- The Guardian
- Issue #2054
“Are we there yet?” This is the perennial question of bored children in the family car on a long trip.
For some time now, humanity has been asking, like a fearful version of the impatient children, when we’ll get there. In this case “there” is the 1.5 degree climate threshold, the increase of global temperatures over preindustrial levels. Scientists have warned that global heating above the 1.5 degree level would set off changes which would be both catastrophic and irreversible. Now, according to New Scientist magazine, it looks like we will breach 1.5 degrees by 2027.
We might also ask “are we there yet?” when it comes to capitalism fixing this problem.
It’s not like capitalism hasn’t had time. The principles of global warming were worked out a long time ago, in 1850. The idea that human activity could contribute to it was proposed in 1889. That it might be a bad thing for us was first suggested in 1938. The fact that human activity was actually changing the climate was shown in 1965, and was acknowledged by US president Lyndon Johnson at the time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988 in response to evidence that climate change was actually happening. In 1991, the multinational oil company Shell knew enough about climate change to produce a short film, Climate of Concern warning about the dangers.
We live in a neoliberal society. Whoever you vote for in Australia, you are guaranteed to have a government that believes in the power of the free market. As the Communist Party of Australia has pointed out many times, this belief is impervious to evidence. There is no such thing as a fully free market. What there is, is a system of capitalist oligarchy. Big companies get listened to by government. Working people, all too often, don’t.
Capitalism has had a lot of power, and a lot of time to stop us from getting “there.” It has not succeeded. In fact, capitalists have done their best to make things worse, by pouring huge resources into lobbying against effective action on climate change. They’ve done this because they want to make more money. In fact, they have to make more money – the rules that companies operate under dictate this. Shell’s media unit made Climate of Concern, but Shell the company poured money into climate denial.
So the creativity and energy that Marx recognised in capital has gone into increasing climate change through new forms of fossil fuel extraction, and through organised denial. Not that the denial hasn’t been creative. It has moved from outright denial of scientific fact, through distractions like suggesting as-yet-nonexistent technological fixes instead of actual solutions, as well as what’s called “doomism.” Doomism is the unlovely last stage of denial in which the argument amounts to “it’s too late, we should give up trying.” Let’s not forget “greenwashing,” whereby a company applies some green to its website and maybe plants a few trees somewhere. All these should be debunked and resisted.
The 1.5 degree threshold is terrifying, but it’s not a magical number. Every degree of warming towards 1.5 is a dangerous as we’ve seen in unprecedented bushfires, floods, and heatwaves. Conversely, every degree of temperature increase we avoid is a victory. Mass action has brought many victories. We know victories over capitalism are possible. We’ve seen them achieved.
Capitalism has had a long time to fix this. It hasn’t fixed it. What can fix it is socialism, achieved through mass action of working people. People like us.
It’s not too late. Every fraction of a degree matters, but the system we live under isn’t going to change things. They’ve had enough time. We need to work for socialism right now while we still can, because every fraction of a degree matters.