Exploring the RCP's Draft Programme

Capitalism's Eco-Mess and
the Revolutionary Alternative

Revolutionary Worker #1109, July 1, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

The RCP has published its new Draft Programme, and the Party is inviting people to join in the study, discussion and wrangling over this roadmap and battle plan for revolution.

In this new RW series, "Exploring the RCP's Draft Programme," we will look at different key problems in society, and what the Draft Programme says about how people can solve them through revolutionary change.

The capitalist system treats this planet, living creatures, plants, and minerals as coldly as it treats human beings--as nothing more than a means to accumulate wealth. Daily, hourly and on a mass scale, important parts of the natural world are being recklessly wasted, poisoned and destroyed. After the rapid intensification of capitalism's operations over this last century, the accumulated damage to the environment now threatens fundamental ecological systems.

It is no exaggeration to say that the blind and relentless operations of capitalist production are threatening to upset crucial chemical and biological balances upon which life itself--both human and other species--depends. This must stop, and we don't have a minute to spare.

The process of stopping this environmental rape, reversing this damage and developing new ways of producing and living will be difficult and protracted.

During the last year, the RCP fielded a team of party comrades and supporters to investigate the issues surrounding the environment--to understand more deeply what the capitalist system has done to the natural world, what needs to be done to reverse this destruction and how a future socialist society should be organized to take a fundamentally different path.

In addition to digging deeply into the rich body of literature and scientific studies, this team met with many activists and experts who have focused their work in this important area. There have been significant discussions and exchanges of information about both problems and solutions.

The following article was written based on this investigation. We would like to encourage comments and suggestions about what the new Draft Programme says about this crucial issue.

Global Warming

One of the most challenging and urgent issues around the environment is the growing realization that capitalist use of fossil fuels is literally starting to change the earth's atmosphere and, with it, the planet's climate patterns. The massive production of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas) is starting to produce a measurable global warming.

According to Corporate Watch, the global average surface temperature has risen 0.5 to 1.1 degrees F. since records began being kept in the second half of the 19th century. All ten of the warmest years on record have occurred in the last 15 years. Scientists have predicted that average temperatures on earth could rise as much as 6 degrees F. over the next century.

Such changes could lead to devastating consequences--melting of polar ice and glaciers, rising sea levels, flooding of dozens of island countries and coastal areas where tens of millions of people live, an increase in destructive storms, drought in certain regions, famine, destruction of ecosystems such as coral reefs, and the spread of disease. Many species could simply become extinct.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reviewed over 3,000 scientific studies and recently concluded that greenhouse gas increases are already having a "widespread and coherent impact" and are changing climate in all environments and on all continents. According to the IPCC, firm evidence of change is already visible in over 420 different physical and biological systems--from the shrinkage of glaciers on all continents and the decline in Arctic sea-ice to the lengthening of frost-free seasons and the increased frequency of extreme rainfall. Already species of mammals, invertebrates, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and insects are being affected.

These gases are produced by many natural processes and whenever humans burn carbon-based fuels (including the wood they have burned for thousands of years)--but this has been massively expanded by capitalist industry, transportation, trade, and agriculture in extremely wasteful, shortsighted, and lopsided ways. Global fossil fuel use has increased 3.5 times just since 1950--and it is highly concentrated in the imperialist countries.

The U.S., with only 4 percent of the earth's population, produces 25 percent of the world's CO2. This is just one manifestation of a much larger lopsidedness in global consumption and waste: 80 percent of the world's resources are absorbed by the advanced capitalist countries which only make up about 15 percent of the world's population. U.S. society wastes more energy than any other country, consuming 22 times more energy per person than a country like India.

This waste and dangerous production of greenhouse gases is not merely, or mainly, a question of parasitic lifestyle--but is rooted in the shortsighted decisions of capitalist production and competition: The U.S. capitalists rely on a massive and wasteful use of fossil fuels (which it has in abundance) to maintain a competitive advantage over global competitors such as Japan and Europe (who are energy poor). In their struggle to maintain U.S. domination of the globe, it does not matter to them that these fossil fuel usages are polluting, non-renewable, unsustainable, and now potentially devastating to life on earth.

Even before George W. Bush came to power, the U.S. imperialists were incapable of taking any steps to curb global warming. Clinton and Gore talked of cutting emissions, while U.S. CO2 emissions rose 13 percent in the 1990s. Before the latest Bush/Cheney energy plan U.S. emissions were expected to be 20 percent above 1990 levels by 2010. Now the projected increase could be as much as 35 percent--with huge effects on the planet.

