February 14 climate strikes – what does socialist change to end climate change mean?

Theo Sharieff, Socialist Students national organiser

In 2019 student strikes and protests against environmental destruction expressed the anger at the climate catastrophe we face. Now we must build on them to fight climate change and the Tories.

Since the strikes last year, wildfires in Australia have wreaked unimaginable havoc, killing a billion animals, pushing species closer to extinction, and destroying thousands of peoples’ homes. Air quality has been rendered hazardous.

Across the world, healthy human existence is threatened by climate change and pollution. Meanwhile, our ecosystem is being destroyed – fires rage, forests are decimated, ice caps are melting, and our oceans are polluted.

It is increasingly obvious that capitalism, the way society is currently organised, is incapable of reversing the damage it has caused to the environment. More fossil fuels were burned in 2018 than ever before in history. The oil and gas industry is planning to spend $4.9 trillion over the next ten years to find new fossil fuels to burn!

Pro-capitalist politicians like Tories and Blairites protect the interests of the capitalist class – government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry total $5 trillion every year!

But it couldn’t be clearer that the entire capitalist establishment is unable to take the action necessary to secure our futures. No wonder thousands of students across Britain have adopted the slogan ‘system change to end climate change’ during our marches and protests.

Capitalism is a system which creates profit for a tiny handful of super-rich individuals – the capitalist class – ahead of the environment and the social needs of the vast majority of society – working class and young people. The capitalist class, as well as the politicians who represent them, have no interest in using their power to curb the use of fossil fuels – it’s them who are profiting from their use!

What does socialist change to end climate change mean?
Socialist Students says that the system change we need is socialist change. A socialist plan of action on climate change would begin with taking the energy industry, currently responsible for the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, into democratic public ownership – under the control of the working class majority in society.

Not only that though. We stand for taking the banks and companies which dominate the economy into democratic public ownership as well. That way, we could begin to plan society, including energy, production and distribution in an environmentally safe way, invest in green technology and energy, free from the constraints of capitalist profit chasing.

Role of the working class
Winning such a programme however means building a mass movement to fight for it.

Last September’s ‘Earth Strike’ was a step forward for the climate movement, which saw workers, many involved in their own disputes with their bosses at work for better wages and working conditions, join up with the school and college climate strikers.

The University and Colleges Union which organises teachers and staff in universities, called for 30 minute stoppages at lunchtime in solidarity with the student protesters. This term it is taking 14 days of escalating strike action in defence of their pay, conditions, and pensions from the attacks of the bosses, starting 20 February.

These actions of solidarity are an important step forward. The working class has immense potential power to end climate change. The working class when organised can shut down the entire country, hitting the capitalist class where it hurts by costing them billions in profits.

And it’s the working class, organised at the point of production, who can plan society’s resources in an environmentally friendly way.

Continuing to strengthen the links between the climate movement and organised workers in the trade unions is therefore a crucial next step. The trade unions in Britain have over 6 million members, and could play a central role in fighting for a socialist programme to end climate change. This November’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) meeting in Glasgow is a chance to mobilise all those angry about climate change and the Tories.

This would take organising around a socialist programme that unites the struggle against climate change with the struggle against austerity – both which are driven by capitalism. The fight to save our environment is intrinsically linked to the fight to improve all aspects of our lives. The capitalist politicians who are unable to solve the climate crisis represent the capitalist class’s interests by maintaining zero-hours contracts, student debt, the housing crisis, and the destruction of the NHS and our public services. Join Socialist Students today to discuss how we fight for socialist change.

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