Editorial: Rulers say to the world: ‘Burn in hell!’

November 10, 2021

From the November-December 2021 issue of News & Letters

The Sept. 24 climate strike in 1,500 places around the world, called by Fridays for Future with the slogan #UprootTheSystem, was soon followed by many more actions. From the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., to a celebration on Madeline Island in Wisconsin of water protector victories fighting Line 3, from activists shutting down Line 5 in Tuscola County, Mich., to numerous protests in the lead-up to the UN’s COP26 Oct. 31-Nov. 12 climate conference, all expressed the gravity of the climate emergency. They manifested how increasingly radical young climate activists are becoming in the face of a flaring crisis combined with minimal and retrograde actions by the system’s political and business institutions. Capitalism’s legitimacy has crumbled, while pointing to the need for drastic and rapid social transformation has become the norm.


A number of groups and activists who deal with environmental justice called for COP26 to be delayed because delegates and observers from many countries could not get COVID-19 vaccinations and could not afford the jacked-up lodging prices in Glasgow, Scotland, including mandatory quarantine. Therefore, the voices of most climate-vulnerable countries and especially movement activists are muted. The UK government, as host, refused to postpone, joined by John Kerry and the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an organization of 48 national governments from Africa, Asia, Latin America and island nations, who said the climate crisis is so urgent that the negotiations cannot wait.

Those calling for postponement include Indigenous and environmental justice organizations and a coalition of 600 feminist groups and activists, while the CVF represents states, not movements.

Fridays for Future protest at U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C., Oct. 27, 2021. Photo: Fridays for Future U.S.

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.”

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.


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. States and capital block 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.

Indigenous resistance to environmentally destructive projects in North America has stopped or delayed what “adds up to…roughly 28% the size of 2019 U.S. and Canadian pollution,” reported 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 Jan. 6 are receiving very short prison terms, if any.


Political and corporate leaders declaring a “code red emergency” know that oil, gas and coal production needs to start falling immediately, but the reality is that they preside over planned fossil fuel production that, according to the UN Environment Program, “vastly exceeds” their agreed limit.

Governments talked about a “green recovery” from the pandemic, but delivered the opposite: greenhouse gas emissions keep climbing, and even accelerating. Just three weeks before COP26, China ordered increased coal production and burning in the face of an electricity shortage.

In the U.S., the Republican Party plus key Democratic politicians like Senator Joe Manchin carried out the veto ordered by the oil and coal industries. Even before Manchin gutted President Biden’s climate program, alarms were raised about the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Acts, subsidizing oil and gas and extending social dependence on them with fake solutions like carbon capture and storage (which is mainly used to extract more oil), liquid natural gas and hydrogen fuel produced with natural gas.

What the rulers are proving once again is that their time has passed. They represent a society that does not believe in its own future. Time is running out. It is up to us to make sure it is running out for capitalism and not for humanity.

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