Marxism and the Changing Climate
Written by Ndumiso Ncube
Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Worldwide, science shows that climate change is speeding towards a point of no return; tipping points from which damage will be irreversible. Despite the wealth of scientific evidence, world leaders are doing nothing of value to act against this disaster, with COP25 in Madrid the latest example. To address climate change effectively, a united working class must lead the way to change the system.
Humanity is part of nature and depends on it for survival. Marx used the term “metabolism” to describe the necessary exchanges between humanity and our environment. He observed how the development of capitalism had opened up a “metabolical rift”, which today has grown into a gaping chasm that threatens our very existence.
Research shows the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is increasing rapidly: in the past 19 years it has increased by 10%! In 2000, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 367 ppmv (parts per million by volume). Today is is 407 ppmv. The loss of polar ice, higher temperatures globally, rising sea levels, and drought are only some of the effects. The rate at which floods occur has increased 15-fold since 1950. Africa is the highest on the Climate Change Vulnerability Index, which measures the negative impact of climate change on human populations and the ability to cope with these changes. If business as usual continues, parts of Africa could be uninhabitable by 2100.
As Earth’s temperature rises rapidly, scientists are concerned for human survival – with a mere increase of 1,2°C we already witness devastating cyclones such as Idai, drought such as in the Northern and Western Cape, and forest fires in Australia, the Arctic, Central Africa and the Amazon.
Industries continue harmful practices like deep mining, fracking, fertilisers, etc, even with green alternatives in existence, because spending on new machinery and technologies would impact their profits. 800 000 people die annually from breathing contaminated air. Millions of farmers worldwide are struggling to adapt to changing weather patterns, diminishing grazing fields, and decreasing crop yields, resulting in famine, drought, malnutrition and starvation.
The challenges confronting humanity require a coordinated global effort to shift the production of energy, agriculture, food, metals, textiles, as well as transport, construction and forestry – in short, every aspect of the economy.This is impossible under the capitalist logic which subordinates everything, including people and planet, to the profit motive. Marx explained, capitalism will remain in conflict with nature; to continuously expand it exhausts natural as well as human resources. Therefore, it is bound to come up against natural limits as resources are depleted.
Marx argued that the socialised human must actively manage the relationship between human and nature, taking rational measures to ensure the sustainability of life on earth. Only an international socialist society, run by the working class will be able to take the necessary steps in dealing with climate change.
Global protests against climate change, sparked by the Fridays for Future movement, are taking place. In many countries, youth strike from school every Friday and millions have taken part in strikes calling for climate justice and system change.
Marxists need to stand with young people fighting for their future. As the workers movement awakens to the devastating impact of climate change, we must clarify that capitalism itself must fall, remaining resolute in our call for the working class to join and lead the struggle for system change – for a socialist alternative!