This waste and climate change is being intensified by the imperialist-created international division of labor--where fewer and fewer products are consumed where they are produced, and where the resources of the planet are wasted on jetting or shipping products from one corner to another (to serve the dictates of maximized profits). A coalition of environmental groups, The Turning Point Project, has reported that this unnecessary global shuffle of goods and materials is now the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.


The world's massive old-growth forests have been increasingly mowed down during the last two centuries. The systematic destruction is now reaching deep into the tropical rainforests and other remaining old growth forests.

Ninety-five percent of the original forest cover in the U.S. is already gone. And it is estimated that one-half of the earth's tropical rainforests are also gone. Half of the remaining rainforests are so fragmented and degraded that it has an effect on the survival and diversity of their ecosystems.

The Turning Point Project estimates that, at this rate of destruction, nearly all of the remaining original forests will be gone in 50 years.

The world's forests are the lungs of the planet, producing oxygen for life on earth to breathe and serving as massive "sinks" that remove atmospheric carbon from the greenhouse process. Forests form soil, moderate climate, limit floods, store water during both flood and drought, hold soil and prevent erosion. In addition, the tropical rainforests are home to over half of the world's species--most of which have never even been identified or studied.

The destruction of rainforests has several causes--all rooted in the workings of the capitalist system.

Clearing is a result of the plundering of timber resources. Trade in forest products has climbed from $29 billion in 1961 to $139 billion in 1998. The Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) and the WTO seek to expand the sale of forest products by making it easier to sell them across borders without tariffs and by undermining environmental laws protecting forests as "barriers to free trade." The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) required that Mexico do away with restrictions on foreign ownership of property and the rights of the Mexican people to communal land ownership. These changes allowed 15 U.S. wood product companies to open operations in Mexico, including in areas where some of North America's largest remaining intact forests are located. In the late 1990s Brazil reportedly suspended important environmental laws to allow more cutting of rainforest in the Amazon to generate money to pay off debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The expansion of imperialist agribusiness and the accompanying impoverishment of third world people has also had a profound impact on the forests. Capitalist agribusiness clears the forests directly--for cash crops and grazing lands. And, at the same time, the capitalist impoverishment of many urban and rural workers has driven many into the forests of third world countries, like Brazil, where they seek to survive by clearing the trees and farming in rainforest soil, which is often poor for crops.

Within the U.S., the new Bush administration is accelerating the capitalist exploitation of remaining woodlands. Dale Bosworth, the new chief of the Forest Service, recently said he intends to significantly increase logging in the national forests. Bosworth and Vice President Cheney have said there's a need to change or get rid of the "roadless area" protection policy. This policy protects 58 million acres of unspoiled National Forest land from logging, mining and drilling--which is already allowed on most National Forest land in the U.S.

Extinction of Species

As this report was being written, new evidence had just come to light: in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., marine biologists had just revealed that 6 of the remaining 84 resident Orca whales in Puget Sound waters have not returned from their winter range. They may have died from changes caused by human society--either starving as food fish decline in the Sounds' waters, or else pollution from PCB's. Such observations underscore the continuing danger of extinction for these, and many other, unique species.

Of the estimated 30 million species alive today, only 1.4 million have been identified and catalogued. Species today are dying at a rate that is 10,000 times faster than extinction rates before the emergence of modern capitalism and colonialism. With current trends, 50 percent of all plant and animal species could become extinct within 50 years.

Worldwide, free trade agreements and World Trade Organization decisions are increasing the pressure on other species. Sea turtles, dolphins, native fishing industries, and clean air and water have been adversely affected by WTO and NAFTA decisions reversing environmental laws.

In the U.S., one-third of all plant and animal species are in trouble, and 126 ecosystems are 70 percent destroyed. Species extinction results from pollution and the destruction of wildlife habitat from over-development/urban sprawl, logging, road and dam building, livestock grazing, and other development projects.

For example: Eighty percent of the native fish species in the western U.S. are either extinct, endangered or threatened. For thousands of years awe-inspiring runs of salmon flooded Northwest rivers--reproducing the salmon population and feeding the Native Peoples. Now these runs are becoming a thing of the past. 103 salmon stocks in the Northwest have already been made extinct through logging, road building, pollution and capitalist over-fishing.

On a global scale, the destruction of remaining rainforests will have a profound and historic effect on the biodiversity of the planet. These rainforests are home to 50 percent of the world's species.

Biodiversity is valuable in many ways: Because the destruction of many species tears holes in the fabric of ecological systems, because less diversified ecosystems are far more susceptible to diseases, and because the complex evolution of species have produced chemicals and life forms that may be extremely valuable to human beings in ways we have not yet even explored (as medicines and other renewable resources).

