The working class faces challenges on many fronts today. But one crisis is overarching. On both land and sea, Northern and Southern Hemispheres alike, our planet is getting hotter. The scale and pace of this global warming is unprecedented in human history. The last three years have been the hottest since precise measurements began in the 1880s.
heat is expanding the volume of oceans. Along with melting sea and
glacial ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Greenland, this is raising
sea levels. If not stopped soon it will eventually inundate coastal
areas that are home to hundreds of millions. The New York City
penthouse at Trump Tower would remain dry—but by 2050 the tip of
Manhattan, including Southport, Battery Park, and much of the World
Trade Center would be submerged.
weather patterns are being disrupted, leading to severe droughts in
some areas and giant floods in others. In February, 11,743 local
record warm daily temperatures were recorded just in the United
States. The world has been hit by ferocious storms, like Cyclone
Debbie in Australia, and massive wildfires such as the recent one in
Kansas that killed thousands of livestock, consumed all of the hay
supply, and destroyed hundreds of farm structures.
some regions of the world, such as eastern Africa, this early-stage
climate change has resulted in famine—and numerous climate
liars like the president of the United States assert that climate
change resulting from global warming is a hoax, variously attributed
to either greedy climate scientists bilking tax-payers or the Chinese
government trying to wreck our economy.
deniers don’t challenge the validity of thermometer and sea level
readings but insist this is a natural cycle of our planet that will
eventually get back to what we consider normal. They see no cause for
alarm or need for drastic changes. In any case, they say there’s
nothing we can do to stop Mother Nature.
the overwhelming majority of scientists accept irrefutable evidence
that the principal cause of global warming is the release of
greenhouse gases by the ravenous energy demands of industry,
agriculture, transportation—and war.
emissions are still growing. The damage this causes to the fragile
biosphere that has nourished human civilization is irreversible.
While its worst effects will be felt by future generations, climate
change has been advancing faster than expected and requires urgent
and far-reaching countermeasures.
capitalism fouls things up
steam engines fueled by wood and coal gave a big boost to the
18th-century Industrial Revolution, the capitalist economy became
increasingly addicted to fossil fuels. Since the first modern oil
wells began pumping in Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, in 1859, the United
States, Britain, and other major powers have been exploring and
conquering on land and in the sea to satisfy the thirst of diesel,
internal combustion, and jet engines, as well as for raw material for
production of petrochemical products like plastic.
some time now, the U.S. has had more registered cars and trucks than
licensed drivers. Big new markets have been carved out for products
like snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles, and motor homes. Once serene
lakes are now battered by racket and wakes of ubiquitous motorboats
and jet skis. And we shouldn’t forget those dirty, noisy two-stroke
engines commonly used to mow lawns.
plug-in electric cars are now starting to appear, nearly 99 percent
of the auto industry is still cranking out fossil-fueled cars and
trucks. More than 900,000 American workers are directly involved in
making parts and assembling these vehicles. Millions more earn a
paycheck by selling, maintaining, repairing, insuring—and
ultimately scrapping them. Hundreds of thousands of others are
employed in building and maintenance of highways and city streets.
And, of course, auto is a prime customer for the steel, rubber, and
zero redeeming social benefit, the fighters, bombers, tanks, cruise
missiles, and drones used in constant wars of intervention to advance
the interests of capitalist Globalization are also a huge greenhouse
course, it has never been the intention of the capitalists to wreck
our biosphere. That’s collateral damage in the class war they wage,
which has made today’s American ruling class the richest in
history. Some of them favor measures they hope will
slow down global warming so
that the next generations can figure out something better.
bosses and bankers mainly promote ineffective schemes like carbon
price, carbon tax, and carbon offsets, which have been widely used
since the Kyoto Accords were adopted in 1997—but never implemented
by Clinton or Bush II.
much hailed “Clean Power” initiative—which Trump is now trying
to dismantle—was the first American contribution to world efforts
to adopt goals to reduce carbon emissions. It was mainly based on
inducing many power plants to convert from coal to somewhat less
carbon-polluting natural gas. This hasn’t happened out of climate
concerns by the utilities. Gas has become cheaper than coal—mainly
because of Obama’s promotion of environmentally destructive
hydraulic fracturing (fracking.)
Power” also relied on the cooperation of states to develop carbon
markets and quotas—much like Obama’s Affordable Care Act counted
on states doing the right thing. And because this “historic” plan
was introduced through an executive order, it can be modified and
perhaps even nullified by order of the current Denier-in-Chief.
solutions are available
burning fossil fuels is the main culprit in creating the greenhouse
effect driving climate change, a total solution is simple and
obvious—quit burning them, leave
them in the ground.
