by Franklin Dmitryev
One hundred million people in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico suffering deadly heat waves. Another 100 million further north enveloped in smoke from fires hundreds of miles away. Heat domes lingering in several parts of the world overwhelming large areas with extreme temperatures for days or weeks. Dozens killed by massive floods in Korea, Japan and China; more in Pennsylvania and Vermont. A 20% increase in emergency room visits in Italy from the heat. Wildfires in North America, southern Europe, and Swiss mountains, with more expected when the Australian spring and summer arrive. Several kinds of heat-related records repeatedly broken, with every continent affected. Extreme weather combining with social crises and conflicts, as in the international food crisis sparked by Russia’s war on Ukraine’s ability to export grain, which is worsened by weather-related crop failures in a number of countries.
This is only a small slice of how the climate crisis is already disrupting billions of lives with a global temperature rise of only about 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 Fahrenheit). But more greenhouse gases are being poured into the atmosphere, forcing more heating, more deadly heat waves, more floods, more droughts, more crop failures, more diseases spreading, more sea level rise. A scientific study projected that in a few decades the excess heat deaths due to climate change could add up to 7 million people a year. And that doesn’t include the indirect effects of heat, such as the rise in domestic violence.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world are already suffering heavy impacts from the climate crisis, in multiple ways. Environmental justice activists point out that Black and Brown residents of cities like Chicago are routinely exposed to unhealthy polluted air, and the smoke and heat have a greater health impact on people already suffering from long-term exposure to bad air. People of color and poor neighborhoods in general also have less trees and green space, which not only has mental and physical health benefits, it keeps an area cooler.
Meanwhile billionaires, corporations, governments, media, and politicians offer only fake solutions while they keep us on the path to apocalypse, ignoring or undermining numerous measures scientists have outlined to avert it. Most of the capitalist ideologues are more concerned with obstructing real climate action because it cuts into profits of the oil and gas industry and of others like auto and construction that have a stake in the way society is organized now.
They especially do not want the public to hear the messages from people associated with the climate justice movement who are pushing for ways to fundamentally reorganize society that would simultaneously phase out fossil fuels while improving the lives of most people at the expense of the wealthiest and most powerful.
LET THEM EAT HEAT STROKE
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott just thought he was practicing smart politics when he signed HB 2127 on June 14, banning local governments from imposing their own labor and environmental regulations, including requiring businesses to give workers heat breaks, at a time when heat deaths on the job have been rising, especially in Texas. But actually he was acting as the instrument of the politics driven by objective impulses of capitalism in crisis.
Abbott cruelly signed the bill one week into a record-setting heat wave that saw temperatures in Texas up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and an especially life-threatening heat index of 125 in Corpus Christi. Within nine days of the signing, a 35-year-old utility lineman; Eugene Gates, a 66-year-old postal worker; and 24-year-old construction worker Gabriel Infante died from heat exposure on the job in Texas.
Just as labor struggles arose out of the COVID-19 pandemic when companies refused to provide safe working conditions, struggles are being sparked now by brutal exploitation in dangerously hot conditions. In Sulmona, Italy—a country where heat exposure on the job is known to have killed at least five workers, and probably many more, in one hot week in July—workers threatened to strike at a battery factory, declaring that the “asphyxiating heat is putting the lives of workers at risk.” Workers at ancient sites in Greece like the Acropolis struck to protest the working conditions. And workers at UPS in the U.S. are preparing for a massive strike of 340,000. One of the issues is the heat in the trucks, and workers have already forced UPS to promise to install air conditioning in some.
And yet the economic and political powers that be are more concerned with eliminating safeguards for workers and pushing more pipelines, more oil wells, more natural gas production and export! Their political representatives in Congress are pushing a budget that cuts the already inadequate climate action programs. Meanwhile, they run disinformation campaigns to tell us that what protects you is bad, and what is bad for you is either good or is the fault of scapegoats like immigrants, Trans people, Blacks, labor unions, feminists, environmentalists, or socialists.
This is one aspect of a system driving itself toward collapse and yet trying to throttle those who would stave off catastrophe.