Capitalist agriculture has increasingly turned to the more and more widespread planting of a few strains of food crops (so-called monoculture in grains, coffees, potatoes, rubber, vegetables)--crowding out the natural diversity of these plants, and leaving behind a system of capitalist agriculture that is vulnerable to plagues and dependent on chemical pesticides.

Toxic Spills, Waste, and Pollution

Capitalist industry and transport produces leaks, spills, and other disasters around the world on a regular basis. The development of safety systems is often overlooked in the rush to exploit resources and people.

A 1985 leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India sent a cloud of deadly poison into the streets, killing thousands of people. After the Soviet Union's economy was moved over to a capitalist-profit basis in the 1950s, there was an intensification of pollution across the USSR, including the nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl power plant that sent radiation clouds as far away as Lapland in northern Scandinavia, where contaminated reindeer herds had to be destroyed. The U.S. had its own partial meltdown and leak at Three Mile Island. However, because of the capitalist craving for cheap energy to develop economic advantage and the intense geopolitical fighting over oil, the U.S. ruling class is now moving to produce a whole new wave of nuclear power plants--with the accompanying dangers from leaks, disasters and the buildup of deadly radioactive waste.

In 1986, all aquatic life (from the microscopic to the fish) in Europe's Rhine River in Europe was exterminated by a massive spill from a pesticide plant. In Spain, Romania, and Hungary in recent years, toxic chemical byproducts from mining projects have leaked into rivers, destroying life in several.

Many people recall the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the pristine Prince William Sound of Alaska that destroyed much sea life, but don't know that the U.S. every year dumps more than 1.4 million tons of used oil in landfills and down sewers--the equivalent of 35 Exxon Valdez disasters per year.

Toxic fields are being identified in country after country (including the U.S. at Love Canal and the Hanford nuclear site)--often too massive to clean up under current conditions--even as new ones are created daily by capitalist industry.

Toxic spills have become especially commonplace in oppressed countries. Mexico's state-run oil company Pemex had 28 serious accidents causing 17 deaths, 20 injuries, and 4,000 people evacuated due to oil drilling spills in 1998 alone. Infantile leukemia is sharply on the rise amongst children who live near the oil operations.

In 1996 it was estimated that countries with petroleum operations have a leukemia rate ten times that of countries without petroleum operations.

In Bolivia, the Uru Morato people are facing starvation due to a 2000 oil spill by Transredes, a consortium mostly owned by Shell Oil Bolivia and the U.S.-based Enron Co. (Enron is one of the world's largest monopoly corporations involved in energy distribution--including gouging California utilities). The oil pipeline ruptured, dumping crude oil into the Deseguardo River for 32 hours. The river feeds into lakes that indigenous communities have relied on for fishing and bird hunting for 5,000 years. Now life in the lake has died.

In Nigeria, two gas pipeline explosions killed nearly 300 people in less than ten days in 2000. Life-and-death struggles are being waged by many indigenous groups, such as the U'wa people in Colombia and the Ogoni people in Nigeria, against imperialist oil companies who are exploiting their land and resources and causing widespread environmental damage.

Military Pollution

Imperialism's wars are great crimes against people--but also crimes against the environment.

Two sharp examples are the U.S. wars against Vietnam and Iraq. In Vietnam the massive use of chemical defoliants, bombs, mines and napalm destroyed forests and crops, poisoned the water and land--all of which had long-term consequences for the Vietnamese people long after the war itself.

In the Gulf war the U.S. fired depleted uranium rounds and rockets, leaving 40 tons of radioactive material in the desert.

The U.S. also bombed 18 chemical, 10 biological and 3 nuclear facilities in Iraq causing massive toxic fallout. Oil spills due to U.S. bombing and according to some sources from Iraqi oil spills, add up to the largest oil spill in the history of the world. Oil well fires set off by U.S. military attack blackened the skies with horrible pollution and rained oil down on the surrounding countries.

Meanwhile, though the overwhelming bulk of hazardous waste on the planet is generated by capitalist production, the journalists Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair have documented that the U.S.'s biggest single polluter is its war machine.

Every year the U.S. military produces 750,000 tons of hazardous waste--more than the top three chemical companies combined. The military is largely exempt from most environmental laws and spends little for waste clean-up. When military training grounds become too toxic--they simply close them down and turn them over to other federal agencies. In the last 20 years the military has transferred 16 million acres. Some have become wildlife refuges, city and state parks, shopping malls, etc.

