by Alison Bodine, published in Fire This Time, Volume 16, Issues 5, 6, August 2022
The fight for climate justice
It has been yet another difficult week of the climate crisis for mother earth and humanity. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released yet another report. This 6th report highlights how governments lie about the progress they have made to address climate change. This report also focuses on the drastic and immediate cuts to oil and gas production necessary to prevent the planet from warming above 2 degrees Celsius and avoid the most catastrophic impacts on humanity. Yet, the world’s richest capitalist countries and the wealthiest corporations in the world are doing nothing in response to this clear call for climate action.
Our world today is characterized by a drastically warming planet, air pollution, deforestation, ocean acidification, species extinction, soil degradation, the continuing genocide of Indigenous peoples, and never-ending U.S.-led wars and occupations. In this world, Cuba’s 100-year plan to combat climate change is more than just a breath of fresh air.
Cuba’s Life Task: Combatting Climate Change
In contrast to the inaction of the world’s biggest capitalist countries – Cuba is action. Cuba shows us that building a more sustainable and just world is possible but that it requires a fundamental change. Reversing humanity’s destructive relationship with mother earth requires overthrowing capitalism, “system change, not climate change.”
Tarea Vida, or Life Task in English, is Cuba’s 100-year plan to combat climate change and the focus of Dr. Helen Yaffe’s documentary. As the film demonstrates so powerfully, this plan, which was first passed into law in 2017, is fueled by the dynamism of the Cuban revolution. A revolution that is constantly changing, reflecting, and updating – but with the guiding principles of building a transitional socialist society and a planned economy that puts people before profit.
It is only with socialism that Cuba, an island of 11.5 million people, has become a leader in the worldwide struggle against climate change. It is only with socialism that the World Wildlife Fund declared in 2006 that Cuba is the only country in the world with sustainable development, and the Sustainable Development Index ranked Cuba as the number one country in the world in 2019.
Tarea Vida – is only possible because of Cuba’s socialist revolution
Since the 1959 Cuban revolution, the relationship between Cuba’s economy, society and the Cuban environment has been fundamentally restructured – and this can be seen in all facets of Cuban life.
Just think about it, are any of the following actions against climate change possible on a significant scale under capitalism?
Sustainable agriculture. Cuba’s ability to broadly implement sustainable agriculture is based on land reform that began with the triumph of the 1959 Cuban revolution. The land was taken out of the hands of multinational corporations and large landowners, enabling the development of state farms and cooperatives, which laid the ground for Cuba’s sustainable agriculture movement, which grew significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Legislative action that is accountable to the Cuban people. Article 27 of the 1976 Cuban Constitution states, “The duty of the state and society to care about the environment.” The updated 2018 Constitution includes Article 75, which enshrines the “right to enjoy a healthy and balanced environment.” Both Constitutions were approved by the Cuban people in a popular vote.
The coordination necessary to implement a common plan for combatting climate change is enabled by a planned economy. Beyond the economy, civil society, state institutions and levels of government are also able to coordinate public education campaigns with all levels of society through free and accessible mediums. From school curriculums to television programs and billboards, Cuba can make the climate crisis an issue discussed at the dinner table.
Can you imagine if billboards in Canada were dedicated to educating society about the climate crisis instead of selling fast food and disposable commodities? If mass media, the nightly news, and television programming were campaigning about the worldwide impact of more frequent extreme weather events?
As marine scientist David Guggenheim, President of Ocean Doctor, a non-profit in Washington, D.C. that has projects in Cuba, stated in Dr. Helen Yaffe’s film, “It’s impressive, Cuba is an unusual country in that they actually respect their scientists, and their climate change policy is science driven.”
Defeating the U.S. blockade against Cuba is a climate justice issue
Another aspect of “Cuba’s Life Task: Combatting Climate Change” that we have not discussed is that Cuba has become a leader in defending mother earth despite the terrible impacts of a brutal U.S. blockade. The U.S. blockade prevents Cuba from accessing resources and technology needed to combat climate change effectively. It is also an information blockade that limits the possibilities of exchange and collaboration between Cuban and U.S. scientists. This is especially criminal given that the U.S. and Cuba share a vital ocean ecosystem.
The US blockade has also prevented people in the U.S. from learning about and from Cuba’s achievements – from sustainable agriculture to methods for preserving life and the environment with disaster preparedness.
