Climate Crisis - The threat to capital

The irreversible climate catastrophe threatens billions of dollars of capitalism’s assets with sudden redundancy, either being directly damaged by disrupted climates, or brought to a halt by the desperate rearguard actions of state legislators. The climate crisis has now forced itself into existing inter-imperialist struggles, as the owners of capital calculate and react to shift the inevitable losses onto each other. In this competition, they still treat the natural environment as a disposable resource, and the world’s working classes as dupes. JAMES MARTIN and SOMA KISAN report.

 

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Global pollution: lies and deceit of the international bourgeoisie

2023 was the hottest year for 100,000 years, yet December’s UN Climate Conference (COP28) proved to be another foot-dragging exercise in 60 years of wilful obstruction by the imperialist powers and their oil and gas providers to confronting the horrendous global pollution they have created. Their disregard for any consequences, beyond the loss of money wealth for investors, has brought about terrifying consequences for billions, as natural systems collapse all around us. James Martin reports.

 

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Climate crisis: widening the abyss between the rich and the poor

In the run-up to the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP28), the impact of the climate crisis across the world could not be clearer. Last year the average global temperature was 1.32°C above the pre industrial baseline (taken as 13.5°C). One quarter of the global population experienced dangerous levels of extreme heat. In May, the World Meteorological Office reported a 66% chance that the world would exceed the 1.5°C average threshold in the next four years, a grim picture confirmed by the State of Climate Action report in November. This reality is evidenced by another unprecedented year of heatwaves, tornados, disappearing polar ice, shrinking glaciers, historic floods and wildfires.

Main culprit: the rich

Oxfam’s report Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99% (November 2023) makes clearer than ever the stark differences between the rich and poor, who have respectively caused the climate crisis and suffer from its impacts. It states that the super-rich 1%:

  • Were responsible for 16% of global carbon emissions, the same as the emissions of the poorest 66% of humanity (5 billion people) in 2019
  • Burned through twice as much of the carbon budget (the maximum emissions allowed while staying below 1.5°C) as the poorest half of humanity combined since the 1990s
  • Emitted enough emissions to cause 1.3 million excess deaths due to heat in 2019
  • Emit annual global emissions that cancel out carbon savings for almost a million onshore wind turbines
  • Are set to emit 22 times more than the safe limit to stay below 1.5°C in 2030.

Beyond the super-rich 1%, the top 10% of population by income are responsible for 50% of emissions and the following middle 40% responsible for 42%. The poorest 50% of the global population are responsible for just 8% of emissions.

These emissions are divided into two main categories: consumption-based emissions and corporate and investment emissions. For the super-rich 1%, investments can account for between 50% and 70% of their emissions. The proportion increases with the even smaller group of billionaires amongst this 1%. An Oxfam study of 125 of the world’s 2,600 billionaires found that ‘on average, they emit the equivalent of 3 million tonnes of CO2 a year through their investments – over a million times more than someone in the bottom 90% by income’. Importantly, these investments give this 1% an anonymous control over the biggest corporations through stock ownership. In the US, the top 1% own 54% of stocks held by all US citizens; in South Africa, the equivalent figure is over 95%. This unstoppable centralisation process of capital puts just a few individuals in a position to shape the future of the global economy. With this influence, the top 1% make investment decisions that destroy the environment. In the same Oxfam study, only one billionaire had invested in a renewable energy company. Furthermore, the share of billionaire investments in polluting industries was double that of the average investor, demonstrating a murderous disregard for the climate.

Capitalist culture destroys the climate

Politicians around the world whom the greater population depends on to pass laws for emissions reductions are themselves often among the richest in the top 1% group of emitters. Just the salaries for US Senators, European Commissioners, UK Cabinet Ministers and Australian MPs ($174,000; $311,768; $192,038; $146,803 respectively) places them in this top category. This ignores their significant investments in the fossil fuel industry. Members of the US Congress alone own $93m in stocks in fossil fuel industries. With this revolving door between investment and policymaking, it is clear that state emissions policies are simply a stratagem of the capitalist ruling class to maintain profits.

