The world in which we live is finite. It does not possess infinite, everlasting resources. And it is fast approaching the point of no return as we face imminent climate catastrophe. If we are to save humanity and protect the world for future generations we have to radically change the way we live—immediately.
We’re not talking about a tweak here and a tweak there, converting to wind power or solar energy, eating less meat, or using less oil: we’re talking about a total change in the way we treat the planet and live our lives.
It’s not as if we’ve been very successful so far. We live in a world where eight people have accumulated more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population, where millions starve while others live a life of luxury; and these contradictions are interdependent.
A tiny proportion of humanity control the vast majority of resources and wealth. This control is facilitated by governments. Where resources are desired, governments will wage war to get them within their control or sphere of influence, with little or no concern for collateral damage.
The reckoning of emissions of greenhouse gases usually looks at how much energy and fuel civilians use; but the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries.
The wealthiest parts of the world consume amounts far beyond what the planet can provide. Consumerism is not natural human behaviour: we are bombarded day and night with advertisements to create it. Capitalism is structured to give an incentive to this type of behaviour.
Permanent growth is an intrinsic part of the capitalist system. Without growth there is no accumulation; there is no accumulation without consumption. Capitalism convinces people that they need a lot more than necessary to have a happy and healthy life.
People aspire to health, happiness, relationships, family, community, the acquisition of knowledge. All the other needs are manufactured by the system.
Capitalism has failed people and the planet through overproduction, over-consumption, waste, greed, and inequality. These factors are all necessary for capitalism to survive; but the survival of capitalism is not compatible with the survival of life on this planet. It has driven it to the edge of catastrophe.
So what is to be done?
It’s as if we are all living in a country that is below sea level and protected by dams and pumps. These dams are leaking.
That’s bad enough, but the tide is also rising faster than we can raise the dam, unless we change the way we live. If we are to survive we have to raise the dams, plug the leaks, and maintain the pumps. What in fact we are doing is lowering the dams, ignoring the leaks, and using the materials required for repairing the damage to build sand castles, which cause more leaks and overload the pumps.
Time has run out. We must drastically change, now.
Governments must be made to rule in the interests of citizens’ well-being, fulfilment, and happiness, within the constraints of our environment, so that humanity can survive and prosper, rather than for the accumulation of wealth by a tiny elite, to the detriment of everyone else.
We need system change—an economy for the common good—to provide for the needs of humanity rather than to increase GDP, market share, and monopoly. This is not compatible with survival any longer, if it ever was.
We need to stop producing unnecessary goods and concentrate on the real needs of the whole of society. To survive we have to totally change the way we live: what we produce, what we consume, and how we govern.
This will not happen overnight. And it will require system change and a worldwide collective educational and political effort.
We need universal basic services for all, publicly financed—in housing, health, education, transport, child care, and care of the elderly. Once the profit factor is removed, life will be more sustainable, environmentally and financially.
Private schools, private transport, private hospitals and private housing waste resources and cost more to operate and use. This in turn requires more work, which produces more unnecessary goods and services, which use more resources, in an ecocidal merry-go-round. Public ownership is the only efficient, sustainable way of providing the necessities of life for everyone.
Production has to be efficient and confined to necessary goods. We have to stop waste. In a world where so many people are starving we waste a third of all food that is produced. This has to stop, now. Goods that are produced must have a much longer lifespan, with no more designed obsolescence, and must be suitable for repair rather than for landfill or the incinerator after a couple of years.
All production, resources and distribution must be brought under public control and centrally planned. The decisions must be taken out of the hands of banks and corporations, which have brought us to the abyss.
This is not some sort of temporary shortage or blip: it is a global emergency. Rosa Luxembourg wrote: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.”
Only socialism has the potential to stop the environmental catastrophe and build a better world, where all humanity can prosper.
Capitalism’s obsession with profit, growth, consumption and accumulation has brought humanity to the edge of extinction. We can save the planet or save capitalism. We cannot do both.