on how long we have got. The point is we need a socialist revolution to take advantage of the advances in green technology. For example mining Lithium in Bolivia is open to technical improvements in method of production while the Morales populist government is in power. A leftist Governments could enter into progressive green trade swaps, but obviously this has to take place on a global scale to have any effect on climate change.

Can China save the world?

We don’t think that China is a socialist regime but its working class can demand major changes if mobilised. China is actually leading in green technology purely in order to avoid the increasing costs of relying on fossil fuels. Of course to catch up and compete with its rivals China has become the the biggest emitter. That’s why who rules China is decisive. The biggest factor that we should be pushing hard is the capacity of the Chinese working class to overthrow the CCP and implement a socialist plan for survival.

When science tells us what is necessary to survive, then it becomes clear that this requires collective action to remove the barriers to survival. The problem with even the most radical CC position (eg McPherson) is that its economic assumptions are still based on the market and bourgeois individualism. They may be top climate scientists but they are still no more than bourgeois individuals appealing to other individuals to refuse to participate in capitalism rather than organising to smash capitalism

The biggest barrier is the capitalist system, its state apparatus and its corporate media that treats CC as a technical or market problem. Any political party that still thinks that bourgeois parliament is a means of escaping or limiting CC is part of the problem. It is invested in a political institution that is the sum of its individual citizens. It’s designed to facilitate and defend the market, not eliminate it as the agent of human extinction!

How to stop human extinction

How to stop near-term human extinction? It’s obvious that this requires a social revolution and who is going to do that other than revolutionaries? Revolution as the alternative to human extinction doesn’t get the usual ‘leftwing nutter’ response today except from right wing nutters. Nothing is worse than extinction. Nothing concentrates the mind like the fear of losing everything. We need a socialist plan now to work out how to collectively get rid of capitalism and implement the necessary survival measures. Here is a proposed plan for discussion:

First: Energy. All production based on fossil fuels needs to stop and be replaced by renewable fuels. The energy sources will need to be those which don’t put carbon into the atmosphere. We need to renationalise under workers control the power companies, and the national grid and plan renewable energy use. Solar power and electric technology can be developed more rapidly if they don’t depend on the profit motive

Second: Industry. Most capitalist owners of industry will never agree to immediate conversion to non-carbon burning fuels so will have to be nationalised under workers control and management. Those that do use HEP can be converted such as the Tiwai Pt Aluminium Smelter to produce aluminium for solar panels and vehicles etc. NZ Steel would be renationalised and upgraded to the latest electric smelters based on local iron sand.

Third: Land-use. Intensive dairying and other monocrop production needs to be diversified and converted to organic to stop chemical pollution and despoliation of land and water. This will mean a state policy of nationalising land and allocating resources like water, and replacing capitalist production with collective production, while compensating small producers.

Fourth: Work. We need a state run policy of Public Works that creates full employment. All work would be divided among those who want to work and hours reduced until there was full employment. There would be a guaranteed living wage based on the average wage, and no worker would earn more than double the living wage.

Fifth: Social Security. State provided secular education, comprehensive health and housing would meet the need for fit, healthy and skilled workers. Technical education and Research would be directed at new technologies. For those who cannot work there will be a social wage at set at the level of the living wage. All private provision of health, education and other social services will be phased out without compensation.

Sixth: Transport. Transport would be converted to electricity and public transport expanded. Converting cars and short range trucks to electricity is feasible. Biodiesel would be a stopgap measure. NZR workshops could produce aluminium rolling stock, buses and containers.. Reviving coastal shipping using biodiesel is another option.

Seventh: Finance. All banks would be nationalised and turned into a single State Bank. Farmers who chose to lease nationalised land collectively or individually would get bank loans to convert their production. All ACC, EQC and insurance would be nationalised under workers control.

Eighth: Trade. Planning the economy cannot be done in isolation of the global economy. Nobody wants to go back to pre-industrial self-reliance based on outdated technology. NZ can develop its economy to produce what is most efficient and sustainable, and trade with other countries for their products. For example let’s trade our dairy products for Bolivia’s lithium for batteries and for China’s rare earths.

A state-managed plan capable of the above would clearly be based on a ‘socialist’ plan. All of this is possible if we have the will to survive. None of this is compatible with capitalism which is hell bent on destruction. It would take a socialist revolution backed by the majority working class to put a Government of Workers’ Councils in power to conceive, plan and implement this survival strategy.

To achieve this plan would require a process of democratic planning able to assess and prioritise people’s needs and resource use to meet those needs. This would include the use of human labour and the how much of the product went to workers for their labour compared to collective savings for a social development fund to increase productivity and reduce work hours. The only thing between us and extinction is socialism.

Capitalism is the problem and the solution is socialism!

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