Capital is Content to Fuel the Fires in North America

As of July 21st, the wildfires have displaced at least 120,000 people and burned over 100,000 km2 of land since the start of this year, from British Columbia to Quebec, with further fires yet to come. The end of June was marked by the entire East Coast enshrouded in apocalyptic smoke seen all the way across the border; effects felt in the American Midwest, as well as in Western Europe. Montreal and New York briefly registered the worst air quality in the world: air pollution already causes millions of deaths among the world’s poorest every year, in cities such as Shanghai, Johannesburg, and Lima. The combined threat of suffocation and wildfires is no longer restricted to local industrial hazards. This year’s wildfires serve as a reminder that these effects are globalized and pose an urgent threat to the continued existence of humanity. The root of this catastrophe is the capitalist system, which like a sorcerer, has conjured up a spell to animate industry, which has escaped his control and is now wreaking havoc the world over. The only way out is for the working class to unite and abolish capitalism, to prevent the Earth from turning into a barren wasteland and to banish what it has unleashed.

The cycle of extreme weather has been an established fact for decades. Greenhouse gas emissions stem from fossil fuel production and consumption, which in turn creates increasingly warmer conditions the world over. Forest fires are made more frequent as seasons become dryer due to increased temperatures. Typically, wildfires are essential to the boreal forest as they play a pivotal role in seeding forest beds. Prolonged dry seasons upset this function by enabling wildfires to start earlier and to spread further, which sets in motion a vicious cycle. As forests burn, they release significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, which has the double effect of contributing to emissions, whilst also reducing the global capacity for emission absorption. Under ordinary conditions, this effect is mitigated as forests spring up and burn at a sustainable tempo. Due to average temperatures increasing the world over, wildfire seasons are becoming longer and more intense, which increases the emissions released and decreases land covered by forests. The cycle of burning and seeding loses balance and begins to accelerate global warming. The source of this hellish cycle does not stem merely from the oil and gas industry however, as some green movements would have us believe. Rather, these catastrophes are driven by a system bent on production for profit’s sake, to which the earth itself is to be stripped down and made uninhabitable to turn a quick buck. As this system expands, it envelops all industry and enterprise into a mutually co-dependent relationship as a realization of the capitalist mode of production. To speak of individuals is therefore to miss the forest for the trees; it is not bad capitalists, but the capitalist class which animates industry and ushers in ecological disaster.

The biggest polluters are often taken to be producers; private companies such as Exxon Mobil and BP, as well as state enterprises such as Aramco and Gazprom. This is also corroborated by production to be a sure bet from an investment perspective. Since the Paris Agreement of 2015, the 60 largest banks in the world have invested $3.8 trillion in fossil fuels. However, it is production, in addition to commercial consumption, which contributes the most to emissions. Since 1990, global emissions have almost doubled in manufacturing & construction (3.95 billion tonnes vs. 6.25 billion tonnes of CO2), (industrial level) electricity and heat (8.59 billion tonnes vs. 15.76 billion tonnes), transport (4.61 billion tonnes vs. 8.22 billion tonnes) and tripled for direct industrial processes (500 million tonnes vs. 1.61 billion tonnes). Production and consumption therefore form a mutual dependency. As production increases and ensures returns on capital investment, industries dependent on fossil fuel consumption can rely on resources to ensure their respective growth. This co-dependency is animated by the system of capital, as without the profitability of production, consumption necessary to ensure the profitability of entire industries would come crashing down. Under a system to which profitability is the sole incentive, climate catastrophe is an inevitability. Capitalism is incapable of changing trajectory, offering only the choice to choose the speed at which emissions build up, but never to stop the process itself. With only the incentive to produce greater and greater profits, the only future under capitalism is a barren wasteland. In recent decades, more and more capital has been poured into oil and gas, as imperialist warfare provides the incentive for speculation and profit, from the Gulf War to the current war in Ukraine. The capitalist system can only intensify the cycle of ecological disaster but can never cause it to cease.

To illustrate a case study, nowhere is the interdependence of production and consumption as the catalyst for climate change more apparent than in Canada. Oil and gas currently account for up to 7.8% of GDP, 23% of exports, as well as contributing to 26% of Canada’s emissions. The industry provides a bedrock for investment and has proven to be especially lucrative during periods of increased imperialist rivalry, from the US invasion of Iraq all the way to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Prices go up, profits are guaranteed, and one hand washes the other. Just earlier this year, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expressed relief that investment into the sector will jump by 11%, leading to a totally yearly investment projection of $40 billion CAD. Due to the inseparability of capital and climate crisis, workers are given no deliverance from the bourgeois state. The linkages between finance, industry, and fossil fuels production are forged by capital’s thirst for profit and the greater exploitation of the working class, made even more desperate as the world economy heads towards crisis. The state presides over this process, which in turn reveals its function as an extension of bourgeois rule and the gravedigger of the Earth’s ecosystems.

Furthermore, nowhere is the failure of solutions under capitalism more obvious than in Canada. Unable to do anything other than to act on the interests of capital, the capitalist class would have us negotiate incentives and potentialities. Current plans provide us a laundry list of proposals and promises which amount to concessions to polluting industries, if not outright incentives to increase emissions. For example, as outlined in the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, the objective is to invest $319 million into research and development, as well as $194 million to promote carbon capture technology. This is despite repeat indications that these technologies simply do not work. As demonstrated in a report by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, most carbon capture technology goes towards enhanced oil recovery in extraction, while only 10-20% corresponds to actual disposal. In addition, up to 90% of emissions from oil and gas do not occur from extraction, but from their consumption, which these technologies cannot mitigate (and that is, when they work at all – close to 90% of global carbon capture failed to be implemented or was suspended early). In the grand scheme of things, such technologies are a trojan horse. Under the auspices of mitigating emissions, they are in fact a pivotal tool in making oil and gas production more efficient. In this way, the capitalist state is offsetting costs for making oil and gas production more profitable. This is further evidenced in plans to invest and expand the carbon credit system, which is just a means to greater emissions and greater profits for those involved.

The capitalist economic system is bent on making our environment a living hell, and we are only facing the tip of the iceberg. Capital’s search for more and more profits is keeping it tied to the further production of fossil fuels, thereby condemning us to countless future ‘natural’ disasters. What’s more, the competition surrounding fossil fuel extraction as well as policy mitigating fossil fuel emissions is bound up with inter-imperialist tensions and the tendency for global imperialism to break out into war. For an in-depth discussion of the link between imperialism, the destruction of the environment, and capital’s laughable excuse of environmental policy, we ask the reader to wait for an upcoming article in the next issue of 1919. But for now, suffice it to say, our class can only rescue itself from the coming environmental collapse by taking its struggle into its own hands and fighting for a system that organizes production around needs and not blind production. In this, the working class will need to form a revolutionary party that can consistently point out the next step forward. There is much cleaning up to do, and the first order of business is to sweep away the capitalist class and its entire, rotten system!



Image: Anthony Quintano (CC BY 2.0),

Sunday, July 23, 2023