As I’ve watched young people around the world take part in the climate actions of the last month, I’ve gotten the sense that I’m watching a spectacle which has been orchestrated to create the illusion that we’re still in an earlier, more stable time for the planet’s climate. Legitimate as the passion and commitment of this generation of teen climate activists is, their efforts are being packaged by the political and media establishment in a way that encourages denial about our true situation. These ruling institutions neither want us to recognize the real solutions to the crisis, nor do they want us to see the irrecoverable and massive damage that’s already been done to the climate.
We’re told that if we restructure capitalism with the help of the “green” corporations and NGOs that are backing Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, a catastrophic outcome can be prevented. Supposedly radical politicians like Bernie Sanders promise that by making an appeal for corporations to partially reduce emissions within a capitalist framework, we can save the world. People want to believe the claims of these “green” capitalists because they want to believe that our living arrangements won’t fundamentally need to change in order for humanity to survive.
These sources of false hope let Western capitalist society continue to ignore the primary role that imperialism and militarism have in the climate crisis, to view the capitalist governments as legitimate, and to not try to break away from the philosophy of capitalism and endless growth. The lifestyle tweaks that we’re told will save the planet—eating less meat, carpooling, flicking off the light when you leave the room—won’t be able to solve the problem even if society were to largely adopt them. The climate solutions that the capitalists present to us are designed to make us feel better while we keep letting the system move us closer to apocalypse.
To survive, we must recognize two truths about this crisis: that it’s no longer possible to avert a substantial catastrophe, and that global capitalism must be toppled in order for the human race to have a future. Once we understand the former fact, it becomes easy to accept the latter.
When you examine the state of the world, it’s not hard to see that something needs to drastically change. Extreme inequality amid neoliberal policies and rampant corporate power has made the Western countries in many ways part of the so-called Third World. As American power declines, the imperialist wars are continuing and tensions between the most powerful countries are escalating. Another global recession looms at the same time as a stable and comfortable life has become impossible even for most Americans to attain. Refugees are fleeing the worst dangers in their home countries, and are being met with inhumane treatment by the reactionary governments of the core imperialist nations. All of these capitalist crises are intertwined with the climate collapse that’s threatening the foundations of civilization.
The goals of the Paris climate agreement, which require reducing emissions by around 45 percent before 2030 so as to avoid a 1.5 degree Celsius warming, most definitely aren’t going to be met. Global greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high in 2018, indicating that we’ll 1.5 by 2030. The climate feedback loop will quickly turn this into 2 degrees in the following years, which will turn into somewhere between 3 and 5 degrees by 2100. It’s estimated that with just 2 degrees of warming, sea level rise will engulf 280 million people, earthquakes will kill 17 million, and over 200 million will die from droughts and famine.
Just ten years from now, this transition will be far enough along that the basic structures of capitalist society will no longer be stable. In June, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights issued a report which said that more than 120 million people could be forced into poverty by 2030 due to the destroyed property and resource scarcity that climate change-related disasters will cause. In response, more social services will be cut, society will become more militarized, and more immigrants will be deported, imprisoned, or left to die in disease-riddled concentration camps.
Such cruelties against the victims of climate change are realistic, and are all already being carried out because in a world that’s falling to pieces, the feeling of desperation drives a survival instinct that makes people devalue the lives of their fellow human beings. Capitalism, with its fixation on competition, is a key driver behind this impulse to exclude and eliminate the immigrants who seek to share in the West’s relative stability. This is why Philip Alston, the author of the U.N.’s June report, said that barring radical systemic change, “Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.”
As the warming continues, increasing food and water scarcity, flooding, deadly heat waves, epidemics, and inequality will set off wars and civil unrest. Where stable states still exist, the prevailing paradigm will range from heightened government vigilance to outright martial law. Otherwise, borders will become less clearly defined and the existing governments will lose their power, making for a global version of the Middle East in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Syria. The vacuum will be filled with militant groups. In the Arab world these new monopolies on violence have been ISIS and Al Qaeda, and in North America they could easily become white supremacist paramilitaries.
None of this can be prevented by voting for Democrats, or changing one’s personal lifestyle, or participating in climate demonstrations that are sanctioned by the corporatocracy. The momentum of the climate’s destabilization is unstoppable, and the fascistic political forces that have emerged amid the crisis aren’t going away. However, my message with this essay isn’t to become apathetic in the face of what’s happening to us, but to embrace a worldview of realism that allows us to actually combat the problem.
We in the Western world must take guidance from the colonized people who are struggling for their liberation from imperial control and the capitalist carbon economy. Our goal should be not to reform capitalism, but to overthrow the capitalist centers of government and replace them with ecosocialist power structures. This is what the Chavistas are trying to do in Venezuela, which is moving towards an ecosocialist revolution where the country weans itself off from dependence on oil markets. Bolivia, whose socialist president Evo Morales has given the environment legal protections that are equivalent to human rights, provides further inspiration for the new systems that we’re capable of building.
The path to taking over the power of the state and seizing the means of production, as the socialists in these countries are trying to do, requires building mass movements that aren’t co-opted by the influence of the capitalist class. Our objectives need to be unambiguous: an end to capitalism and an end to all forms of imperialism, which entails decolonization.
The people of Venezuela and Bolivia are lucky to have been able to use electoral means to install a government that attempt to pursue these goals. In the U.S., where electoral politics are rigged against third parties and a deadly police state has been created, freedom will only be gained by working to usurp the authority of the capitalist state. India’s Maoist gurriellas (or the Naxalites) are doing this by taking territory away from their region’s government, as are Mexico’s communist Zapatistas. These groups are building strongholds for the larger movements to take down capitalism, which gain greater potential for victory the more that capitalism’s crises escalate; capitalist regimes that are under threat of being overthrown can already be found in Haiti and Honduras, whose U.S.-backed governments may well soon be ousted through sustained proletarian rebellions.
To replicate these liberation movements worldwide, we must stop denying the extremity of the crisis and fight capitalism with the knowledge that we’re fighting for our survival. To commit to their battle against India’s corporate-controlled government, the Naxalites have had to experience the desperation of living in a severely impoverished underclass that’s increasingly suffering from water shortages amid the climate crisis. We Westerners can’t be kept complacent by the fact that our conditions are marginally better than theirs.
In the coming years, we’re not going to be living out a scenario where capitalism changes itself into something sustainable. We’re counting down to the collapse of civilization’s current configuration and, in my view, all that can save us now is the construction of a new ecosocialist civilization in its place.
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