On the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, 20 million people marched. Why did so many people come out for Earth Day? Not only was the 1970 march set within a period of mass mobilization in the U.S., but pollution was much worse and much more visible than today. U.S. cities were industrial centers with little regulation of vehicle emissions or industry so large populations experienced pollution first-hand, unlike now where pollution from industry is felt mainly by poor people abroad where U.S. manufacturing has fled to.
In 1970, leaded gasoline was still the norm. The year prior, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire due to the immense quantity of industrial waste being dumped into the river. Until the 1960’s, San Francisco Bay was essentially a dumping ground for industrial waste and raw sewage. So, there were very tangible reasons to protest.
Whereas, today, in most places in the U.S., the skies are fairly clear, in most cities water appears clean, and the effects of climate change are subtle and vary greatly across the country, with some areas experiencing more frequent tornadoes, and others longer droughts and heatwaves, and others more frequent floods, but nothing extremely jarring that the vast majority confront in the daily lives.
This is what writer and scientist Jared Diamond termed “creeping normalcy… the way a major change can be accepted as the normal situation if it happens slowly, in unnoticed increments, when it would be regarded as objectionable if it took place in a single step or short period.” So, for all these reasons, we shouldn’t be shocked if there aren’t 20 million people in the streets at this year’s climate actions. There are many factors that contribute to people protesting, and a sense of urgency on a personal level is a major factor.
Trump’s proposed budget cuts for environmental and science funding threatens not only an acceleration of climate change, but a return to the days of smog-choked skies and flammable rivers. And this is on top of already weak protections for the environment and public health.
More regulation is needed, not less
Even today, thousands of household goods contain chemicals linked to health problems, with a 40-year-old, weak law that doesn’t give the EPA the power to act. The principle of “acceptable risk” is currently practiced by business and government, meaning a certain amount of human and property loss is acceptable.
For example, most upholstered furniture and bedding contains flame retardants linked to cancer, detergents and household cleaners contain chemicals known to cause respiratory problems, most plastic water bottles leach toxins, including endocrine disrupters, into the water inside, and that’s even those that are BPA-free. And then there are all the toxins in processed foods, from artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners to preservatives, as well as pesticides and untested GMOs. Capitalism is literally poisoning us and making profits while doing so.
Industry is essentially given the green light to use whatever chemicals they want while the government policy is “innocent until proven guilty.” And when the environment is a toxic soup of all these chemicals accumulating and reacting together in ways no one predicted, it becomes impossible to prove that one single chemical or manufacturer caused someone’s health crisis.
You may remember the incident after Hurricane Katrina when 120,000 FEMA trailers provided for the victims were found to be emitting toxic levels of formaldehyde. According to the government, the risk was acceptable because the need for housing was great and the cost was low. You can see how this policy affects vulnerable populations the most.
What we really need is much more regulation and oversight, not less. The EPA and other regulatory agencies are already operating on bare bones budgets with insufficient staff and funding in relation to need. But, we have to remember that this did not begin with Trump.
Trump, the new Reagan
Ronald Reagan cut funding to the EPA by 22 percent blaming environmental regulations for the flight of manufacturing oversees, the same lie that Trump is using. Capitalism always seeks higher profits. Perhaps, some weak environmental protections in developing countries were partially the reason, but the real draw was the cheap labor market that U.S. companies aimed to exploit.
Trump is threatening to cut the EPA by another third on top of the Reagan-era cuts of nearly one quarter. The Trump regime is also discussing overturning the national emissions restrictions adopted under Obama, which brought the national standards on par with those in California, which are the strictest in the nation.
The White House also has proposals to reduce restrictions on methane emissions, weaken rules on clean air, workers and food safety, amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the limiting of greenhouse gas emissions, and weaken the Clean Water Act. Trump also plans to increase coal and other extreme fossil fuel production, like tar sands crude, which would push us even faster toward climate catastrophe.
And as always, poor communities and communities of color will be hit the hardest. Pollution exposure increases with poverty as lower cost housing is more often found near freeways and industry. Environmental racism can only exist under capitalism, where essentially your property value determines the pollution level that you are exposed to. Without the law of private property, environmental racism would not exist.
