Ida Picard at Endgames? Capitalism and the climate emergency

Ida Picard at Endgames? Capitalism and the climate emergency


Thanks so much for that and also for for putting it so clearly why it is so crucial to see climate change in connection with other crises within capitalism, such as imperialism, austerity and the border regime. I’m gonna start by speaking a little bit about capitalism itself The capitalist mode of production is ever continuously escalating the extraction of natural resources which then necessitates a non-stop rising emission of greenhouse gases and pollution and environmental degradation. Without ending capitalism, we have no chance of combatting the climate breakdown Just to take one key example, with our current economic order, major petroleum companies are able to manipulate ideological state control state policies and act as stakeholders in international agreements avoiding liability for damage done to people living near pipelines and other oil facilities. Big petroleum companies have whole departments dedicated to lobbying states and states in capitalism are locked into the pursuit of profit and maximising their own national economic growth. I’m going to quote my comrade Brian Parkin who’s put it this way ‘It is both an irony and a paradox that we have developed the scientific means of understanding both the causes and possible means of reducing climate change whilst being locked into a mode of production in which the appetite for petroleum remains insatiable.’ Meanwhile, the number of people displaced across the world continues to grow The UN is predicting two hundred million climate refugees by 2050. Or as they call it, ‘persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change’ However, when we talk about climate refugees, we need to think about not just those having to relocate due to floods, draughts or extreme climate phenomena, but also about people needing to move due to conflict over resources, food insecurity, imperialist war and economic migration in the wake of whole areas of the world become rapidly made uninhabitable. It is becoming increasingly evident that more and more people will be forced to flee and that meanwhile there is basically a pact existing between our governments and international capital that ensures a license to exploit both labour power and natural resources in increasingly extreme ways. In this context – the role of the state as a “container” of the crisis starts to become clear. And while the pressure is building and breakdown is looming across the world, western states including Britain are fortifying their borders and border controls are creeping ever deeper into all parts of our societies. Borders perform a crucial function of ensuring that the crisis appears contained through the control of citizenship and the control of the movement of people. Borders thus represent an attempt to maintain the global division of labour through creating areas of the world where social reproduction, that is the wages and the maintenance costs of the labour force, is significantly cheaper This division of labour structures the world in such a way that entire sections of the economy are particularly specialised, for example, in extractive industries such as oil drilling. They are also dependent on certain markets which make up the ‘other side’ of this division of labour. So to take one quite clear example, highly intensive mineral mining in Africa depends on and supports global supply chains for phones made in China and then sold in Europe. This means that entire areas of the world have become less and less able to provide for the varied needs of populations who live there. Borders reinforce this division by regulating the flow of commodities between these different poles and tying people to particular areas of the world. Borders reinforce this division by regulating the flow of commodities between these different poles and tying people to particular areas of the world. We also see that extractive industries often provide the majority of the funding for those same militias who police the borders and control the supplies of resources. In Sudan, for instance, the Janjaweed militia get most of their revenue from the Sudanese oil fields, but also from the European Union, which pays them to violently enforce its borders and stop desperate people trying to reach crossing points into Europe. This correspondence of extractive industry, borders and the repressive state machine points to the fact that we have been seeing ‘climate refugees’ in the broad sense for decades in the form of people fleeing the wars in the Middle East waged over one of the world’s petroleum hubs, or in the form of so-called ‘economic migrants’ moving away from areas of the world made uninhabitable or unable to support its population by extractive capital. In Britain the border also creates and reinforces a division of labour. The border regime determines which people have the ‘right’ to work, or to claim benefits, or even to reside in the country. In reality, under capitalism, no-one can live without an income or a wage, and so many migrants are forced to accept illegal contracts paying less than minimum wage, or are frightened into not demanding better pay and conditions by the threat of deportation and criminalisation. And despite that, even sections of the left are failing to show the basic political solidarity needed against the border and against these racist divisions. The border in many ways is a microversion of the global division of labour in capitalism, which is destroying the planet and even mirrors many of the practices of colonial control which were tested on colonised peoples, such as surveillance methods, violent repression, detention without trial and so on… The solidification of the border regimes in the UK, Europe and the US cannot be analysed without recognising that the borders imposed on the world through colonialism and imperialism are both unstable and arbitrary, and that the global ravages of capitalism is creating conditions from which people of course will need to move. Fighting the state on the territory of our borders, calling for an end to borders