Almost all the main parties say they think climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity and that something must be done about it. Yet in the election television debates climate change was largely ignored by politicians of all stripes, never mind by media hacks and commentators.
There are real differences on the issue, given edge by the run up to the Paris climate talks in December.
The Tories boast in their manifesto that theirs has been “the greenest government ever”, which would be laughable if the issue were less important. Blue and yellow have not made green over the last five years, but rather a polluted brown excrescence.
The Tories set up the world’s first Green Investment Bank, forgetting that it can’t borrow much money and so can’t fund substantial infrastructure projects. They take credit for signing a deal to build the first new nuclear plant in a generation, neglecting to mention the price tag they agreed with Franco-Chinese state energy firms. They claim to have trebled renewable energy generation, yet propose a local veto for onshore wind farms.
The Tories boast of bringing energy efficiency measures to over one million homes, yet their Green Deal has barely scratched the surface for insulating fuel poor housing. They say they’ve commited £1 billion for carbon capture and storage, but that money and more was pledged by the last Labour government — and the technology has not yet been developed.
The Tories say they will continue to support the UK Climate Change Act and press for a global deal, while they harbour some of the highest-profile climate sceptics and sacked almost all the civil servants dealing with adaptation. Their government included an environment minister whose denialism meant his office was dubbed the Department Evading Flood Risk Assessments. The Tories promise to “cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible”, meaning they will carry on leaving climate change to the market and permit capitalist production to trash the planet.
Of course the Tories are coveting UKIP supporters and may yet rely on a handful of UKIP MPs to form a government. UKIP’s manifesto claims that the Climate Change Act “is doing untold damage. UKIP will repeal it”. They agree on opposition to wind farms and support for fracking — so climate change will not be an obstacle to a blue-purple agreement.
The Liberal Democrats appear to take climate change more seriously, yet they are on the same page ideologically. Their manifesto promised to establish a “Natural Capital Committee”, no doubt to continue the commodification and marketisation of the environment so business can profit from it. They also keep the door open for airport expansion, no doubt with bogus offsets and market traded permits.
Labour at least took some climate steps when it was in government. Miliband helped bring in the Climate Change Act and tried to negotiate a global agreement at Copenhagen.
However Labour also remained within the market-oriented paradigm of “market failure” and failed abysmally over the Vestas occupation, when it could have established a publicly-owned wind turbine manufacturing industry.
It toyed with giving legal rights to trade union environment reps, but declined so as not to upset business.
The Green Party’s manifesto is remarkable for how little of substance it has to say on climate change, other than some stricter targets, and for its demand to exclude trade unions from politics by way of state funded parties. And the SNP boasts about the Scottish government’s brilliant climate policies, despite having missed its emissions targets for the past three years. Neither promotes a radical alternative to market-oriented climate politics.
In short, climate change has not been an issue in the election because capitalism, the system that causes climate change and which drives humanity ever-closer to the precipice, has not be challenged successfully. Yet there are hundreds of anti-fracking groups springing up wherever fossil fuel profiteers start drilling. On campuses and among climate campaigners there is a renewed activity and real vigour to tackle climate change all the way down.
Socialists have an enormous contribution to make to this movement. Our political economy addresses the social causes of climate change and the impacts on working class people. Classes and class struggle tie together structure and agency in social relations and in politics. Most significantly our analysis places workers at the centre of any renewed climate movement. Our understanding of the nature of capitalist states and of international relations means we have a clear idea of who the main enemies are and where important allies can be found.
Socialist politics means we know how to formulate demands, build united fronts and take on the powers that be. Our tradition of workers’ self-activity is crucial to stopping further climate damage and to establish new socialist relations of production that will ensure a sustainable future.
Our experience of campaigning from green bans to the Vestas occupation means we bring valuable strategy and tactics that can turn the tide.