While corporate emissions are staggering, consumption-based emissions are a significant contributor to the total, especially for the middle 40% of the population by income. The top 1% has immense influence on the aspirations of the wider population through marketing and advertising goods and services that generate profit for the corporations they invest in, driving overconsumption and with it carbon emissions. This trend is most clearly demonstrated in transport spending. Across the population, spending on housing, energy, travel and meat accounts for most carbon emissions. Amongst these, household heating and electricity consumption are proportionally similar between high-income and low-income groups, while transportation spending is most differentiated. The largest share of emissions among high-income groups is from personal transportation in pursuit of the lavish lifestyle of luxury cars, yachts and jets, advertised and enjoyed by the 1%.

Inequality exacerbated by climate change

It is well-known that global warming is widening gaps between rich and poor with evidence now showing that economic inequalities between countries are 25% larger than they would have been in a world without global warming. In the last 50 years, 91% of deaths caused by climate-related disasters occurred in developing countries. Furthermore, the devastation wrought by extreme weather depends on the preparations for and responses to each disaster. As FRFI has reported in cases like Pakistan and Libya, ruined by imperialism, it is not just the disaster itself but also the government’s incapacity to plan and respond to it that contributes significantly to the consequent death tolls, displacement and destruction. Oxfam’s study across 573 major flood disasters now proves this: the death toll from floods is seven times higher in the most ‘unequal’ countries compared to the more ‘equal’ ones. Oxfam uses socialist Cuba as an example of one of these ‘equal’ countries, praising its exemplary flood and disaster management policies. These allowed Cuba to save 64 times more lives than the Dominican Republic after the same hurricane hit both countries with the same force in 1998.

Beyond the direct impacts of extreme weather, climate change has led to substantial declines in economic output in hotter, mostly developing countries and increased economic outputs in cooler, mostly developed countries, expanding existing inequalities between countries. Climate change’s impact on future agricultural productivity in Africa is devastating. Average agricultural productivity there is estimated to fall 35% below its potential value due to climate change. Conversely, countries like Canada and Russia have seen their agricultural productivity increase due to the warming climate. Add to this the $10 trillion per year in resources developed countries currently drain from developing countries and the picture becomes dire. Even anticipating this situation, developed countries have failed to meet the $100bn a year target to support climate action in developing countries, which was set in 2009 at COP15. It has reached only $83.3bn of which only $21bn to $24.5bn was aimed specifically at climate action. Even then, $100bn is nothing compared to Oxfam’s estimated $2.7 trillion needed per year for climate action in developing countries between now and 2030, making a total of $18.9 trillion.

Socialism or destruction

Oxfam’s report ends by suggesting a variety of tax schemes as recommendations to build ‘a planet for the 99%’. It recommends that wealthy individuals and rich high-emitting countries must be ‘compelled’ to give up their power and implement a green and just transition. It is unclear however what mechanisms should be used to ‘compel’ these individuals and states to act as recommended.

The much-lauded COP21 Paris Agreement of 2015, which agreed to hold average global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C above the ‘pre industrial’ average, is a voluntary scheme. Countries set their own targets and promises are easy to break. The US-China climate agreement of this November has no definite targets. The EU’s current interim target of at least 55% emission reduction by 2030, is comparable to Britain’s aim to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. Now however, more coal extraction and CO2 emissions are the price the EU is prepared to pay to absorb Ukraine into the EU, as gas prices surged due to EU restrictions on Russian imports. Meanwhile the EU is to allow combustion engine cars to be sold after 2035. In Britain, in July, approval of more annual oil and gas license provision around its coasts retreats from previous policy. In September the Tory government delayed deadlines for the installation of gas boilers and sales of petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles from 2030 to 2035.

In October ExxonMobil bought Pioneer natural resources for $59.5bn, expecting ‘to generate double-digit returns’ by recovering ‘more resource’. In November it began extracting 620,000 barrels of oil per day from its new Guyana field. Brazil is opening its Amazon Coast oil reserves. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, plans to expand its oil and gas production capacity to 5 million barrels per day. Al-Jaber has been cynically appointed president of COP28. With other oil company plans, the world is now set to double its oil production, making it impossible to meet its 2030 net zero goals.

