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To save the planet, get rid of capitalism!

Published Jun 21, 2010 8:18 PM

Following are excerpts from talks given by Teresa Gutierrez and Jen Waller at a Workers World Party/Fight Imperialism, Stand Together forum on June 11 in New York. Both Gutierrez and Waller attended the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held from April 20-22 in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Climate change
and revolution

Capitalism’s war on the environment argues for the overturning of capitalism and imperialism. The future of humanity is at risk.

Scientists have warned that urgent action is required on the climate crisis. It is well documented how extreme weather events are directly linked to global warming.

In August 2007, at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, scientists and government officials stated that the window of opportunity to prevent catastrophic changes to the planet’s climate is narrowing rapidly. The U.N. conference called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020, or, it warned, many animal and plant species could become extinct and economic havoc caused around the world.

The biggest polluter has been the United States. Yet, the U.S. won’t agree to reduce emissions and undermines all attempts to reach agreements.

Mother Earth, yes; capitalism, no

The fundamental questions of “how we got to this point” and “how we can get out of it” were asked at the historic Cochabamba conference. Workers World Party and FIST representatives were honored to attend.

This working-class conference gave political and revolutionary answers to this crisis; it called for an end to capitalism. A key slogan was “Pachamama si, capitalismo no” (“Mother Earth, yes; capitalism, no”). The leaders concluded that only socialism could resolve the environmental crisis.

The Cochabamba conference put fear into the ruling class here, even more so because it took place in Latin America, which has a rich history of militant, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles and is today the center of revolutionary upheaval.

The election of Evo Morales, the first Indigenous president in Bolivia, was itself a huge step forward, striking a blow against racism and colonialism and advancing the struggle for self-determination.

That the Cochabamba conference took place and that the environmental crisis was elevated was because of socialist Cuba’s impact on the world movement.

Nicaraguan leader Tomas Borge urged everyone to stand with Cuba. He stressed that without Fidel, without Cuba, neither President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela nor President Morales could have surfaced and thrived.

For 50 years, Cuba has withstood imperialist aggression and remained the beacon of revolutionary inspiration. Imperialism has not been able to defeat Cuba.

Cuba is the number-one sustainable country in the world, says Global Footprint Network. This is another reason why the world movement must defend Cuba.

Socialist Cuba has provided the material basis for the advancement of a revolutionary movement in Latin America. It has provided critical Marxist thinking and analysis on every burning question.

It has shown that not only a movement but also a class can stand up to imperialism, and it can win if there is political will, a class understanding and unity.

BP: A crisis of capitalism

The BP oil spill is a tragedy of epic proportions. In the 53 days since its rig exploded, 90.1 million gallons of oil may have spewed. No one really knows what the environmental consequences will be — the loss of animal life, of jobs, of income and the effects on the ecosystem. It is another rapacious crime of capitalism, perpetrated by one of the world’s largest oil companies.

BP repeatedly disregarded safety problems and attempted to silence anyone who tried to tell the truth about the spill. This disaster exposes the true nature of capitalist corporations: Profits come before the workers, before safety, before environmental concerns.

Another hazard is the existence of 80,000 chemicals used in the U.S., of which only about 200 have been tested. This was raised in a recent CNN series, “Toxic America,” which told how more children are experiencing cancers.

Who is doing the testing?

Who spends millions to lobby the government to support a chemical? Isn’t the Environmental Protection Agency ineffective and in the corporations’ pockets? Who pays for research at universities if it isn’t the same chemical companies?

Although the government passed the Toxic Substance Control Act, even a congressperson admitted that it would have little effect in protecting anyone.

An American Chemistry Council representative told CNN that his industry doesn’t want a system that sets high barriers for new products but one “that allows our industry to maintain its competitive edge.”

They want capitalism, the free market system where they have free rein to make profits at the cost of humanity.

We want a system that puts workers before profits, that protects the earth and turns back the clock on the ravages made on the earth. The capitalists have ravaged the world’s forests and drilled in the earth for profit, disregarding the consequences. In order for humanity to survive, capitalism must be abolished.

These crises powerfully illuminate the need for workers’ control of the means of production. It cries out for a revolutionary and socialist transformation of society.

What other government but one like socialist Cuba’s can replace much of its energy needs with solar power and environment-friendly resources, and do so much more?

The environmental crisis is a struggle for socialists.

WW photos: John Catalinotto

U.S. environmental movement must
address capitalism

I feel that the most important thing about the Cochabamba conference is that it represents a growing anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist climate justice movement. The spirit of the conference looks at the environmental crisis as a result of this capitalist system of exploitation and constant growth for the sake of profit for few at the expense of many. The U.S. climate justice movement must learn from this model.

Making the connections between environmental destruction and capitalism is not the norm here. Take the BP oil spill. If it had been going on when the conference took place, everyone would have been relating it to capitalism. But here, people talk about it as though it is a cross between an inevitable reality and a freak accident. The idea that it is an unnecessary tragedy that is typical of corporations within this system is not even considered by most in the U.S.

One of the main messages of the conference was that the climate justice movement must include all oppression. Demanding climate justice must mean demanding an end to all injustices. This includes freedom of movement for all.

We can’t separate the climate crisis from immigration, as the issue of climate migrants is all about racism and exclusion. One meter of water rise could wipe out 20 percent of Bangladesh. Where are those people going to go? We all have to think about how we are going to support climate migrants. Many migrants are already climate migrants. Many of the world’s conflicts in recent years are due to the environment — for example, the war in Afghanistan or the conflict in Darfur must both be thought of as wars over natural resources.

The structural causes of climate change and climate migration are due to capitalism. It’s a globalized economy, which is based on intensive development reliant on the consumption of carbon and the exploitation of the natural resources of the entire planet. But people aren’t allowed to move like capital, because the only thing this system attempts to sustain is capital. Right now we’re controlling migration as determined by economy, but it needs to be based on human rights and needs, not on the economic needs of governments and corporations.

Even the so-called “solutions” to climate change that the U.S. government promotes, such as reforestation and carbon trading, are causing displacement. The way the U.S. and other powerful countries are dealing with climate change is not in any way going to solve the problem. The decision has already been made that the people of the world are going to be sacrificed because the rich and powerful do not want to lose their power and privilege.

We will all be affected by climate change, but not at all equally. Last year’s Copenhagen summit truly signed a death warrant for countries. President Obama threatened poor countries, saying they would only get aid if they signed the Copenhagen accord. Who would sign their suicide? Some did. The Ethiopian leader may have sold out his people by signing it — but was the alternative better? The leaders of other countries refused to sign the accord, such as Ecuador and Bolivia. At the Cochabamba conference, the foreign minister of Ecuador claimed that the U.S. cut off $2.5 million in aid after Copenhagen; he stated that he would send $2.5 million to Obama if he would sign the Kyoto protocol.

In Cochabamba I was around so many people who truly understand the enormity of this crisis. Meeting people from Latin America and from all over the world who are facing the destruction of climate change was a humbling experience. We shared our thoughts and agreed on so much. They were excited and surprised to meet someone from the U.S. who agreed with and understood their views — and I was overjoyed to speak to everyday people who didn’t think my anti-capitalist views about the environment were completely crazy.

And then I came back here to so much waste. So many wasted resources and a climate “justice” movement that is willing to discuss consumerism but refuses to mention capitalism. We have to talk to our people. This is our people, whether we like it or not, and we have to change their hearts.

It became clear in Cochabamba that the people of the world are demanding that capitalism be discussed as the root cause of this crisis. Very few of us are facing climate change head on, so who are we to deny that? We have no right.