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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 December 2005

Don't let the profit system cost us the earth!

TONY BLAIR recently claimed that tackling climate change is a priority. But despite his commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20%, more than the 15% reduction in six greenhouse gases required by the international Kyoto treaty, emissions are actually rising in the UK!

Judy Beishon

The situation is no better internationally, with the biggest two emitters of greenhouse gases, the US and China, not even being part of the Kyoto targets. However, even if the Kyoto targets were met, it would only be scratching the surface of solving global warming.

Much greater reductions are needed, but Britain's Environment Minister, Margaret Beckett, admitted that nothing may come out of the current UN climate change talks in Montreal. The determination of every capitalist government to protect their own big business interests is too great.

Showing how deep New Labour's commitment really is to reversing the present emissions trend, the energy minister has said that penalties imposed on businesses for excess greenhouse gas emissions could be waived this winter, supposedly to avoid plant closures if there is a shortage of gas. The energy multinationals applied pressure for this concession, and New Labour rushed to appease them.

More alarmingly, Blair is now turning towards the idea of a new generation of nuclear power stations to meet the country's energy needs and also obligations under the international climate change agreements. But nuclear power is potentially devastating to the environment. There is no known safe method of disposing of nuclear waste, which has already piled up, and can last for over 100,000 years.

As well, there is always the risk of a terrible accident as happened at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986, or a future terrorist attack aimed at releasing nuclear radiation. The consequences could be large loss of life and nuclear contamination in the environment that couldn't be removed.

Safe forms of renewable energy need to be developed urgently, and the technology already exists to do this. Workers in the nuclear industry could be redeployed to decommissioning the existing nuclear plants and to safe forms of energy creation such as using biofuels, solar power and wind power.

Britain is said to be the fourth richest country in the world. If the New Labour government won't take the necessary measures to develop forms of energy that will stop global warming, then we badly need a government that will.

A new workers' party is now essential not just to champion the rights of people in the workplace, the unemployed, those on incapacity benefits, pensions and so on. It is also vital for developing a programme on the environment that firmly rejects the nuclear option, and stands for a massive injection of resources into developing renewable energy.

Capitalism wrecks the environment

Why we fight for a socialist alternative

OUR ENVIRONMENT is deteriorating rapidly. In the past 50 years, human activity has changed the ecosystem more rapidly and extensively than in any other half-century in human history. Global warming has caused the arctic ice sheet to halve in thickness in just 30 years. Half the earth's forests have disappeared as have an even higher proportion of wetlands.

Roger Shrives and Judy Beishon

There is no point putting forward ideas about an alternative society if we don't have a planet we can live on. But these crises need socialist solutions. The capitalist system cannot solve these huge environmental problems - neither can it ensure clean, drinkable water, food or basic services like education to the billions who lack them. It can only offer further environmental destruction and growing economic insecurity even to workers in the so-called advanced capitalist countries.

Capitalist politicians such as George Bush won't reverse this destruction of the environment, quite the opposite. Bush had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, even to admit that human activity is causing climate change. He sees cutting dangerous emissions as a non-starter - it would affect US capitalism's profits too much.

Other capitalist governments aren't much better. Blair boasted that climate change was top priority for him but nonetheless carbon dioxide emissions have been rising in Britain.

Scientific estimates say the world needs an 80% reduction in harmful emissions. But the international Kyoto protocol - that didn't even include the planet's two biggest polluters, USA and China - only commits countries to a 5% average reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. Even amongst the countries signed up to Kyoto, most are unlikely even to meet that target.

No type of capitalist government will do much better in solving these pressing problems and delivering a sustainable environment. After all, a capitalist government's whole purpose is to represent the interests of big business and the multinationals, whose main motive is short-term profit-making rather than protecting the well-being of ordinary people and the environment.

The capitalist class exploits both workers and the environment. They treat the environment as a free resource and simply tell governments that they won't cut into their profits for measures to prevent excessive environmental damage.

Exploiting the natural (and limited) resource of oil, Exxon-Mobil recently reported a staggering 75% rise in profits in the third quarter of 2005 to almost $10 billion. That's the largest quarterly profit ever reported by a US company! The system has developed to protect such interests.

Big business refuses to put the necessary resources in (and massive resources are needed that would seriously affect them). The system can also never deliver the cooperation needed between the main capitalist countries to solve problems like climate change. Rivalry between different capitalist and imperialist countries prevents the high degree of cooperation that would be needed.

