Ecological Disaster Cannot be Solved by Capitalism

CWO Introduction

We are reproducing below an article on the environment by our fraternal organisation within the IBRP, Battaglia Comunista.

With the recent UK floods, the G8 summit and the all too obvious gift wrapping of all things capitalist in the aura of green respectability, the question of the environment, particularly climate change is becoming more central, especially as the scientific consensus that this change is caused by humanity hardens.

However, capitalism’s political class remains divided. Although, the majority line take the view that the scientists are correct and that warming is caused by the “greenhouse effect”, due to human emission of CO2, and call for measures to solve this problem, a minority believe what is in the interest of their masters in the oil and automotive industries must be true.

A recent example of the lengths that this minority has to go to in the distortion of the reality of scientific consensus was given by “The Great Climate Change Swindle”, a Channel Four programme recently broadcast.

Carl Wunsch, as the programme stressed, is a very well respected oceanographer.

His views of the programme are less complimentary:

In the part of “The Great Climate Change Swindle” where I am describing the fact that the ocean tends to expel carbon dioxide where it is warm, and to absorb it where it is cold, my intent was to explain that warming the ocean could be dangerous - because it is such a gigantic reservoir of carbon. By its placement in the film, it appears that I am saying that since carbon dioxide exists in the ocean in such large quantities, human influence must not be very important - diametrically opposite to the point I was making - which is that global warming is both real and threatening.

In general, Carl Wunsch thinks that the extent of future global warming is often overstated, and that the nature of scientific evidence is crudely interpreted by the media, which take statements of “high probability” as ones of absolute proof. This puts him firmly within the consensus, where the debate is not whether there is anthropogenetic global warming, but how much there is.

But, awareness that there is a problem and the desire to do something about it are very different things. As the Battaglia article states;

All in all, the logic of profiteering takes an exactly diametrically opposing direction to the one we need to take if we are going to try and save what Al Gore calls “Our home”.

Nevertheless, we should also be aware that capitalist forces are entirely capable of using the façade of “saving the planet” to justify the turning of the screws on the living standards of the proletariat in the name of all that is good, the funding of capitalist states whose impossible goal of maintaining some level of social harmony is played out against a backdrop of sharpened class antagonism, imperialist antagonism and the signs of a resurging contestation of a world order which condemns most to grinding poverty. Similarly we should be wary that the terrain which socialist theory should occupy is being occupied by a more limited “green” consciousness which is unable to strike at the heart of the maladies it claims to oppose, generated in many cases by the very workings of capitalism.

This World isn’t Working, Forward to Another!

Poisoned Seafood, Forests Destroyed, Wars: This is Capitalism

On nights when there is a low tide, in the waters around Porto Marghera [the industrial zone you see as you approach Venice from the mainland - CWO] with specially equipped boats, they can collect clams with a value of 10-15 000 euros. All they have to do - as A. Bolzoni tells us in La Repubblica, 22 April 2007 - is to let drop...

the anchor in front of a canal where the chemical industry spews out its less than ten minutes they harvest 40 kilos. After six hours they have two, three, and perhaps four tons.

One of those professors who teach economics at the Bocconi or at Harvard Business School, might tell us this is the good side of the capitalist system: all you have to do is to be smart and in one night, anyone, even illegal fishermen, can become rich.

But the fact is those clams - continues Bolzoni - are all poisonous. They are loaded with dioxins, with oil for the cooling systems of electrical transformers, pesticides ...

And a couple of days later they end up on the counters of fish shops all over Italy,

With false labels of origin. With false health labels.

They are so polluted that - according to the parameters of the World Health Organisation - a man who weighs 60 kilos, so as not to run undue risk, should not eat more than 14 grammes in a single day. One could say: “that is pure theft!”. And it’s true. But it is also true that between the profit margin for that product, and the legal version, there is a huge gap, and that’s why there are ever more illegal fishermen. And, to continue putting it like one of those professors at the Bocconi or Harvard Business School: that’s the good side of capitalism!

This could sound like an exaggeration, the line of hardened old communists who talk too much because they are jealous of other people’s wealth. So lets quote the words of a billionaire who was also, from 1993-2001, the vice-president of the United States, and who is now the president of the Alliance for Climate Protection:

Our home - the Earth - is in danger. The planet itself is not at risk of being destroyed, but the conditions, which allow humans to live, are. Unless we become aware of the consequences of our actions, that we have started to unleash into the atmosphere around our world such quantities of carbon dioxide to the extent that we have literally altered the relationship between the Earth and the Sun. If we don’t stop, and soon, the average temperature will rise to levels which humanity has never experienced, ending the very climatic balance upon which rests our civilisation.

