The central lesson of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else, meaning that human activities interact with nature in sometimes problematic ways. Thus, evidence accumulating this summer of powerful and accelerating changes in the global climate offers a warning that capitalism’s insatiable appetite for profits is pushing the global climate system toward runaway global warming.
This process was described in 1987 by Gro Bruntland, the director-general of the World Health Organization and chair of the U.N. Brundtland Commission, which first addressed the connection between development and the environment.
The physical evidence has appeared in the form of intense heat waves and a spreading drought covering two-thirds of the U.S., the continuing collapse of ice shelves in Antarctica, and now the sudden melt-off of ice over the whole of Greenland.
This accumulating evidence, however, has had little impact on capitalist governments. During the recent Rio+20 Conference, these governments turned their backs on their already modest commitments to address global warming. The conference illustrated the connection between the intensifying ecological crises of climate change and species extinction, and the political economy of capitalism that has plundered both the human and natural world over the last 300 years.
Faced with the apparent collapse of the initiative to somehow “green” capitalism, some environmental activists may be pondering a strategy to redirect their efforts toward transitioning the world away from capitalism and toward truly sustainable human relationships with the global ecosystem.
What is to be done?
The only viable choice in responding to the ecological crisis of capitalism is socialism. Continuing the effort to reform capitalism is a dead end, as Rio+20 has unequivocally demonstrated. Abandoning modern society also is not a choice, as that would mean abandoning the very tools we need to limit the impact of the crisis and adapt to a changing climate.
In between these extremes lies socialism, a system that would redirect the wealth of society to meeting human needs and restoring and preserving a healthy environment. Through central planning under the command of the working class, human society would be able to address and react to even some of the harshest aspects of global warming.
By sharing resources between regions, countries and even continents, the effects of droughts, floods and crop failures could be ameliorated. But this is not possible under capitalism, a system that limits governments only to actions that would based on the profit motive for the capitalist class. And the reality is, for the capitalists, polluting is profitable, and planning and constructing a sustainable economy is not.
Socialism would mean: developing our human resources through free and quality public education; strengthening workers' organizations so that they can become partners in ecological recovery; reconstructing our health care system so that it can address the emerging public health issues that are coming out of the ecological crisis; promoting international cooperation, rather than militarization and war, which is necessary to reducing the human impact on the environment; and most importantly, including and respecting all members of our global community as brothers and sisters in this struggle.