It is clear the only pathway forward for the vast majority of humanity is to fight for socialism, the only system in which a just world designed for the masses can exist.

Soma Kisan and James Martin


FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 297 December 2023/January 2024

 

Capitalism fuels climate crisis

On 27 September the British government granted Norwegian company Equinor and Israeli firm Ithaca Energy permission to develop Rosebank, the UK’s largest untapped oilfield due to produce oil from 2026. Rosebank’s operational emissions alone will exceed Britain’s carbon budget allocated to oil and gas production and will create more carbon emissions than the combined emissions of 28 low-income countries. It has the potential to deliver 500 million barrels of oil which, when burned, would emit further emissions equivalent to running 56 coal-fired power stations for a year. In this, Labour has allied with the Conservative government in climate destruction: had Labour leader Keir Starmer, all but guaranteed to win the next General Election, committed to revoking the drilling licence for Rosebank, it would have no investment to go ahead. Instead, Starmer has effectively given a green light to the project, continuing Labour’s climate-wrecking commitment to maintain any licences granted by the Conservative government.

 

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Libyan floods continued devastation from NATO’s 2011 war

On 10 September 2023, torrential rains, over 410mm in 24 hours, swept over the Libyan city of Derna. The record level of rainfall – Derna typically only receives 274mm in a whole year – caused two ageing dams to collapse and release a further 30 million cubic metres of water into the city. Massive flooding from a combination of these events has destroyed an estimated 25% of the city with death toll estimates of 11,300 and rising, over 10,000 still missing and 34,000 displaced in a city of only 90,000.

 

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Green light for oil exploration in Amazonia

On 21 August the Brazilian government announced plans to expand investment in fossil fuel projects near the mouth of the Amazon River, despite President Lula’s commitments during his election campaign to protect the Amazon rainforest and fight climate change. The investment is planned to be around $69bn.

 

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Maui Fire: a disaster caused by imperialism

On 8 and 9 August wildfires on the Hawaiʻian island of Maui raged through the historic town of Lāhainā, destroying 2,200 buildings. It left at least 115 dead and over 1,000 people missing: it was the deadliest wildfire disaster on US territory for over a century. The scene after the fire resembled ‘the pictures from Dresden from World War II’ after British and US bombers had completely destroyed that city, according to a Hawaiʻian Emergency Management Agency spokesperson.

 

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Ratnagiri activists fight back

In late April activists and villagers in the Ratnagiri District, located on the western coast of India, entered an intense battle with police as they protested against the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical project. This will create the world’s largest petrochemical refinery, threatening this ecologically fragile area’s livelihood and environment.

 

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Climate catastrophe here and now

Climate records have been broken time and again over the summer. With June the hottest month on record, followed by the hottest few days on record in July globally, scientists are warning that worst-case scenario predictions for climate change are already upon us. This is an unprecedented period where many different aspects of the Earth’s climate system are entering abnormal and record-breaking territory at the same time. This is exactly what was predicted if humans did not take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Capitalism continues to burn fossil fuels at unsustainable rates.

 

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Britain's ransacked water industry

On 28 June, Sky News revealed that government ministers and Ofwat, the water industry’s government regulator, have started to hold discussions about the possibility of placing Thames Water into a special administration regime that would effectively take the company into temporary public ownership due to its imminent collapse. This news, following years of raw sewage dumping and debt accumulation, reveals the sordid underbelly of looting and plundering across England’s water industry and is the result of over three decades of privatisation cutting corners and rerouting funds to shareholder dividends.

 

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A mockery: water companies apologise

Pipe discharging dirty fluid into water

On 18 May 2023, Water UK, a body representing water and wastewater companies, released a deplorable apology for raw sewage spills, of which there were over 300,000 in just 2022, on behalf of water and sewage companies in England. The apology came with a commitment to triple investment in sewer modernisation to £10bn but both the apology and investment stink of dishonesty after decades of underinvestment under private ownership.

