PSL Editorial – Deadly heat wave sweeping Europe highlights criminal inaction on climate crisis

Students lead a die-in by the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park during the December 6, 2019 Climate Strike. Photo by Liberation News.

Record temperatures continue to sweep Europe, with the UK recording its hottest day ever today – 104 degrees Fahrenheit in London. The heat wave has sparked fires and other emergencies, leaving more than 1,100 dead in Spain and Portugal alone. London’s mayor said that the city’s fire department “is under immense pressure” as multiple blazes break out. This unfolding disaster has rightfully drawn global attention to the woefully inadequate action taken by the governments of the wealthy capitalist countries to address the climate change crisis.

While the rich have the resources to insulate themselves from the worst effects of the climate crisis, workers are left to suffer. Lack of access to utilities and decent housing, pre-existing medical conditions due to inadequate healthcare, dangerous working conditions, and other factors compound with extreme heats to produce deadly consequences. And in parts of the world where infrastructure is less developed and extreme poverty more widespread, the situation is even more severe.

Dramatic action needs to be taken immediately to transform the way that society produces and consumes electricity, organizes transportation and agriculture, and carries out nearly all productive activities. The personal decisions made by individual consumers have a miniscule impact compared to the actions of big corporations and powerful institutions like the U.S. military. The oil and gas industry needs to be abolished, and the vast wealth of the capitalists who control it should be confiscated to finance this transformation and guarantee a dignified standard of living for workers who they had employed. 

But the governments of the advanced capitalist countries, which are responsible for 92% of excess carbon emissions historically, have shown no appetite whatsoever for taking these desperately-needed actions. Last year, world leaders gathered in Glasgow in the UK for the COP26 climate summit, the premiere international gathering on the issue. Fossil fuel corporations were represented at the summit by more than 500 lobbyists – larger than the official delegation of any country. 

Unsurprisingly, no substantive agreements were reached at the gathering. The capitalists were able to wield their power as a ruling class to keep the planet on a path where the very existence of human civilization is in peril. Their reign over society must come to an end.

Democrats do nothing despite control of government

Nowhere is this inaction more glaring than inside the United States. The country that has contributed the most to global carbon emissions is also ruled by an elite that is the most unwilling to take even symbolic steps towards a solution. 

Last year, there were signs that there might finally be significant climate change measures implemented by the federal government as part of the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better” social program expansion. The Democratic Party controls both houses of Congress along with the presidency, and could have passed this bill without a single Republican vote. But instead, the Democrats’ leadership allowed their environmental proposals to be whittled down to nothing by a member of their own caucus, Senator Joe Manchin.

Manchin, who is himself a coal capitalist, engaged in extended negotiations towards the end of the year over Build Back Better, including extensive talks with Biden himself. One of his key demands was to eliminate the Clean Electricity Performance Program from the bill, which would have invested $150 billion in the development of renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels. The Democratic Party leadership agreed, but that didn’t stop Manchin from killing Build Back Better altogether at the end of the year (by publicly announcing his withdrawal from negotiations on Fox News!)

Completely unwilling to fight, top Democrats then accepted Manchin’s humiliating proposal to resume negotiations but for a much smaller package that would involve some tax hikes on the rich and corporations to pay for very limited measures aimed at addressing climate change. This charade finally came to a predictable end last week as Manchin walked away from the negotiating table once again without agreeing to anything. 

While the capitalist class is perfectly happy to count their profits while the world burns, people are uniting to demand action. Students are walking out of their classes, Native people are blocking the construction of pipelines, activists are demanding that powerful institutions divest from the fossil fuel industry, and a whole host of other actions are being taken as part of a global movement for climate justice. This struggle of the people is what can save the planet.

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