by Jeff Mackler, published on Socialist Action, October 9, 2019
The week of unprecedented massive and worldwide climate mobilizations that began on Friday, Sept. 20, represented an historic breakthrough in the consciousness of the world’s people. An estimated 7.6 million people in 185 countries from every continent on earth except Antarctica mobilized in unprecedented numbers to condemn the governments and politicians of the world for ignoring the impending climate catastrophe that threatens the future of humanity and, indeed all forms of life on the planet.
The week-long Global Climate Strike included some 6100 separate events, largely organized by young people, who struck their schools and took to the streets supported by the broadest array of climate and social justice organizations, community groups, native peoples’ coalitions, trade unions, and left socialist parties ever.
In great part, responding to 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg’s call for a worldwide student strike, a new generation of politically conscious youth rose to fight for their right to a safe and secure future.
The placards and banners held by hundreds of thousands of youth marching up San Francisco’s Market Street on Sept. 20 were matched in political intensity, clarity and passion by those displayed by youth everywhere
“The earth is not dying She’s been killed by capitalism.” … “You know it’s time for change when children act like leaders and leaders act like children.” … “I am striking for every living thing.” … “I want to be a T-Rex. But I don’t want to go out like one! Act Now to Save Our Planet!” … “My education means nothing without a future.” … “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA.” … “I just took a DNA test. Turns out I am 100% terrified for the future.” … “Capitalism Sucks our Resources!” … “You’ll die of old age. I’ll die of climate change!”
July 2019 was the hottest July ever recorded. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of irreplaceable forest have gone up in smoke in the Amazon, and unprecedented forest fires have ravaged Greenland, Siberia and Alaska. Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, typhoon Faxaï in Japan, torrential rains in southern Spain—the list is long, showing the dramatic effect of a 1.1°C increase in the earth’s average temperature over the past century and a half.
The so-called 2°C limit projected to be a “safe” increase in the earth’s temperature is far from being so. Leading climate scientists around the world today agree that it is imperative to stay significantly below the 1.5°C level formally set by the 2015 UN Paris Climate accords, but without any enforceable mechanisms.
Since 2015, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, leading directly to oncoming disaster, with forecasts of up to 7°C or more expected by the end of the century that will render vast coastal areas uninhabitable, threaten fundamental food supplies, expose billions to deadly temperatures, obliterate basic clean water supplies across the globe, accelerate the already massive ocean pollution and related species die offs, and too many associated horrors to contemplate.
The UN Climate Action Summit was held last week in New York City. Although few, if any, of the196 countries that were expected to attend have met their already inadequate commitments made four years ago in Paris, the UN Secretary-General called for “plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050” and “ways to fight fossil fuel subsidies” as well as “carbon taxation and stopping the commissioning of new coal-fired power plants after 2020.” Few believe that any enforceable goals will emerge from this umpteenth summit if capitalism’s profit first and foremost prerogatives and its endless fossil fuel wars are allowed to continue unchallenged.
“In order not to change the climate, we must change the system,” read a Sept. 19 statement of the Fourth International, a worldwide party of eco-socialist advocates operating in some 70 countries.
“Our hope is in what has changed. The global mobilizations led by young people have stirred the conscience of the world’s working people and thus opened the door wider than ever for the construction of new and independent mass action, united front type mobilizations that are capable of posing and implementing socialist solutions that can only be contemplated with the abolition of capitalism itself.”
Millions mobilized in the U.S., with entire school systems shut down, as in New York City, where the school board itself was compelled to bend to student and parent pressure to facilitate student participation in the Manhattan mobilization that drew over 250,000 people. Some 800,000 mobilized across Canada, with half a million joining the protests in Montreal.
In cities across South Africa, and indeed, across the African continent, mobilizations of youth and working people challenged the polluting fossil fuel corporations largely dominated by foreign conglomerates. In Cape Town, more than 1000 grade-school and university students marched to Parliament to demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa order an end to all new coal, gas and oil mining projects, 100% renewable energy by 2030, and mandatory climate change education as part of school curricula.
In Johannesburg, young people shouted, “Act now or there will be hell and high water.” Other placards read: “F**k carbon capitalism” and “Corrupt greed = climate crisis,” as well as “Eco-socialism now” and “Climate justice is social justice.”
Protesters demanded the government declare a “climate emergency and ensure a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy that protects workers and communities.” South Africa is the continent’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, ranking 14th in the world, thanks to its heavy dependence on coal power. The country “produces more carbon dioxide than Britain, despite having 10 million fewer people and an economy one-eighth the size,” according to The Economist magazine.
Strikes take place across Africa
Strikes were planned for at least seven Nigerian cities, such as Lagos, which is clogged by mountains of toxic waste, including thousands of tons of e-waste from the EU, particularly the UK and Germany. Protests were organized in Port Harcourt, capital of the country’s oil-producing region, whose residents and their possessions have been covered in soot for the past few years, believed to be the result of destroying illegal oil refineries.
Similar actions were organized in Ghana, which losing its rainforests faster than any other country, with a 60% increase in primary forest loss from 2017 to 2018. In Senegal, the Friday marches in Rufisque and Thies were followed by a march in the capital, Dakar, on Sept. 27. Air pollution in Dakar is causing more and more respiratory problems, in large part because of dirty sulphur-laden diesel fuel.
