by Bryn Glover
We are GREEN because we recognise certain clear and unequivocal truths about human activity. Currently, the human race treats planet Earth as if were an endless storehouse or bottomless sewer. This may have been going on for thousands of years, but the time has come for it to stop. We have caused a number of appalling crises, of which Climate Change, loss of natural species, and worldwide air and water pollution are the worst. There can be no doubt that recent floodings, droughts and wild fires across the world are the direct result of global warming.
With concerted action, we can reverse some of the changes (such as the thinning of the ozone layer), but others will take perhaps tens of thousands of years to reverse, such global warming. All our efforts now must be directed towards stopping matters getting even worse.
So far, humanity has concerned itself with organising conferences and issuing international statements of pious intent, which are all but ignored by governments and multinational corporations of the world. Some means must be devised, probably through the United Nations, of compelling better behaviour – of making our profligate species recognise the limits within which we must conduct all our activities in the future. There are no second chances and there is no Plan B.
We are SOCIALISTS because we believe that every child born onto this planet has equal rights to access the planet’s resources. If we continue as now, with uncontrolled extraction and exploitation of our limited resources, the widening gap between rich and poor will simply continue to widen.
We are able to provide nutrition, health care, education, security and justice, and these essential features of civilised life must be equally available to everyone. They should never be allocated on the basis of the ability to pay.
The global capitalist system has existed for centuries, during which time the extraction and exploitation of Earth’s resources have been based on the principle of economic growth. It is now strikingly clear that growth must cease, and that all future production must be on the basis of need and must happen within the limits of what is sustainable on this Earth.
By its very definition, capitalism cannot possibly provide this. It is only by international socialist planning and co-operation that humanity can ever hope to achieve some sort of lasting relationship with this finite world of ours.
The Alliance for Green Socialism combines two strands of political thought, both of which we believe are essential for the long-term future of our species. Historically, the two arose from different beginnings and may even have clashed over their priorities at times. However, we say that if humanity is to stand any chance of creating an enduring relationship with planet Earth, then both environmentalism and international socialism must work closely together. Neither will succeed without the other.
The roots of socialism are visible throughout history but were drawn together as a single philosophy by Karl Marx and other 19th-century writers. The science of environmentalism is somewhat younger, although Marx was aware of the impact of industry on the environment, and the term ‘ecology’ was coined by one of his contemporaries.
One of the first people to observe that North America’s wild flowers seemed to be coming out earlier and earlier each year was Rachel Carson in Silent Spring (1962).
Over the last 60 years, the science of ecology has developed rapidly, with many specialist departments being set up in universities and by government and international bodies, and numerous publications are now available for the student and, indeed, for anyone else who is interested.
Over the first few years of the new millennium, a group of concerned scientists met at various times to consider what they called ‘planetary boundaries’, and it is these boundaries that now dominate discussions and debate over our future. The scientists identified nine areas of immediate concern, and these are as follows:
- Climate Change
- Ocean Acidification
- Ozone Depletion
- Nitrogen and Phosphorus Cycles
- Freshwater Use and Shortage
- Changes in Land Usage
- Loss of Species (biodiversity)
- Aerosol Loading of the Atmosphere
- Chemical Pollution
The scientists did not specify the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a separate item on their list, but recognised that several of the points depended on it, and that the level of CO₂ was directly linked to the burning of fossil fuels. Others have since added to the list, or have listed the items in different terms, but the basic arguments about each category are broadly the same.
We can summarise those arguments as follows:
- Anything we measure in nature is variable, usually as the seasons change through winter and summer, and as plant life becomes dormant or profuse.
- On top of the cycles of regular change, we can expect occasional oddities. For example, weather forecasters will speak of storms so severe that they can be expected no more than once a century. They call these, not unexpectedly, ‘hundred-year’ storms.
- Nonetheless, until the beginning of the Industrial Age the year-on-year averages of all the factors remained either constant, or were seen to change very, very slowly over millennia.
- The start of the Industrial Revolution is generally taken to be about 1750, when steam power burgeoned and the nations of Europe began concertedly to exploit the rest of the world for its resources.
- Since that moment, where measurements have been recorded or can be deduced, it is clear that the averages have all been creeping inexorably upwards. hundred-year storms can now be seen, in some cases, more than once per decade.
- Since the end of World War Two, the rate of upward creep, in all categories, has visibly increased, often in what are called exponential terms. This simply means that the rate of change increases as the number of factors causing the change increase.
- This cannot go on for ever. Indeed it must stop as soon as possible. The scientists defined certain limits, or ‘planetary boundaries’, beyond which further changes should not be permitted. They warned that unless radical reversals were brought about, the rates of change would enter runaway phases, like feedback in sound systems, when nothing we can do can alter the outcome, short of switching the system off altogether.
- The scientists were at pains to stress that the ‘boundaries’ should not be regarded as ‘safe limits’. On the contrary, they are actually quite unsafe. They are the points beyond which we must not permit our activities to stray.
- They called these points, ‘tipping points’, and perhaps the simplest illustration would be walking out over ever thinner ice on a pond. One is safe so long as the ice holds. But the discovery that we have gone too far may only come with the sound of ice cracking behind us.
The scientists warned that in a number of categories, the tipping point had already been passed, that in some we were perilously close, and that in two or three they could not be certain but that to ignore the problem would be very foolish. On an upbeat note, they also pointed out that in one category, namely Ozone Depletion, international action had more or less halted the loss, and that this demonstrated that humanity was capable of stopping and reversing damaging processes when it put its collective mind to the problem.
Why have we reached this critical point, and why now?
Most of the nations of the Earth operate under the economic model known as capitalism. Put simply, this means industrial production in order to create profit on investments, rather than primarily for need. If necessary items are produced, that is a good thing, but secondary, and there are numerous instances where the perception of ‘need’ has been artificially created. By simple definition, capitalism requires growth and expansion to survive, but unfortunately the planet is finite. For centuries, investors have treated the Earth as an inexhaustible storehouse and bottomless sewer, or waste heap, but now the limits of both are looming large. Capitalism has no answer to this. It cannot reform itself into a system based on reducing consumption and providing reductions in invested capital.
There are two ways in which humanity could deal with the dilemma it undoubtedly faces:
- Business as usual. Continue to allow investment bankers worldwide to decide where production should occur, on the basis of providing profits for the investors. Continue to allow the finite and rapidly dwindling resources of planet Earth to be developed according to demand. Continue to allow the profits from enterprise to be concentrated ever more into the hands of ever fewer ultra-wealthy people.
2. International socialism
As socialists, we say that every human child born onto this Earth has an equal right to expect equality of access to the best we can achieve in terms of nutrition, education, health-care, justice and security, within the constraints of what our planet is capable of providing on a sustainable, long-term basis. But unlike others who may claim this, we believe it without any exception. We believe it applies to every child, wherever they may have been born, whoever their parents may happen to be. The second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence actually defines this as a ‘self-evident truth’. Yet the same nation proceeded to generate its enormous wealth on the back of slavery and the persecution of indigenous Americans.
Green socialists believe that urgent action is necessary to stop our planet’s natural systems, which have been in equilibrium for millennia, sliding into uncontrolled chaos. We recognise that this will entail radical changes to the way we live our lives, and that some of these changes will be painful. We have the choice to begin the changes now while we still retain some degree of control, or we could wait in the hope that ‘something will turn up’ but then face ever more difficult choices in the future. And we especially believe that whatever changes we make must be made on the basis of equity and fairness to all.
Bryn Glover is a member of the AGS national committee