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Friday, 24th November 2017

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Aaron Kiely: It is time to put people and planet before profit

By Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students Committee

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia said in 2007: “The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model.”

Capitalism is inherently unsustainable. You cannot have infinite growth with finite resources and the cost to human beings and the environment are already substantial and will only continue to grow. Capitalism can no more survive limits on growth than a person can live without breathing.

It is almost universally agreed that man-made climate change is the biggest threat we face, that it is the actions of human beings which are contributing to global warming which in turn will wreak havoc on the planet and the population.

There will be widespread famine due to crop failure, disease will be rife, millions will be displaced and killed by erratic weather and flooding and entire species, plants and animals will be wiped out if we do not do something about it.

Notice I said that ‘almost’, there is a vocal and small minority of professional ‘climate-change deniers’ and these are all in the pockets of big business and usually oil companies. For example in 2006 the scientific Royal Society, wrote to Exxon, the oil giant to demand that the company withdraws support for dozens of groups that have “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence.”

It’s here that we start to see where there are two groups, those who suppress information about climate-change to suit their own vested interests, and those who are the victims of climate change. The rich and powerful individuals and nations on one side, and the poor countries who are effectively shut out of any decision making on the issue when they are the ones who will suffer disproportionately.

This huge group often get it catastrophically wrong – we cannot trust big business or the institutions in which they wield huge influence. The example of the European Union’s biofuels target of 5% of all petrol has been disastrous. We are now in an obscene situation where crops that could be used to feed human beings are now being used to feed and fuel our cars, this cannot be just when 800 million across the world are starving to death and is very much a typical capitalist ‘solution’ i.e. the West benefitting at the expense of the rest of the world.

Carbon trading – a market solution which is utterly failing. The system in which the right to pollute can be given to those willing to pay is no real attempt at meaningful action and is just another way for people to exploit the planet for money. Companies ‘buy’ permits to emit co2 and this is meant to incentivise companies to reduce fossil fuel use to save them buying permits, but these schemes have had little or no impact on reduction of emissions and instead have just created millionaires from the system as people can sell permits at a commission.

These examples show that there is no future in waiting for big business to offer up solutions.

The Ecosocialist Manifesto states: “If capitalism remains the dominant social order, the best we can expect is unbearable climate conditions, an intensification of social crises and the spread of the most barbaric forms of class rule, as the imperialist powers fight among themselves and with the global south for continued control of the world’s diminishing resources.”

This is already happening, the war in Iraq for example. We’ve seen a country obliterated and Iraq’s wealth stolen by multinational conglomerates. Since the invasion of Iraq we have seen ‘the sale of the century’ as oil companies battle for control of the oil reserves and production of oil. As 1 million have died, and 2 million are made in to refugees, the only thing that companies can see is oil and potential revenue.

We also have to remember that there is also a battle over water in Israel and Palestine. Israel have been accused of stealing water from Palestinians, leading to severe water shortages – remember one of the PLOs first acts was to blow up a water refinery – and again all of this to fund the economic development in Israel and its agriculture.

Indigenous populations have also suffered the brunt of capitalism’s desire for profits. In Alberta, Canada, entire habitats have been destroyed in the search for dirty oil. As peak oil comes to pass, massive oil companies have to search for oil in any form they can, and this has led to vast swathes of land being stripped and destroyed for low-grade oil. Animals and the habitat are being poisoned – the example of a flock of birds coming to land on this oil slick and all of them dying immediately due to how toxic it was has been labelled as extraordinary.

But there is resistance, indigenous communities have started to fight back and challenge the likes of Shell and BP. BP incidentally have branded themselves as “Beyond Petroleum” much to the derision of climate justice campaigners. The Beaver-Lake Cree are a group who are taking a legal-challenge to the companies and we should support their cause.

We cannot talk about capitalism and climate change without talking about issues such as Vestas wind turbine factory – real links can be built with the environmental movement and the worker’s movement as the two are inextricably linked. The injustice of shutting down the Vestas on the Isle of Wight during a recession and climate crisis flies in the face of any kind of sense and was rightly challenged.

Climate change is a socialist issue and we need to look to our own movements for leadership on the issue.

We can use it to argue for more council houses that are well insulated, for the railways to come back under public ownership instead of an expansion of aviation. And also for publicly owned utilities that put the needs of people, above that of the need for profit. We can say proudly, put people and planet before profit. It is imperative that we build a credible green and socialist alternative that links together environmental justice, social justice and economic justice – because they all go hand in hand.

The Green Movement in Student Politics

At next week’s NUS Conference Aaron Kiely is speaking at a fringe meeting hosted by the Young Greens - ‘The Green Movement in Student Politics’ – alongside Adam Ramsay (People and Planet) and Nishma Doshi (Young Greens).

It takes place on Tuesday 15.45-16.45 in MEC 9 at The Sage, Newcastle Gateshead. Come along to discuss how we can ensure students are at the forefront of the campaigns for climate justice.

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