TERRORISM AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS
That is seen as well in the police-state style raids aimed at the movement to stop the construction of Cop City in Atlanta, Georgia, in a forest that the city had promised to protect. The raids targeted what is essentially a bail fund for freedom movement activists, labeling them as terrorists when the only evidence they present is on the level of someone in the fund paying for an Uber ride (that is “money laundering” to support “terrorists”). This is part of a whole campaign to treat the opponents of Cop City as terrorists and bring the full repressive force of the state down on them. One reason for the level of repression may be the coalescence of local Black neighborhoods, Black Lives Matter, and environmental activists to fight the hated Cop City project. Tortuguita is the first person killed in the state of Georgia’s terroristic campaign, as detailed in “Police murder of Tyre Nichols puts U.S. civilization on trial yet again” (March-April News & Letters).
And while Georgia’s governor and the heads of police agencies like the GBI and the Atlanta Police Department rant that the movement’s participants are terrorists, it was revealed that even President Joe Biden’s Department of Homeland Security copied its intelligence report from a far-right online magazine called The Post Millenial, which is mainly known for dark money funding and publishing disinformation like blaming the 2019 Australian megafires on arson. The DHS report copied almost word for word the magazine’s description of Cop City activists as “militants part of a violent far-left occupation in south Atlanta.”
Numerous states, including some run by Democrats and just about all run by Republicans, have passed repressive laws that brand nonviolent climate and environmental action as “violent” or even “terrorist”—and similarly they have called abortion rights activists “terrorists” for painting graffiti on a phony abortion clinic. The same happened in several countries, which are throwing more and more environmental defenders in jail, such as Australia, France, and the UK. France announced that it would dissolve the climate group Earth Uprising. Under the auspices of a federal government that includes the Green Party, German police raided the “Last Generation” climate campaign group, labeling them terrorists. Of course, in many countries such activists are simply harassed, jailed, or murdered by police, the military, or private capitalist interests.
That is one part of the growing violence and repression by the global capitalist system in crisis, each instance of which reveals resistance and potential revolt from below. You can see it also in the rising attacks on LGBTQ+ people, to the point that the Human Rights Campaign declared an LGBTQ state of emergency, which is no exaggeration. You can see it in attacks on women, of which the race to ban abortion and impose harsh punishment, even the death penalty, is one front. You can see it in the violent police repression of the revolt of youth of color in France against the frequent police killings and daily harassment of people of African and Arab descent. You can see it in the militarism entwined with nationalism from MAGA-land to the slaughter in Sudan, from the Burmese military’s genocidal repression of its own population to the outright war of invasion Putin’s Russia launched in Ukraine, which has taken and continues to take a horrendous toll, even as it has also elicited important resistance, solidarity, and ideas for social reconstruction, as News & Letters detailed (“Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2023-2024: Polycrisis and the need to transform reality,” May-June 2023 issue), as well as a growing schism in the world Left.
CRISES PULL ON RULERS, AND ON MOVEMENTS
The danger and urgency of the multiple interacting crises has engendered a split of the world’s ruling classes into two main factions. They have differing strategies for heading off the threatened transformation from below: counter-revolution spawning new odious manifestations of fascism with rough new figureheads, or non-transformational transformation to patch up the status quo while saving the powers that be.
This situation has created a dual pull on movements resisting the system. One, which we must fight, is to get so caught up in the urgency as to put off theoretical differentiation and the battle of ideas within the movement in the interests of united action, or to “pick up theory en route,” which leaves one open to tailending one of the ruling class factions.
But there is also a second, opposite pull, the recognition of the need for theory, which we must engage and encourage to deepen. Witness the explosion of radical books about solidarity with Ukraine, the climate and ecological crisis and corresponding movements, prison abolition and reparations, Black studies, women’s liberation, queer liberation, Indigenous history and struggles, capitalism, and so on.
When it comes to the climate crisis, it is crucial to refuse to separate it from all the other deep crises and movements they are spurring, and to keep in view that all is not lost. Not only is it no time to despair, but it is just such a time of crisis that opens the door to a revolutionary transformation of society. We—humanity, the masses and their freedom movements—have to drag society through that door. And the ideas that move us—raised to the level of a philosophy of revolution that can act as a pole of attraction—if fused with these movements, are what can give us hope that we can eliminate fossil fuels and all the other millstones hanging around the neck of humanity. But more than that, the fusion of philosophy and revolution is needed to find our way to a transformation that achieves climate goals while creating a world with new human relations and better ways of life.