As we go to press, reports are pouring in with news of similar mass mobilizations in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Kenyan protesters carried placards stating: “The seas are rising and so must we” and “Wind energy blows me away,” as well as “Be part of the solution, not pollution” and “There is no planet B.” Kenya is expected to see more deadly droughts and floods due to climate change.
Stop the 100 main polluters
Patrick Bond of the South African-based Economic Freedom Fighters organization summarized a political and social perspective that is applicable to the emerging climate struggles worldwide. Said Bond:
“Over 70% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions in the past three decades have been produced by 100 companies. But big business ignores appeals or legislation and the established parties and politicians are on their payroll. We can only control what we own. Therefore, the first step is to take the big energy industries as well as major banks and industries, building, transport and agro-business from the hands of the capitalists into public ownership.
“With those resources, a science free from the profit driven limitations of capitalism is possible. Instead of investing billions in subsidies for fuel corporations, we can develop ecological technologies and materials. We stand for everyone’s right to a good jobs and a life free of poverty, oppression, devastation and destruction. The big companies and their colossal power must be democratically controlled and managed by the working class and the society as a whole. This will guarantee that no jobs are lost but converted in socially useful ones with no loss of pay.”
Bond continued in his September 27 roundup statement on the African climate mobilizations:
“It is ordinary people who suffer most from climate change. And it is those working-class people who have the power to change history. We need to continue the youth climate strike; broaden it by reaching out to working class people and trade unions and unite in a mighty strike: a shutdown of the capitalist economy. This also shows the potential to take economic power into our hands.”
And finally said Bond,
“Human beings are part of the ecosystem—capitalism is not. Fight capitalism to replace it with a society based on needs, not profits—a democratic socialist society! Make a real difference by joining a fighting, internationalist, socialist alternative.”
In the U.S., Socialist Action members mobilized across the country to partake in the planning and building of the World Climate Strike actions. Thousands of young people took our 2020 presidential election campaign literature, met our candidates, Jeff Mackler and Heather Bradford, and signed our contact lists, while scores asked to join our revolutionary party.
Strengths and weaknesses
While the U.S. Climate Strike mobilized millions in the streets and focused international attention on an issue of world importance, it was not without serious limitations. Leading climate and social justice organization, from 350.org to the Sierra Club and Amnesty International and a host of other NGO-type formations largely limited their proposals to achieve climate justice to the electoral process, and especially on the 2020 presidential elections, where the “Dump Trump!” and vote Democratic Party themes dominate their speeches and literature.
350’s executive director, May Boeve, for example, stated on Sept. 20 at the New York City mobilization,
“We have been fighting alongside the student leaders and organizers of the U.S. Climate Strike to push the climate crisis into the center of the 2020 debate and propel the bold vision of the Green New Deal in Congress and across the country.”
No doubt the “Green New Deal,” pressed forward by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, already dead on arrival in the U.S. Congress, will nevertheless be pressed forward as a solution posed as attainable in the context of capitalism’s privately owned fossil fuel monopolies.
Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” (democracynow.org), “The War and Peace Report” team was on the scene on Sept. 20, with Goodman stating,
“So, yes, we are not there yet, but the momentum is building to send the message that nature does not negotiate. We cannot change the science. And all that we have in our world to change now is political will. And to existing political leaders, they need to understand that political will is a renewable resource. So, if they don’t get their act together, they will find themselves out of power, if they’re not willing to listen to the appeals of our children.”
Indeed, even the courageous Greta Thunberg, who demonstrably sailed to New York on a sustainable craft, repeated the same electoral advocacy. Inherent in this simplistic mantra that the only realistic solution to the climate crisis rests in voting for capitalist politicians who pose themselves as friends of the environment, as opposed to the climate deniers, is an implicit acceptance of the increasingly discredited notion that the racist, sexist, exploitative, polluting, war-making capitalist system can be reformed to meet the needs of the world’s people.
The week of actions during the U.S. Climate Strike thus had its own contradictions. On the one hand, it mobilized unprecedented millions around the world to the existential crisis facing all humanity. It demonstrated the power of mass mobilizations to stir the conscience and change the minds of the earth’s people. It demonstrated for the world to see what the repeated poll results have recorded, that is, that the majority of U.S. youth under the age of 30 prefer socialism to capitalism.
But the mobilizations also demonstrated the still existing power of the capitalist establishment, its corporate media, and its “graveyard of social movements”—the Democratic Party—to significantly retain the capacity to direct fighting social movements into the safe channels of capitalist reformism. Breaking with this two-party duopoly via the formation of independent working-class-based united front coalitions that aim to challenge capitalism’s march to extinction remains a central priority, or better a necessity, to save the earth’s people from its would-be destroyers.
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*Featured Image: Demonstrators in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 20. (CNN)
Jeff Mackler is the national secretary of Socialist Action. He is also Socialist Action’s candidate for U.S. President in the 2020 elections and he was the Socialist Action candidate for President in 2016. Mackler founded Northern California Climate Mobilization, is a longtime teacher and union activist with the American Federation of Teachers in Hayward, California and is director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.