World Environment Day: the ongoing destruction and capitalist hypocrisy

Electra Kleitsa

This article was published in Greek on June 5, 2023, on the Xekinima website. We publish a translation below

There is an ongoing discussion on the current state of the planet (ranging from the climate crisis to the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity). All the high-profile systemic institutions come to an agreement on the following: if no immediate action is taken, the situation will soon reach a tipping point, with irreversible consequences at all levels. What they do not seem to agree on is what kind of measures should be taken in order to avoid the coming disaster. Instead, although they acknowledge the danger in theory, in reality they continue to operate having as the most important criterion the profits of big multinationals, turning a blind eye to any meaningful, binding measures to protect the planet.

Omnipresent fossil fuels

The war in Ukraine has been going on for almost a year and a half now, with disastrous consequences for the inhabitants of the region and the entire planet. The energy crisis, which started before the war but was exacerbated by EU sanctions against Russia, has led to a massive expansion in the extraction and use of fossil fuels, particularly coal, which is considered the most polluting fuel in terms of the impact of its combustion on the climate.

At the same time, this situation has presented a golden opportunity to some. The rise in energy prices was used by the energy giants to push up their profits. Earlier this year BP announced profits of $27.7 billion for 2022 (up from $12.8 billion in 2021), Shell announced profits of close to $40 billion (up from $19 billion in 2021) and Exxonmobil set a new record profit of $59 billion (up from $23 billion in 2021).

Their greed has reached such rampant levels that from time to time even representatives of capitalist institutions have been forced to warn them, or even publicly denounce their practices. In one of his speeches last February, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, among other things:

“I have a special message for fossil fuel producers and their enablers scrambling to expand production and raking in monster profits: 

If you cannot set a credible course for net-zero, with 2025 and 2030 targets covering all your operations, you should not be in business.”  

This is not about, of course, just some companies operating in this sector, but the energy sector almost as a whole, which not only shows no intention to set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, but is increasingly expanding its mining and use of fossil fuels. And of course the UN cannot, nor does it really want to, set some binding obstacles in their way, despite the tough language it may use from time to time.

Ecosystems and biodiversity at risk

And while global warming is breaking record after record, along with the extreme weather events that come as a consequence, and while there is no visible way out of the climate crisis (despite global climate meetings that always end in tepid, non-binding resolutions), the disaster is completed by the attack on biodiversity and ecosystems of the entire earth. 

According to data from the “UN Environment Programme” the current rate of decline in global biodiversity is faster than ever before, and there are now over a million species under threat.

Major “lungs” of the planet, which are also havens for rare species, such as the rainforests of the Amazon, Congo and South East Asia are being rapidly depleted. Gold and other metal mining, cattle ranches, intensive farming, etc., are growing pushing out forests and the wildlife they harbour.

At the same time, the countless species of animals and plants that make up biodiversity are not the only ones depending on the balance of ecosystems and on biodiversity being protected. The quality of air and water, the sufficiency of food for humans, and even progress in medicine and pharmacology are all linked to the existence of balanced ecosystems, which, among other things, protect us from the effects of climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide, holding back rising temperatures and in many other ways. But this link also applies the other way round, as the effects of climate change make these ecosystems much more vulnerable to natural disasters, on top of the planned destruction coming out of the large multinationals in energy, mining, food, etc. activities.

Last December, 188 countries decided to set targets to address biodiversity losses by 2030, such as decreasing food waste by 50%, stopping subsidising activities that threaten ecosystems, etc. These measures cannot be described as drastic. Not only is it not enough to reduce waste, but the very model of production of food, energy, technology products, etc., needs a radical reform to protect the planet’s ecosystems. Such adjustments will never happen, as long as production is adapted to profitability and competition between the corporations that currently control the world.

A garbage planet

At the end of May, the news was released that the clothing “dump” in the Atacama desert in Chile is now visible from space. This is the deposit mainly for unused clothing that the manufacturers or the stores did not manage to sell.

Last autumn, a few days before the UN climate summit (COP27) organised in a Red Sea resort, the Egyptian Ministry of Environment organised a massive clean-up campaign in the area. This clean-up was based on voluntary work and concerned the seabed and nearby beaches from the accumulated plastic and other waste; the government arranged to clean the area to restore its looks for the eyes of high-ranking international visitors. 

The above are just two typical examples that nevertheless describe quite accurately the absurdity of capitalism, the extreme situation to which the planet has been driven, and the hypocritical way in which governments and organisations in the system are dealing with the problem.

The big picture is that, at a global level, plastic pollution alone (i.e. not counting waste from any other material) has a social and economic impact of between 300 and 600 billion dollars every year, according to UN figures. Meanwhile, 430 million tons of plastic objects are produced annually, two thirds of which are used once or a few times and soon end up in a landfill or free in the environment.

For the capitalist system and its institutions, the only value of international days (such as the World Environment Day) is to attempt to green-wash their responsibilities. For the movements, the Left and the people of the planet who are already experiencing and will increasingly experience the effects of environmental destruction, all that matters is the effort to develop, coordinate and achieve victories for the environmental movements at the local and international level.

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