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Why mass struggle, not corporate profit, is Green

Published Nov 21, 2007 2:05 AM

Deirdre Griswold
WW photo: John Catalinotto

Talk of WWP Secretariat member Deirdre Griswold to the Party’s National Conference on Nov. 17-18, 2007.

Thanks to Comrade Teresa’s remarks yesterday, I don’t have to explain how serious a problem global warming is—you already know that. In fact, there’s so much news about climate change—plus the disaster movies Teresa talked about—that many people are either numb or depressed by it all.

We all have seen what happened to the people of New Orleans and the Gulf after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Southeast is having its worst drought on record. The city of Atlanta, Ga., with more than 5 million people in the metro area, is running out of water.

Climate change can’t be denied any more. Up until five years ago, those companies selling fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas carried out a vigorous campaign to deny that human activity had anything to do with global warming, or that it existed at all. They spent millions of dollars setting up groups with names like Global Climate Information Project and the Greening Earth Society, whose so-called experts pooh-poohed the idea of global warming and got lots of exposure in the corporate media.

Politicians used this to justify not signing even the weak Kyoto Accords, which put some limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, the main atmospheric gas causing the earth to heat up.

The U.S. became a subject of ridicule and hatred all over the world for being the country most responsible for global warming while refusing to do anything about it. Scientists here, even those with high-ranking jobs in the scientific establishment, like the head of NASA, began to revolt against the government’s policies.

So the big corporations in the United States have come up with a new strategy. Everyone who is progressive needs to be aware that today, big business is trying to take over the Green movement.

Instead of funding organizations that deny global warming, today some of the biggest corporations, including the oil companies, are funding groups that say, “Yes, climate change is a big problem, but the only way to deal with it is through the capitalist market.” And a lot of the more conservative environmental groups are buying into this.

This is why Al Gore got the Nobel Prize this year. Gore comes from Big Oil—his family fortune is with Occidental Petroleum. When he was in the Clinton White House, he and then Energy Secretary Bill Richardson pushed through deals for Oxy in Colombia—where community leaders have since been murdered for resisting the pollution and exploitation by Oxy and other transnationals.

Now Gore is seen as a great environmentalist—but one who says the answer to global warming is the market. This is also the position of the Clintons and of Rupert Murdoch—the multi-billionaire media mogul who owns Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and hundreds of other generally right-wing newspapers, TV and radio stations and networks all over the globe. This reactionary now raises funds for Gore.

What’s wrong with this outlook? Isn’t it good if the auto companies develop more fuel-efficient cars? Isn’t it good that there’s a whole section of the stock exchange called “Green Finance” because the companies that trade there are focused on more energy-efficient products?

There are three things we need to look at in this argument:

First, is this about solving the problem of global warming, or is this all about selling new products and making more profits? The automobile market is glutted. So, convince people they have to buy new cars that burn ethanol—even though ethanol, mostly from corn, takes cropland away from food production and drives up food prices.

Second, huge corporate lobbies now are focused on getting government funds to develop these new products. But private industry will make the profits.

This, of course, is how the U.S. entered the nuclear age. The government developed nuclear bombs and nuclear energy, then let private companies make money off of both of them. That, too, was supposed to solve the energy problem.

The billionaire mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, proposes a carbon tax to pay for all this that will raise the price of gasoline. He says: “Green energy is going to be the oil gusher of the 21st century.” And I guess he wants to be the new Rockefeller.

Who supports Bloomberg’s tax? Its supporters include “business groups and even the companies that emit carbon dioxide and would be the most directly affected. The revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce the deficit [help the banks] or to finance cuts in income taxes [help the rich] or the alternative minimum tax.” (New York Times, Nov. 2)

When companies have to pay higher taxes, they pass the cost on to consumers—the workers. They’re already paying high gas prices, but have to drive to work because there’s no decent public transportation.

Another corporate scheme is called cap-and-trade. Companies would be given a quota to pollute X amount. Those who pollute the most can buy the emissions quotas of companies that pollute less.

Schemes like these boil down to how capitalists can make money off this global crisis and how they can shift the cost of cleaning the environment away from the corporations responsible for it and onto the workers.

The last question is: will all this turn back global warming? Or is it all too little and too late?

