I’d like to clear up a couple of things from the beginning of this article. Firstly, I’m aware that the title reads like a piece of McCarthyist propaganda, but I promise that it’s not. Secondly, on the origins of this piece. It started out as a bit of a rant entitled “For goodness’ sake, define your terms”, which was spurred on by an oil spill in Mexico being blamed on “capitalism”, despite being caused by a state-owned oil company. It was about my frustration that people blame lots of things on “capitalism”, and define that word as anything to do with “money” or or “profit” or “bad”. It was about that vagueness preventing any real change; it was about people missing the damn point. I may end up re-writing that article at some point, but not for now.
This one is somewhat similar.
The world is dying. Humans are fuelling that death. Trying to save the world by changing our economic system to one which is (depending on who you ask) either “untested” or “an abject failure” is not going to help. For clarity, I’m talking about changing from a system based around private ownership (capitalism) to one with entirely worker/state ownership (socialism). It’d be like trying to put out a house fire by going through the flames and changing the light bulbs in the kitchen.
Yet, a huge proportion of the country seem to think this is the right way to go. According to a dodgy right-wing think tank (I only use the best sources), 75% of young people reckon that climate change is a problem unique to capitalism.¹ There’s also a horrifically badly-used statistic that “100 companies cause 71% of greenhouse gas emissions”, which is so irrelevant to anything climate activists should be talking about that I’m shocked so many people still spout it.² Yet so many people still think that capitalism is the sole cause of climate change.
It’s just not true, though, is it?
Whether an oil company is owned by the government, its workers, or some mega-rich oil baron, it’s still at risk of spillage. Whether an emerald mine is operated by the government, its workers, or (allegedly) Elon Musk’s dad, it’ll still likely involve exploitation (yes, workers can still be exploited even if they get some say in how the company is run). Cars will still keep guzzling fuel and coughing out greenhouse gases, whether they’re driven on a private or state-funded road. That’s not to say that oil barons, fossil-fuel cars, or Elon Musk’s dad should all exist (they shouldn’t), but the ownership of various parts of the economy (succinctly and unambiguously called the “means of production”) will do nothing to help climate change. I think it will actually hinder our fight for survival.
Ultimately, the vast majority of discourse on capitalism/socialism is a waste of time, which could be spent actually trying to change things. As much as various university MarxSocs might disagree, the revolution isn’t coming (and if it did, I don’t see any Cambridge students managing to escape the gulags). It’s far more productive to research, discuss, and push to implement good policy within the system we already have.
Solutions to climate change include a carbon tax, ambitious legislation to reduce plane and car use, innovating to build more homes in cities with less concrete and steel, encouraging plant-based diets and encouraging biodiversity. None of this has the slightest bit to do with our economic system.
If you buy into the fiction that “we can only save the planet with socialism”, as if the ownership of a petrol refinery matters, then you might as well start working out how to terraform Mars, because we’re not going to get a “socialism” that is significantly different to our economy today. So please, work out what you’re really asking for (a better environment? strengthening civil liberties? racial justice? eradicating poverty?), and fight for what really needs to be done. Don’t get distracted by some guy called Marx along the way.
² To make this very clear: the statistic takes into account what the end-users of products from these 100 fossil fuel companies emit, so you driving to work probably contributes to that 71%. It also includes a number of state-owned fossil fuel companies, so has nothing to do with the economic system we use. More information at https://fullfact.org/news/are-100-companies-causing-71-carbon-emissions/