Five years ago, an investigation from InsideClimate News confirmed what one might have intuitively suspected: that the leaders of Exxon Mobil were well aware of the science of global warming before it became a public issue. The investigation showed that as far back as the 1970s, Exxon had engaged in research that determined carbon dioxide was heating up the planet, corroborating observations about the effects of fossil fuels on the climate that scientists had been making since the 1890s.
At first, the response to climate change from Exxon and the rest of the corporatocracy was to stay silent about the situation. Then in the late 1980s, when climate change became news for most people outside of this elite circle, the American ruling class for the most part tried to convince people that it was nothing to worry about. Exxon and other oil companies mounted a multi-billion dollar campaign to spread disinformation about climate science, and they were joined by virtually the entire Republican political and pundit class.
But the denial about the situation that the capitalist oligarchs continue to perpetuate extends beyond the traditional conservative attitudes towards the climate, which are declining as the crisis becomes more obvious. It extends to the belief among neoliberals and progressives that the crisis can be solved with attempts to reform capitalism, that carbon taxes or a corporate-oriented Green New Deal will sufficiently bring down greenhouse gasses and create a bright future for capitalist society. These beliefs stem from the fundamental unwillingness among all these facets of pro-bourgeois politics to abandon the system, to want to destroy imperialism and the machine of global capital.
This certainly isn’t what Jeff Bezos is doing when he donates to pro-capitalist climate groups while having Amazon provide invaluable logistical support to the fossil fuel industry. Or what fossil fuel executives are doing when they portray themselves as important resources for fighting climate change. Or what the heads of the U.S. military industrial complex are doing when they try to rebrand their war machine as an environmental asset even though it’s the largest polluter on the planet. They’ll continue to keep the capitalist machine running, and a full-on class war will need to take place before a new system can be established throughout the territories the capitalists control.
The ruling class won’t let emissions be reduced enough to avoid the catastrophic threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of warming, and they won’t give humanitarian aid or adequate social programs to the billions of poor people who will be threatened by the crisis. Even if social democrats manage to come to power in the First World countries, the global paradigm of economic sanctions, neo-colonialism, and NATO bombing campaigns won’t stop, because social democrats in imperialist countries don’t oppose imperialism. So barring widespread and effective revolt, the bulk of humanity will keep experiencing poverty, social instability, and violent surroundings while the collapse of the climate progresses.
The more these developments unfold, the clearer it becomes that the ruling class is playing out a great equation. It’s an equation of how much human life and nature will need to be sacrificed for the class hierarchy to be maintained amid climate catastrophe. Bezos is fully aware that he’s making this trade-off between contributing to the planet’s destruction and securing the personal resources he’ll need to stay at the top of the system. While he’s made billions from aiding the fossil fuel industry and the military/intelligence complex, he’s bought up expansive territory in the American heartland so that he can move to an isolated and fortified new home in the event of a major catastrophe.
Other millionaires and billionaires are taking similar measures. Silicon Valley tycoons have been buying multimillion-dollar survival bunkers in New Zealand, plutocrats like Bill Gates have built luxury survival bunkers at their properties, and figures like Elon Musk have been preparing to settle on Mars in the event that the Earth becomes too ruined to inhabit anymore. In 2018, media theorist and futurist Douglas Rushkof described his experience with speaking at a private event for super-wealthy hedge fund managers, who had ostensibly invited him to speak about the “future of technology” but were really hoping to have him help with their doomsday preparedness projects:
“They had come with questions of their own … Which region will be less affected by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? … Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked: ‘How do I maintain authority over my security force after the Event?’
“The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr Robot hack that takes everything down … They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for survival.”
How do we counter the logic of the capitalist climate equation? By carrying out an eco-socialist revolution. Capitalism’s answer to climate change is eco-fascism, where refugees and disfavored ethnic groups are treated as enemies and the poorer victims of the crisis are neglected by a brutal corporatist state. We’re seeing an early incarnation of eco-fascism develop in Brazil, where the climate authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro has caused last year’s massive Amazon fires through deliberate mismanagement, destroyed public education at all levels through relentless privatization, and put 11 million people out of work with his hyper-capitalist policies. This kind of neoliberal, ecologically ravaging fascism, which is also taking shape in Bolivia’s new far-right dictatorship and in Trump’s America, isn’t a sustainable model for capitalism to function in. It harms material conditions so much that the climate equation of the ruling class is exposed as destructive, and eco-socialism becomes the obvious alternative.
In Venezuela and Bolivia, the horrors of neoliberalism have made it apparent to most people that eco-socialism is worth militantly fighting for. Those among Bolivia’s indigenous majority, who voted overwhelmingly for the eco-socialist Evo Morales before he was overthrown by the fascists last year, have formed militias that make up a resurgent indigenous resistance movement. Venezuela’s eco-socialist Chavista government has been gathering and training a militia of over three million people, who are ready to defend their democracy if the U.S. invades them.
In most other places, the proletariat isn’t as ready to overthrow the bourgeoisie. The last year’s vast anti-neoliberal protests throughout Latin America haven’t so far resulted in any socialist revolutions, and in the core imperialist countries aside from France, mass civil disobedience movements aren’t in motion. But this is merely the result of material conditions throughout the capitalist world, and the goal of Marxism-Leninism is to circumvent the obstacles to revolution that these conditions present.
Among all people who agree that capitalism isn’t working, there needs to be an effort to mobilize towards defeating imperialism and the bourgeois governments. In Chile or Bolivia, this primarily means getting the revolutionaries armed and organized with the goal of sabotaging these countries’ fascist regimes. In France or the U.S., this primarily means educating people about revolutionary theory and getting them involved in communist organizations. Different places are in different revolutionary stages, and we in the core imperialist countries especially must recognize that the masses will need to first be acclimated towards an anti-colonial, socialist agenda. Only then will we be able to build the structures to usurp bourgeois power.
If we fulfill the demands of this alternative equation—the equation of revolution—we’ll negate the plan that the ruling class has for the 21st century. All that oligarchs like Bezos have to offer is a burning planet where only people like him live in comfort. We, the people, must invade their enclaves and create a future where the rest of humanity survives.
If you appreciate my work, I hope you become a one-time or regular donor to my Patreon account. Like most of us, I’m feeling the economic pinch during late-stage capitalism, and I need money to keep fighting for a new system that works for all of us. Go to my Patreon here. Follow Rainer on Twitter, Youtube and Medium.
From the archives: