Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly
by Simon Butler
9 May 2009
Bolivian President Evo Morales called a special press conference in New York on April 22. The UN general assembly had passed a motion put by Bolivia’s radical, pro-poor government to make that day “International Mother Earth Day”.
Morales said the 21st century must be dedicated to stopping environmental destruction and climate change, because “we are strangling the planet — strangling ourselves”.
Since his election in December 2005, Morales has stood out as one of the few world leaders prepared to argue for serious action towards a carbon-neutral economy. This is an essential move to prevent runaway climate change.
Morales said it was necessary to recognise that “we don’t own the planet [but rather] we belong to it”.
“Mother Earth cannot be a piece of merchandise”, he said.
In a November speech, he said bluntly: “Climate change has placed before all humankind a great choice: to continue in the ways of capitalism and death, or to start down the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.
“The Earth is much more important than the stock exchanges of Wall Street and the world.”
Such arguments conflict sharply with the pro-corporate climate policies peddled by powerful First World governments.
Capitalist responses to climate change keep failing because they look at environmental problems solely through the prism of the market system. They assume environmental problems can be solved under capitalism by helping the market place a price on the natural world.
The carbon trading scheme proposed by the Australian government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is one example of this. Rudd promotes it despite the fact that the European carbon trading system has allowed emissions to increase.
Making “carbon” a commodity that can be bought and sold will supposedly discourage pollution. Just establish the right price and pollution will become a loss-making activity, the capitalist pundits say.
At the same time, the potential profits to be made from sustainable investment will supposedly make corporate action on climate change the rational economic choice.
In practice, these schemes are rigged from the start to protect the profits of the big polluters. Rudd’s polluter-friendly emissions trading policy will certainly make some carbon speculators rich, but it won’t cut emissions to safe levels.
Under Rudd’s plan, the dirtiest industries will receive free permits and compensation worth close to $9 billion. At the same time, they will be excused from meeting government targets for renewable energy.
In a speech last year, Morales slammed “capitalist logic, [which] promotes a paradox in which the sectors that have contributed the most to the deterioration of the environment are those that benefit most from climate change programs”.
He said: “The best mechanisms to confront the challenge of climate change are not market mechanisms, but conscious, motivated, and well-organised human beings endowed with an identity of their own”.
Mother Earth is ill
Morales said the threat of climate change was worsening a general crisis of the Earth’s ecosystems: “Today our Mother Earth is ill. Since the start of the 21st century, we have had the hottest years of the past thousand years.
“Global warming is generating abrupt changes in the weather: the retreat of glaciers and the decrease of the polar ice caps; the increase of the sea level and the flooding of coastal areas, where approximately 60% of the world population live; the increase in the processes of desertification and the decrease of fresh water sources; a higher frequency in natural disasters that the communities of the earth suffer; the extinction of animal and plant species; and the spread of diseases in areas that before were free from those diseases.”
The capitalist economy’s drive to ever-expanding production created a destructive and unsustainable relationship between human society and the natural world, Morales said.
“The thirst for profit without limits of the capitalist system is destroying the planet. Under capitalism, we are not human beings, but consumers. Under capitalism, Mother Earth does not exist. Instead, there are raw materials.”
This thirst for profit prevents pro-capitalist governments from responding rationally to the climate crisis — despite the immense scale of the threat.
As evidence, Morales cited the response of the US and European governments to the economic crisis. Although by November, they had “allocated [US]$4100 billion to save the bankers from a financial crisis that they themselves have caused, programs on climate change [received] 313 times less, that is to say, only $13 billion”.
The capitalist system “generates luxury, ostentation and waste for a few, while millions in the world die from hunger”. Dire poverty in the global South aggravated environmental problems and the unsustainable use of scarce resources, Morales said.
Furthermore, “in the hands of capitalism everything becomes a commodity: water, soil, the human genome, ancestral cultures, justice, ethics, death … and life itself”.
Morales said capitalism could not solve the climate crisis, because “everything, absolutely everything, can be bought and sold under capitalism. And even climate change itself has become a business.”
Morales said humankind was capable of saving itself — if it moved beyond a system based on “the reign of competition, profits and rampant consumption of natural resources”.
“To save planet Earth, to save life and humanity, we are obliged to end the capitalist system.
“The grave effects of climate change, of the energy, food and financial crises, are not a product of human beings in general, but rather of the capitalist system as it is, inhuman, with its idea of unlimited industrial development.”
As part of the struggle for a better, more sustainable world, Morales argued for the elimination of agrofuels. These take food crops and turn them into fuel for cars, while people starve.
Western countries must also reduce unnecessary consumption, end subsidies for the fossil fuels industry, adopt far stronger targets for emission cuts and allow the transfer of environmental technology to poor nations.
Bound up with the fight for a safe climate was the need to end wars. “The people do not win in war”, Morales said in October, “but only the imperial powers; the nations do not win, but rather the transnational corporations”.
Not only was warfare extremely environmentally destructive, but “the trillions of millions of dollars used for war should be directed to repair and cure Mother Earth wounded by climate change”.
The industrialised nations, largely responsible for climate change, must repay their “ecological debt” to the global South.
As an alternative to destructive capitalism, Morales proposed building a “communitarian socialism” for the 21st century. He has described this goal as “living well”, as opposed to the capitalist notion of “living better”.
“For us”, said Morales, “what has failed is the model of ‘living better’, of unlimited development, industrialisation without frontiers, of modernity that deprecates history, of increasing accumulation of goods at the expense of others and nature. For that we promote the idea of ‘living well’, in harmony with other human beings and with our Mother Earth.”