 

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Indigenous fight back: Anglo American booted out of the Amazon

Alessandra Korap Munduruku (photo: Midia Ninja)

Brazilian indigenous leader Alessandra Korap Munduruku found herself and her community pitted against British mining giant Anglo American in her fight to protect the Amazon rainforest the indigenous Munduruku community inhabits. The Munduruku people inhabit the Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory, a particularly vulnerable region in the northern state Pará in Brazil. It is not formally recognised by the Brazilian government and hence under larger threat from land-destroying mining, logging, and cattle ranching operations. Between 2011 and 2020, 97 mining applications were filed within the territory – the most of any Indigenous territory in the country.

 

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1.5°C could be breached in next five years

By 2027, scientists predict average global temperatures will have breached the crucial 1.5°C threshold. A searing new report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released 17 May 2023 lays out the stark reality: the annual mean global near-surface temperature for each year between 2023 and 2027 is predicted to be between 1.1°C and 1.8°C higher than the pre-industrial average. After three years of La Niña, a phase of a planet-wide oscillating weather system that has a cooling effect on temperatures, the world is set to shift into the opposing El Niño, a phase of heightening temperatures across the Earth. This shift in the weather system combined with climate breakdown is predicted to break all previous global temperature records in the next five years, bringing with it severe heat waves and unprecedented climate devastation. Meanwhile Britain continues down a destructive path, ignoring the most viable renewable energy solutions, investing in untested and unsafe technologies like carbon capture and storage technologies and nuclear energy, and continuing to grant new oil and gas permits.

 

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Deep sea mining: the new frontier of capitalist environmental destruction

Greenpeace protest against deep sea mining (photo: Greenpeace)

In 2022, researchers reported that extreme heat events in the oceans were ‘the new normal’. As the world burns around us and governments fail to meet emissions targets and continue to exploit the remaining reserves of fossil fuels, an ominous new threat is looming away from the eyes of the public. Deep sea mining is capitalism’s new frontier of exploitation. CLAIRE WILKINSON reports.

 

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Record oil profits fuel environmental destruction

In February, the world’s major oil companies announced record profits for 2022, amassing billions of pounds from soaring energy prices in the wake of the sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. This shameless war-profiteering contrasts with the millions of people unable to keep warm over the winter, heat their food or keep the lights on. At the same time, far from using these astronomical surpluses to pursue their much-trumpeted plans to support ‘green energy’ and reduce carbon emissions, the major players have announced vast new investment in fossil fuels and a retrenchment of their ‘environmentally friendly’ plans.

 

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Ohio Rail Disaster - environment and labour catastrophe

On 3 February, the devastating derailment of a 151-car train in East Palestine, Ohio leaked hazardous chemicals into the surrounding air, soil, and water, the latest in a growing list of recent US environmental disasters including the 2014 Flint water crisis in Michigan and BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the official media narrative of a crisis averted and a return to normal life, East Palestine residents continue to experience troubling health symptoms and report horrific effects on surrounding wildlife. The derailment took place on the back of the Biden administration’s decision to break US rail strikes in December 2022; the denial of rail workers’ demands is a direct cause of the disaster Ohio residents face now. DAVID HETFIELD and SOMA KISAN report.

 

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Carbon offsetting as green imperialism

As global temperatures continue to break records, with Europe recently experiencing summer temperatures of up to 19.6C on its hottest recorded New Year’s Day ever, the ruling class continues to depend on sham mechanisms of reducing carbon to address the climate crisis. FRFI has previously reported on how carbon markets are being manipulated to generate more profit, giving corporations licence to purchase carbon credits yet continue spewing pollution with no limits,* contrary to their professed impact. A common carbon market manipulation corporations use for this purpose is carbon offsetting, a mechanism that is now being used to expropriate lands from indigenous populations.

 

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Agricultural profits over river health

Tractor and river

In England, every single river, lake or canal is of poor ecological and chemical health. Private water companies and industrial agriculture continue to dump raw sewage and toxic fertilisers into our water systems. Despite this, the Environment Agency’s plans to clean up waterways have been pushed back to 2063.

