There were clearly massive benefits that came from the Industrial Revolution, as well as the horrors of early modern capitalism but those involved may not have appreciated the full significance of their actions. Because, many megatonnes of toxic fumes later, in 2023, we have just experienced the hottest year on record.
When our current average global temperature is compared to that of the late 19th Century (ie when we really got into burning fossil fuels) it is about 1.48 degrees higher. This rise in temperature comes about through the increase in the emissions of ‘greenhouse’ gases (mainly carbon dioxide) which trap heat near the Earth’s surface but a hotter climate isn’t, of course, the only effect. Amongst the many symptoms are longer heatwaves exacerbating droughts, wildfires, heavy rainfall and floods; glaciers melt more quickly causing rises in sea level and the natural world is thrown into disorder. The COP UN climate change meetings have required nations to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2050, i.e. harmful emissions going into the atmosphere are balanced by their removal. (To read about how little progress has been made at these conferences see ‘COP28: No solution while profit and capitalist competition reign’).
Crumbling capitalist system
The people who disagree with this premise are often defending their part of a crumbling capitalist system. For example, in Brazil, ex-President Bolsonaro encouraged the clearing of vast acres of the Amazon rainforest for agricultural production and claimed to be acting in the interests of ordinary working people. New logging jobs, and profits for the logging companies, may have been created in the short term, but he is also hastening a major environmental catastrophe which will have the worst impact on working-class and poor people across the planet.
The challenge for socialists is to convince people that it is possible to pursue green policies and provide substantial employment within a landscape of renewable resources, because it is.
In one short article it is difficult to fully reflect the impending sense of doom brought about by climate change. The Socialist Party puts the blame squarely at the capitalist system, which needs to be replaced by a democratic socialist society to guarantee a better future for all. Among the demands we fight for in our ‘What We Stand For’ are:
- Prioritising major research and investment into replacing fossil fuels and nuclear power with renewable energy and ending the problems of early and unrecycled waste
- Take the wealth off the super-rich! For a socialist government to take into public ownership the top 150 companies and the banking system that dominate the British economy, and run them under democratic working-class control and management. Compensation to be paid only on the basis of proven need, not to the fat cats
- For a major, publicly funded, insulation and energy transition plan for existing housing stock
- Nationalisation of the energy companies, under democratic workers’ control and management, in order to carry out a major switch to clean, green energy, without any loss of jobs, pay or conditions
- A democratically planned, massively expanded, free-to-use, publicly owned transport system, as part of an overall plan against environmental pollution