Youth Mobilize Against the Climate Crisis. The Other Green Wave, a Powerful Anti-Capitalist Ally

By Mariano Rosa, coordinator of the Ecosocialist Network

Forty years have passed since the 1st World Climate Conference (Geneva, 1979). There, scientists from 50 countries pointed out that alarming trends in relation to climate change made it necessary to act urgently.

Since then, the 1992 Rio Summit, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement have passed, as well as categorical warnings in dozens of other world meetings. These meetings are not the novelty, then, but 2019 will go down in history as the year of a qualitative leap in global mobilizations in defense of the planet.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN) of August of this year, titled “Climate change and the Earth” and prepared for the ill-fated COP25 in Chile, highlights the following data:
• The consequences of a 1.5ºC warming would be very difficult to mitigate in social terms: intensified climate-driven migrations of millions of people, more droughts, unbearable heat, and floods due to the alteration in rain patterns.
• The objective of the Paris Summit to reduce warming to less than that benchmark over the next 10 years already seems difficult to achieve, almost utopian, due to the lack of measures of urgent mitigation and radical change.
Trump first rejected those very minor commitments, then finally withdrew the world’s leading polluter from the Paris Agreement: the US. Bolsonaro and the Chinese government also sabotage the agreement. The experts´ report describes the threatening retreat of the gigantic Thwaites and Tottenen glaciers in Antarctica: they alone could raise the sea level about four meters. The report uses a slogan: “Every ton of CO2 counts.” And indeed it does.
Just to mention the impact of imperialism, let us take note that the US arms industry emits around 80 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. We must add 70 million tons emitted by the US Department of Defense, not counting the emissions of its hundreds of bases abroad. In short: the polluters that are going to gather at the COP25 (“relocated” in Madrid by the Chilean revolution) will again act against the urgency to take substantial measures to abandon the hydrocarbon-based energy matrix. They will surely approve a declaration that will continue to retreat from minor previous commitments. The way out of the socio-environmental crisis is political and anti-capitalist. That is reality’s verdict. And times are pressing, really.

A Turning Point

The week of September 20-27, the largest internationalist week of action recorded in history in defense of the planet and against the socio-environmental disaster caused by capitalism, took place. There were protest actions in 3,000 cities of 162 countries on all continents. Mass mobilizations were carried out in capitalist epicenters, such as the US, Britain, Germany, and other countries, with surprising mass participation, for example, in several of Australia’s main cities. There were marches and rallies in dozens of cities in Spain, France, and important mobilizations in Pakistan, India and the most remote places of the world: from Indonesia, Thailand or Tuvalu, to Nairobi or the Solomon Islands and Antarctica. Taken as a global action, it has a scale, massiveness, and planetary geographical extension superior to any process of struggle experienced in previous decades.
It is a new planetary green wave, even more geographically homogeneous and territorial in scope than the feminist movement. It represents the emergence of a new social movement whose central role lies in youth, but at the same time there are countries in Europe, especially Spain, where some unions called to strike and mobilize. This process is here to stay, and mobilizes with such an action that forces the entire political superstructure to take a position on an issue that basically has no solution in the framework of capitalism. The outcome of this tension between the size of the threat to the planet and the strength of this rising movement will determine how far humanity, in this historical stage, manages to overcome this political challenge.

