Movements confront climate change

From the November-December 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Movements confront climate change

Occupations of planned fracking sites in Canada and Romania showed the intensification of struggles against the damage fossil fuel exploitation is inflicting. Protests swept across Canada in late October in solidarity with the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq First Nation’s battle to prevent fracking (hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas) near their land. (See p. 12.) The protests were sparked by a national police assault on the weeks-old protest camp in Rexton, New Brunswick, that was so violent it provoked burning of police cars.

Meanwhile, Global Frackdown day, Oct. 19, saw 250 anti-fracking protests in over 25 countries. Most dramatically, 800 protesters rallied in Pungesti, Romania, where a blockade by villagers had already forced Chevron to suspend a fracking project.

The urgency of stopping the headlong rush to extract and burn fossil fuel was underscored by the latest comprehensive report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s scientific body on global warming. Filtered through representatives of national governments, IPCC’s reports are typically conservative, yet they show that human activity is causing global warming with very dangerous consequences.

LEAVE THE FUEL IN THE GROUND

What is new in the report is the point—previously made by the climate justice movement and by a few outspoken climate scientists like James Hansen—that if the world is to have any chance to keep global warming manageable, then humanity’s future emissions of greenhouse gases must be less than what it has already generated in the past 250 years of capitalist industrialization. In short, we have to leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground.

In reality, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Some of the world’s most powerful corporations and some of the biggest national economies rely on fossil fuel extraction—which explains the heated debate before the IPCC report’s release, when Saudi Arabia, China and Brazil tried to undermine this “carbon budget” point. It also explains why the far-right Koch brothers and other fossil fuel titans have worked so hard to discredit the IPCC and the 97% of climate scientists who agree with its main conclusions.

PROFIT OVER SETTLED SCIENCE

Even before the IPCC report summary was issued, Koch-funded climate denial groups were attacking it. While Fox News ranted about a supposed cover-up, most corporate media just pretended there was a controversy with two equal sides, instead of settled science opposed by a profit-driven propaganda machine.

Those attacks were only the most visible expression of vast capitalist resistance to action with regard to climate change. Spearheaded by oil, coal and natural gas companies, this resistance has blocked any binding national or international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere near as sharply as is needed for the future of human civilization.

In response, climate justice movements have identified those very industries as the enemy, and youth in those movements increasingly state that capitalism itself must be overcome if we are to halt its environmentally and socially destructive momentum—although some leading movement figures, including climatologists like Hansen, are unable to let go of the fatal illusion that there is no alternative to capitalism.

The frontlines of battle today are at points of extraction, like the blockaded fracking sites; at lines of fossil fuel transport, like the Keystone XL pipeline and other means of releasing Canada’s tar sands oil onto the world market; and at points of use, such as coal-fired power plants. Several coal-fired plants have been shut down in the U.S., due partly to economics, but also to the movement which has prevented state-capitalist rescue of fiscally failing plants.

Struggles against capitalist exploitation of nature are also struggles against capitalist exploitation of labor; the whole rotten system needs to go. Ecologically sound practices can only be built on new human relations.

—Franklin Dmitryev

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