 

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COP27 The death of 1.5C

A year on from COP26 in Glasgow, COP27, the UN’s 27th conference on climate change, took place in Egypt from 6 to 18 November 2022. During the intervening period, a further 40bn tonnes of carbon dioxide have spewed into the atmosphere with a host of climate disasters in fresh memory: horrific floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, crop-destroying droughts in East Africa, and unprecedented heatwaves in China, the Arctic, India and Northern America. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has reported extensively on the failure of past COPs in addressing the climate crisis, revealing them as greenwashing stunts.* Greta Thunberg, who regarded last year’s COP26 as several bouts of ‘blah blah blah’, did not even bother to attend COP27, declaring it a forum for ‘greenwashing’, not a place where system change could happen. Confirming her views, COP27 pushed humanity a further step towards irrevocable climate destruction. SOMA KISAN reports.

 

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COP27: the death of 1.5C

COP27 demonstration in Edinburgh

A year on from COP26 in Glasgow, COP27, the UN’s 27th conference on climate change, took place in Egypt from 6 to 18 November 2022. During the intervening period, a further 40bn tonnes of carbon dioxide have spewed into the atmosphere with a host of climate disasters in fresh memory: horrific floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, crop-destroying droughts in East Africa, and unprecedented heatwaves in China, the Arctic, India and Northern America. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has reported extensively on the failure of past COPs in addressing the climate crisis, revealing them as greenwashing stunts.* Greta Thunberg, who regarded last year’s COP26 as several bouts of ‘blah blah blah’, did not even bother to attend COP27, declaring it a forum for ‘greenwashing’, not a place where system change could happen. Confirming her views, COP27 pushed humanity a further step towards irrevocable climate destruction. SOMA KISAN reports.

 

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Only socialism can solve the climate crisis

Capitalism is extinction, socialism is survival: the climate crisis – no solution under capitalism’, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, Larkin Publications, 2022, 104p, £3.95.

Record temperatures were recorded in heatwaves across Europe this summer: thousands of people were killed and wildfires burned through tens of thousands of hectares of land. Global warming is melting glaciers and forcing sea levels to rise: as we go to press one third of Pakistan remains underwater, over 750,000 livestock are dead across the country and millions of people remain homeless and at risk of disease. Climate change, fuelled by the burning of fossil fuels and to a lesser extent deforestation for agriculture, urbanisation and industry, is accelerating. In July the British oil multinational Shell plc broke its own profit record for the second consecutive quarter. Banks are continuing to funnel billions of dollars into the fossil fuel industry – the big five British banks (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest and Standard Chartered) invested $190bn between 2018 and 2020 alone.

 

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Only socialism can save the environment

Earth Strike North of the River protest

Record temperatures were recorded in heatwaves across Europe this summer: thousands of people were killed and wildfires burned through tens of thousands of hectares of land. Global warming is melting glaciers and forcing sea levels to rise: as we go to press one third of Pakistan remains underwater, over 750,000 livestock are dead across the country and millions of people remain homeless and at risk of disease. Climate change, fuelled by the burning of fossil fuels and to a lesser extent deforestation for agriculture, urbanisation and industry, is accelerating. In July the British oil multinational Shell plc broke its own profit record for the second consecutive quarter. Banks are continuing to funnel billions of dollars into the fossil fuel industry – the big five British banks (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest and Standard Chartered) invested $190bn between 2018 and 2020 alone.

 

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Berta Caceres: fighter for environmental justice

Who killed Berta Caceres?, Nina Lakhani, Verso Books, 2020, 336pp, £19 hardback.

Berta Caceres was a political activist who was murdered at her home in 2015 by gunmen paid by representatives of the Agua Zarca dam development taking place on Lenca land. The Lenca are an indigenous people mainly living in modern-day Honduras. Lenca herself, Caceres gave her life to the struggle for indigenous people’s rights. Her political biography has been covered in many essays and obituaries. What this book adds to those inspired by her example is the economic and political context of her life, written by investigative journalist Nina Lakhani.

 

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Poisoning the water

In mid-August, several beaches across England and Wales received pollution warnings after heavy rainfall overwhelmed sewerage systems, requiring the discharge of untreated sewage into the sea. Water companies such as Southern Water claim these discharges are required to protect homes and businesses but these events continue to occur after years of illegal raw sewage dumping and clamour to fix Britain’s water infrastructure. Despite the disgust demonstrated by both British citizens and England’s neighbouring countries, the Conservative government has done nothing to hold the private water companies accountable to health and environmental standards, and instead has actively worked make life easier for the polluting and profiteering companies.