Neither can capitalism - based as it is on the anarchy of the market and private profit - deliver long-term environmental planning. As Tony Blair confessed: "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge."

Wasted talents

HOWEVER THERE'S no natural law that says that the system we live in has to be one where a small minority can cream off the wealth of society and keep doing it. An entirely different society is needed - a socialist one where the 500 multinationals that effectively dictate our planet's fate are placed in public hands, under democratic control and management.

Then it could be democratically decided to produce food and goods entirely on the basis of satisfying people's needs in a way that does not damage the environment.

At present billions of people's talents are wasted in unemployment or under-employment. Millions of scientists work on weapons research and other potentially harmful end products. Socialist societies could use these massive human resources to work on ways to produce socially useful goods and to dispose of them without harming our environment.

In particular this would mean shifting to renewable sources of energy, making all products completely recyclable and using sustainable methods of farming. The technology already exists to develop all these vital aspects.

Social changes would also be necessary, such as encouraging people to use public transport by making it very cheap, safe and frequent. Freed from the constant demands of profit, we could encourage the use of goods rather than their ownership, such as borrowing books from libraries rather than buying them, or providing free laundry facilities so people don't need to own washing machines.

Capitalism, by its nature, is very wasteful of resources. For example, similar products are duplicated under different labels, capitalists deliberately build obsolescence into products, and marketing, packaging and advertising use huge amounts of materials. Moreover, capitalist economies go in cycles. When in recession, whole factories and their machinery can be laid to waste, not to mention the human cost of workers losing their jobs.

Democracy would be essential at all levels under socialism, in contrast to the Stalinist regimes that existed in Russia and Eastern Europe - regimes that caused environmental devastation. On the basis of this democracy and a general rise in living standards, a socialist society could carry out the economic planning necessary to ensure people's needs are met, in a way compatible with a sustainable environment.

Capitalism is driven by the capitalists' need to accumulate more and more capital, but a socialist society would have no inbuilt need for everlasting growth. So that makes a sustainable environment credible in a way that it isn't under capitalism.

At first, though, a society that is building socialism would need a significant increase in production in order to end deprivation. However, that could be done on an increasingly sustainable basis as the necessary technology is developed.

Many green activists see increased production as a problem and argue that the planet's natural resources would be stretched too far if more goods were produced. On a capitalist basis that is true but a socialist society could apply the human talent and resources needed to raise production without also jeopardising the environment.

In any case it would be essential to produce enough goods to satisfy everyone's basic needs and pleasures. A society lacking basic goods cannot bring real freedom of choice and the free time needed for ordinary people to get involved in the cooperation and democracy of building a socialist society.

Capitalism cannot solve the world's problems. Only a socialist future can end the horrors of world poverty, wars and terrorism and solve today's acute environmental problems that, if capitalism is allowed to continue, threaten humanity's very existence.

Catastrophe in China

AN ENVIRONMENTAL catastrophe threatens millions of people in China and Russia following an explosion which destroyed a chemical plant in north east China. A 50-mile long slick of toxic benzene travelled down the Songhua river polluting drinking water supplies and killing fish.

Dave Carr

Millions of people in the city of Harbin, 50 miles south of the chemical plant, are now reliant on bottled water. Further downstream, water supplies in the Russian border city of Khabarovsk have also been polluted.

Yet for ten days the Chinese authorities remained silent about the 100 tonnes of toxic chemicals that spewed into the river.

The Chinese regime clearly retains many of its Stalinist methods of secrecy. Instead, the Chinese people are now suffering the double whammy of a repressive, undemocratic bureaucratic regime and the pollution associated with rapid capitalist economic growth.

Consequently, while maintaining the fiction of strict environmental protection laws, China's cities, rivers and lakes are being overwhelmed by pollution ie by millions of tonnes of untreated domestic and industrial waste. Even according to the Beijing regime 360 million people lack access to safe drinking water. 70% of its rivers and lakes are polluted and over 100 cities suffer extreme water shortages.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 1 December 2005:

Attack on pensions: We won't work till we drop!

Pensions struggles still loom

Don't let the profit system cost us the earth!

'Free market' threatens cold weather crisis

NHS feature: Bring the campaigns together

Campaign for a New Workers' Party

Fight for a political voice for young people!

Hidden - the effects of term-time working

Weakness invites aggression

Workers fight introduction of cheap labour

USA - Lame duck president George Bush waddles on

Exploited workers in Middle East fight back

LSP/MAS mobilises against neo-fascists


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