VOICE EXTRA: Covid-19, poverty and the climate emergency – the global crises that only socialists can solve

CORONAVIRUS: Covid-19 has temporarily ground economies to a halt, causing crises in an economic system that is dependent on perpetual growth – in doing so it has relieved pressure on the environment

by Graeme Cullen and Hugh Cullen

· If the COP26 conference takes place in Glasgow next year, world leaders must discuss the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on the struggle to reduce global emissions.

‘Commitments’ made at previous UN meetings were underwhelming and most major countries are not on target, most notably the USA who were pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement by Donald Trump, seemingly at odds with China and prominent EU countries who are, publicly at least, attempting to meet the target of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.

Yet even China’s modest improvement in reductions, achieved by ‘offshoring’ many high polluting industries to neo-colonies across Africa and the ‘New Silk Road’, would still contribute to a 3-4 degree global increase.

Those leaders who attempt to address the global climate emergency will likely continue to misinterpret the crisis as one which can be solved in partnership with global capital in the race for short-term GDP growth.

It is for socialists and the organised environmental and workers’ movements to convince and mobilise people based on the understanding that issues of pandemics, biodiversity, climate change and the democratic control and ownership of land and industry are all connected by the international struggle against capitalism.

Covid-19 has temporarily ground economies to a halt, causing crises in an economic system that is dependent on perpetual growth. In doing so it has relieved pressure on the environment. The near international shutdown of non-essential industry in efforts to control the spread of the virus has the inadvertent consequence of significantly reducing emissions.

It is unknown to what extent this will be; this depends on the scope and length of the lockdown. Already New York, in the country with the highest pollution per capita, has reported a near 50 per cent reduction in emissions from last year. China, the world’s largest polluter by country, has reported a 25 per cent decrease in total emissions.

When the pandemic ends, multiple crises will still be ongoing. World leaders will want to ‘un-pause’ economies and continue as was—a race to the bottom where workers pay and conditions, public services and our natural world are plundered and disregarded in the name of profit. This crisis can’t be solved by staying at home. It will only be solved by mobilising on a huge scale.

China has a momentous record in wielding the potential power of the state to contain viral outbreaks, reduce pollution in cities for major events and grow its economy at the expense of the environment.

Traditionally, a rural or working class Chinese/Taoist lifestyle is far more aligned with the natural environment than industrious Western capitalism.

Yet, they have bought into the free market global economy and are wedded to its environmental degradation and their own authoritarian control. Decisions to prop up Western consumer economies with loans after the 2008 financial crisis ties them to the fortunes of the new globalised world.

Competition with the US and its allies only entrenches their need for economic growth at all costs.

In Britain—like many in the liberal Western axis of today’s global capitalism—the actions being taken to rapidly increase the size of the NHS and protect most businesses and some workers’ income give people a glimpse of the potential difference a country can make when it is fully mobilised to deal with a crisis.

But governments are only taking actions, labelled as ‘socialist interventions’, to save capitalism and its bosses. They have no alternative and will do anything to stay in control.

What neither set of leaders will embrace is the need for a system that democratises society; land, workplaces and the state; to empower communities to protect our environment and harness it’s potential to really meet our needs.

Biodiversity fights disease
Biodiversity is the abundance of species in our environment; it relates to the number of different ecosystems that exist, the number of different species in ecosystems and the genetic diversity within a species population. Our planetary biodiversity is under severe threat from countless sources as capitalism destroys our environment for profit.

Biodiversity is an important factor in mitigating pandemics because a lower level of biodiversity increases the danger of diseases forming and spreading.

Ecosystems in equilibrium are resilient to disease, and this depends on a healthy biodiversity. This is because of a number of factors:

· If there are a variety of different species and one species is susceptible to a disease it will only affect that species and has a low likelihood of spreading to other individuals within that species.

‘Commercial mono culture plantations’ (farms of all one species) are at high risk of disease as if one plant is infected then it will spread quickly to all plants in the area due to nothing else being allowed to grow and them being planted as close together as possible to increase profit. If a virus is established in a population then there is an increased chance of cross-species transmission (such as occurred with Covid-19 and other zoonotic diseases);

· Genetic diversity enhances natural selection and means that species will have stronger immune systems that are more resistant to diseases. You need a large, steady population size to attain genetic diversity which requires large healthy ecosystems for them to live in.

Most modern farming uses monocultures with low genetic diversity as they breed for specific traits (say large udders on cows) and pump drugs into animals to try and compensate weaknesses.

Healthy ecosystems can better bounce back if there are consequences of a disease; if an ecosystem is under heavy stresses already then it is weaker, and disease will further degrade the environment potentially causing a collapse if the role the species play in the ecosystem are removed.

If an ecosystem is healthy and in equilibrium then if a niche is lost it can be replaced or adapt easily. It is needless to say that our ecosystems are already under heavy pressures from, to mention a few, climate change, deforestation, and urban sprawl.

The destruction of biodiversity and humans coming into contact with animals from mono culture farms and damaged wild ecosystems is causing the number of diseases to increase and transfer to humans.

As corporations encroach further into previously ‘wild’ areas we put people closer to these disease prone environments. This is worsened still by a booming, globalised agricultural and animal trade industry with low standards of regulation and high competition.

As long as money can be made from destroying the environment, and subsequently ruining our biodiversity, we will have pandemics like this one. As environmental degradation worsens we are only going to have more of the situations we are currently in, especially in an increasingly interconnected world. It is only through democratic control of these abusive industries that we can replace the bottom line with protecting biodiversity.

Socialist solutions to climate change
Unlike the financial crisis of 2008, we must not foot the bill for bailing out greedy corporations and the politicians at their beck and call.

These crises make ordinary people worse off so solutions to them must advance the interests of the working classes. Otherwise we will not mobilise enough to deliver transformative change.

When we rebuild the economy after this crisis, help us fight for a fair and sustainable society.

‘Eco-capitalism’ is inadequate for the task at hand as private ownership will only continue the cycle of decline, plunging us into crisis after crisis. No world leader has the answer.

Only socialist principles of democratic public ownership of key industries can ensure a just transition and create thousands of green jobs. High skilled jobs are necessary to transform our economy, and with common ownership the rewards will be shared.

This has to be a key demand at the now delayed COP 26. Whenever it takes place, it will be an opportunity for activists to solidify our demands and learn from this disaster for the next.

The Scottish Socialist Party proudly campaigns for free publicly owned transport, democratic public ownership of the energy industry, the refurbishment and building of affordable homes to the highest environmental standard and democratic public and community ownership of Scotland’s estates and farms.

These demands specifically address the global climate emergency, standing alongside our wide-ranging policy platform which aims to challenge power and control.

We will work with the environmental movement and others on the Left to advance the interests of working class Scots. Ours align with those of the working class of the world.

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