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair say in their article "The Military's Toxic Timebombs," "Serious contamination of streams, soil, and groundwater is a problem at nearly every military training ground. The sites are often saturated with heavy metals and other pollutants, as well as unexploded ordinance." And one of the most glaring examples of that is the Puerto Rican island of Vieques where the land and the people have suffered from decades of U.S. weapons testing and training.

Crimes upon Crimes

The capitalist-imperialist system's drive to make profit has caused countless other environmental problems for the world's people, including:

• A hole in the ozone layer of the Southern hemisphere measuring millions of square miles caused by synthetic chemicals called halocarbons. This is increasingly allowing dangerous levels of solar radiation to reach the surface of the planet.

• Widespread toxic pollution by persistent organic pollutants (PCB's, dioxins, DDT and other toxic industrial chemicals) that accumulate in body fat of marine mammals and peoples who eat them.

• A situation where 1 billion people don't have access to clean fresh drinking water while 90 percent of human use of fresh water goes to capitalist industry and industrial agriculture

• Air pollution that chokes many urban areas of the world.

What is the problem?

The opening page of the Draft Programme contains a sharp indictment of this system's destruction of the natural world:

Page 7: “The imperialists in their endless quest to turn everything into a means for private profit--and in their monstrous methods of warfare to enforce and extend their domination--tear down forests, pollute water and air, threaten the earth’s atmosphere, devastate ecological systems, and generally wreak havoc on the earth and its resources. They are not fit to be caretakers of the earth. Their system has not only brought tremendous suffering for many generations--every day they cause further destruction to the environment that will affect people all over the world for many generations to come.”

What is the Solution?

In Part 1's discussion of "The Socialist Economy," there is a concise statement of how proletarian revolution would make it possible to have a radically different interaction with the environment:

Page 17: "The proletariat's policy with regard to the environment is one of 'socialist sustainable development.' The proletariat will step by step repair the destruction of the forests, soil, water, and air. It will develop industrial and agricultural systems that are economically productive, ecologically rational, and socially just. In all, the new society aims to interact with nature in a planned way that preserves ecological systems and fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation among the people for the richness of the natural world."

These points are elaborated much further in the Programme's Part 2 of appendices. The discussion of "The New Socialist Economy" includes a special section on "'Socialist Sustainable Development' and Ecology." The following is that complete section:

Page 131: Proletarian revolution in the U.S. will be a giant leap in changing the realities of the global environment. Imperialism has produced a wasteful and destructive pattern of economic activity and industrial development. Its profit-above-all-else, blind expansionary nature, its turning of more and more of nature into a commodity, its wars and weapons of mass destruction--all this is strangling the fundamental ecosystems of the planet.

The proletariat seeks to achieve conscious social control of production. This requires that the well-being of the natural environment--the renewal of ecosystems and the ability of ecosystems to assimilate waste from human productive activity--be maintained. Natural resources will be used to further social development but will not be a means to accumulate private wealth.

In rebuilding and restructuring the economy along radically different lines, the new proletarian state will move immediately to counter environmental damage caused by centuries of capitalist development. The cleanup of toxic waste dumps will be urgently undertaken. Measures to deal with air, water, and soil pollution, and the complex problem of nuclear waste, will be incorporated into short- and longer-term economic plans.

In connection with other transformations in society, step-by-step efforts will be undertaken to develop technology, industrial/agricultural systems, and infrastructure that are economically productive, ecologically rational, and socially just.

Transportation will be moved away from automobile/highway centered transport. The senseless burning up of oil to have people commute to work hours away must end. Safe and fuel-efficient transportation and mass transit will be given priority in all new development, restructuring, and research.

The socialist economy will combine large-scale with diversified small-scale production. Recycling and multi-use of materials and products (rather than items just serving one purpose and one round of production), waste management, and conservation of resources will be fundamental economic practices at all levels of the economy and society. Such a system of production would no longer be focused on long-distance supplies and deliveries but rather on interchanges within local and regional economies.

A goal of the new economy will be to move away from reliance on non-renewable and polluting fossil fuel technology, and to develop alternative, ecologically sound technologies, like geothermal, solar, and wind power.

The masses must be mobilized to solve ecological problems. Direct knowledge gained through particular experience will be combined with broad scientific knowledge.

Through mass education and campaigns, culture, and in other spheres of society, the socialist state will promote the outlook that humanity is the caretaker of the planet for present and future generations. Socialist society aims to interact with nature in a planned and rational way. People will gain a deepening and expanding understanding and appreciation of the richness of the natural world.

These are some key principles of "socialist sustainable development."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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