La Repubblica_, 2nd July

Of course, Al Gore - the writer - does not say that this is a consequence of the capitalist mode of production, and talks as if the responsibility for the disaster were all of humanity’s, but in reality the “we” he refers to is exclusively the class to which he belongs, the bourgeoisie. The proletariat, even if it had wanted, would never have been able to provoke a similar disaster for the simple reason that the means of production do not belong to it and it cannot choose how they are used. The choices are all made by the bourgeoisie and obey their fundamental interest - maximising profits at all costs, even if this translates into the destruction of the environment and permanent war.

Capitalism’s Black Gold

The bitumen deposits which is the source of the huge wealth of Alberta, a Canadian region, were not included, up to 2001, as constituting a fraction of the world’s oil reserves due to the simple reason that the extraction of a barrel of oil from bitumen involves between $18-20 per barrel.

In the mid 1980s - Naomi Klein informs us - oil was sold at $20 per barrel. In 1998-99 the price went down to $12 per barrel and the main players had no intention to pay a higher price for oil than that at which they could sell it... Then came the US invasion of Iraq. In March 2003 the price of petrol reached $35 per barrel and that made the possibility of extracting profit from tar-laden sand (what the industry called oil sand) feasible. That year, the US Energy Information Administration “discovered” oil in the tar-laden sand ... The following year Canada surpassed Saudi Arabia (whose cost of extraction is less than $4 per barrel) by becoming the main supplier of oil to the USA.

N. Klein - “Iraq and Canada” - L’Espresso, 24/2007

And in this way the U.S. oil companies have been able to make unexpected profits, we could say out of nothing, because, had it not been for the war, that sand would have remained devoid of economic value.

All the large oil companies - continues N. Klein - except BP, have rushed to Northern Alberta; Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total; the latter alone forecasts investing between $9 and 14 billion. Up to April, Shell has spent $8 billion to take full control of its Canadian subsidiary.

And since, as long as the war continues, the price of oil is set to rise, it is predictable that the flow of Canadian oil will not stop. Nevertheless not only is the cost of its extraction high, but also, the cost to the environment is higher still. In fact...

Exploiting the sands - N.Klein informs us - signifies cutting down the forests and destroying animal life: the Pembina Institute, the highest authority regarding the environmental impact of the oil-bearing sand, warns that there is a risk of cutting down a wooded area the size of the state of Florida.

All in all, the logic of profiteering takes an exactly diametrically opposing direction to the one we need to take if we are going to try and save what Al Gore calls “Our home” .

Profits before the Planet

Seen from the moon, rather than our home, this world looks more like “our madhouse” It might seem so, but only according to one’s point of view. Certainly not from the point of view of the bourgeoisie, in other words, the class that possesses the means of production and uses them according to the logic of profit. For the capitalists, in fact, all of this is the height of rationality. If one of them, for example, invests a capital of 100 in the production of some commodity, and everything goes well, thanks to the exploitation of the labour force, the capital will be expanded. So the original 100 becomes 150. Let us take away, say, 20 for the capitalist’s own expenditure, and now our capitalist has 130 to reinvest. Now, supposing that the capitalist is a brave person, who wants to continue to harvest the same rate of profit, then he or she is confronted with the problem of creating a higher total profit, since now the capital to be invested is 130, not 100. This reproduction on an extended basis is only possible through the exploitation of labour-power, which imposes the maximisation of profit. Similarly, the fishing for poisoned clams, paying little attention to the fact that they may be deadly, becomes more profitable than controlled rearing of the clams. The same can be said of the extraction of oil from bitumen, even if this implies the destruction of forests. Our Economics professors could object that this is basically about marginal details and that is an old communist line, as they deny that what is rational for capital is in conflict with the interests not only of the proletariat but also the overwhelming majority of humanity. You only have to look around to realise that in the so-called legal economy every day more workers die than soldiers locked in the multiple wars around the world; that the distinction between legal and illegal is so subtle it is hard to tell one from the other, and that the planet is on the edge of collapse because of the huge quantities of carbon dioxide the factories unleash into the atmosphere. And now one can only agree with Saramago when he says; this world isn’t working, forward to another!

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