Labour Students’ 2019/20 priority campaign is on fighting climate change. Keep an eye out for more info about our plans for the year and how you can get involved!

Ansh Bhatnagar, Labour Students London Regional Coordinator

In 1912, an article was published in the Popular Mechanicsjournal stating:

“The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.”.

This, of course, describes the effect of an increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It perfectly summarises our present-day understanding of climate change. The only fact that the article did not get right was the timescale: the exponential increase in the world’s energy consumption (and therefore CO2 emissions) has led to the effects being made apparent merely a century later, with a recent IPCC report giving us just 11 years to tackle climate change and keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C.

This article will not delve into the science of climate change, as our generation is acutely aware of the basics; instead it will discuss the political and economic challenges we face, and the changes that need to happen if we are going to tackle this issue before it deteriorates even further.

Whenever we discuss climate change it’s important to remember that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions. These fossil fuel companies are well aware of the damage they have been causing; internal reports have shown that ExxonMobil and Shell knew since the 1970s, and instead used this information to fund climate denial in the US and abroad. Why would they do this, when they completely understood the disastrous consequences for the planet? There is only one answer: profit.

Capitalism is an economic system that prioritises profit for shareholders above all else. When faced with the choice of doing the right thing versus keeping their findings a secret and funding a mass disinformation campaign that has led to the climate change denying Republican Party of today, they chose the latter because it would maintain their source of profit for decades to come. This entire situation is a crisis of capitalism’s making, and yet there are some who say that capitalism and the free market will lead to innovations that will save us all.

This is completely misguided. We cannot fight fire with fire, and anyone telling you that companies are suddenly going to boldly lead the fight against climate change is either ignorant or lying. There is no short-term profit motive for fighting climate change: the effects of our actions today are mitigating against global disaster in the near future and will not reverse the damage that has already been done. What can companies get out of environmental research, development and innovation when there is no consumer angle that they can profit from? If the great solution that capitalists have given us is overpriced electric cars, then this whole idea was a farce from the beginning.

We cannot rely on the free market and the profit motive, as that is what has led us to this point. The capitalist class need not worry about climate change, as they can use their vast wealth and resources to move out of at-risk areas and survive in gated communities protected from the worsening effects of climate change. However, the rest of us cannot do that. Climate change like most things is a class issue and impacts the poorest, particularly those in the Global South, the hardest. An example of this is the brewing humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh, a low-lying country that will face more natural disasters such as cyclones, and floodings due to sea level rise. This will lead to the displacement of 18 million people and create another refugee crisis.

Natural disasters all around the world have shown repeatedly that it is the poorest who suffer the most, and this will be no different with all the natural disasters caused by the effects of climate change. It speaks volumes about our current world order that the poor and the working class should suffer the consequences of the crimes of the wealthy. We need a reversal of this world order if we are to save everyone from this climate crisis. We need a system where production is based on need and not on profit, with both people and our planet at heart; where our communities are making the decisions not just about their governance, but about their workplaces and the economy. Rosa Luxemburg’s quote is evident now more than ever: it’s either socialism or barbarism.

A socialist Labour government can lead the way on climate action, utilising the full power of the state to act upon the climate emergency that Parliament rightfully declared thanks to Jeremy Corbyn. We need to scrap the Conservatives’ 2050 net zero target and bring it to 2030, bringing our plans in line with the science and giving it the urgency it deserves. Large-scale research and investment into renewables will remove our fossil fuel dependency, so we can shut down industrial fossil fuel burning once and for all.  We need to nationalise and democratise the energy, water, and transport industries (as we have already shown that the private sector cannot solve this issue), so we can enact the urgent change that we need. Through a Green New Deal we can put both environmentalism and socialism at the heart of our programme, making free public transport a reality, and providing well-paid, unionised, green jobs available for all. We want to make sure that the working class do not suffer, but rather prosper, in our mission to decarbonise the economy and end this crisis. The Conservative Party have tried to pin the blame on individual consumption, relied far too much on the failing private sector, and have produced utterly weak environmental policies tantamount to inaction – so now we need to lead the public conversation towards collective action.

Since 2015 we have had an influx of bright young activists, as well as the discussion and development of a vibrant array of policy ideas fit for a democratic socialist movement of the 21stcentury. By tying this movement in with environmentalism, we can show that the Labour Party is the only party that can offer a radical programme to look after both people and planet.

As students we are crucial to this mission. Student activism has played an important part in social movements throughout the 20thcentury, and this shall continue into the 21st. We need to campaign to decarbonise our universities and make them divest from fossil fuel companies. We must continue to take to the streets and protest government inaction, as many young students have done through the recent Climate Strikes – inspired the brave Greta Thunberg. All of us can utilise our strengths to fight against climate change, whether that’s politics and economics students focusing on campaigning and advocacy, or STEM students working on communicating the science to the public and policy makers.

We are the next generation, but we can start making a difference right now. This is why Labour Students have decided on “Fighting Climate Change” as our priority campaign for the 2019/20 academic year. We must support the Labour for a Green New Dealcampaign as part of this announcement, as a Green New Deal is the only way we can solve this issue while putting Labour values at the heart of our policy programme. I cannot wait to see how we campaign together on our campuses and on the streets, and how we utilise our resources to make a real difference.

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