The deepening crisis
In March, we hit 407 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—the highest recorded level ever. CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 100 to 150 years so these emissions have a cumulative effect, along with other greenhouse gases, which is the reason that drastically cutting emissions is so urgent. 2016 was the hottest year globally since record-keeping began in 1880. Sixteen of the 17 warmest years have occurred since 2001. Things will keep getting hotter if we don’t make a major shift in how we live.
And there are other recent signs of the crisis. The past two years have seen massive coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef due to warmer than usual water temperatures with 90 percent of the 1,430 mile-long reef sustaining some level of damage in the first year. Reef systems have the ability to recover, but only if the water temperatures return to normal. Under prolonged stress, the reef will die along with the extensive ecosystem it sustains.
When ocean ecosystems die, there is a chain reaction. As oxygen levels decrease, increased acidification occurs turning the ocean from a massive absorber of CO2 to a massive emitter of CO2.
The loss of sea ice that surrounds Antarctica is also a disturbing sign of things to come. Another sign of the warming planet are the craters that have been appearing throughout Siberia, which have been determined to be the result of methane bubbles from melting permafrost. These bubbles are releasing 200 times the normal rate of methane—a gas that traps 100 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2.
The case of the shocking disappearance of the Kaskawulsh River in the Yukon is another unexpected side effect of the warming poles. The river, which existed for at least 300 years, disappeared in just 4 days after glacier melt rerouted the river and shifted it from flowing north into the Bering Sea to flowing south into the Pacific. Imagine how a sudden shift like that effects the local ecosystem? Immediately a major food and water source is gone and there are now great clouds of dust in the air from the immense barren riverbed.
All these instances fuel what is called a positive feedback loop, which means it actually speeds up climate change, causing more such instances, which in turn speed up climate change even more. You can see where this spiral is headed.
Capitalism vs. the planet
As our banner says “Climate change is the symptom, capitalism is the disease and socialism is the cure.” The inherent need for capitalism to constantly seek new markets and expand production and profits is at its core in complete contradiction to a sustainable world. Corporations’ primary concern is to increase their quarterly returns and please shareholders. Any move toward greening their business is often solely for PR purposes and if the “greening” costs more than it gains, it won’t last. Like Nestle, that recently came out opposing Trump’s attacks on climate science while continuing to bottle scarce ground water around the world and contributing to the proliferation of plastic garbage into the environment.
Capitalism is extremely wasteful. Did you know that 99 percent of products bought today are discarded within 6 months?! And that the waste created just from the production process is 70 times greater than the waste created by disposing of the product itself. And, 35 percent of food produced in the United States is thrown away because too much is produced than can be sold at a profit! That’s capitalism… it is more profitable to be wasteful than to just produce what society needs.
Recently, Bank of America along with Credit Suisse were exposed for providing $230 million in loans to a large Indonesian conglomerate linked to deforestation and forest burning in Southeast Asia.
A 2016 report entitled Shorting the Climate: Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2016, revealed that 25 U.S., European and Canadian banks have large investments in companies involved in extreme fossil fuels, such as coal mining, coal power, and extreme oil (tar sands, Arctic oil, and ultra-deep drilling).
While more developed countries, namely the United States, maintains the largest per-capita carbon footprint of any nation, things look slightly more promising in many developing nations.
Mauritania, Honduras, Uruguay, Jamaica and Morocco are investing the largest percentage per GDP in renewable energy than any other nations. China is at the top of the list of overall investors putting in $102.9 billion in 2015 alone and pledging an additional $361 billion by 2020 (and also shut down its last coal-fired power plant in Beijing in March). Lagging significantly behind in 2nd place is the U.S. with $44.1 billion in investments in renewables in 2015.
Bangladesh takes the lead in implementing home solar systems. As of an Oct. 2016 New York Times article, solar had been installed in 3.9 million Bangladeshi homes benefitting 18 million people. Kenya, Nepal, Uganda and India also score high on progress in developing renewable energy systems.
