Ecosocialism needed in the age of climate emergency

Photo: Green Left

If we agree that capitalism and its rapacious drive for profit is driving us towards climate catastrophe and war, the question is how do we get from where we are now to a democratic, ecologically sustainable, safe climate future for all?

Discussing revolutionary strategy requires recognising the existential threat posed by the climate emergency and other interconnected ecological and social crises.

The rise in global inequality has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ecological crisis is displacing millions of people as parts of the globe become uninhabitable and fuelling wars over resources. It is almost certain that the Earth will reach 1.5°C of warming by the end of the decade.

The wealth divide between rich and poor countries has been made possible by the Global North’s theft of resources from the Global South. The debt burden keeps the latter in a state of underdevelopment, while workers in the Global North are its beneficiaries.

A new generation is growing up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over their heads. Without an ecosocialist revolution, humanity faces two terrible prospects: rapid extinction from nuclear war or accelerating climate collapse.

The world’s wealthiest countries, known as the G20, are responsible for some 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Global North will owe the Global South US$192 trillion in climate reparations by 2050.

Globally, gross domestic product growth is projected to rise from 2.7% this year to 2.9% in 2024: it means the Global North is on track to use up its climate budget (the amount of emissions to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels) within a decade.

“Green capitalism” is no solution. Leaving the transition to the capitalists means mass unemployment and dislocation, embracing false market solutions, “green” profiteering and extractivism.

We can’t solve the crisis without changing the system, as even some climate scientists now urge.

Climate change and war are creating millions of refugees, providing the far right with a platform for its racist scapegoating, while posing as defenders of the “national interest”.

We urgently need to build red-green alliances — not just around immediate struggles, but around a revolutionary, internationalist, ecosocialist perspective that goes beyond the limited democracy under capitalism to build popular power.

In Australia, we have to build on the discussion in the labour movement about sustainable jobs, an energy transition, the housing crisis and the militaristic AUKUS.

While recognising the interconnectedness of the crises, we have to move the discussion beyond a narrow economic agenda. A new militant working class current needs to be concerned with ecology, energy production and consumption, housing, war and oppression.

Capitalist commodity production and the drive for profit is wrecking the planet and impoverishing humanity. A working class revolution cannot simply take hold of the productive forces — they have to be radically transformed.

Under capitalism, economic growth is the measure of prosperity: capitalist culture is geared to convincing us that the best life is one of accumulation. It encourages transactional relationships and limits our role to that of consumers, alienated from what we consume, from nature and from other people.

Buen vivir, loosely translated as “living well and sustainably” was introduced in the 2014 Margarita Declaration on Climate Change at a pre-Conference of Parties summit on the Island of Margarita, hosted by the Venezuelan government.

Article 13 of the declaration reads: “It is necessary to reach an alternative development model based on the principles of living in harmony with nature, guided by absolute and ecological sustainability limits, and the capacity of mother Earth as well; a fair, egalitarian model that constructs sustainable economies that moves us away from energy models based on fossil fuels and hazardous energies, that guarantees and recognizes the respect to Mother Earth, the rights of women, children, adolescents, gender diversity, the impoverished, the vulnerable minority groups and the original indigenous peoples” and “that fosters the peaceful coexistence of our peoples”.

In the age of climate crisis, achieving buen vivir will mean urgent climate repair, as well as guaranteeing safe and secure housing for life, universal free and accessible healthcare and education from cradle to grave, free public transport, more free time to spend with family and friends (through a shorter working week), time and space for creativity, for real participatory democracy (including workers’ control on the job), fulfilling our potential and restoring our connectedness with nature.

The Margarita Declaration also asserts “an inalienable right of the peoples to be the protagonists in the construction of their own destinies”.

This means moving beyond the social democratic practice of “representative democracy” as well as the bureaucratic leanings of sections of the left to embracing a people’s-power model. There is much we can learn from the grassroots and direct democracy experiences of the Rojava revolution and the Chavista communal council experiments.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels said in the Communist Manifesto that in the history of class struggle, the fight between oppressor and oppressed ends either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

The stakes are high and “ecosocialism or extinction” is not an empty phrase.

[This article is based on a talk delivered to the Ecosocialism 2023: A World Beyond Capitalism. Susan Price is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive. ]