Needed: a socialist ‘deal’ for the environment

BARACK OBAMA put the environment at the centre of his US presidential election programme by pledging to bring in a ‘Green New Deal’ that could tackle the threat of climate change while generating many new jobs to combat the growing economic recession.

His proposal to spend $150 billion over ten years to develop new green technologies echoes the New Deal introduced by Roosevelt, the US President in the 1930s, who pumped money into the economy to try to counteract the effects of the economic depression.

An urgent programme to tackle climate change is clearly desperately needed, since the latest scientific evidence points to a rapidly deteriorating situation. The rate of melting of the polar icecaps is exceeding already dire predictions. Climate scientists now say that it is ‘one minute to midnight’ before decisive action needs to be taken if global warming’s worst effects are to be avoided.

A huge programme of public spending on the environment could introduce green technology rapidly and create millions of jobs in the process worldwide, because the technology will be relatively labour-intensive.

Roosevelt’s New Deal had a minimal effect on ending the 1930s depression. Obama’s green new deal will probably have even less impact on climate change. The vast majority of people would prefer money to be spent on fixing the planet rather than on bailing out speculators and bankers, but Obama’s deal relies on continuing with a Kyoto-style ‘cap and trade’ treaty, which since it was introduced eleven years ago has been a fiasco.

It has totally failed to tackle climate change. In fact, since Kyoto came in, the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming have sharply accelerated upwards because the treaty had huge loopholes built into it, that firms exploited to avoid paying any penalty if they exceeded their pollution target.

Also, just as importantly, the world’s biggest emitter historically, the USA, that accounts for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gases, refused to take part in the system because US firms stood to lose by far the most.

Will Barack Obama’s election make a difference? He pledged that the USA will join a revamped Kyoto-style permit trading system and further, that it really will ‘make the polluter pay’ this time.

The indications, however, are not good. Climate sceptics in the US Congress already cite the economic crisis as a reason to dump action on the environment, claiming it would ‘push the economy over a cliff’. Even a Senator who sponsored a new bill to include the US in a Kyoto-type scheme says that action will now have to be put off.

This opposition by the big corporations and their government mouthpieces reflects the brutal reality of the capitalist system, particularly in a time of economic crisis. For them, profits are what matters, and the multinational companies that will lose profits if action is taken to tackle climate change, who form by far the majority, will fight ruthlessly to undermine any proposed ‘new deal’ on global warming that has teeth.

Firms battle to survive on a world scale, and national governments represent the interests of the monopolies inside their borders. So any ‘new deal’ that remains inside the capitalist system will be a cosmetic deal. Openly or not, it will allow the culprits, the multi-nationals, to exploit loopholes to keep polluting, since meaningful agreement between competing capitalist nations is impossible.

What is needed is an alternative to capitalism, a Socialist Green Deal, that will take control out of the hands of capitalist institutions and the firms they represent and for the first time will permit the genuine international co-operation needed to tackle global warming.

Such a Deal must include the nationalisation, under democratic control by workers and the community, of the energy generating companies, a huge investment programme to develop public transport and research into improved green technologies.

Pete Dickenson, Socialist Party England & Wales, 3 Dec 08

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