per se, has long been seen as an extremely radical demand – maybe more polemical than real. But with the climate breakdown this is no longer so. Often, however – conversations about climate change centre not on the ravages of capital, but instead the supposed ravages of people. I will talk about two different, but related examples of this. The first is “overpopulation” – a bogeyman for the climate crisis which is shared across the political spectrum, from mass murderers to David Attenborough. This idea that it is “people” exhausting the world’s resources, and that these resources can never grow at the same rate as the human population is not a new argument. Thomas Malthus called for population control for poor people, whose “overpopulation” he claimed led to a host of societal ills. The same arguments are used today, primarily against “populations” in the Global South: so the argument goes – climate change is caused by “too many people” and particularly, the “too many people” who live outside the West. This is an old argument, and one which was addressed by Marx as well several times – particularly as it relates to Ireland. So the quote as he wrote: “As appetite grows with eating, English rentiers and capitalists will continue to discover that Ireland with 3 and a half million people, still continues to be miserable, miserable because she is overpopulated. Therefore Ireland’s depopulation must go still further, in order that she may fulfil her true destiny: to be a sheep walk and cattle pasture for English capitalists!” Ireland was not overpopulated – neither is the global south overpopulated today. Capital is, however, over-extracting and overproducing. . In the same way that English capitalists was restructuring the Irish economy to gear it towards the wool trade, large parts of the world are made uninhabitable through organising local economies for the production of commodities for export rather than for the reproduction of the population. Put more specifically, areas of the world are only overpopulated in so far as their whole ecosystems become organised to produce certain commodities for international markets. And these global markets are what causes people, the so-called “overpopulation” to have to move. When capital is “booming” there is huge demand for labour, when it is bust those populations are no longer required. This explains, in part, the change in attitude towards migration in the last 50 years – – where in the post-war period European markets demanded more labourers – and were happy to bring them in from the colonies, at worse pay and in poorer conditions than the native population of course. Now, in the context of climate breakdown and imperialist warfare the situation is different. In the same way the Malthusians argue that it is people draining the natural resources of the world, people in the West are describing those who migrate here as draining the resources of our nation states or national economies. The broader point here is that we cannot talk in “abstract terms” about overpopulation, economic conditions are underpinning state responses to migration. Even on the kind of left-environmentalist side, people still use these arguments. For example, Rupert Read, who recently went on Question Time as a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion has written that “mass migration” reduces social cohesion, which in his view means the increasingly collaborative, progressive economy we need to become greener impossible and has argued against moving people from areas where they would have a low environmental footprint to high impact areas like the West. That is just thinly veiled racism, the belief that some people simply belong in poorer and more exploited parts of the world. It is also part of what fuels a growing number of “so-called” eco-fascists, an essentialist, racist view of environmentalism as being about retreating back to our “original” homelands and living separated by race. To finish, I want to conclude by saying the following: While many on the left have been unacceptably slow at accepting that responding to climate change must be a key part of our internationalism and international solidarity as socialists and anti-capitalists, there are some very positive examples too. Earlier this week, an environmental group Bristol Rising Tide occupied part of the Home Office’s depot in Portishead with Reclaim the Power, stopping Immigration Enforcement vans for leaving. The Stansted 15 action, where activists blocked a deportation plane from taking off was organised in large part by individuals who had learnt the techniques of airport protest from the climate movement. During the school strike in September, migrant solidarity groups including Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants organised a bloc, using the slogan climate justice is migrant justice. While, for now, we are not feeling the sharpest edge of climate change in this country and are in some ways separated from those who are, if we consider ourselves to be anti-capitalist must recognise that climate change, as with capitalism itself, binds together each place, each person, and each contradiction. This worldwide ecological breakdown – and the ravages of imperialism, of transnational petro-capital, of increasingly militarised border regimes across the world – cannot be addressed by disorganised legalistic proposals. The Paris Accord, the Supreme Court, and even the Labour Party will not save us from climate breakdown, and they will certainly not save those forced to migrate through imperialist wars, breakdown of ecological systems or deepening poverty. It should come as no surprise to socialists and communists and anticapitalists that the world is facing a breaking point: we have always known that capitalism leads to constant crisis, misery and war. For so many across the world, the catastrophe is already here, it has already been going on for much longer than climate change has been on the agenda in the Western world. . Climate change is simply demonstrating that it is completely untenable to continue to organise the world this way.

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