A Climate for Revolution

From the May 2015 PNL #842

by Richard Vallejo

This spring, the island nation of Vanuatu was virtually obliterated by Cyclone Pam, the worst storm it has ever seen. A few years ago, Hurricane Sandy made landfall on New York, fueled by warmer oceans and escorted by a shifting jet stream. Erratic and extreme weather events are becoming the norm as we consistently hear of temperature, precipitation and other meteorological records being broken, year after year. Once thought of as future events, catastrophic climate threats are now immediate, disproportionately weighing on marginalized global populations. While capitalist interests have precipitated the activities contributing to climate change, environmentalists and scientists alike hesitate to name capitalism as the root cause. Our responsibility, more than ever, is paramount. We must determine a viable course of action to take, in a time frame that we can afford.

In seeking the roots of climate collapse we must set our sight squarely on the prevailing capitalist system, its infinite growth, externalization of costs, and the powerful minority it engenders. The interests of the vast majority of the world’s population—the poor, working class, Global South—are at direct odds with, and entirely neglected by, those of capitalism’s incessant expansion and amassing of wealth. The natural world and the majority of global citizens share a common antagonist and a common aim. As one suffers ecological destruction, we face the unraveling of social existence; as one demands balance and diversity, we seek a social order freed from capitalist intervention. The contradiction of infinite growth on a finite planet leads to resource extraction for polluting industries, threatening the livelihood and sovereignty of local communities impacted by the acquisition, conversion, and usage of such “commodities.”

There is a growing persuasion that we must “vote with our dollars” to effect change, as if modern consumer capitalism were a democracy capable of being less destructive. Only through revolutionary action will we find the necessary alternatives to our current socio-existential quandary. Through such action, a truly global “we” can emerge and carry out the will of society, fulfilling the needs of human life as well as creating ecological harmony.
While we must avoid fanatical alarmism, or simplistic conflation of weather events with long-term trends, there is palpable reason for concern. Increasing arctic

temperatures have slowed the jet stream; global average temperatures have increased .85°C since 1880 (as of 2012); melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet has accelerated; and coral reef populations are threatened by ocean warming and acidification. All of these factors trigger greater intensification as climate change builds momentum, challenging our earlier conservative predictions.

The ongoing historic drought in California reveals the inability of the state to rein in capitalism. Despite agriculture and fossil industries being by far the greatest wasters of water, both were exempted from the state’s first ever usage restrictions. In contrast with this myopic solution, we will reach a two degree Celsius global average temperature increase within 17 years, beyond which full-scale catastrophe rapidly escalates. If there is a question of whether we may still be able to avoid such a fate, California seems to have answered with their unwillingness to hold industries accountable for the consequences of their excess. If this suggests the impotence of governments and corporations, the case of Occupy Sandy offers optimism for the bold potential of civil society. After the unprecedented landfall of Hurricane Sandy and amid the circumspect response of officials and conventional relief organizations, neighbors organized a decentralized, coordinated relief effort. In Red Hook, Rockaway, and elsewhere, Occupy Sandy not only organized relief in the aftermath of the storm, but has continued its work to this day, with mutual aid as a basis for recovery efforts long after official programs shifted their attention elsewhere.

The situation is dire, and time is certainly running out. We must not let notions of so-called “realistic” change prevent us from plainly seeing what must be done. To imagine full-scale revolutionary change within a matter of decades, in the hopes of mitigating the worst effects of climate change, is daunting. We must address the daily needs and realities of our communities, while building examples of the new society we wish to see from local to global arenas, and we must prepare, mentally and materially, to respond to inevitable disaster. It is imperative that we understand the need for revolutionary change away from capitalism. It is also gravely important that we avoid defeatism and resignation. We must embrace the uncertainties of a new order, even if faced with eventual demise, rather than forfeit to annihilation in the old one. In taking action, in this moment, we may at the very least ease the impacts and maintain some social order in the midst of climate chaos.

Richard is an anarchist, auto mechanic and web developer, born and raised in the Syracuse area. He hopes to one day live in a non-hierarchical world without militarism, borders, ecological devastation, and exploitation. He lives at Bread & Roses collective.