There are Two Threats

The greenhouse effect consists of a mechanism that regulates the Earth´s climate. It operates by allowing radiation to pass from the sun to the earth and by retaining a part of the heat on the surface, allowing the rest to dissipate. This mechanism works on the basis of a layer of gas (ozone) that retains some of the heat, though not all of it. The over-accumulation of CO2 prevents that layer from dissipating some of the heat and retains more than necessary, increasing the greenhouse effect on the planet; that is, by heating the temperature above its average stability.
This cycle unleashes a spiral that unfolds dangerously: the higher heat affects forests and jungles, those forests and jungles release more retained CO2 and reinforces the cycle; ice retains CO2, its melting releases more CO2 and, therefore, the dynamic accelerates and becomes unstoppable, if radical measures are not taken.
The planet functions with a certain level of climatic stability. For ten thousand years, it stabilized at an average temperature of 14.5°C. This allowed adaptation and civilized development of the forces of production. In the last 200 years, the temperature rose more than in the previous ten thousand years. This period coincides with the development of capitalism in its decadent phase of overproduction and hyper-consumption. That is to say, the phenomenon that alters all conditions of life on the planet is directly associated, not with “humanity” in general, but with the mode of production based on overproduction and hyper-consumption for profit called capitalism. At the same time, in the regions of the world that are subject to the presence of imperialist corporations, the form of predatory accumulation of capital known as extractivism is stacked on top of climate change as a form of pressure and concrete challenge.
The need to reduce production costs and ensure reserve value designed a pattern of capitalist accumulation with contaminating consequences: agribusiness with large-scale transgenic seeds and agro-toxics; polluting mega-mining; logging for the pulp industry, like in Chile, which endangers forests and water reserves, and violates native peoples´ territories; fracking everywhere, and cementation in cities, also anarchic with the antisocial rationality of capital. Of course, everything is managed by governments of traditional parties, labor bureaucracies and media corporations that act to justify this orientation as an “inexorable destiny”.

The Ideological Battle

When a mass movement irrupts, the power of corporations, their parties, regimes, and states does not only operate with the mechanisms of social repression. It also activates factories of false ideologies to confuse, divide, spread skepticism. The following are some of the conceptions manufactured for that purpose:
• “Denialism.” This current is represented by Trump, Bolsonaro, and the most reactionary right wing governments. They represent the most concentrated oil corporations, banks and transnational extractivist corporations. Its thesis is that “climate change is a natural phenomenon and those who object to the oil industry are opposed to development and economic growth.” Though they do not have direct influence on the youth that is mobilized, rather the opposite, their line is prevalent in the union bureaucracies of the labor movement.
• “Green capitalism.” This policy is raised by Merkel, the green parties, the Second International, the US Democrats, and characters like Macron. Specifically, they hold that a process of gradual state reforms, agreed on with capitalist companies, will convert the energy matrix to clean and renewable energy through economic incentives and tax rewards for those who pollute the least. In short, green capitalism intends to turn “ecology” into a business niche subject to the capitalist laws of the market.
• “Ecological neo-Keynesianism”. This vision, raised by Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and other figures of the “Democratic left” and the US DSA, poses a process of energy conversion of capitalist corporations with state subsidies. That is, a pact with multinational corporations for a conversion over 10 years, obviously without questioning the private ownership of the main levers of energy production and distribution.
• Anti-party “autonomism”. This current, with significant ideological influence, states that, given the difficulty of fighting against capitalism, its centralized states and the prospect of building a different relationship with nature from power, the way out is to build “non-capitalist islands” of “autonomous self-management”. It is a postmodern theory of coexistence with predatory and polluting capitalism.
• The current of “individual guilt.” The propaganda of polluting corporations and governments fosters a false ideology that focuses the responsibility for the socio-environmental degradation on people and their individual “consumption and life habits.” Thus, the responsibility for the lack of water would be solved “with shorter showers” or by “closing the tap” (not by stopping the absurd and gigantic amount of water used by mega-miners and loggers). Global warming is blamed on the increase of private cars as an “individual responsibility” (not on the lobbies of automakers and oil companies). Replacing everything with bicycles and other variants is the proposed solution. At this point, the currents of “degrowth” have gained influence, proposing “personal austerity” as a strategy. In all cases, they conceal the systemic responsibilities of capitalism.

