Argentina: Climate, capitalism and the emergency brake

Feb 14, 2019 | Debates, Latin America

January in Argentina gave us historical climatic phenomena: the coldest days in summer and the highest peaks of heat. Snow in Jujuy, suffocating 30ºC in Terra del Fuego. Once again, the energy system in Greater Buenos Aires collapsed. This is all combined with utilities hikes that challenge massive access to public services. Interpretations, false ideologies and an eco-socialist political response for militant action.

With the thermal sensation near 50ºC there was an overpopulation of climate experts in radio and TV shows, articles in Clarin, “specialist” columns in La Nacion and radio interviews. The subject was thothoughly discussed. Various answers apparently reveal common political interests:

The Niño current is accountable for the heatwave, it was said. Others said that the reason is that the cold front from the South didn’t arrive. Others yet, that it is about an abnormal displacement of heat, an episode of tropicalization,.

There’s a connecting thread in this first group of answers: the factors that explain the extreme events of the climate are limited to one cause, they are mere episodes, transitional exceptions.

There was also the “global warming” factor. Other meteorologists and supposed experts on the “climate issue” came into play. Some explained that “the phenomena is associated with a relative change in the sun’s position that irradiates more energy”. No analysis is innocent. They all have a political motivation, with questions on how to affront what’s coming. Obviously, if it’s an accidental phenomenon, we have no option but a Christian resignation. And in terms of a capitalist strategy, adapting to the climate. If the position of the sun is the problem, the same solution: minimizing the impact and adapting living conditions. None of those variants explain the real problem or the size of the threat. We’ll try to do so in this article, or at least an approximation.

What is global warming about?

The so-called “greenhouse effect” is a mechanism that regulates the Earth’s climate. It operates by letting the radiation of the sun into the Earth‘s atmosphere, and retaining a part of the heat on the surface while dissipating the rest of it. This mechanism works based on a mixture of gases in the atmosphere that retain a part of the heat, though not all of it. The over-accumulation of CO2 prevents that layer from dissipating part of the heat and retains more than necessary, increasing the greenhouse effect, meaning: heating up the planet beyond its average stability. This cycle unleashes a dangerous spiral: more heat affects forests and jungles, so they liberate more CO2 retained in the plants, and the effect deepens. Ice retains CO2; its thawing liberates more gas and therefore the dynamic is increasing and unstoppable, if we do not take radical measures. The planet works with a certain climatic stability. During ten thousand years it was stable at 14.5°C as an average, after the last glaciation.

This allowed adaptation and civilization development, the increase of the productive and creative forces of humanity. In the last 200 years, the increase in temperature was more than during the last ten thousand years, several degrees over the stability average. That period coincides with the development of capitalism in its decadent phase, of overproduction and overconsumption based on an energy matrix built on fossil fuel, the main cause of the emission of greenhouse gases. Wallerstein, in “Historical capitalism”, said that “the bourgeoisie in power is like those mouses that run on the wheel faster and faster, only to run faster”. that’s the dynamic of the system, that’s it’s essential nature.

Sorcerer’s apprentices

The panorama of catastrophe isn’t new or surprising. The reports of the GIECC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) which are the base for the debates in the environmental summits, have warned about this since 1988. What they say is:

at this rhythm, the dynamic of more permanent extreme events consolidates: suffocating summers, rains that flood because of their behaviour pattern, tsunamis, etc. There’s an accelerated thawing of the glaciers in the poles that generates a double effect: they free CO2 and increase the water levels, threatening shores that are inhabited by millions.

2030 requires around 50% of gas reduction and for that we must start in 2020. 2040 demands a complete substitution of fossil gas to renewable sourses of energy.

The contradiction is that the power of decision in capitalism is concentrated in a truly dangerous minority: the political representation of the corporations and banks whose interests are completely antagonistic to the anti-capitalist measures required to solve this disaster. This is why, tied to their ruling class recklesness, they try to buy time and flee toward disaster.

Energetic transition, productive conversion and class-conscious adaptation

We must leave hydrocarbons behind. There are differentiated responsibilities in different countries, but the key is leaving them. Replacing them with clean and renewable energy sources. Combining measures of productive and economic reorganization. Rationalizing the economy in the interests of the 99%, democratically planning: producing what we socially need. Thus reducing the volume of production as an immediate result of abolishing capitalist anarchy. Democratizing policy-making, guaranteeing the right to public information, deliberation and political sovereignty. Guaranteeing a productive and professional conversion, with the State’s guarantee of a wage continuity. Public services as social rights: transportation and energy, public, State owned and under workers´ control. This means expropriating every corporation without compensation. In short, the basic measures for social self-defence imply irreversibly overcoming the limits of capitalism, questions its operational logic and are not compatible with any form of coexistence with it. This is the sourse of the political impotence of the bourgeoisie when for solving the environmental issue, which is key for humanity.

Progressive extractivism, leftist productivism, coexistence and transitions

This is a debate about a social strategy, about a civilization model, that exceeds this article. In the political conceptions on this issue that we argue against are:

  • The “progressive” extractivism of Kirchnerism and its variants. Their program proposes the appropriation of a part of extractivist profits (mostly of the agribussiness) and using them for financing “plans of social redistribution”.

  • The leftist productivism of the FIT and other groups, that assume that the workers control of production is the absolute panacea, as if the technologies were neutral and there weren’t many -because of the unequal development of capitalism in its imperialist phase- that are destructive in essence.

  • The conception of the coexistence/autonomy, that vindicates building non-capitalist islands as a strategy, in parallel to the dominant production mode. It’s a form of resignation that doesn’t struggle for power or for reorganizing everything.

Our position is completely different. It implies raising the anti-capitalist and socialist flags, but integrating ecology as a strategy and reference point for a social metabolism, rationalized according to the interests of the working majorities, not of the lucrative minority. Walter Benjamin said in his “Thesis about history” that revolutions, more than “the engines of revolutions -as Marx said- are the emergency brake of capitalist disaster”.

We build the MST and the Ecosocialist Network to contribute to that emergency brake, in self defence. And we struggle for political power to dismantle the capitalist State and build another one, a transition without rapine, depredation or corporations, and always with the perspective of collaboration between the peoples.

Mariano Rosa