By BILL ONASCH
To stop climate change short of climate disaster, the United States—which has been the world’s largest polluter for many years—has to lead the way to restructure our global economy to rapidly reduce, and ultimately eliminate, use of fossil and nuclear fuels. That’s a giant task—but even more will be required to create a sustainable environment that can be passed on to future generations.
We also must reverse destructive urban sprawl, rebuilding and repopulating our depleted urban cores while restoring the forests, wetlands, and farmland that once surrounded, protected, and nourished our cities.
We have to as well start shifting from chemical and genetic modification to organic farming methods to stop the many forms of pollution of our soil, water, and air—as well as creation of “super-bugs” threatening not only crops and livestock but even human health. And we will have to make some adjustments in the wastefulness of what we consume.
We have the science and technology at our disposal to do all of these things. And the ruling rich can spare some of the enormous wealth they have accumulated through environmental/climate destruction to underwrite the costs. We can accomplish all this while creating truly full employment, maintaining a quality life style in this country, and also introducing dramatic improvement in the lives of billions currently living in poverty around the world.
But for this satisfactory outcome in the greatest challenge humanity has yet faced, we above all need a plan. Individuals can and should support this effort through changes in life style, but such modest options available to us will amount to little more than the proverbial drop in the acidifying ocean.
The class that runs our economy and dominates government is deeply vested in a highly profitable fossil/nuke dependency. Measures such as discredited cap-and-trade schemes—now belatedly proposed on a small scale by the Obama administration—promising to modify this corporate behavior in the capitalist market economy, will get us nowhere fast.
Even the bipartisan Establishment run by the One Percent, which has been slashing “Big Government,” recognizes the inherent superiority of centralized planning and has embraced it, in a distorted way, during times of emergency.
When this country was taken into the Second World War—fought on six continents and all oceans—the White House and War Department did not patiently wait for the Free Market economy to somehow produce the vast quantities of ships, planes, and tanks urgently needed. Big Government essentially took control of the entire economy and ran it according to a master plan. It proved to be the most successful economic mobilization in history—and in the process finally succeeded, where the markets had failed, in bringing an end to the Great Depression that had festered for more than a decade.
We, of course, don’t want more war. Nor do we want to lavishly compensate Big Business for following our plan, as was done with the war profiteers during World War II. But we certainly face an emergency even greater than in 1941, and we can learn much from the planning method, and the spirit of cooperation that motivated the entire nation then.
Socialist Action calls for the creation of an Emergency Climate Action Public Sector to begin with nationalization of key components of the economy such as Finance, Energy, Transportation, and Auto. This sector would democratically implement a plan determined by scientists, environmentalists, and workers in the workplace. Top priority would be given to replacing fossil and nuclear fuel usage with clean renewable sources such as solar and wind.
Another crucial element to the plan is commitment to the principle of Just Transition. That is: whenever jobs are eliminated for the benefit of society as a whole, society has the obligation to maintain displaced workers’ living standards while they are retrained or relocated for suitable new jobs. Many present jobs will unavoidably be lost. But the needs for restructuring a sustainable economy will produce full employment for generations to come. Of course, the new Climate Action Public Sector we envision would continue existing union contracts and would not oppose new union organizing.
In short, those of us proudly accepting the label of “eco-socialists” believe the goals of climate and class justice are inseparable. We can’t win one without the other. The only force in society with both the material interest and social and economic clout to take on the climate and economic wreckers ruling society today is the working-class majority. A revitalized workers’ movement, reclaiming our class identity, working with allies in the inspiring new climate action movement, can get the job done.
That’s the message we need to spread in the workplace, on campus, in our communities—and in the coming struggles for political power.
Bill Onasch is a retired bus driver and former vice president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287 in Kansas City.
Photo: Protest at Cancun, Mexico, climate conference. Jay Directo / Agence France-Presse