Actually, all the scientific projections show that, even if emissions don’t keep rising—which they are expected to do—the temperature of the earth will still rise drastically over this century.

Things are going to change a great deal. Will it mean the end of life on this planet, or the end of human society? No, no, no. The history of the planet is one of great changes—not usually this sudden, but ones with profound effects, yet humanity survived. Human beings are the most adaptable species on the globe. But global warming will cause great suffering. And it will put enormous strains on existing social institutions.

The poorest will suffer the most. We have seen this in New Orleans, and recently in Haiti and the Dominican Republic where hundreds died in Hurricane Noel.

Global warming is a class issue and it is an issue of national oppression. Those most affected are the workers and the oppressed nations, including the oppressed Black, [email protected] and Native nations inside the U.S. As long as we live in a capitalist society, the wealthy will be better equipped to avoid its worst consequences. Sure, they might lose a beautiful beachside home to rising sea levels, but they’ll have other houses and they’ll have the money to get out when it gets dangerous. And what do rising gasoline prices mean to those who drive limos and private jets and whose incomes are hundreds of times what workers earn?

Global warming will add more fuel to the explosion of class struggle that is coming.

And it’s a class issue for another reason. The perilous state of the earth’s health didn’t happen just because of technology and modern industry. It happened because of capitalism. The earth has been degraded because, for 200 years, technology and industry have expanded wildly, without restraint, without a plan, purely to grow the profits of the capitalist owning class. What people need and what capitalism produces are two completely different things.

We need the rebuilding of our cities with fuel-efficient, well-insulated affordable housing and parks and green space to cool us in the summer.

We need a three-day work week! That would save a lot on commuting right there. And parents could get to stay with their kids on alternate days. We need public transportation and bike paths to get around, instead of wars to control the world’s oil.

Will private capital do any of this? Not in a million years, and we don’t have that long.

Some want to go back to a pre-industrial era. You couldn’t do that without killing off most of the earth’s people. The answer is not to go back—technology is here to stay. But we have to take technology out of the hands of private owners who are driven by the greed for profit and use it for the good of humanity and the earth. The answer is socialism.

Cuba shows how a socialist society can continue to develop for the good of the people even when there’s a drastic reduction in material resources. After the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Cuba was forced to find more sustainable ways to feed the people—without artificial fertilizers and pesticides—and keep the economy going with far less oil and electricity. In this special period, Cuba felt the full destructive force of the U.S. economic blockade. Yet, even though its economy almost collapsed in the early 1990s, it didn’t fall apart because of the bond between the people and their revolutionary leadership. The Cuban people put their heads together and reorganized everything, thus beginning a slow but steady climb out of extreme scarcity.

Today, Cuba leads the world in sustainable development. In fact, it’s the ONLY country in the world where the people are making progress—in education, health, culture, making sure everyone’s basic necessities are met—without degrading the environment. Don’t take my word for it. That is the conclusion of a recent study by the Global Footprint Network, which looks at both the environmental impact of a country and whether the lives of the people there are improving. Some countries don’t have a heavy “footprint”—that is, they don’t affect nature very much—because they’re so poor that they have no industry, no big cities, etc. Others, like the United States, are rich (although with a lot of very poor people) but are literally ruining the world with pollution of all kinds.

Socialist Cuba is the only country in the whole world that is both making progress and protecting its environment.

And Cuba has done something else—something we must demand for this country and the world. It has worked out detailed plans to protect the people from natural disasters. The UN says it leads the world in this type of civil defense.

Let me ask everyone here: if your home were to be hit by a hurricane, or a tornado, or a terrible flood, would you know where to go? Would the government help you evacuate if you were sick, or disabled? Would it provide transportation to take you to a place to stay, make sure you were fed, and then get you back home again when the danger had passed?

In Cuba, all that happens every time a hurricane hits. And because of it, when Hurricane Noel last month caused more than 200 deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, not one person died in Cuba.

Finally, is there time to heal the earth before utter catastrophe? In talks yesterday, we explained that in just two decades, imperialism has totally restructured the global economy in order to reduce wages and exploit workers all over the globe. In a workers’ world, a socialist world, our class can beat their record and turn this disaster around. Global warming will be a major factor in convincing all forward-thinking people that the destruction of capitalism and the revolutionary reorganization of society is an absolute necessity.