Ecological Socialism and Climate Change
At first glance, climate change is caused by over 5,000 years of agricultural and industrial development (before any development of capitalism). But today, agriculture and industry exist within capitalism which, as we know, relies on private investments competing to “maximise profits”. Such competition traps humanity into relying on fossil fuels and this could well be our final undoing. Socialism is a route out of fossil fuels, out of overpopulation and away from global warming.
Capitalism – the Problem
The cheapest and most efficient (and therefore productive) source of energy is fossil fuel – by far. Under capitalism, alternative energies are therefore easily out-competed. Without subsidies, renewables cannot deliver the profits capitalists demand. With suitable laws and trading agreements patched together by capitalist State entities, fossil capitalists obtain vast profits well beyond what can be gained from decentralised renewable energies. Prioritising profits in annual reports encourages investors to ignore long term costs, ignore possible catastrophic outcomes for nations across the globe and to ignore existential risks to future generations.
Capitalists are enamoured with fossil fuels because, unlike renewables, fossil fuel resources exist at certain sites and can be monopolised and their massive investments are already located there. Global oil and gas companies, with their influence, have locked us into a carbon economy and are accumulating privately around $A100 billion a year in profits from the public sphere. Capitalist profit making therefore blocks sustainability. Thousands of solar panels on roofs are more democratic and supply electricity more competitively than single oil refineries owned by cartels.
There are additional capitalist tendencies that worsen matters. Once a capitalist has obtained a favourable commercial position based on gas, coal or oil, they typically ensure their position is protected through anti-competitive mechanisms such as patents, licences, contracts and etc. These practices ensure there is no free market mechanism by itself which can withdraw fossil fuels from the economy even though this is needed to decarbonise our life-style and protect future generations. Quite the opposite – to prop-up profits using existing capital infrastructure and to avoid stranded assets, capitalists will search desperately for new fossil fuels (shale oil, tar sands, fracking, Antarctica) lest some other competitor gets there first.
To maintain profits, capitalists must increase productivity continuously from one business cycle to the next. They must deal also with a structural tendency for the rate of profit to fall and, in their lucre loving eyes, fossil fuels are a cheapest or a quick and dirty means of countering this tendency. Consequently, based on commercial considerations, there are only two options for countering climate change – either we regulate the commercial practices of capitalism sufficiently to exclude fossil fuels, or we develop an alternative economic strategy; one not based on private profit-seeking to the detriment of the public interest.
However, attempts to regulate capitalism must fail because the alienation required to be a capitalist – a psychopathic dismissal of rights of others – ensures that combinations of capitalists will take whatever steps are needed to protect their (short-term) private goals irrespective of any harm to others now and into the future. Capitalists soon learn that they best protect their profits through secrecy, lies and by manipulating public opinion. Capitalists, when organised, are more capable of regulating governments than governments are capable of regulating capitalism. On the other hand a socialist government will take whatever steps are needed to protect the interests of workers now and into the future. Socialism can use both a market system and planning to switch from fossil fuels and reduce other emissions while also dealing with associated issues such as over population and the need for a ‘Just Transition’.
Socialism – the Solution
Under market socialism, profits still arise but not by plundering others. Socialist profits are different; they are not based on expropriating wealth from others but arise in response to actual useful innovations and productive opportunities. Socialist profits are nothing more than short-term market signals which are competed away in line with standard economic theory as a new technology spreads. Under socialism there is no structural requirement to maintain any particular rate of profit year after year nor is there any need to accumulate capital as an end in itself. Profits will vary season to season and from enterprise to enterprise as new ideas and opportunities emerge. There will be no need to gain any competitive advantage by maintaining commercial secrecy, by employing Third World labour, or by using cheap fossil fuels. Today’s wanton exploitation of labour and fossil fuels will be unnecessary as the anti-social competitive benefit they provide under the logic of capitalism does not exist under socialism. Under socialism, charcoal, hydrogen, biofuels, wind and solar energy can play their part in economic growth provided they are not out competed by, or blocked by the politics of, fossil fuels.
Climate change is aggravated by deforestation and increased livestock, crops and urban landscapes that follow and by climate feedback mechanisms. It is also aggravated by the population increase that underpins capitalist commercial expectations. High levels of population and livestock for and further deforestation for economic benefit disrupts the balance between CO2 sources and CO2 sinks so atmospheric concentrations increase to the point where species, necessary for economic benefit, are driven to extinction. Socialism delivers rising standards of living with a stable population. Stable populations facilitate the take-up of renewables and the protection and possible reinstatement of original habitats. Unlike capitalism, socialism is not thrown into crisis by a beneficial fall in population. This is another key to addressing climate change.
Capitalists impede action against climate change by creating barriers to the spread of sustainable energies and to the adoption of new carbon capture processes. Barriers consist of intellectual property rights, patents, copyright, the cost of capital and other restrictive practices.. Some capitalists may appear to jump at introducing ecological inventions but only under the protection of patents and then only to those who can pay higher prices inflated with capitalist imposts. Dominant capitalist nations and multinationals are quick to manipulate any demand for ecological products to extract maximum profits for themselves while denying opportunities for the rest. This means that while solar panels, wind farms, bio fuel, and electric vehicles flood across wealthy OECD economies they only trickle into world’s poorest populations. Savy capitalists benefit from climate change by strategic marketing of eco-products and green-washing production while still resisting calls to move away from fossil fuels. In effect, they will grasp any opportunity to profiteer using either renewable or fossil fuels.
So far, social movements have been unable to end new fossil fuel developments or bring an end to fossil fuel subsidies. ALP branches at the state level support new fossil fuel projects. Federally, the ALP declares “support for new gas projects and associated infrastructure”. Consequently, we need alternative political and economic strategies. A mix of public and cooperative enterprises and market socialism plus active population policies are the only way both ecological and human rights can be protected in today’s world and, given present circumstances, the only way climate change can be addressed.
Finally it is worth noting that society does not need so called ‘zero’ emissions. This is a misnomer. We only need to balance greenhouse emissions with the biosphere’s capacity to reabsorb gases either in plants or water plus any extra obtained from carbon-capture and sequestration projects. This will require new technology and a new social consensus based on climate science. All this can be developed and deployed globally at sufficient scale only under socialism based on public, not-for-profit enterprises. Humanity depends on this.
 ALP National Platform (2021) ch. 3, para. 34, pg. 41.