We in fact don’t need them. There are clean, renewable energy
sources available free for the taking everywhere on Earth—sun,
wind, and water.
can replace dirty, inefficient internal combustion and diesel engines
that consume fossil fuel with electric motors. We can conserve energy
and reap many other ecological benefits by reversing urban sprawl,
reclaiming the forests, wetlands, and farm lands that once surrounded
and nurtured many of our cities before being wrecked by irresponsible
facilitate population return to our depleted, long neglected urban
cores will require using craft workers now building pipelines and
fracking wells to be put to work rebuilding and renovating quality
affordable housing and a sustainable infrastructure. Safe, reliable,
electric-powered mass transit would be a high priority project.
change is a global crisis. No country can escape its impact—not
even the U.S., the richest country in history. A large part of this
American wealth—of which the lion’s share is controlled by about
one-tenth of one percent of our population—is accumulated through
exploitation of other nations, leaving them “underdeveloped” and
polluted. There is not only a moral obligation but also a vital
self-interest for the world economy to finance climate stabilization
projects in the poorest countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
we need to offer more than money—it’s also essential to lead by
example in action. Sustainable restructuring of the world’s biggest
economy can convince the whole world that there is now a road to
development far superior to our history marked by unintended
we need a plan—pronto
American capitalism decided to go all-in for the Second World War,
they didn’t try to induce industry to build unprecedented numbers
of ships, planes, and tanks through tax credits or other fiscal and
market measures. Instead, the government essentially took control of
the entire economy and dictated products and production quotas. This
project of Big Government was the most successful crash mobilization
of economic resources in history.
be sure, this is a far from perfect analogy. The end use of that
production led to 70 million deaths and the beginning of the era of
nuclear war. We want to end wars and war spending, not make them
bigger or more efficient.
is it realistic to expect a capitalist government to carry out such
planned economy to combat climate change. The capitalists were
rewarded handsomely for their compliance with the government’s
World War II plan, and the U.S. victory led to opening up vast new
markets to U.S. domination—which from their point of view made the
slaughter and destruction more than acceptable. They will not make
any sacrifices to eliminate the most important sources of profit.
only force in society with both the potential power and material
interest to challenge destructive capitalist rule is the
working-class majority. With the same sense of wartime urgency, our
class that does nearly all the work, in alliance with scientists and
environmentalists, can take charge of a planned rapid restructuring
of a sustainable economy and run it democratically.
hopeful signs from labor
only class-based mass organizations in the USA are the trade unions.
This movement has long been divided over climate and environmental
issues. But today a number of important national unions are educating
and mobilizing their members around climate as well as class justice.
Those making that connection include the Amalgamated Transit Union,
American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers,
Communications Workers of America, National Nurses United, Service
Employees International Union, and the United Electrical, Radio &
of these unions are part of the labor/environmental Blue Green
Alliance. All are affiliated with the Labor Network for
Sustainability, which is doing valuable work in hammering out a
program for “Making a Living On a Living Planet.”
have also joined the global Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. Among
other demands, TUED favors socialization of all energy under worker
management—a goal Socialist Action heartily supports. But to secure
the needed massive restructuring plan, we think socialization will
need to also include at the very least the financial and
transportation sectors and, because of its central importance, the
auto industry as well.
the LNS and TUED strongly support the application of Just
Transition—a topic of an article in the February issue of this
newspaper. This long standing working-class principle holds that when
workers lose their livelihood for the better good of society we have
a collective obligation to give them income, retraining, and
relocation support until they can find suitable new jobs.
Trump’s phony promise of putting miners back to work digging coal,
we can honestly and confidently guarantee Just Transition to the
millions of workers who will be affected as we replace
climate-wrecking jobs with sustainable ones. At the same time as we
save our biosphere, we will generate full employment with a decent
standard of living for generations.
the working class replaces the present capitalist ruling class, we
can use some of their ill-gotten wealth to also provide generous
solidarity grants to nations exploited by the old rules, so that they
too can be part of making a decent living on a healing planet.
of course, won’t be done overnight. While climate change
relentlessly advances, the struggles for both climate and class
justice are in their early stages. There are no short cuts. We need
to continue to educate and motivate around the urgent need for
climate action while helping the working class recover
from class identity
theft. Periodic mass demonstrations, along with education in union
halls and workplace break rooms, and teach-ins on college campuses,
and environmentalists have done their job well in explaining the
climate crisis and offering ways to satisfactorily resolve it. But
the necessary alternatives require taking political power away from
the climate-wrecking class. That won’t be done until the working
class breaks the two-party political monopoly that allows this tiny
destructive minority to rule. The need for a mass working-class party
in the United States—likely arising from our unions—is every bit
as urgent as the climate crisis itself.
>> The article above was written by Bill Onasch and is reprinted from Socialist Action.