Only a radical programme can now stop climate change from impacting dramatically, disastrously, on our world. No such programme will be on the table at the G8 Summit, from any of the governments, even from those like the Blair government who claim to take a lead on cutting “greenhouse gas emissions”.
Socialism is about the creative participation of the mass of the people in political and economic life, and lasting solutions to climate change and other ecological problems can only come out of rich, democratic discussion. That said, there are at least four major areas in which socialism could change things for the better.
The ecological crisis is inseparable from social inequality within and between countries. Socialism would radically reduce, and ultimately end, this inequality.
Then, because socialism would break the power of the big corporations and bring them under democratic public ownership, there would no longer be powerful vested interests to prevent measures to redress environmental degradation.
Resources could immediately be put to transforming industry, including in the “Third World”, into more environment-friendly forms. The empowerment of people who have suffered, or are worried about, environmental dangers, would mean greater public knowledge of what needs to be done, and where.
Alternative forms of energy which produce fewer or no greenhouse gases could be developed regardless of their immediate profitability. A socialist society still needs to produce a surplus, but this would not take the form of private profit. For the first time it would be possible to weigh up the pros and cons of different choices in the knowledge that once a choice is made, real action can be taken.
An end to military spending, made possible by democratic relations between nations and breaking the power of the arms manufacturers would free resources to do many things, along with ending inequality: irrigate the deserts, replenish the rainforests, etc.
None of this can it be achieved without a serious conflict with the world’s current power structures. Those structures, both political and economic, are extremely strong, and won’t relinquish power without a struggle. The big powers won’t be persuaded to bring about vital ecological change, still less to hand power over to the majority of the world’s people. They will be have to be defeated, overthrown, by mass, popular action. It is a daunting task, but a necessary one.
An urgent one, too. Every decade that passes without a socialist movement which can fundamentally change the world means greater and greater environmental degradation. Of course, reforms, agreements, new developments and new technologies can slow down the process of decay. But we don’t have forever. The more people who can commit themselves to building a socialist movement, and the faster masses of people across the globe are convinced of its necessity, the less damaged will be the world that a socialist society will inherit.
One of the things the international ruling class most heavily depends upon for its power is the sense of weakness, even apathy, among those they exploit and oppress. Their success in persuading us that a different, equitable, democratic organisation of international society is impossible is an example of this.
But as the poet Shelley put it, “we are many, they are few.” Everything which gives those currently without power a sense of their own strength, which rouses the masses, the world’s poor, the working-class movement, to action, to the belief that something can indeed be done, brings us closer to saving the world.