The leader in the Morning Star today criticising Extinction Rebellion’s objection to the YCL slogan Socialism or Extinction is a timely reminder that there is a significant element in the X-R movement that is deluded enough to think that capitalism can address global warming. It’s OK, apparently, to rally behind a slogan saying System Change, Not Climate Change, provided it remains unclear which at system is being referred to.    

The only solutions available under capitalism to address global warming are boosting energy efficiency and promoting alternative sources of energy. Implementing unstable technological fixes such as continuous release of aerosols into the upper atmosphere and ocean seeding are literally last gasp measures to ward off immediate catastrophe. As the discussion paper by the Communist University in South London (CUiSL, link below), concluded last year, the only way to address global warming is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Capitalism is incapable of doing this while fossil fuels remain the cheapest form of energy and huge profits are to be made from their extraction. It doesn’t matter how many windmills we build or how well we insulate our homes, if fossil fuels continue to be extracted, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to increase and the global temperature will inexorably increase until a tipping point is reached.

Extinction Rebellion have their argument back to front. They fear that by associating themselves with communism  they will frighten people away from their well-meaning efforts to opposing global warming. However, if they conceal from their supporters that capitalism is the block to addressing global warming, their efforts to oppose it will come to nought.

As CUiSL argued, the capitalist elite have a route out of global warming. They don’t need a global population of 7.8 billion people to survive. They can retreat to a secure secure environment, say on top of a mountain, and let most of the rest of humanity die. For the rest of us the only route that avoids extinction is socialism – it’s as simple and stark as that.

System Change, Not Climate Change

The government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has finally been awakened from its slumbers by the school kids strikes, Extinction Rebellion demonstrations over Easter and Greta Thunberg’s visit to the UK and meeting with opposition leaders. With the UK slipping behind on its legal obligation to cut emissions by 2032, this is long overdue, but don’t expect too much from it. This is the body that gave the government cover for Heathrow expansion and has remained silent on fracking. Its assertion that the UK could and should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050 is welcome, but, as one of its principal authors has admitted, there is no way this can be done without government action. How likely is this?

As the Communist University in South London argued in its discussion paper on climate change [1], there is no known technology that can remove carbon economically from the atmosphere once it’s there. The only known remedy for global warming is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This cannot be done under capitalism, however many windmills we construct, however efficiently we burn hydrocarbons, however many solar panels we manufacture. There is simply too much profit to be made from pumping the known reserves of oil and gas, not to mention those waiting to be discovered when the poles melt as a result of the CO2 we have already pumped into the atmosphere. The capital this profit has created has given the extractive industries a death-grip on governments. It lobbies them, it finances their political parties and their leaders and it appears to be working on the assumption that, assisted by robotisation, the global elite can, unlike the rest of us, survive the threat of global extermination. Gated communities on top of mountains?

System Change, Not Climate Change is a slogan we can rally behind. Society can address climate change, but not under capitalism. As a system it has generated huge economic growth over the last two hundred years, but only at a price, and that price is now approaching the destruction of life on our planet. It’s not government action such as that called for by the CCC that can save the day, it’s changing the system from one whose function is to accumulate capital to one which meets everyone’s needs. That means a planned, democratic society managed for the benefit of ordinary working people. It’s called socialism.