Climate change shows that now more than ever — capitalism must go

Isidora Durán Stewart

Capitalism’s total inaction on the climate crisis is leading to devastating effects globally. This summer saw many parts of the world plunge into an extreme heatwave, with preliminary data showing that the first week of July 2023 was the hottest on record. 

Beijing and Arizona experienced the hottest consecutive days recorded in one year. EU Firefighting planes were sent to Greece to combat rapidly spreading wildfires. Parts of Spain hit 45°C, with the ground temperature in some areas surpassing 60°C. 

Rising temperatures and El Niño

And while Ireland isn’t experiencing this intense heat, recent data shows it is undergoing significant climate change. The report confirms that the Island is distinctly warmer and wetter than it was 30 years ago, with the average nationwide temperature increasing by 0.7°C across all four seasons.

This exceptional warmth coincides with the onset of El Niño, a natural weather event that warms the equatorial Pacific Ocean by up to 3°C, adding up to 0.2°C to the Earth’s average temperature. Since the planet is already 1.2°C above pre-industrial times, this extra heating phenomenon could tip us over the 1.5°C target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement within the following year. 

A typical El Niño causes drought in Indonesia, Australia, southern Africa, and India; intense hurricane seasons in the Pacific; colder winters in northern Europe; and widespread heat waves, causing deaths and mass displacement and sharpening poverty and food insecurity for millions.

System failure 

Leading energy companies – whose use of fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change – are paying no heed to the climate emergency. In fact, amidst record-breaking heat in February, BP scaled back an earlier goal of lowering its emissions by 35% by 2030, saying it will aim for a 20 to 30% cut instead, all while expanding gas drilling! 

Exxon’s CEO recently told an industry conference that he plans to double the oil produced from its US shale holdings. Meanwhile, Mobil has quietly withdrawn from a widely publicised effort to use algae in creating low-carbon fuel. These corporations’ pledges are hollow and subject to change when the market requires it.

Similarly, representatives of the capitalist system will operate in the pursuit of profit regardless of the human misery it engenders. They have their hands bound by the anarchic economic system they represent. They will use their accumulated wealth to shield themselves from the worsening effects of climate change while working-class people disproportionately suffer.

Capitalist governments 

While shameless climate change denier Donald Trump is no longer in office, Biden continues his policies by kowtowing to fossil fuel companies and corporations. In March, he approved of the Willow Oil project, a drilling venture that will add two trillion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year. COP, the yearly conference for UN Framework Convention on Climate Change parties, extinguished any pretence it created about taking climate change seriously when the amount of gas and oil lobbyists in attendance increased this year by 25%. 

In the south, the Green Party, alongside other establishment parties, unwilling to take on big business, have utterly failed to meet the country’s emissions target, now hoping to achieve a 29% reduction ‘at best’, rather than the agreed 51%. To wide indignation, Eamon Ryan even went as far as to say that he wouldn’t support free public transport because it would incentivise ‘unnecessary’ bus journeys!

Climate change does not occur in isolation but perpetuates and deepens every interconnected crisis borne out of capitalism. For example, it will only exacerbate inter-imperialist rivalries and the new cold war. Perversely, the world’s major powers are looking at the rapidly thawing Arctic ice caps as opportunities to develop new shipping routes to undercut their rivals and exploit its oil and gas reserves–extraction will throw further fuel on this existential crisis. This results in a massive military build-up, with the US establishing a new deepwater port in the Arctic. At the same time, Russia has built up a substantial military presence to protect its North Sea routes. Meanwhile, Chinese imperialism hopes to create a “polar silk road”, to expand its power and profits. 

Potential fightback 

Yet out of the countless profit-driven emergencies, climate change is one of the most galvanising. Fridays for Future, the international climate movement led by school students, is still taking place, with young people participating in weekly school strikes to demand immediate climate action. Just Stop Oil has gained significant media attention for its direct action stunts in galleries and snooker halls. Extinction Rebellion has shifted focus from occupations and roadblocks toward mass protests alongside trade unions, feminist organisations and other progressive groups, organising a four-day series of demonstrations in April, where up to 60,000 people were in attendance. 

This surge of mass protests and a growing feminist wave and labour movement globally is where our hope lies. The logic of the capitalist system means that, if allowed, it will extract profit through every means possible until nothing is left. But shining a light on it isn’t enough. We need to tackle the source of the profound inequality that has allowed global warming to go unchecked, resulting in the abnormally hot weather we see today. 

Nothing but an organised working-class movement can confront the fossil fuel industry and the despotic politicians and billionaires who protect it. We can only pose a genuine threat to the system by taking matters into our own hands. For a prompt transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, for the end of mining, fracking and deforestation, and the liberation of working people and the planet, this capitalist system must go – now, more than ever!

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