- Created: Tuesday, 29 August 2017 11:10
- Written by Brian Henry
‘Every particular mode of production has its own special laws of population, which are historically valid within that particular sphere. An abstract law of population exists only for plants and animals and even then only in the absence of any historical intervention by man’ – Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 25, pp783-784
‘You don’t need to be a scientist to know what’s causing the sixth mass extinction,’ began Professor Paul R Ehrlich in a Guardian article on 11 July. Given the ‘developed’ imperialist world’s throwaway consumerism and the well-documented destruction of the environment by multinational corporations, it should indeed be fairly obvious. Ehrlich however names one main culprit: population growth. His solution? Some unspecified form of ‘humane’ population reduction. Apparently the reason you don’t need to be a scientist is because the pseudo-science of eugenics suffices. Ehrlich must be refuted with science – the science of Marxism. It is capitalism’s need for infinite economic growth that is destroying life on earth. Barnaby Philips reports.
Professor Richard Levins died one year ago on the 19 January 2016, aged 85. Levins was a renowned dialectical materialist, Marxist biologist and political activist. He spent 40 years working at Harvard University where he was John Rock Professor of Population Sciences at T H Chan School of Popular sciences. He was renowned for his specialisation in ecology.
Climate talks collapse as thousands die in man-made floods, drought and forest fires
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 158 – December 2000/January 2001
‘It is no longer a question of whether the earth's climate will change but rather when, where and by how much.'
The world is getting warmer and the consequences are already showing. In mid-November, 180 governments met in The Hague, Holland under serious pressure to act. Yet despite the recognition that a severe crisis is imminent, the polluting nations, led by the United states, refused to cut carbon emissions and the talks collapsed. Meanwhile, time is running out for planet earth.
“An important biological species – humankind – is at risk of disappearing, due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat. We are becoming aware of this problem when it is almost too late to prevent it. It must be said that consumer societies – the offspring of imperial policies – are chiefly responsible for this appalling environmental destruction.” – Fidel Castro, Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992
A new climate change report has warned that humanity is heading towards extinction by ecocide if the required action to slash carbon dioxide emissions isn’t taken immediately. Drawing on a number of studies, How Climate Change is Tearing the Planet Apart,1 by Will Denayer for Flashback Economics, states that ‘we are currently experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events’.
A new study has revealed that over four billion people – two-thirds of the world’s population – live with severe water scarcity for a total of at least one month over the course of each year. The crisis is far worse than previously thought, with 500 million people living in places where water consumption is double the amount annually replenished by rain.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 125 - June/July 1995
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has produced this pull-out feature because we recognise the importance of the struggles for social and environmental justice that are taking place in many parts of Britain. People are protesting against the endless encroachments of the car; against the methods and effects of intensive agriculture; the criminalisation of youth culture and protest itself. Through this supplement we support and give a voice to those struggles. We identify the enemies of this movement and answer their slurs.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 90 - October 1989
Fight for the forest. Chico Mendes in his own words, Latin America Bureau, £2.95, 96pp.
At 5.45pm on Thursday 22 December 1988, Chico Mendes was assassinated in the doorway of his home in Xapuri, Acre, north west Brazil.
Chico Mendes was President of the Xapuri Rural Workers Union, member of the National Council of Rubber Tappers, member of the national council of the Trade Union Congress (CUT), an activist in the Workers' Party (PT), and commit-ted to the defence of the Amazonian eco-system. At the time of his death he was 44 and married with two young children. Fight for the forest is the last major inter-view given by Chico Mendes just weeks before his death.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 90 - October 1989
This article continues FRFI's discussion of the rise of environmentalism and the attitude of socialists to this. ALWYN TURNER raises some of the fundamental questions which the left must deal with. For this reason we are pleased to publish it, although FRFI does not share all of the views expressed.
The seemingly irresistible rise of environmentalism both in Britain and elsewhere, concretised by the Green performance in the European Community elections in June, has thrown all established political organisations into some confusion. The issues themselves are nothing new - ecology has been moving to the forefront of radical politics for two decades - but the last year has seen them gain a new urgency. For many on the Left, the emergence of a radical party to the left of Labour that is capable of gaining a mass vote has offered a temptation to jump the green bandwagon alongside the Tories, the Labour policy reviewers, even the National Front (who now have their own 'ecological' group, Greenwave). Despite all the talk of a new agenda based on green socialism, however, there remains a fundamental and irreconcilable difference of philosophy between ecology and socialism.
‘All progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the labourer.’ Karl Marx, Capital: Volume 1
Much analysis of the most recent flooding in Britain – although you won’t hear any of it from the government – has centred on the effects of climate change. And not before time. Long-ignored climate experts have warned for the past quarter of a century that Britain would see more high winds, higher temperatures, dramatic variations in rainfall, and more flash flooding. Indeed, the Met Office confirmed that it was both the wettest and warmest December on record with 351mm of rainfall and temperatures 2.7C above average. A recent study published by Oxford University found that global warming made the floods caused by Storm Desmond 40% more likely.
