The case for ecosocialism

Capitalism is destroying the planet: We need a climate revolution
A climate justice rally in Sydney on January 10. Photo: Peter Boyle

If there is one thing the recent unprecedented bushfire emergency has proved to us in Australia — and to millions in countries who watched on in horror — is that the climate emergency is not just something to worry about in the future: this is the climate emergency and it is already catastrophic.

With the grossly inadequate international greenhouse gas reduction targets, the world is on a course to a 2–3ºCelsius rise from pre-industrial average temperatures, even while the effects of a 0.5ºCelsius rise are already catastrophic.

Average temperatures are set to rise to levels that have not existed for millions of years, and at a speed at which the Earth systems cannot adapt. The world has already passed many tipping points, that could irreversibly change the Earth’s life support systems.

So, what’s stopping our society from getting on with such measures?

Capitalism is blocking a serious global response to the climate emergency. The capitalist class — along with governments that serve it — prioritise corporate profit over all else and, in the process, threaten human survival, as well millions of other animal and plant species.

Wealth has been concentrated to an unprecedented level. In 2019, the world’s 2,153 billionaires had more wealth than 4.6 billion people combined. That huge wealth, acting as capital, takes the lion’s share of the benefits of economic growth while the great majority suffer the consequences — poverty, war and ecocide.

The billionaire class routinely corrupts and buys off governments. This results show in the incredible blocking of desperately-needed climate action, the oceans of waste and the rapid depletion of limited natural resources.

With the short time left to take radical action to avert catastrophic climate change, society needs to face up to ending this unconscionable and unsustainable concentration of wealth, built through brutal dispossession and exploitation.

It is time to expropriate the expropriators.

This may sound like an “ideological” position but, in reality, it is a practical one.

Society cannot do what it needs to do without challenging capitalism, as the situation in Australia clearly demonstrates.

A poll released on January 9 by the progressive Australia Institute think tank showed that even before the bushfire emergency, 66% believed the country “is facing a climate change emergency and should take emergency action”. It found that 63% agreed that governments “should mobilise all of society to tackle climate change, like they did during the World Wars”.

These are some key steps society ought to be strongly united on to urgently address the climate emergency:

  • Bring the energy sector into public hands so we can move to 100% renewables in 10 years while guaranteeing green jobs in a just transition;
  • Make public transport free, frequent and accessible;
  • Land and water rights for First Nations communities: they have the knowledge to reduce the fire threat while respecting nature;
  • Boost sustainable farming and reforestation, and end the privatisation and monopolisation of water resources;
  • Rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions, including 100% renewable energy by 2030. Net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 will not stop runaway warming and rich countries, such as Australia, must take the lead; and
  • Increase energy efficiency and work towards zero waste.

The major parties now say they accept the reality of the climate crisis (as do most big fossil fuel companies, belatedly). But they are still blocking a rapid shift to 100% renewable energy and insist on keeping, or improving, Australia’s position as the world’s third-largest fossil fuel exporter by opening new coal and gas mines.

This alone requires us to take the energy sector into public hands.

The transport sector is Australia’s third-biggest source of greenhouse emissions, and the sector with the fastest-growing emissions.

Yet federal and state governments are forcing multi-billion-dollar road tollway projects onto resisting communities, such as WestConnex in NSW, while simultaneously privatising and cutting back public transport.

This is another sector that urgently needs to be taken away from the capitalists and placed under community control.

The gang of crooks who have increasingly privatised Australia’s scarce water resources need to be expropriated.

Any serious plan to take even basic steps to deal with the climate emergency requires the removal of significant resources from corporate hands and placed under community control. It requires the democratisation of the economy. This is why the solutions have to be ecosocialist, rather than an imagined “greener capitalism”.

Community control over these collective resources — and ensuring that society works with nature instead of robbing it — would require a power shift and the building of new democratic institutions.

It will require participatory democracy that involves the majority of people in deciding how society is run. This is currently limited to a once in three or five years ballot for parliament in a “democratic” vote easily rigged by billionaires.

Does our society have the means or the will to build such a new system of people’s power?

We can draw some optimism from the way so many communities and volunteers responded to the new year fire emergency, while governments refused to act decisively.

But public confidence can develop in the process of building the biggest and broadest climate movement to bring about the changes we urgently need. Such a mass movement of grassroots community organisations can also be the building blocks of new institutions of popular power.

In the process of building such a movement, many more will begin to question the capitalist system and see the logic of ecosocialism.

Ecosocialists should also learn from countries that are pioneering revolutionary change, for instance from Cuba, which tops the global Sustainable Development Index (SDI). It has developed a collective emergency response to minimise the casualties and damage from hurricanes.

Ecosocialists can also learn from the Rojava Revolution in north-east Syria which has ecology and women’s liberation as core principles, alongside democratic confederalism and autonomy.

We should also learn from the negative experiences under bureaucratic and despotic regimes that called themselves “communist”.

The case for ecosocialism is not only a moral choice — it has now become an urgent practical necessity for a world poised on the abyss of ecocide. We know that an ecologically-balanced world is impossible under capitalism.

Ecosocialism won’t make it certain, but it will make it possible. The rest is up to what we do collectively.

[Peter Boyle and Pip Hinman are members of the Socialist Alliance national executive.]