• Extractivist progressivism. This ideology is the political justification of the so-called “progressive” projects of Latin America, which sustained or are still sustaining the capitalist production matrix based on the appropriation and dispossession of nature with “flagship” modalities such as agribusiness or mega-mining. The Evo Morales-García Linera project in Bolivia, Chavism in Venezuela, Kirchnerism in Argentina and the PT in Brazil, all defend this idea. They insist that maintaining those methods is a necessary stage for the productive development of “backward” countries that need to appropriate part of the extractive income to finance social programs and, in an indeterminate future, leave the current model behind. The orientation implies coexistence with corporations that loot and pollute. Governments and projects of this political spectrum have reinforced that matrix in the last 15 years.
• Left “developmentalism”. We also have debates with Marxist currents that simply advocate workers’ control of production without questioning the advance of capitalism´s destructive forces at this stage. There are branches of capitalist production that have no positive social sense (mega-mining, fracking, agribusiness). Therefore, independently of what social class controls them, they are polluting and harmful per se, without any concrete social benefit. Hence, it is key to break with the “developmentalist” taboo and to consider eliminating them, separating ourselves from the disastrous experience of Stalinist bureaucratic developmentalism in the former USSR. Without direct workers´ democracy in productive planning, a USSR usurped by the ruling clique imposed a logic of production and consumption that was dissociated from real social needs and had tremendous polluting consequences.
Overall, all these currents have one point in common: none of them directly questions the capitalist system as a crucial problem for humanity, since it places the relationship with nature in crisis, as a profit-oriented system of production and consumption that is also expressed in a concentrated state, imperialist and military political power. Additionally, this system builds ideology and ways of thinking for every issue, multiplying them through political, union and media institutions and apparatus.

A Roadmap for the Transition

The global social movement in defense of the planet has enormous potential for change. Our proposal is to promote the widest action of struggle in this perspective, and, at the same time, to develop a tendency within this movement organized by an anti-capitalist, eco-socialist and profoundly internationalist strategy. The ISL, through its national organizations and experiences, like the Ecosocialist Network, has the political objective of organizing the best young activists in such a tendency, also in order to increasingly influence the decisive subject for a post-capitalist transition to a different mode of producing and consuming: the working class and its traditional organizations. Without the working class fighting for power in alliance with other popular sectors that are attacked by polluting capitalism, social, economic and political reorganization on new, socialist but nature-friendly bases, is not possible. For these reasons, we raise a series of programmatic coordinates as our GPS to guide our intervention in this movement:
• For the declaration of an immediate socio-environmental emergency in our countries, addressed to the capitalist governments.
• Transition to clean and renewable energy, based on the expropriation of hydrocarbon industries under workers’ control and a new energy matrix.

• The previous point includes the labor-professional conversion of all workers in the affected industries with a guarantee of salary and labor rights continuity.
• Prohibit fracking, agribusiness, logging, mega-mining and urban cementation for speculative purposes. Productive reconversion based on real social needs, democratically planned with the intervention of the working class.
• A new food model, based on agro-ecological parameters, without transgenics or agrotoxins, to guarantee sufficient, healthy, and accessible food as a social right.
• Extension of rights in public services, starting with state transport under the social control of workers and passengers. Nationalization of all privatized companies, and expansion of their infrastructure.
• More health and public education, based on a strengthening of the state budget and the non-payment of the external debt to the IMF and international financial organizations.
• Distribution of working hours among all available labor. Massive incorporation of technology, not to replace people with machines, but to alleviate the collective workload.
• Elimination of the packaging industry and reduction of waste based on separation at source, recycling and state socio-environmental education at all school levels.
• Prohibition of the capitalist advertising industry that encourages artificial consumption and lies to the population, replacing it with the social right to public information. General democratization of the mass media.
• Activate binding popular consultation mechanisms so that it is the people who decide on any controversy about developing or not developing certain industries that can contaminate. Thoroughly incorporate the precautionary principle of environmental law, which says that “any productive modality that may impact socio-environmentally must be suspended and subject to research and social debate.”
• Budget for environmental remediation and preservation of species, native forests and other common resources and human heritage, based on the expropriation of polluting companies.
• Opening of all borders to climate migration flows.
• Right to self-determination, demilitarization, and recognition of the territorial rights of native peoples.
• For a model of production that opposes capitalist anarchy, whose sole purpose is to accumulate private profits; in favor of democratic planning with the intervention of the working class for the generation of goods and services that respond to the real needs of the majority, and a distribution that guarantees access to all that is required by the majority that works, incorporating socio-environmental sustainability as a parameter.