By Sie Ahn & Iswed Tiggjan
The world is in a state of ecological crisis, and has been for some time. The unavoidable reality is there is no longer an option of ‘avoiding’ the crisis. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of people have died over the past two decades as a result of this crisis, and more will continue to die going forward. The ecological crisis can be seen at the root of many social and political crises over the past 20 years, and wars and conflicts over resources such as water are surely to become more common.
When governments discuss the crisis they treat it as if it is something distant or that can be mitigated. In Australia’s case, they avoid doing even this. All governments prioritise the capitalist economy above that of the world’s ecology
. Understandably many people feel despair and urgency, and so look for saviours or a silver bullet that can rectify the situation . For most this saviour lies in the power of the state, hoping it will step in and constraint the forces of capitalism, forcing the massive social changes which need to occur.
In this camp are social democrats and reformists who maintain that by getting “good” politicians into power, politicians willing to institute things such as a green new deal, the worst of the crisis can be avoided. Yet history has shown time and time again that capitalism is unable to be reformed. Capitalism is a system predicated on perpetual growth and the avoidance of absorbing environmental costs. Even if the ideas present in proposals such as the green new deal were capable of fundamentally altering capitalism’s functioning (they are not – for an in depth analysis on why the green new deal would fail even if implemented see here), capitalism would never accept this. Either social democrats would be forced to give up more and more of their programme as they eak closer to state power, or capitalism would use all its force to crush attempts at change. Capital has overthrown democratically elected governments for much less. In response to this some believe that state power is still the solution, but suggest a revolutionary state led by a vanguard party in lieu of a moderate social-democracy
There are a number of issues with this idea. The first is that the state is itself a form of social organisation which contributes greatly to ecological destruction. As the state is a hierarchical, centralised institution it is inherently inefficient at dealing with the complexity that is the ecological crisis. It is important not to reduce the crisis down to simply a factor of CO2 levels and the rising temperature. The land and environment can best be managed in a decentralised manner, by those that have experience and understanding of it. Directives from a small centralised body alienated from the reality on the ground will be forced to respond with one size fits all responses, and due to this will impose measures which worsen the situation – or create a new crisis to deal with starting the whole process over again.
The ecological crisis cannot be viewed or dealt with in isolation, instead it needs to be considered as a part of the web of class society, alongside factors such as colonialism, imperialism, the exploitation of the working class, state oppression etc. The ecological crisis can’t be avoided, but a new society can be built which is much better equipped to handle the crisis in an egalitarian, sustainable and kind manner, while mitigating the worst possibilities from eventuating. For instance, by abolishing borders, people would be able to move freely, from areas in which water or food is becoming increasingly scarce, to areas in which it is more bountiful. While borders still exist, however, the result will be refugee camps, warfare and death.
Believing that there is a saviour or silver bullet to the crisis, or that we can still avoid it completely, stops us from dealing with the difficult questions of complete social transformation. Technology, social relations and more would have to be completely remodeled in order to suit a world in which exploitation of people and the environment is halted. Direct democracy and self-management would have to be encouraged throughout all of society in order to ensure those on the ground are equipped and able to manage their environment (we have thousands of years of First Nations history to show us the effectiveness of this model for sustaining the environment). Levels of consumption, particularly in the west, would have to be drastically lowered from current levels
. All of human social life needs to be transformed. We cannot simply alter parts of the current system. There is no sustainable and egalitarian future in which class society and global inequality persist.
A transformation of the scale required would require nothing short of social revolution involving all the exploited classes across the world. Our salvation does not lie in the state, but rather in the power of the working class. Time and time again we have made the mistake of putting our faith in the state to alter society for us, and time and time again it has fundamentally failed in this task. Well the risks of failure are too great this time, so let us learn from the past and go all the way ourselves.
The panicked sense of urgency around the ecological crisis can easily be used to justify the very system that has led us into this mess by asking the perpetrators to fix it. This is dangerous as it allows authoritarianism to take over our movement in our mad rush to fix the issue. Politicians and NGOs increasingly seek to be seen as leaders fighting for change in order to increase their own power or to increase the power of the capitalist system they represent. They tell us we have 10 years to fix a singular problem – CO2 emissions – separated from all the other contributing factors such as colonialism. People are becoming desperate and this has opened the door to fascism and other authoritarian trends. If people can be led to believe climate change can be solved in isolation without addressing issues like racism, imperialism etc., then they will go against their own interests and morals to allow something, anything to fix the problem, even if that something is fascism. We cannot let ourselves be fooled by quick fixes from above, when it is the entire roots of the system which need to be torn up.