Much of the developing world faces great challenges to electrification, particularly in sparsely populated rural areas. Investments in increasingly affordable renewable technologies is often more practical and allows for developing nations to not only have more economic independence outside the whims of the global fossil fuel market, but also allows these countries to more easily electrify remote regions through mini-grid solar systems.
Other factors play into the uneven investment between developing nations and so-called “first world” nations. In capitalist America, “business as usual” is the dominant mentality despite the urgency of the looming climate crisis.
Secondly, the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. is extremely powerful, with their armies of lobbyists and personal investments of the politicians, and is tied to so many aspects of the economy, like the military industrial complex, the auto and transportation industries, housing development, and more.
Environmental regulatory agencies hands are essentially tied in their attempts to restrict emissions from big industry. Even the most minor restrictions on emissions ends up being fought in court by the companies who claim compliance will hurt business. For instance, Big Oil claims that environmental upgrades will force layoffs, while at the same time Chevron raked in nearly $27 billion in profits in 2011 alone. So, getting these same companies to willingly stop pushing fossil fuels is challenging to say the least.
Capitalists won’t give up billions to save the planet
Thinking that the 1% will have a change of heart and give up their billions to save the planet is ludicrous. Capitalism by nature relies on the drive for greater and greater profits. If one CEO decides to make their company truly environmentally sustainable, they will be replaced by another who will do the bidding of the shareholders. Increasing profits comes first and that is incompatible with real sustainability. We can’t continue with the model of constantly increasing production and consumption of goods on a planet with finite resources.
And who will bear the brunt of the crisis? It will be the poorest nations and communities of the world due to location, economic stability and access to technology to mitigate the effects and rebuild from climate catastrophes.
When more violent storms devastate crops in a developing country, the people will suffer more than those facing the same disaster in a developed country due to less resources and weaker infrastructure. And in the United States, when the sea level rises and covers Manhattan Island, the rich will just relocate and they will be fine, while the poor of NYC will become refugees. Just look what happened when Hurricane Sandy hit. Poor neighborhoods didn’t see any assistance for a week, with elderly people trapped in tall apartment buildings with no electricity or water and no way to get out if they couldn’t make it down the stairs. Capitalism doesn’t care about human need. Period. If you don’t have the means to fend for yourself, good luck.
And not only will the 1% be fine, they will profit. Disaster capitalism will bring them huge profits from every drought, tornado, wildfire and flood, through investments in insurance companies, construction contracts, and private security firms, private detention centers to hold climate refugees, not to mention investments in weapons manufacturers as armed conflicts will spread as resources become more scarce.
So, we should not be at all surprised by Trump and his billionaire gang’s disregard for the seriousness of the climate crisis. It is well-documented that many of the most outspoken climate change deniers have large investments in fossil fuels. It’s literally a conflict of interest for them to do anything other than deny the crisis at hand.
A system of, by and for the people and planet
And that is why, now more than ever, we need a socialist system, where the resources and knowledge of humanity are pooled to meet the needs of society, not for the profits of a few. The unfettered overproduction of products that don’t last and that we don’t need will be eliminated.
The technology and knowledge is there to move to a sustainable world. Trump says he’ll create jobs by bringing back coal. That is a lie. And the few jobs that may be created is nothing compared to the vast expansion of meaningful employment that could be created under a sustainable socialist system that would positively transform our infrastructure and the way we live.
Millions of jobs could be created in the move to a renewable energy system, to retrofit buildings to be sustainable, to build ecocities that would eliminate the need to commute long distances and that would add value to the ecosystem instead of a drain, to shift to sustainable polyculture organic agriculture, to produce goods and food locally, to expand public transit systems, to educate the entire population on sustainability practices, to restore damaged ecosystems, to train new engineers and scientists and then send them abroad to share technology and train others. There is so much that needs to be done and there is so much that is possible when we simply change the system from one of private profits to one of cooperation and sharing of resources.
Building the new socialist society in these times will be a truly revolutionary and inspiring moment in the history of humanity. Join us in the fight for socialism, a future worth fighting for.