On a TV chat show many years ago, comedian Jackie Vernon responded to an environmentalist’s dire predictions by saying, “The day will come when the day won’t come.” Since Vernon made this gloomy prediction, that day may be quickly coming. Capitalism’s rapid, rampant, and remorseless rape of the environment is such that our planet may not be habitable in the not-too-distant-future.
The main focus of environmental destruction recently has been, as we all know, global warming. Though socialists welcome such attention to world problems, other aspects of destruction, such as deforestation and poisoning of land and water, are being ignored. One example is the threat to the Great Lakes of North America. In June 1984, a conference was held in Toronto to discuss the water needs for competing capitalist enterprises to gain access to the lakes and how it could be done without damaging them ecologically. They were in a pretty bad way then, especially as they had been used for years as a dumping ground for chemical waste. Lake Erie was killed in this way. Various plans were expressed, such as piping water six hundred miles to the Missouri River basin. Naturally, this was opposed by those living and operating close to the lakes, both in Canada and the US. The conference ended, as one would expect, with competing interests squabbling over access to the resource. It’s typical that the effects of capitalism create a problem for everyday, normal functioning and then its apologists panic when it affects them.
For many years the world was haunted by the fear of nuclear war and its potential to destroy humanity. Throughout this time, the companion parties in The World Socialist Movement alone pointed out the destruction of humanity could occur without nuclear war, and that capitalism was doing just that. Now, it is becoming abundantly clear.
In 2005, more than sixty scientists endorsed a report that said that the Great Lakes eco-system is so stressed it is ‘nearing collapse’. The lakes are immense, covering an area greater than the states of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, combined. They were formed after the last ice age and are not renewable, and very fragile despite their size. They are used to ship products, for hydro-electric power, for irrigation, for drinking water, and as a dump for industrial and societal wastes. Since the lakes provide drinking water for 35 million people, you might think their health would be a concern to our politicians, as they are, but way down on the list, far below profits. In fact, the Great Lakes are so polluted that where their waters empty, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, one quarter of the Beluga whales have cancer. The opening of The St. Lawrence Seaway brought companies like Domtar Paper and General Motors that poisoned the fish with mercury and PCBs. Alcoa pumped so much fluoride into the air that, on the surrounding land, cows teeth grew brittle and broke, even resulting in death. Pollution also forced farms in the vicinity into bankruptcy. Furthermore, evaporation caused by global warming and shoreline deforestation, much on lands formerly owned by First Nations peoples, can be added to the list of problems.
The failure of the 1984 conference and the subsequent twenty-five years of pollution have clearly shown that the politicians who seek to preserve and further the interests of the competing sections of the capitalist class will do little or nothing to save the lakes. Nor will the Greens achieve anything substantial because they are concerned with dealing with the effects of pollution, not the cause, i.e. the ownership of the tools of production (the resources, the factories, the land, the transportation systems, the mercantile and banking systems, etc.) by a minority, and the need to produce commodities with a view to profit, that rides roughshod over environmental concerns and other human needs. That destruction of the planet also affects the capitalists themselves, merely highlights the insanity of the system. For a business to survive, it must show a profit quickly and maintain its profitability to compete with other companies. In such a situation, human needs, including those of the capitalists, become meaningless.
In a socialist society, with the abolition of the profit motive, very different priorities will be apparent. Whereas water, and anything else people need may be moved from one place to another, environmental and human considerations would be prime motivators. The latest technology and safe, clean practices would be demanded and care of the eco systems on which human life depends, would be possible as the drive for profit and all that entails would have disappeared.