The impact of the cruel U.S. blockade will magnify the effects of extreme weather events and rising sea levels in Cuba, regardless of the preparations and plans of the government of Cuba. Ending the U.S. blockade on Cuba is a climate justice issue because Cuba will only be able to comprehensively tackle the climate emergency if it is able to do so without being tied by the chains of the criminal blockade.
As long as capitalism exists, climate crisis exists
The power of Cuba’s socialist revolution and commitment to defending mother earth and humanity is more clearly understood when we examine its alternative – capitalism. The economic system of imperialist countries, capitalism, is a system that puts profit and the exploitation of resources above human needs. Capitalism is warming, melting, and killing the planet and humanity. In 2017, just 100 corporations produced 71% of global emissions, yet governments around the world let the pollution continue. Why? Because the capitalist system demands that they do so – because capitalism is a system that lives only through the exploitation of humans and mother earth for profit.
Each time a new report is released, such as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the predictions are grimmer and the united voice of scientists clearer. Yet, the governments of the wealthiest countries in the world continue their operations ‘business as usual’. The capitalist system demands that they do so.
Canada, the big-time polluter
This is as true in Canada, a capitalist-imperialist country with a relatively small population; it is a big-time polluter as is the United States. Despite the Trudeau Liberal government professing to be a climate leader on the international stage, Canada is, per person, the world’s highest Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitter. In fact, GHG emissions in Canada have risen the most of any G7 country since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Each person in Canada produces 22 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, three times the G20 average. So, what is the government of Canada doing to reverse this disastrous equation?
The policies of the Trudeau Liberal government are only making Canada’s ecological footprint larger. On March 29, 2022, the Trudeau Liberal government released the “2030 Emissions Reduction Plan: Canada’s Next Steps to Clean Air and a Strong Economy.” This $9.1 billion plan claims to provide the roadmap for Canada to achieve its 2030 emissions reduction targets and reach net-zero emissions in 2050. Instead, it is nothing but a pretty package that hides more oil and gas extraction and export. In April 2022, the Trudeau government also approved the Bay du Nord offshore oil drilling project. They also announced intentions to buy 88 new F-35 fighter jets, which solely aim to destroy humans and nature.
This is what status-quo climate destruction looks like in Canada.
Cuba cannot reverse climate change alone – We need an international climate justice movement
No single country, no one group, no matter how big, will be able to solve the climate crisis by itself. By its nature, the political struggle for a sustainable world requires international cooperation and international class struggle. We need solidarity and, more importantly, unity across borders to become a powerful and effective force against the destruction of the earth by capitalism.
As people that believe that a just and sustainable world is possible, we must fight in defence of mother earth at every level – from local struggles against climate destroying pipelines to mobilizing in defence of Indigenous rights to demanding an end to U.S.-led wars. We must build a more united and stronger climate justice movement with the vision and strategy to direct this movement towards anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. Fighting against the madness of the capitalist pollution drive is interrelated with all other ills of capitalism. This is why Cuba, and the incredible achievements of the Cuban revolution, are such a fundamental part of our conversation. We can fundamentally change humanity’s destructive relationship with our mother earth. Cuba is showing us the way.
What Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro spoke about at the Rio Summit in 1992 is as true today as it was then. I encourage people to read his entire speech. I will end with this excerpt: “Unequal trade, protectionism and the foreign debt assault the ecological balance and promote the destruction of the environment. If we want to save humanity from this self-destruction, wealth and available technologies must be distributed better throughout the planet. Less luxury and less waste in a few countries would mean less poverty and hunger in much of the world.
Stop transferring to the Third World lifestyles and consumer habits that ruin the environment. Make human life more rational. Adopt a just international economic order. Use science to achieve sustainable development without pollution. Pay the ecological debt. Eradicate hunger and not humanity.”
Cuba’s message is clear. A just and sustainable world is possible and necessary. Unity and building united fronts are the key to our victory in the struggle for human and mother earth’s liberation.
*Featured Image: Photo: Greg Watson, Permaculture Design Magazine
This article is based on talks given by Alison Bodine at the International US-Cuba Normalization Conference on March 19-20, 2022 in New York City and on the April 8, 2022 webinar and Vancouver premiere of “Cuba’s Life Task: Combatting Climate Change!”, featuring Dr. Helen Yaffe. The April 8 webinar was organized by Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade – Vancouver, Seattle/Cuba Friendship Committee and Climate Convergence Metro Vancouver. Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette