The Capitalist System is as Unprepared for Climate Change as it is for Covid-19

by Alison Bodine, published in Fire This Time Newsletter, July/August, 2020

On June 5, 2020, Alison Bodine spoke on behalf of the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice at an international climate justice Webinar hosted by the Venezuela Ecology Movement (MEVEN) and Misión Nevado, a Social Mission in Venezuela dedicated to the protection of animals. The Webinar was entitled, “The Struggle for the Climate Continues in the Time of the Pandemic,” and it discussed the impact of the coronavirus on our planet and the importance of building a movement to protect humanity and the environment. Below is an excerpt from Alison’s presentation, which was originally given in Spanish.

Thank you to MEVEN and Misión Nevado for inviting me to this important panel on World Environment Day. Thank you as well to the people that have spoken before me. I have learned a lot and hope that this is the beginning of us working together to struggle for a better world. I bring greetings and solidarity to everyone from the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice in Vancouver, Canada.

The devastating destruction of the environment by capitalism has shown us clearly that climate change will impact everyone around the world – and so our movement to stop climate change must also be international. No one country, no one group, will be able to solve the climate crisis by itself. By its nature, the struggle for a sustainable world requires international cooperation, solidarity, and, more importantly, unity across borders to become a powerful and effective force.

The global Coronavirus pandemic has exposed how unprepared the governments of imperialist countries such as the United States and Canada are for any emergency. These governments, especially the United States government, where over 100,000 people have needlessly died of Covid-19, have put the interests of profits above that of people. This current health crisis is mainly the result of mismanagement and dysfunctionality of the capitalist order. The climate crisis will be tens of thousands of times worse.

The capitalist system that we live under in Canada and the United States is as unprepared for climate change as it is for Covid-19

From here in most parts of Canada or the United States, it can be understandingly difficult even to grasp the profound changes that the climate and mother earth have already gone through and will continue to face due to the climate crisis. In Canada, for example, the pollution created by the manufacturer of the clothes we wear destroys the air in Haiti, and the garbage produced by the mountains of consumer goods we consume is shipped off to the Philippines. Thus, for most people in Canada, the significant impacts of the climate crisis can be exported.

However, in many places around the world, the reality of these shifts in climate due to economic greed is impossible to ignore – as the storms become unbearable, rising oceans threaten to swallow entire islands, and growing deserts make lands unliveable, forcing migration, famines and a struggle for the necessities of life.

The Coronavirus pandemic cannot be separated from the climate crisis

Rising global temperatures, deforestation, and other forms of destruction of the natural environment under the capitalist system have brought humans closer to wildlife – increasing chances for diseases to spread. As the destruction of the planet continues, there will be more pandemics.

In Canada, as in the United States, the government has taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to pass laws that provide financial relief to polluting corporations but further increase environmental destruction. These governments are not enforcing environmental regulations during Covid-19 and are also ending their funding of clean-up projects. Large mining and resource extraction projects have also been allowed to continue their destruction, putting workers and communities at risk for contracting Covid-19 and especially putting pressure on underfunded rural health systems.

As in imperialist countries around the world, in Canada, Covid-19 has had a greater impact on poor, working, and Indigenous people. Covid-19 hits hardest against people that already experience environmental racism. For example, in Louisiana in the Southern United States, there is an area called “Cancer Alley.” The Business Insider and ProPublica have both published recent articles on this devastated area. As they report, the “Cancer Alley” has experienced very high rates of Covid-19. Of course, it is not a coincidence that the rate of cancer is 50 times higher than average in this area. This community in Louisiana has a very high concentration of petrochemical plants and factories – and this has destroyed people’s health. In general, Black people in the United States are 75 percent more likely to live near industrial facilities – while at the same time, Black people have the highest death rates from Covid-19. In Canada, there are over 100 reservations that do not have running water on any given day. Access to quality nutrition and health facilities is also severely limited for Indigenous people. Because of this, Indigenous communities are at the greatest risk for Covid-19.

Environmental destruction and imperialist wars and occupations

Living in the United States and Canada, it is also fundamental to our organizing for our mother earth that we work to end imperialist wars and occupations. Chemical weapons, especially depleted uranium, have significantly increased cancers in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Conventional weapons that have been massively deployed against people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Mali, Ukraine destroy all aspects of life and pollute the land with toxins. United States-led wars and occupations have destroyed entire countries since 2001. With them, an unknowable amount of animal and plant diversity has been lost, and millions of people have been killed.

