As the UK government joins Scotland and Wales in declaring a climate emergency, it is important to push for climate policies that protect the working classes whilst maintaining pressure on governments and big business. One particular environmental action group, Green Anti-Capitalist Front (GAF), are acutely aware of the disastrous connections between capitalism and the environment. France’s recent Gilets Jaunes movement highlights the necessity for equal climate policies as too often the working people pay the price.
Hate spoke to GAF’s John Warwick about the problem with capitalism, class and climate change, and where to go next.
What are the aims of the Green Anti-Capitalist Front?
Avert climate catastrophe by destroying capitalism, it’s root cause! In the shorter term, we hope to unite disparate groups to form a broad coalition for actions that highlight the role of capital and the state in facilitating the environmental crisis. We also aim to facilitate discussion between different strands of the anti capitalist movement to develop our ideas of what an ecotopia might look like and how we will get there.
How important is it to link the fight against capitalism and the fight against climate change?
Extremely. Without tackling capitalism at the same time, it is very likely that the impacts of climate change will fall disproportionately on the poor and those living in less economically developed countries. Even in Europe, the costs of decarbonising our economy will likely fall on the working class as the costs are socialised, but the profits privatised in a green capitalist model. In the longer term, the next environmental catastrophe is just around the corner if we keep to an economic model based on constant growth and which treats nature as cheap. Climate change is not the only ecological crises we are facing and all of them are exacerbated, or caused by, capitalism.
Why do you think other environmental activists and campaigns avoid discussing capitalism’s role in the crisis?
I think they fall into two strands. Firstly, one that has swallowed the neo-liberal model and thinks the best way out of this is to stimulate capitalists to solve the crisis for us through technological solutions. They believe as the impacts become great, so to will the potential profits and so the market will move to fill this need. This ignores the points above that the costs will likely fall on the working class, but it also forgets the fact of a lag in response of the climate cycle to changes in CO2 concentration. When we are already feeling the sharp end of the impacts of climate change, and thus the market will be stimulated to act, we will already be locked into a trajectory of dangerous levels of warming. Some hope to resolve this through carbon taxes, but again this just allows the rich to continue emitting carbon as before.
Second are the environmentalists who feel they must frame their arguments within the current system both to attract wider support and to affect change in the short timescales needed (e.g. we cannot wait for a revolution to deal with climate change). There is more merit in these arguments (which is why we have critically supported Extinction Rebellion (XR) and hope they do achieve some concessions from the government), however this approach can only ever partially solve the problem. Hopefully it can buy us some time while we work to convince the public of the inherent link between capitalism, the state and environmental degradation.
In recent years I’ve seen hundreds of products claiming to offer solutions to climate change - e.g. bracelets that give money to charities, greenwashing ad campaigns, the irony of products that claim to help you live a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle - how can we encourage consumers to see the reality of these products and the companies who exploit our climate concerns?
People who purport to care about climate change have a higher carbon footprint than those that don’t care about it. This is because the biggest predictor of carbon emissions is the wealth of the individual. The more you earn, the more products you can consume and the greater your impact on the environment. Whilst no one is suggesting choosing products that degrade the environment are a good idea, we have got to understand that we can not consume our way out of a crisis brought about by over-consumption (or at least extremely misdirected consumption). Unfortunately, people want a quick fix which does not impact their life very much, hence they look at just switching one product for another whilst ignoring the systemic problems like the fact the majority of people can not afford the more expensive ‘green’ option.
What realistic actions can people take to start dismantling capitalism and address the climate crisis?
It’s a big problem, isn’t it? Working as part of the Anarchist Federation, we wrote ‘Capitalism is killing the Earth’ (http://afed.org.uk/new-publication-by-the-af-on-ecology-available-online-now/) and identified six key areas to build from.
1. Making the link between capitalism and environmental degradation explicit in our politics and the role of the state in facilitating this.
2. Win the battle of ideas within existing environmental movements so false solutions to climate change are not pushed.
3. Work within our unions to build class power and fight for a just transition.
4. Link up struggles: climate change effects refugee struggles as well as local housing struggles.
5. Develop networks of likeminded people (part of our reasoning for setting up the Green Anti-capitalist Front).
6. Avoid actions which rely on the 'good will' of a politician or the 'expertise' of an NGO.
In an ideal world, what does the future look like?
As an anarchist I believe that ultimately there are many answers to this question and that we must respect a diversity of opinion. My idea of an ecotopia might not be the same as yours, but hopefully we can agree on
elements that are required: renewable energy, food production systems which preserve soil carbon and don’t pollute rivers, carbon neutral transport systems. We then need to work back and look at the decisions we’re making and see if these lock us into a pathway which is incompatible with our future goals. For example, nuclear keep us in a centralised energy system, whereas renewable + battery systems can be decentralised and adapted to local environments. We need to be making the decisions now which keep multiple possible forms of future societies open to us, whilst limiting the power of states and capitalists to take power away from us.
What gives you hope?
As ever, hope lies in the proles. Particularly the young proles. The youth strike movements have been really inspiring- I think a lot of young people are waking up to the fact they’re facing a massive contraction in living standards, both as they pay for the ongoing impact of the financial crisis and now the climate crisis as well.