The Climate March: Magnificent and Misdirected

climate change march 1

At least 75,000 marched in New York City on September 17, quite impressive, inspiring to be a part of. As compared to previous marches, last seen pre-Covid, there were more people of color, indigenous and immigrant participants. But the question is, what exactly were the demands of this mass assemblage? Of course, the overwhelming message was “End Fossil Fuels,” but to whom was this demand addressed? For the most part, the ask was for liberal politicians, like Biden, to take action and for the banks to stop funding corporate climate-destroying ventures. In other words, the overall assumption put forward by the organizers was that there is a separation of interests between the political, corporate and banking sectors. The featured speaker was Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, a congresswoman and democratic socialist who thinks workers’ lives can be bettered under capitalism and even voted to support the war in Ukraine.1

Eight groups were the official march sponsors, one of the largest being the Global Campaign to End Climate Justice (https://demandclimatejustice.org/fight-for-climate-justice/), a network of over 200 organizations, that even has the slogan System Change Not Climate Change. Their statement of principles says that climate change arises from profit-driven and growth-oriented systems, unequal and exploitative economic and social structures, and policies and practices promoted by global corporations, rich industrialized countries, international institutions and economic and political elites. They then have a long list of demands with which none of us could disagree, but the strategy is to “build our capacity for coordinated mobilizations” and “fight for an international climate agreement.” Of course this agreement would have to be made between existing governments, since their replacement is not contemplated. There is no actual plan for system change.

How Capitalism Actually Works

In order to frame their demands as asks from capitalism, the march organizers must fundamentally ignore the structure of that capitalist society. The purpose, the basic operating mechanism of capitalism, is to maximize profits. Profits are generated by selling goods or services for more than it costs to make them, which includes obtaining resources, maintaining equipment and paying workers’ wages and benefits. Corporations and often governments finance their huge investments by borrowing money from banks There is competition between manufacturers of similar products as well as competition between nations to preserve the pre-eminence of their corporations. Since profits, which attract investors, are tallied on a quarterly basis, there is no room to delay profitability in order to make long range expensive changes. In order to maintain their hold on industries, nations compete to source raw materials from around the world, protect the supply lines to import them, and control the sources of the cheapest labor. This competition is the basis of most wars involving major powers, be it the World Wars or the many nearly continuous smaller ones.

Last year, 2022, the global oil and gas industry made $4 trillion in profits, up from the average of $1.5 trillion in recent years, according to the head of the International Energy Agency.2 Less than half of one percent went back into clean energy. According to the IMF, the fossil fuel industry receives subsidies from governments of $11 million every minute in the form of tax breaks and price controls as well as not being required to pay for the pollution they produce.3 The industry also heavily subsidizes politicians, including $28 million to 50 members of the House.4 Even as banks have said they are going green, they provided $673 to finance the fossil fuel industry last year.5 Meanwhile, Biden has approved the Willow drilling project in Alaska, the Mountain Valley pipeline in west Virginia and more oil and gas permits than Trump.6

The largest user of energy in the US is the Department of Defense, 77-80% of all government energy consumption. It goes to support over 800 military installations around the world, weapons production, and combat operations as well as other uses.7 The war in Ukraine, which has cut off supplies of gas and oil from Russia, has also led to a scramble for easily available new energy sources, including the increased use of coal.8

What is to be done

The main conclusion of this discussion is that no matter how militant and how large the environmental movement, it is impotent if it limits itself to choosing villains among the rulers of capitalism. It is not the governments, the manufacturer or their financiers who can be singled out, it is the system of capitalism of which they are the integral parts. Thus we need to recognize that the climate movement must become an integral part of an anti-capitalist movement, even though this makes our task more complex and difficult. Only if workers are running society in their own interest can workers’ survival and wellbeing be the priority. Only then will we be able to investigate energy solutions, limit energy use in the rich nations and increase it in the poor, and invest in such efforts rapidly enough to save our planet.

It is now clear to millions of us that our world is under imminent threat, due not only to climate change but the specter of world war between the competing super powers, the US and China. Those who are suffering the most are the poor of the world, both from environmental disasters and from being called upon to fight each other. But all of us face a daunting future. Our urgent priority is to build an international, class conscious anti-capitalist organization to take on this monumental struggle to build a new world, a communist world, a worker run world. That means integrating our climate struggle with union movements, anti-colonial movements, anti-war movements, anti-racist movements, indeed all the movements that unite and strengthen us and grow the strength of our class. We must not limit ourselves to demonstrations but must consider how to be organized and powerful enough to actually overthrow the current rulers of this planet. Then we might survive.

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esLJRHU-GvA
  2. https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/oil-gas-industry-earned-4-trillion-last-year-says-iea-chief-2023-02-14/
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/06/fossil-fuel-industry-subsidies-of-11m-dollars-a-minute-imf-finds
  4. https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/3926039-these-house-members-get-the-most-money-from-the-oil-and-gas-industry/
  5. https://www.cnn.com/2023/04/20/investing/premarket-stocks-trading/index.html
  6. https://www.eenews.net/articles/biden-fossil-fuel-boost-creates-political-storm-on-his-left/)

7.https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/Pentagon%20Fuel%20Use%2C%20Climate%20Change%20and%20the%20Costs%20of%20War%20Revised%20November%202019%20Crawford.pdf

  1. https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/year-russia-turbocharged-global-energy-crisis-2022-12-13/

Ellen Isaacs is a physician, anti-racist and anti-capitalist activist and co-editor of multiracialunity.org. She can be reached at [email protected].

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