The U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest polluter. In Canada, the Department of National Defence also makes a considerable contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Over 1,000 U.S. military bases around the world also introduce massive amounts of pollution and environmental destruction.

Developed countries like Canada out-source their environmental impact. This means that people in the U.S. and Canada enjoy relatively pollution-free environments, clean water (not counting Indigenous reserves in Canada; or Flint, Michigan, and Pittsburgh in the U.S.), and breathable air. Meanwhile, millions of people around the world that live where goods are produced, from clothing to electronics and more, which people in the U.S. and Canada buy, live surrounded by contaminants and poisons.

The government of Canada promotes environmental destruction

Multiple news and scientific reports have reported widely how the world’s wealthiest countries, including Canada, are far from reaching the 2015 UN Paris Agreement climate targets. These countries have the greatest resources to fight climate change at their disposal. Yet, they are even further away from reaching what is required to keep the planet from warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists around the world have agreed that this is the critical temperature to avoid devastating and irreversible impacts on humanity from climate catastrophe.

Canada is, per-person, the highest GHG emitter in the world. Canada’s transportation sector and buildings produce emissions that are four times the G20 average. Each person in Canada produces 22 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, three times the G20 average. Canada may have a relatively small population and a large landmass, but its climate-impact is great.

In the Province of British Columbia, there are two major resource extraction projects that are being pushed ahead by the federal and provincial governments, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Both of these projects are heavily subsidized with tax-payers money. Canada’s government bought the existing Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion after the multi-national corporation Kinder Morgan decided it was no longer a good financial decision continue to operate with the existing pipeline or to proceed with the expansion. The costs of the pipeline expansion, which will be funded by taxpayers, are calculated at more than $12 billion by the government of Canada itself.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline is located on the Wet’suwet’en Indigenous people’s territorial lands in Northern British Columbia. The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who have rights over the territory have not permitted to have Coastal GasLink built. However, before, and throughout, the pandemic the government of British Columbia has allowed the project to proceed and sent the RCMP police force to Wet’suwet’en territory to impose the pipeline construction through intimidation, brutality and arrests.

Building a more united and stronger climate justice movement

We in Canada must fight for a government in Canada that invests in healthcare, education, and sustainable energy development. We must fight for Indigenous rights and the right to self-determination for Indigenous people and all oppressed nations.

We demand a climate justice government that will no longer line the pockets of corporate oil executives in exchange for our future. We believe in a future for humanity on this planet, and to win that future, we must organize for system change, not climate change, in Canada and capitalist countries around the world.

The world-wide struggle for our planet also must be tied to the anti-war movement. Imperialist wars, occupations, sanctions, and blockades destroy the environment and human life wherever they are unleashed. The imperialist war machine also prevents countries from developing their economies or using their resources for their people’s good. The world’s biggest corporations and monopolies control more and more of the world market and pollute and destroy more and more of the planet.

System Change, Not Climate Change

If capitalism persists, the necessity of bringing in super-profits will always surpass the interests of our mother earth. This applies whether we are talking about companies that extract oil, or corporations that manufacture solar panels and build wind farms. The capitalist system encompasses the production and distribution of all aspects of human life – from the production of food and energy to our systems of health and education. Unless we get rid of this system and release the powerful technology and human capacity that is only possible without capitalism, we will not be able to fundamentally change humanity’s destructive relationship with our mother earth.

In this critical fight for our lives, it is also important that we work together around the world to build climate justice movements based in our communities. Large so-called environmental organizations have been exposed to have close ties with the world’s biggest polluting corporations. In countries around the world, U.S. imperialism has also attempted to undermine the sovereignty and self-determination of nations through the funding of so-called environmental groups, which in reality promote U.S. intervention.

The economic system of imperialist countries, capitalism – a system that puts profit and the exploitation of resources above all else – is warming, melting, and killing the planet and humanity. Each time a new report is released, the predictions are grimmer and the united voice of scientists clearer. Yet, the governments of the wealthiest countries in the world continue their operations. It’s business as usual. In much the same way as we have seen governments around the world attempt to return to business as usual despite the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

For poor, working, and oppressed people around the world, every new piece of devastating news about the crisis of our mother earth is a call to action. Yes, the destruction of the planet is something that we can all be angry, sad, and depressed about, but we have not other option but to fight back. To do this, we must build a more united and stronger international anti-capitalist climate justice movement.

Alison Bodine is a social justice activist, author and researcher in Vancouver, Canada. She is
central organizer with the grassroots climate justice coalition Climate Convergence in Vancouver, Canada. Alison is also on the Editorial Board of the Fire This Time newspaper.  Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette

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