Jeremy Corbyn, here’s how to address climate change like an anti-capitalist
It is in a comradely manner, as a socialist within the Green Party, that I offer some genuine advice to Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. I watched Jeremy’s speech in Glasgow where amongst other things he laid out ‘Standing to Deliver’, his 10 point policy platform. It was very good, and I hope he wins, but there was one small area that could use some work, and that’s his point on the environment.
Here’s what he said (starting at 26.20):
“We live in a world that is in peril. An environment that is at risk, pollution levels that are unbelievable, and climate change that is absolutely happening. There are millions around the world whose livelihood is being destroyed through desertification, deforestation, floods and many other things. We need to have an attitude of mind towards the natural world and the environment, about how we conserve what we’ve got, use what we have more carefully, recycle what we can, reuse what we can, and look to the damage we’re doing to biodiversity and ecosystems everywhere. It’s very important, not just for us and this generation, but for future generations. So it’s an attitude towards the environment and how as a government I think we should approach it by international legally-binding regulations on emissions, on the way in which the pollution takes place around the world, and how we protect our environment.”
This sounds like it was written by someone who has realised they need to include a point about the environment and recognises that protecting the environment is important, but hasn’t had time to think through what a leftist’s perspective on that should be.
Fortunately, socialists within the Green Party have had many years of debating precisely this issue, and are in a position to offer some perspective.
Broadly within various Green Parties there are two main camps. The first are those who portray themselves as ‘real environmentalists’ and who say the party should focus more on recycling, getting rid of plastic bags, insulating homes and cutting emissions, and who broadly see the solution to climate change as reducing their own carbon footprint and that of others, often promoting lifestyle changes such as cycling and vegetarianism. Some are a little more extreme and call for population control, but the focus is on reducing the environmental impact of individual human beings.
The second camp recognises that in order to stop climate change and other environmental destruction, the economy itself is going to have to change in a fundamental way. Whilst they certainly don’t disagree with home insulation, recycling and cutting emissions, they acknowledge that this will in no way be enough, and that large scale systemic change is required. Ecosocialists, who make up a large proportion of this group, believe that that systemic change must be the destruction or curtailment of capitalism.
That sounds right up Corbyn’s alley, but his speech sounds much closer to the former camp.
It isn’t just a matter of rhetoric – I very much believe that the current approach will merely tinker around the edges whilst the planet burns. Here are some ways Corbyn can address climate change in a manner in keeping with the rest of his socialist politics.
- Know who to blame. The blame for climate change and environmental destruction should be laid squarely at the door of the capitalist class and the free market. Those forces together will extract every last drop of oil from the ground and will burn up our planet for profit, in the biggest market failure in human history, unless they’re stopped by democratic forces. Like any leftist campaign, we should target the powerful.
- Get angry. Corbyn’s finest moment was when he spoke of trade union suppression and its effects on health and safety and workers’ deaths around the world, when uncharacteristic anger was allowed to rise to the surface. Climate change and peak oil aren’t some future concern – it’s happening right now, and it’s causing wars, refugee crises, starvation and suffering in some of the world’s most vulnerable places.
- Be clear – don’t talk about the human race as ‘we’. Whilst it is correct that the capitalist class are part of humanity, it isn’t particularly useful to say that ‘we’ have caused climate change and environmental destruction. The levers of power are actually out of reach of most people. Similarly ‘we’ as individuals can’t stop it. Our consumer choices will do little to bring about change.
- Don’t talk about changing people’s attitudes. Creating ‘an attitude of mind’ about the environment is not actually going to change anything in and of itself. Even if 90% of humans considered themselves part of nature and publicly opposed environmental destruction, they would still be locked into a system of destructive economic exploitation unless they took action to dismantle that system.
- Don’t talk about environmentalism as if it has to involve sacrifice – tie it into your other priorities. A well-known cartoon shows a delegate at the climate summit asking “what if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” Addressing environmental destruction isn’t necessarily about being less well-off now to protect the future. An economy which takes climate change seriously is one which distributes wealth more equitably, which creates good jobs, which depends less on a risky finance sector, which is run in a more democratic way. These chime very much with Jeremy’s other policies.