Capitalism is destroying the climate

This article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 10 No 5, published 31 October 2021.

The UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) is scheduled to run in Glasgow for two weeks from 31 October. It will not stop catastrophic climate change.

If global temperatures rise more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, the world faces the real possibility of an uncontrolled catastrophe that ends industrial civilisation and wipes out at least 80% of the world’s population. If they rise more than 2.0ºC, uncontrolled catastrophe is practically guaranteed. To avoid this, the world needs to end greenhouse emissions and start removing past emissions from the atmosphere. Because of inaction in previous decades, global emissions need to be cut virtually in a straight line from now to reach close to zero in 2030, not 2050. Capitalism can’t do this.

Political effort by governments and all the media publicity about COP26 focuses on achieving net zero emissions by 2050 (NZ2050), but this is flawed in two ways. Firstly, 2050 is too late and secondly the “net” in net zero is hugely misleading.

As explained by the Breakthrough Institute in “Net Zero: A Dangerous Illusion” (, some climate tipping points have already been crossed at the current 1.2ºC of warming, while sulphate-based aerosols from the burning of fossil fuels are masking 0.5ºC of warming. There is no carbon budget left for a safe transition. All emissions from now increase the risk of runaway climate change and a hothouse Earth incompatible with the survival of industrial civilisation. We need to decarbonise society at the fastest speed technically possible. To make this politically possible requires a revolution to overthrow capitalism.

Secondly, even if one were to accept the unacceptable risks involved in a deadline of 2050, the “net” in “net zero” is dangerous. The most popular NZ2050 plans in circulation involve fossil fuels comprising up to 50% of primary energy use in 2050. These would supposedly be offset by land-based carbon farming and/or carbon capture and storage (CCS).

At the scale contemplated in NZ2050 plans, though, carbon farming would require 25% to 80% of all land currently under cultivation. There goes the food supply! And CCS is a complete rort. Costs are ruinous and there is no working CCS scheme that captures anything like the amount of carbon it promised. Both provide incentives to continue unsustainable emissions and, to the extent they are even possible, use up storage capacity which will be needed for drawing down excess greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.

Steps Towards a Strategy

Given the dire situation, a strategy for solving it is required. The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group supports all attempts by elements in the climate movement to disrupt the orderly functioning of capitalist society, provided reasonable care is taken to protect public safety. This includes support for non-violent direct actions planned to have a substantive effect rather than be the occasion for choreographed mass arrests.

Much more, though, is needed. Some elements in the climate movement have a strategy of sabotage. We defend these people against State persecution, but it is not a strategy we advocate. It is difficult to devise substantial actions which are both effective and not a hazard to public safety. In addition, this strategy usually draws repression on the movement greatly out of proportion to the outcomes achieved. Overall, it is the action of a minority which despairs at the prospect of convincing the movement as a whole to act effectively.

The best opening for effective action that the MACG can see lies with the School Strike for Climate. Firstly, this is already an international movement with a degree of public profile. Secondly, the public face of the movement, Greta Thunberg, has left it open-ended and capable of development. And thirdly, the support for the School Strike for Climate shown by unions lays the basis for truly effective action.

What is necessary is to create workplace climate groups that link up with the School Strike for Climate. These groups will discuss the way the climate crisis affects their industries, the responsibility of their bosses for aggravating climate change and what possible solutions could be. They would develop the School Strike for Climate into a Workers’ Strike for Climate. In the process, workers would need to become capable of acting independently of the union officials and of defeating them when these officials try to dampen down action.

Only the power of workers in the workplace is capable of stopping climate change. Without it, the capitalists will retain control of the economy and set limits on the ability of governments to take action. It is necessary to rip the economy out of their hands by workers organising to take control of their workplaces and restructuring the economy along sustainable lines. In the course of building this movement, it will become clear that this adds up to a revolution to overthrow capitalism.

Nothing else will work.