Why socialists must lead the climate fightback


“We must prepare, not just to cut our emissions and limit global heating, but to prepare for and mitigate the social effects of climate breakdown which will threaten the very fabric of society.”

By Fraser McGuire

By its very nature, capitalism cannot tackle the climate emergency it has created, and neither will it outlast it. If our society and economy are to have any chance of surviving the climate chaos that coming decades will bring, it will need everyone working together for the common good, not the continuation of a system predicated upon rewarding greed and environmental destruction.

Global average temperature records are being smashed and we are watching some of the worst-case climate breakdown predictions unfold in real time. This year has already been the warmest in the Northern Hemisphere since records began, and it seems practically impossible for us to stay this side of the 1.5C dangerous climate change guardrail, with some studies indicating that we are on track for a cataclysmic 3C+ rise by the century’s end.

The effects of anthropogenic climate breakdown have become more frequent, more severe, and more undeniable as deadly weather events and wildfires are making daily news headlines, yet many still fail to grasp the desperate urgency of the situation.

On top of the clear physical impacts of climate breakdown like severe weather and rising sea levels, the social consequences will be dire- dramatically increasing risk of military and civil conflict, mass migration, global health crises, and food and water insecurity.

One projection suggests the world will need 50 percent more food by 2050, while crop yields could be down as much as 30 percent. This translates – on average – to a halving of the available food per person. We must prepare, not just to cut our emissions and limit global heating, but to prepare for and mitigate the social effects of climate breakdown which will threaten the very fabric of society.

In 2017, 12.8 million people voted for a Labour Party that put forward a radical vision of a sustainable transition, while taking a lead on the crucial economic policies needed to mobilise workers, empower communities, and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in green industries. Since then, those responsible for the ecological crisis, the billionaire class, have worked tirelessly to drive a wedge between the broad labour movement and climate campaigns, using the media and manufactured culture war to make the formation of a united front all the more difficult.

The need for radical climate action has never been more pressing, yet much of the climate movement is lacking the necessary analysis to understand the links between capitalism and the climate crisis.

Without the understanding of how our current economic system functions, and why it prioritises private economic gain over public safety and ecological balance, it will be impossible to fully tackle the causes of climate breakdown. Lacking the grounded argument of the climate crisis being underpinned by class inequality, the political articulation of workers in the climate movement will be stifled, and it will be near impossible to develop the concrete policies needed to rally public support behind a transition to a better and more sustainable future.

Market-based ‘solutions’ to the looming social and ecological crisis will only maintain the dominance of the ultra-wealthy and preserve the huge structural inequalities present both domestically and internationally. As we are witnessing, nations in the Global South are already on the frontline of increasingly severe storms and flooding. International solidarity must become a cornerstone of the climate movement if we are to effectively understand and resist climate breakdown.

The left, and the broad labour movement needs to fully embrace the aims, and the warnings, of the extra-parliamentary climate movement. We simply cannot afford to play down the extreme danger of what may be capitalism’s final crisis. Simultaneously, the active participation of workers, socialists, and trade unionists in the climate movement is vital to provide a voice that highlights the political links between the crises of capitalism and the destruction of our natural world, whilst also putting forward a vision for a green, socialist future where workers and marginalised communities are uplifted.

Featured image: Shift the power change the system flag held at The Big One climate demonstration held on April 21st, 2023. Photo credit Sam Browse/Labour Outlook

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