 

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The Climate Crisis: no solution under capitalism

The RCG’s new pamphlet on the environment will shortly be available – Capitalism is extinction, socialism is survival: the climate crisis – no solution under capitalism. It comes as scientists warn that the world is tipping towards a climate catastrophe and more and more people are recognising that the current model of production, with its drive for profits, its reliance on fossil fuels and its sheer indifference to the fate of the planet and humanity, is unsustainable. As its title makes clear, this pamphlet, which will be published in September, argues that the problem is capitalism itself.

 

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Heatwaves warn of catastrophic future

On Tuesday 19 July, the record for the daily maximum temperature in Britain was smashed by 1.6°C, reaching a scorching 40.3°C in Coningsby, Lincolnshire. Heatwaves that were once in the realm of extreme statistical anomaly are set to become regular occurrences due to climate change. These heatwaves, along with other climate and weather-related disasters – storms, floods, extreme cold, downpours and droughts – are becoming more frequent year-on-year on a planet suffering unmitigated, capitalism-induced climate change.

 

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Britain continues to wreak environmental havoc

FRFI supporters on a protest for the environment (photo: FRFI)

On 7 April Boris Johnson unveiled the British energy security strategy. It comes on the tail of the IPCC’s most recently released report on climate change’s projected impacts, which urges immediate and dramatic action as the world races towards climate devastation and ecological collapse. The government’s energy strategy focuses on showy and expensive technologies, as opposed to quickly deployable renewable technologies and housing retrofit strategies. There are no additional consumption reduction measure proposed or budgets offered: a major capitalist country like Britain cannot allow fetters on its ability to accumulate capital. Instead it will seek new energy sources that will continue to wreak havoc on the environment and catapult the planet towards destruction.

 

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Eye-witness account from Just Stop Oil action

Just Stop Oil activists occupy Nustar Clydebank oil terminal (photo: Just Stop Oil/Twitter)

The Just Stop Oil (JSO) campaign was launched in early 2022 and describes itself as ‘a coalition of groups working together to ensure the government commits to halting new fossil fuel licensing and production’. LINDA YATES, one of the many people who have taken action with JSO, has written this account for FRFI.

 

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In defence of socialism, past, present and future

Soviet ecological propaganda posters

Socialist States and the Environment: Lessons for Ecosocialist Futures by Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, Pluto Press, 2021 288 pages £15.39 

Engel-Di Mauro sets out to prove his thesis that socialist states are far less damaging to the environment than capitalist states. He argues as a scientist, being a soil analyst by profession, but also as a Marxist. Consequently, this publication has 29 clear and verifiable graphs recording data on carbon, methane and particulate emissions that no reader will find difficult to follow. What is innovative is that these graphs are related to socio-economic systems as well as raw data. He classifies three types: capitalist, socialist government and state socialist. He refines these to include core capitalist, capitalist semi-periphery, socialist government semi-periphery and state socialist semi-periphery. Using these categories Engel-Di Mauro’s intention is to illustrate the relations between political systems and their pollution output, while taking into account the linkage between core and periphery which is, in essence, the transfer of pollutant activity from the imperialist to the dependent countries.

 

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Capitalist greed, working class hunger

A food bank in Hull (photo: Gary Calton)

Six months after England’s National Food Strategy (NFS) was published, food insecurity in Britain is growing. The Strategy – the result of more than two years of government meetings with industry leaders and academics – was intended to provide a basis for the government to address food and hunger targets for the UK food system. In the six months since its publication, the Food Foundation found that food insecurity in Britain increased to affect nearly 11% of the population, including 2.5 million children. Alongside record levels of poverty and hunger go record profits. The Trussell Trust reports food bank use is up 123% in the last five years, yet the supermarket Sainsbury’s can gloat over profits predicted to be £720m in the last year. The UK’s food poverty rate is among the highest in Europe, despite Britain being the sixth richest country on the planet. This is the reality of production under capitalism.

 

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