Climate change and development

May 3, 2013

From the new May-June 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2013-2014

III. Climate change and development

Another devastating sign of capitalism’s degeneracy is its failure even to slow down climate change, which the UN’s 2013 Human Development Report warns could plunge 3.1 billion people into extreme poverty by 2050. Youth have spearheaded a new movement to control it. Blocking the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada is only their most prominent demand.

Burning all the oil in the tar sands would release 240 gigatons of carbon. [5] That’s close to half of the 565 gigatons that top climate scientist James Hansen says is the most the world can add to the atmosphere and still have an 80% chance of staying below the two-degree Celsius temperature rise that international agreements specify as a limit. Even that level is fraught with tremendous peril.

All of the proven fossil fuel reserves owned by private and public companies and governments are equivalent to 2,795 Gt of carbon. The International Energy Agency announced last year: “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal.” [6]

The rate of emissions of greenhouse gases has climbed every decade, hitting a new record last year. The only thing that temporarily slowed the growth of energy use is the global economic crisis. And yet while the standard of living of working people has declined, the wealth of the 1% is still rising, as is energy use.

What should be clear is that, as Marx wrote, “Capital…allows its actual movement to be determined as much and as little by the sight of the coming degradation and final depopulation of the human race, as by the probable fall of the earth into the sun.” What is needed is a new way of life, a new kind of development.

The UN framework for addressing climate change, however, only reinforces the capitalist type of development. Take one example of hundreds: the Barro Blanco dam in Panama, which is accredited for the UN’s so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The Movimiento 10 de Abril has been resisting hydroelectric development on the Tabasará River for more than 13 years. Peasants and Indigenous Panamanians have held protests and blockades for years and have gone to the UN, despite lethal police repression. Just this March, another protester was murdered by the police, 20-year-old migrant laborer Onésimo Rodríguez.

Biofuels are sold to us as a clean, sustainable alternative to gasoline. Yet consider campesino communities in the Aguán river valley region of Honduras, who are resisting being driven off the land for the benefit of the Dinant Corporation and the Jaremar Corporation, which produce African palm oil from plantations. The corporations have employed death squads that have murdered 80 campesinos. A campaign has begun to demand cancellation of a $30 million World Bank loan to Dinant. And yet CDM credits were approved.

A separate program called REDD (“Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation”) is not in place yet, but it too is designed around carbon credits. A broad coalition called the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on Climate Change against REDD and for Life released a statement titled, “NO REDD+! in RIO+20 — A Declaration to Decolonize the Earth and the Sky.” It begins:

“After more than 500 years of resistance, we, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, peasant farmers, fisherfolk and civil society are not fooled by the so-called Green Economy and REDD+ because we know colonialism when we see it. Regardless of its cynical disguises and shameful lies, colonialism always results in the rape and pillaging of Mother Earth, and the slavery, death, destruction and genocide of her peoples. Rio+20’s Green Economy and REDD+ constitute a thinly-veiled, wicked, colonialist planet grab that we oppose, denounce and resist.” [7]

This is not just a plot by the 1%. It is capitalism’s inherent law of development. Today, the fall of the rate of profit to new lows–resulting from capitalism’s law of development–has only increased capital’s desperation to expropriate and commodify new spheres that it had not previously incorporated into capital. When people are driven off the land and into the urban slums, it is not only the land that is being incorporated into capital. Human beings are transformed into labor power as part of the variable capital. It is the development of the domination of dead labor over living labor.

It is these actual social relations, relations of production, forms of labor, relationship to the land and other means of production, by which we can judge what must be uprooted, and to what extent any society has or has not moved to a path of development that breaks from capitalism’s never-ending growth of capital, or, as Marx put it, production for production’s sake.

Social movements from below have put to the test not only the openly market-centered mechanisms of CDM, REDD, the World Bank, etc., but also the statist national governments that claim to be building socialism. The South American countries of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have stood up against U.S. imperialism’s domination of Latin America and have reduced poverty through social programs. Yet they are pursuing development through mining and oil and gas drilling. In so doing they have come into conflict with Indigenous peoples. At the Rio+20 People’s Summit, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East went so far as to say,

“We have unmasked the double standard that [Bolivian President Evo Morales, himself an Indigenous Aymara] has in his discourse on the international level, making believe that he is a defender of Indigenous peoples, of the rights of the Indigenous peoples of Mother Earth, of the natural resources and the forest.” [8]

One of their struggles is against the government’s construction of a highway connecting Brazil with the Pacific Ocean, going through the TIPNIS Indigenous reserve. They say the government held sham consultations with selected people from the Indigenous communities, using deception, manipulation, and cooptation to gain the appearance of agreement.

If humanity is going to create an alternative, non-capitalist path of sustainable human development, we cannot afford to mistake yet another form of state-capitalism for socialism. Struggles from below show that many forces of revolution are reaching for those new paths of development and are not going to be satisfied with state-capitalism. What is needed is a full commitment to develop the philosophy of revolution that encompasses revolution and liberation as real human development that begins with the masses of people taking control of their own lives and in so doing breaking the domination of capital.

Notes for Part III:

5. “How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?” by David Biello, Jan. 23, 2013, Scientific American.

6. See

7. Read the whole statement at

8. For more on these struggles see,

(Part IV will be posted next.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *