September 26, 2013

Environment crisis: can capitalism cope?

Johan Boyden,
Peoples Voice Newspaper

Oil spill creates toxic legacy. Government accused of muzzling scientists on climate change. Invasive species threaten wildlife. High cancer in Natives linked with tar sands: study. Global warming causing storms, freak weather. Park privatization bad for environment, union says.

These kinds of headlines are all too common in the media today. Both in Canada and around the world, society is facing increasingly dangerous environmental crises.

It seems almost everyone agrees, at least in words, that not enough is being done to really turn the problem around. If anything, matters are getting worse.

Much of what scientists predicted and modelled about climate change ten or fifteen years ago is not only beginning to come true, but in some cases is proving to be an under-estimate.

Many more people die in Canada today of illness related to air pollution than are murdered. Yet while violent crime rates drop, governments expand funding for police and prisons while dismantling many environmental regulations.

And while there still seems to be money for fighter jets, bombs and war, under "austerity" budgets no funds are available for children's playgrounds, parks for camping and nature -- or even water filtration plants for over a hundred Aboriginal Reserve communities across the country.

Has it become too much just to ask that we live in a safe and healthy environment? Why are we always being told we must choose between the environment and jobs?

Despite expensive "smoke and mirrors" corporate campaigns to change public opinion, millions of people in Canada are correctly blaming big business as the major culprit for environmental disasters.

The destructive policies of the Harper Conservative government have in many ways put a face to the attack against the environment.

Readers of People's Voice share the very real concern of Canadians about these issues.

Positively, growing numbers of labour activists, environmentalists, and other progressive-minded people are also calling for a new direction, to put Canada back to work while taking comprehensive action on the environmental problems.

As the so-called "economic recovery" drags on, ideas about creating new jobs, such as building tens of thousands of units of green affordable housing, and developing alternative energy industries, have growing traction.

Even the big corporate political parties pay lip service to such ideas. What is lacking is the political vehicle of a broad people's coalition to bring about such an alternative, democratic and pro-environmental agenda.

Is such a movement possible? Yes. Most of the major new social protest movements in Canada covered in our pages make a strong connection with environmental struggles (Occupy, the Quebec Student Strike, and Idle No More), or put the environment centre-stage (like the anti-pipeline movement).

The noise coming from the streets today, especially from young people yelling at the top of their voices, is that enough is enough. This is the sound of a brave call, linking the rights of people and nature -- opposing growing poverty, war and capitalist greed.

We need to make that call much louder and more powerful, resonating through the land, urging united mass action for a democratic, pro-environmental and pro-peace agenda.

This article is the first in a series presenting an extended discussion about building mass action for an alternative agenda that puts nature before profits.

The article series grew out of a short presentation I made to a week-long training camp of labour, youth, student, peace and environmental activists about building a united fight back against austerity, the Harper Conservatives, and corporate rule organized by the Communist Party of Canada.

We made the case why labour should be at the core of the environmental fight back, the toxic relationship between capitalism and the environment, and the need for a socialist alternative.

"Reds" have a long and relatively proud history struggling on "green" issues. It is, we think, only "natural" that these voices have long been part of the chorus of calls concerned about the world environmental crisis.

Sustainability, to draw from the UN definition, is about "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future." Life itself has shown that capitalism is a highly destructive system which in many ways even threatens the existence of many animal species including our own. Capitalism cannot meet the needs of today, let alone tomorrow.

In reality, therefore, capitalism has no future. Could it be that real sustainability means ending oppression and exploitation, winning real democracy, peace and a socialist future for Canada? These are questions we hope to discuss in coming issues.
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