HEATHROW, DEMOCRACY AND SOCIALISM

On the same day that City AM reported the plea by Mark Carney, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, to the finance sector that “every financial decision takes climate change into account” (Friday, 28 February), it chose to lead with a hysterical front page banner headline Global Britain: Delayed in response to the High Court of Appeal’s decision on the third runway at Heathrow. The government’s plans were held by the court to be “unlawful” due to its failure to take into account the UK’s Paris Climate Agreement commitments. The government itself says it won’t be appealing the decision, but it will doubtless assist Heathrow’s operators to do so. Under capitalism nothing must impede capital accumulation.

The aviation industry lacks any alternative to fossil fuel for at least the next thirty years. Its attempts to de-carbonise are, consequently, merely cosmetic. While aviation currently accounts for only 2% of global emissions, this proportion will rise as other sectors make progress in decarbonising. Zero carbon emissions will be unattainable globally with an ever-expanding aviation industry. As we have argued previously, the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to keep fossil fuels in the ground (1).

The Appeal Court’s intervention was, nevertheless, essentially a technical one and some cynical, legalistic manipulation of the record of how the government reached its decision might well be enough for the Appeal Court’s judgment to be overturned. The government did, of course, secure a huge parliamentary majority of 296 to proceed with the third runway. Did that make it a democratic decision? While socialists are nervous about the power of courts to overrule democratic decisions, our current parliamentary system is, itself, far from democratic. Democracy, as Marx observed, is much more than deciding once every three or six years which member of the ruling class is to represent and repress us in parliament. The real issue here is a class issue, and courts under capitalism have no interest in defending the working class.

70% of all international flights by UK residents are taken by only 15% of the population while 57 per cent of the population in any year take no flights abroad (2) . At a deeper level, if we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels, it will be the global working class who will be rendered extinct, not the super-rich in their bunkers and atop their mountaintop retreats.

Democracy and reduction in CO2 emissions are inter-related. The intervention of the court in this instance has provided a welcome, temporary respite, but to halt global warming we need system change. We need socialism. Never has the slogan of the Cuban Revolution been more apposite or possessed such a global significance – Revolución o muerte.

 

Notes

(1)  See https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/

(2)  All statistics based on surveys are problematical, but these appear reasonably reliable. See https://fullfact.org/economy/do-15-people-take-70-flights/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIra_R0Ib55wIViaztCh2KzQZjEAAYASAAEgIzh_D_BwE

Things must change

Another Croydon Assembly was held on Saturday, 20 November at Ruskin House, Croydon. After brief introductions by Ted Knight and ex NUT President Philipa Harvey and an entertaining warm up by Attila the Stockbroker, the Assembly broke up into discussion groups addressing housing, health, education, welfare and the economy – all from the perspective of democracy and how we can make our voices heard. It was a successful day – most participants leaving energised, enthused and determined that things must change.

If the day had one shortcoming,  it was a familiar one: a failure to discuss how to address CO2 emission and global warming. Whether discussed or not, the problem, however, continues to grow. A report by the Stockholm Environment Institute has now concluded that effects of Arctic warming will cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level. With temperatures in the Arctic currently 20C above what would be expected at this time of year and sea ice at its lowest recorded level, this is no longer just a problem for polar bears. It’s going to affect us, our children nd future generations.

How can such a significant issue consistently escape the attention of well-meaning progressives everywhere? One explanation proffered by Alex Randall in Red Pepper is that the centre-left’s arguments on global warming have focussed on the wrong issues: the impact on terrorism, migration and, on the positive side, the opportunities presented for Keynsian job creation. By doing this they have convinced no one and left the way open for the climate deniers, including President Elect Trump, to prosper.

Another explanation, and one that surfaces from time to time in the Croydon Environment Forum, is that global warming is simply too big an issue for any local group to have any impact. Better to concentrate on street cleaning and similar mundane issues more clearly under the control of the local authority.

As communists, we sympathise with the first explanation and reject the second. Part of the problem, as we see it, is that the centre-left fails to recognise that a profit driven (capitalist) society is incapable of addressing the problem. Karl Marx, writing in the nineteenth century, predicted from historical evidence that capitalism would only be overturned and replaced by socialism when the growth in the economy it facilitated became impeded by some fundamental constraint it was incapable of surmounting. Although it took two world wars, capitalism has shown remarkable resilience in overcoming all the constraints it has faced until now. In the 21st century it’s becoming increasingly clear that CO2 emission is first constraint it is incapable of surmounting. The solution – the only solution – is for us to replace capitalism before it destroys us.

 

The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get Poorer

The independent think tank, the Resolution Foundation, has just published a new report, Who Gains from Growth?, which reveals the alarming extent to which living standards for low and middle-income households will tumble by 2020 – even if the economy improves – while the rich get steadily richer. The report makes the case well for tackling the growing polarisation between the richer and poorer halves of the country through better vocational training, subsidised childcare and a living wage. These are all worthwhile objectives.

But as long as capital is free to relocate jobs to countries where wages are lower, the spoils of growth go largely to top earners and the Government favour finance over manufacturing, then these remedies can only have a limited effect.

As Marx pointed out, the production of surplus value underpins capital accumulation, and the immiseration of the working class necessarily follows. With the end of the post-war boom – when wages rose steadily, but which can now be seen as the temporary blip it was always going to be – this process can be witnessed in the steady reduction in the share of GDP going to wages over the last 30 years in the US and Britain as a rising proportion goes to profits. The adoption by Labour  of policy to introduce a more progressive tax system, develop a proper industrial strategy and, who knows, even re-introduce capital controls, would be a significant step in the right direction. Of course, this would require radical decisions, but perhaps we can see the People’s Charter become a rallying call across the movement!

Chris Guiton