Britain’s increasing vulnerability to extreme weather was exposed in December after Storm Desmond inflicted havoc and misery on tens of thousands of people. Barnaby Phillips reports.
Records in rainfall and river levels culminated in the flooding of more than 16,000 properties in England alone. Many were devastated. Cumbria, parts of Lancashire and the Scottish Borders were the worst affected areas while severe downpours and flooding also hit Northumberland, north Wales and Yorkshire. In Ireland, the worst hit areas were in the Shannon River Basin in the west and Irish midlands. Two people lost their lives, in Cumbria and the Republic of Ireland. In the North Yorkshire village of Newton-on-Ouse, fire-fighters rescued 26 school children by boat from a bus that began to fill with water after being swept off the road. Damage to roads, bridges and buildings will cost millions of pounds and take months to repair.
On 13 December 2015 world leaders claimed to have reached a vital and historic deal at the Paris Climate Conference after 195 countries agreed to on-paper commitments to limit potentially catastrophic global warming. In reality, their vainglorious self-congratulation masks a fraud amounting to world-historic crimes against humanity, with the indigenous peoples of the world once again suffering the most from capital’s predatory self-interest. The unexpected headline aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade is absurdist hype of the highest order, designed only to burnish the legacies of French and US Presidents François Hollande and Barack Obama. Not only has the first degree already been exceeded, the deal is only legally binding in part and does not kick in until 2020. Vague commitments by rich countries to reach peak emissions by 2030 expose this fantasy figure entirely. The UN’s own research suggests we are on course to emit enough carbon to make a 1.5C rise certain in as little as six years and the dreaded 2C in the next 17-33 years. Even if the pledges made in Paris are fulfilled against all odds, they would only limit global warming to a still disastrous 2.7 degrees. But even that is starting to sound like an outlandish best-case scenario. While claims about the ‘end of the fossil fuel era’ come from the mouths of media pundits who are at best self-deluded, the deal’s final draft does not even mention the words ‘fossil fuel’, ‘oil’ or ‘coal’ – thanks to successful lobbying from private industry which leading governments refuse to tame. On day one of the talks, Australia, one of the world's biggest polluters, refused to commit to reducing fossil fuel subsidies. At least they were honest.
Cheating and fraud have become an increasingly prevalent feature of capitalism in deep crisis, so it will have come as little surprise to readers of FRFI when German automotive giant Volkswagen (VW) was exposed in September to be using special software in its cars to cheat nitrogen oxide emissions tests. These ‘defeat devices’ were fitted to vehicles to keep costs low, and performance high, whilst appearing to comply with environmental legislation. VW, like other corporations, is fighting for market share in a deepening crisis of capitalism. Subsequent revelations about other companies across the automotive industry also cheating in emissions tests revealed the truth of the words of an anonymous investment banker on a secret banking chatroom for the coordination of market manipulation: ‘if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying’.
The VW scandal
In 2014 the irregularity of VW emissions became apparent to researchers at the University West of Virginia who informed US authorities. In May 2015 the California Air Resource Board (CARB) undertook tests and then informed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On 3 September, VW admitted to EPA and CARB that it had installed software to deliberately understate emissions in its vehicles. The EPA and CARB waited until 18 September before going public, coinciding with VW’s launch of its latest vehicle at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.
In a demonstration of capitalism’s incapacity to act beyond its vested interests – even with humanity itself at stake – the world’s biggest oil conglomerate, Exxon Mobil, has been exposed as having concealed proof from its own scientists that climate change was real and manmade since 1978.
Two investigations, one from the Pulitzer prize-winning website Inside Climate News and another from the Columbia Journalism School, both found that Exxon ignored warnings from its own scientists. Instead it used the information to buy oil leases in the areas where it knew ice would melt and waged a global marketing campaign to promote climate change denial.
Governments from 196 nations met at the Paris Climate Conference (COP) that began on 30 November with the urgent need to commit to global emissions reductions over the next decade and beyond. Climate scientists warn, unequivocally, that the global temperature must not exceed a rise of more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels to avoid irreversible ecological catastrophe. With 2015 set to be the hottest year on record, the planet is already more than halfway there. Despite over 20 years of alarm, negotiation and debate, projections based on current emissions put the Earth joyriding towards a rise of six degrees by the end of the century – a similar difference to that between today’s world and the last ice age. World leaders insist Paris will succeed where the debacles of Kyoto and Copenhagen failed. Barny Phillips reports.
