Climate disaster: Non-solutions by state and private capital, or transformation from below?

September 29, 2021

by Franklin Dmitryev, September 18, 2021

Not a week goes by lately without more climate-related disasters and more dire warnings from scientists. With reverberations from Hurricane Ida still damaging people from Louisiana to New York, Odette, six tropical storms later, is heading toward the Northeast, and Hurricane Nicholas deluged Galveston, Houston, and, once again, New Orleans. Every day for months, wildfires have been burning in the West, this week threatening the Karl Marx tree—as Felix Martin reminded us it was previously called. Nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer. Drought has put 2.1 million Kenyans at risk of starvation while deadly flooding this week hit Abuja, Nigeria; San Marcos, Guatemala; and Gujarat state in India.

Meanwhile, just this week the UN warned that countries’ current climate pledges amount to a “catastrophic pathway,” while a Carbon Tracker report warned that most countries fall far short in their climate plans. The World Bank predicted that climate change could force 200 million people to become displaced within their home countries by 2050. And an editorial is being published this month in over 200 medical journals calling for “urgent action” on climate and destruction of nature as a health issue.

And so another global climate strike has been called for Sept. 24 by youth like Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future.

One of the UN reports was actually leaked by scientists calling themselves “Scientist Rebellion,” who wrote (,

“We leaked the report because governments—pressured and bribed by fossil fuel and other industries, protecting their failed ideology and avoiding accountability—have edited the conclusions before official reports were released in the past. We leaked it to show that scientists are willing to disobey and take personal risk to inform the public.

“The report explicitly states that incremental change is not a viable option. It states that individual behavioural changes alone are insignificant. It states that justice, equity and redistribution are essential to climate policy.

“It says that we need massive investment—to transform energy systems, transport, industry, land use and agriculture, housing, and to prepare for the accelerating effects of climate breakdown—not the death cult of conservative economics.

“It shows that we must abandon economic growth, which is the basis of capitalism.

“For thousands of scientists—mostly older, privileged, moderate—to agree on something so apparently radical demonstrates the severity of the present moment. But the real radicals are in power. They will plunder the Earth until it is but fire and ash, unless we stop them.

“We plead with people to go into serious nonviolent resistance. To join us in the streets to apply unbearable pressure on this genocidal system—to take it down before it takes us all down with it.”

With the UN climate change conference called COP26 coming up on Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow, a number of groups and activists who deal with environmental justice are calling for it to be delayed because delegates and observers from many countries have not been able to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and cannot afford the jacked-up lodging prices in Glasgow, including mandatory quarantine. Therefore, the voices of most climate-vulnerable countries and especially movement activists will be muted. The UK government, which is hosting, refuses to postpone, and has been joined by John Kerry and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, an organization of 48 national governments from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, who say the climate crisis is so urgent that the negotiations cannot wait.

In the press, those calling for postponement are usually called environmental groups, but they include a number of Indigenous and environmental justice organizations and a coalition of 600 feminist groups and activists, while the CVF represents states, not movements.

Tasneem Essop of the Energy Democracy Initiative in South Africa said, “The climate talks are important, but against the current context of ‘vaccine apartheid,’ they simply cannot proceed by locking out the voices of those who especially need to be heard at this time.”

In any case, the main impact of social movements has been in protests, while the whole UN framework is structured around nation-states, with tremendous influence accorded to corporations—as seen most disgustingly at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in 2018, which became a showcase for the coal industry, a favorite of Poland’s government.

The problem is that all the international climate projects are projects of capitalist states and private capital, leaving social movements to beg for inclusion or to try to pressure them from the outside, but in no case are states and capital going to allow any kind of real self-determination from below to take the reins. As long as that remains the case—reinforced by huge subsidies for fossil fuels and continued buildup of infrastructure to lock in fossil fuel use—false solutions, greenwashing and half-measures will continue to predominate and obstruct the radical social transformation that even the conservative UN scientific organization, the IPCC, has repeatedly called for, and which young people around the world increasingly point to as what we need. In other words, a revolutionary transformation is needed to avert catastrophe. And, as the Draft Perspectives points out, “Adaptation to climate change is needed and is already happening, but the way it is being carried out protects the rich and powerful most of all and largely leaves the oppressed in the dust, both nationally and internationally.”

Already, Indigenous resistance to environmentally destructive projects in North America has stopped or delayed what “adds up to…roughly 28 percent the size of 2019 U.S. and Canadian pollution,” according to a new report from the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International. But states are doubling down on criminalization of climate protesters, treating some as terrorists and actually using “terrorist enhancements” to demand lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent resisters while the real terrorists of January 6 are receiving very short prison terms, if any. And, as “Climate Disaster Now,” Part II of the News and Letters Committees Draft Perspectives Thesis for 2021-22, points out, “the administration, which has approved more than 2,000 permits for fracking and drilling on federal land, refused to pull the plug on both Line 3 and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Biden talks a good game about environmental justice but is actually obstructing the movement fighting for it and against climate chaos.”

Worldwide, it is even worse, as “Murders of environment and land defenders hit a record high last year [at least 227 people] as the violent resource grab in the global south continued unabated despite the pandemic” (“Murders of environment and land defenders hit record high,” The Guardian, Sept. 12, 2021).

A closer look at Hurricane Ida would show much about how capitalism is responding and adapting to climate change in ways that protect the rich and powerful most of all and perpetuate systems of exploitation and oppression. As always, the poor were hit hardest. While hundreds of thousands were left without clean drinking water, in the end the heat killed more people in Louisiana than the wind and rain, because they were left without power in an example of compounding disasters—a third overlapping disaster was the already overwhelmed hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi due to the pandemic. And the Entergy natural gas-burning power plant that was supposed to provide electricity in an emergency failed.

Coastal tribes were especially devastated, and part of the reason is that the oil and gas industry has degraded the coastal wetlands over decades, reducing the natural buffers to storm damage. The Coast Guard received 2,113 reports of pollution or contamination in the waterways in the first nine days after landfall, and many chemical leaks and spills happened on land and in the air as well.

Over 100 crew members aboard a deepwater oil drilling ship were left to ride out the hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. One crew member told a TV news channel that he believed people were left on board the vessel in harm’s way for no other reason than the expense of removing them and bringing them back once operations were ready to continue—which is what is supposed to happen.

A nursing home in New Orleans evacuated nearly 800 residents to a warehouse, where they spent six days with overflowing toilets and piled-up trash and four residents died.

The governor and mayor called out the National Guard and “anti-looting patrols” of the police in New Orleans, plus a curfew, to protect the property of the rich at a time when perhaps the Guard could have helped rescue people, given medical aid and helped rebuild.

When the storm got to New York City, a majority of those killed drowned in illegally rented basement apartments. Many of them were immigrants.

What we see over and over is how the system is in fact adapting, but in anti-human ways. One of those ways is the turn to fascism, exploiting xenophobia with the specter of hundreds of millions of climate migrants in coming decades. What is needed is a unifying philosophy to serve as a pole of attraction for the billions of disaffected youth and other people who are desperate for an alternative, with a vision of a truly human society where production and consumption are based on the development of human power, which is its own end.

(This was excerpted from a draft report for the Convention of News and Letters Committees.)

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