Following large scale public opposition to planned fracking - the extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing - at two sites in Lancashire at the start of the year, approved by the Environment Agency, Lancashire County Council rejected planning permission in June. The council was responsible for giving the final stage of approval required for Cuadrilla, Britain’s biggest fracking firm, to begin mining at the sites of Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. These would be the first commercial fracking projects in Britain. As was to be expected, Cuadrilla immediately launched an appeal, showing complete disregard for public opinion. The appeal process is expected to take at least 16 months.
The European Union (EU) set three objectives for 2020 known as the 20-20-20. This PR gimmick promises a 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, a raise in the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20%, and a 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency. No commitment was made however to reduce its role in the unnecessary global trade web of food products. An analysis of the Britain’s food trade with other EU nations highlights the utter disregard for the planet by capitalists, particularly those of imperialist countries. While the concept of ‘food miles’ is widely discredited as being too simplistic to be useful for determining environmental damage through greenhouse gas emissions, the figures of imports and exports, between countries for the purpose of food as a commodity, indicate an unnecessary and destructive trade web – rational only under the anarchic logic of capitalism.
For Royal Dutch Shell, the melting of ice sheets in the Arctic seas, driven by man-made climate change, is just another opportunity to be exploited. The company has lucrative plans to drill in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea this summer.
The US government has given the go ahead for Shell to resume exploratory Arctic drilling operations for the first time since 2012 when its tow boat lost control of the ‘Kulluk’ rig due to a failure of the towing equipment, threatening an oil spill. The rig settled off the shore of an uninhabited Alaskan island. The incident happened as the rig was being removed at the end of the drilling season. An incident similar to BP's Deep Water Horizon disaster would be much more catastrophic in the Arctic if it could not be stopped before the close of the season when the sea refreezes.
Fossil fuels are becoming increasingly difficult to access both in terms of technical requirements and cost as well as politically. Nations are competing for access to resources, and the trail of destruction left by imperialist intervention in North Africa and the Middle East has caused political instability. The European imperialists are desperate for new energy sources for themselves in an attempt to navigate this global energy crisis.
Following two separate oil pipeline leaks in 2008 and 2009 which damaged farmland and fisheries in the Niger Delta region, Royal Dutch Shell has made an out-of-court settlement to avoid an embarrassing High Court case in London. The Bodo community of Nigeria agreed unanimously to Shell’s offer of £55m, split into £35m for affected individuals and £20m for the community. They had previously rejected an offer of £30m made in 2014. The £55m payout is believed to be the largest compensation payment ever made to an African community following environmental damage. This is a victory for the community but the sum pales into insignificance when compared to Shell’s latest published profits – for the third quarter of 2014 they were $5.3 billion (on a current cost of supplies basis). If this case had gone to court in May it would have been the first case to be heard in Britain against the Anglo-Dutch oil giant.
This changes everything: capitalism vs the climate
Naomi Klein, Allen Lane 2014, 566pp, £20
The scientific consensus is clear and was restated at the start of November 2014 in a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: there is a ‘real and present threat to life and land’. If the world does not get carbon emissions under control to limit global warming to 2°C by 2017, our fossil fuel economy will ‘lock in’ extremely dangerous warming (p17). Without new constraints on fossil fuel emissions the earth is set to heat up by 4°C by the century’s end. In the words of earth scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, ‘the difference between two and four degrees is human civilisation’. We know what this means: war, famine, the fight over access to water, the privatisation of resources, and the military defence of privileges. Today there can be no doubt that the tragedies of Hurricane Sandy and the Haiyan Typhoon await all of us, in addition to the steady pollution of water and air, the economic destruction of communities, farmland and settlements by the invasion of big monopoly companies with giant machinery and accompanying shanty towns of itinerant workers in search of employment in the extractive industries.
The British ruling class are attempting to improve energy security in a world increasingly characterised by conflicts over energy and other resources. Once again the government is attempting to bribe local communities in the north of England into accepting hydraulic fracturing, the highly unpopular and environmentally damaging gas extraction method commonly known as fracking.
By world standards, the bad weather which has hit Britain since December might not seem to be of enormous significance. Around 6,000 properties have been flooded, while in countries like Bangladesh, where much of the country lies underwater during the Monsoon, more than 100 people died in the floods of 2012. But what the floods exposed was the futility and deceit of the local and national government bodies. With the most deprived parts of England three times more vulnerable to flooding than the richest, this winter’s crisis was mainly ignored until, as one observer put it, ‘the effluent hit the affluent’. Meanwhile it sends all of us a warning about the threat of major climate change.
FRFI supporters in Manchester have been following the emerging campaigns against fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in North West England, which recently have centred on Barton Moss, near Salford. Fracking is a threat to the health and welfare of the local community at a time of savage cuts to social spending, as well as high local rates of poverty. And yet the local Labour council has given the go-ahead for the Igas company to carry out 'exploratory' drilling at a depth of up to 3,000m. We have attended three demonstrations and witnessed the mounting police violence. Martin Harrison reports.
On 11 March 2011 a massive 9.0 earthquake off north-eastern Japan and a subsequent tsunami triggered the worst nuclear power disaster since Chernobyl in the Soviet Union in 1986. This could not have come at a worse time for politicians and the nuclear industry who were set to launch a massive nuclear power station building programme.
Three out of six reactors were operating at the Fukushima nuclear plant at the time of the earthquake. These shut down automatically. However, the 10-metre tsunami breached the defensive wall, destroying power lines to the plant and emergency generators, leaving back-up batteries with an eight-hour life to pump cooling water over the nuclear material. When they failed, the fuel heated up, causing a build-up of gas which led to several explosions and fires, destroying the roofs of two buildings and releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere. Partial meltdown of at least two reactor cores is likely.
‘It is necessary to point out that the consumer societies are those fundamentally responsible for the atrocious destruction of the environment... A just international economic order must be applied. Pay the ecological debt instead of the foreign debt. Eradicate hunger and not humanity... Tomorrow will be too late for what we should have done a long time ago.’
Fidel Castro at the Rio Earth Summit 1992
Seventeen years after Fidel Castro spoke those words, the imperialists have largely forgone outright denial of the science of climate change, instead preferring economics to justify doing very little to halt the process. DAVID HETFIELD reports.
In August 1998, Dr Arpad Pusztai, an expert on genetic modification (GM), gave an interview to World in Action. Pusztai worked for the reputable Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen. His experiments, feeding genetically-modified potatoes to rats, had shown alarming changes in the rats' major organs, shrinkage of brains and compromised immune systems. Pusztai suggested that the general public are being used as guinea pigs in a vast experiment with food. Three days later he was suspended and denied access to his research results. Everyone pretended that Pusztai was simply a maverick.
After a merry chase through English parliamentary procedure, hunting with dogs was finally banned by Act of Parliament on 18 November. Prime Minister Blair tried a final decoy to delay the ban until after the general election (he will need their votes), but with no luck. The horn has been sounded Tally-ho! The hunters are pledged to disrupt the nation, the general election and all things foreign (ie urban) until they get their way and are able to pursue small animals across the countryside and tear them to pieces for pleasure once more (more endearing are their badges enscribed ‘Bollocks to Blair’).
But contrary to Countryside Alliance and pro-hunting claims, according to a Mori Poll published in The Guardian on 18 December 2001, 83% of people in the UK think hunting is cruel, unnecessary or unacceptable. In a Gallup poll for the Daily Telegraph in 1997, 77% of rural dwellers disapproved of fox hunting.
The deaths caused by cars in Britain since 1945 outnumber the deaths of British soldiers during the Second World War. The annual carnage on Britain’s roads is equivalent to 30 commercial aircraft crashes. Motor vehicle traffic accidents account for nearly half of all accidental injury fatalities in children in Britain. Children from the most disadvantaged families, with inadequate play facilities and more traffic exposure, are five times as likely to be killed on the roads. Each month 268 children die or are seriously hurt in road traffic accidents. Each week six under 18-year-olds die. Each day in Britain, on average nine people are killed and over 100 are seriously injured. In 2001, road traffic accident casualties in Britain were 313,309 of whom 3,450 were killed and 37,110 seriously injured. The media underplays these dangers and directs us to concentrate on specific tragedies (for example, the Paddington rail crash, 31 killed) or to exaggerate other dangers to children (the average number of children abducted or killed by strangers per year in Britain is seven).
In a world dominated by imperialism, the needs of the ruling class are not only always put before those of the mass of the people, but also before the needs of the environment. Any attempt to alleviate climate change or global warming by the G8 or the EU or any other amalgam of imperialist powers needs to be seen in this context. LOUIS BREHONY reports.
On 26 December 2004, a huge earthquake off the northern coast of Sumatra triggered one of the most powerful tsunamis in living memory. Within 15 minutes, it had swept nearly 220,000 people to their deaths in the north Sumatran province of Aceh. Half an hour later, 8,000 died on the coast of Thailand around the tourist resort of Phuket. Within a further hour, another 10,000 had died along the coast of eastern India, and more than 30,000 in Sri Lanka. The scale of destruction was massive: the city of Banda Aceh, with a population of 400,000, was almost completely destroyed, one in seven of its population dead. 4,000 miles away, tsunami waves hit the coast of eastern Africa, leaving 150 more dead. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.
• The US has promised $350m in aid. The cost of a F-22 Raptor fighter jet is $225m. The total cost to date of the US war on Iraq is $148bn, a daily rate of $270m, or three-quarters of promised tsunami aid.
• Britain’s promised aid has now risen to £200m. This compares to the £1bn military aid it gave to Indonesia to buy Hawk jet fighters.
• The $4bn promised by the international community in emergency aid compares to
the $44bn spent on debt repayments last year by Thailand, Indonesia and India.