Some 10,000 people in Baluchistan, Pakistan, are affected by massive floods caused by unusually heavy rainfalls, with many of them dead or missing. Meanwhile, tens of millions of people on the East Coast of the United States are sweltering through an unusually strong heat wave, and 2010 is expected to be the hottest year in recorded history. These two events are but small examples of the devastating effects of the global warming/global climate disruption that capitalism is driving forward. This climate disruption is caused first and foremost by the increased levels of greenhouse gases – primarily carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere.
Environmental Devastation from Fuel Extraction
It is not just the consequences of burning fossil fuel (fossil oil and coal) – i.e. greenhouse gas emissions – that is so destructive; the very search for and extraction of these fuels adds to the devastation. The ongoing oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico is but the most prominent example in the news here. (Added to the devastation of the oil itself is the 2 million gallons of Corexit – an oil dispersant – that BP has poured into the Gulf. The effect is to disperse the oil and send it down below the surface where it none of it can be removed. Done with permission of the US government, the sole purpose of this is to lessen the financial liabilities of BP.)
The explosion, fire and consequent oil gusher of the “Deepwater Horizon” oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has now become infamous world wide. A day or two after that explosion and fire, US President Obama addressed the nation on this disaster. He commented on society’s addiction to oil and discussed some different proposals to break that addiction. Although he never stated what he thought should be done, he did conclude “the one approach I will not accept is inaction.” Yet just days ago, an already-inadequate climate bill died in the US Senate without Obama making any serious effort to push it through. “Inaction” was exactly what Obama did accept, if not foster.
Meanwhile, China has surpassed the United States as the world’s greatest user of energy. Far from trying to reverse the pattern of greenhouse gas emissions, the ruling elite in China are seeing to it that a new coal-fired power plant goes online somewhere in China every week. Coal is the dirtiest source of electric power known.
The people of the Niger River Delta in Nigeria are no strangers to this devastation. This delta formerly provided a rich livelihood for fishing. Now, the delta is polluted by multiple oil spills. The greatest single cause of these spills is the corrosion of the pipes there. Shell Oil and the other oil companies find it cheaper to just let these pipes deteriorate.
Some 7,000 miles away, the lush Boreal Forests in Canada’s Alberta Province are being ripped apart. Oil has been found in the sands sitting below the surface there. Massive earth moving equipment – the largest in the world – are tearing into the earth there to get at these sands. These sands are then treated with a massive amount of heated water in order to extract the oil. The result is that not only is the earth devastated, but the water supply is decreased and the polluted remains then poison the surrounding area.
War A Human and Environmental Disaster
Capitalism has developed a technology that depends on fossil oil, and access to oil supplies is a major factor behind foreign policy, including the two major wars that US capitalism is waging (Iraq and Afghanistan). The immediate impact of these wars – the thousands killed in bombing raids, for instance – is devastating enough. But a secondary effect is what is left in the battles’ wake.
One material increasingly being used is depleted uranium (“DU”), an extremely hard material that is used for armor piercing shells. Upon impact, the DU atomizes into a fine, radioactive dust. This dust is causing large numbers of horrible birth defects in Iraq. The people of Fallujah were the victims of a murderous attack by US forces in 2004. Starting the following year, according to an article in the British “Independent” newspaper, “birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs (were seen). They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.” They cited, “a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.” The 38-fold increase in leukemia rates in Fallujah is over double the increase that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the US dropped the atomic bombs there at the end of WW II.
While people in the immediate battle zone are the direct victims of this fallout, this fine dust is blown up into the upper atmosphere and spreads around the world. Thus it is that the March of Dimes (a US charitable organization) reported in 2006 that an estimated 7.9 million children - 6 percent of total births worldwide - are born with a serious birth defect of genetic or partially genetic origin annually.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and other Chemicals
While some birth defects are inevitable, there is also an additional cause to this development, a cause also springing from capitalism’s drive for profit: Every year, thousands of new chemicals are introduced. In the United States, these chemicals are somewhat tested for whether they are cancer causing (carcinogenic), but what is hardly tested for at all is whether they cause birth defects (mutanogenic). Amongst the most widespread of the new chemicals and compounds are what are known as “Persistent Organic Pollutants” or “POPs”. One of the earliest of these was the pesticide DDT, whose manufacture and use is now banned in the United States, although it continues to be manufactured in a few countries today, including in India.
Just as wages are lower in the underdeveloped world, so the environmental regulations and worker protection tend to be weaker there. Take Pakistan, for example. According to one report: “POP pesticides were introduced in Pakistan in the 1950s when the federal government began importing DDT and BHC for malaria control and agriculture. Later, large qualities of Dieldrin and Aldrin were also added to the list. When, in the mid-to-late 1970s, the pesticide business was privatized and multinationals entered the market, imports of all pesticides increased even further. This has resulted in a situation where degrading stockpiles of extremely hazardous pesticides are littered across the country.” (http://www.wwfpak.org/factsheets_popf.php)
In Vietnam the widespread use of the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War is to this day causing elevated levels of cancers and birth defects. Six thousand, five hundred miles away, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, women are experiencing increased levels of birth defects, apparently due to the unchecked use of pesticides in that largely agricultural province. Everywhere in between, there are similar developments. (Note: Theo Colborn’s book, “Our Stolen Future”, is a ground breaking work on this issue and is highly, highly recommended.)
“Nestles Everywhere, Settles Everywhere”
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels describe how the capitalist system must constantly revolutionize the means of production. This now includes their introduction of one poison after another into the environment. Marx and Engels write of the capitalist class that “It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” This process has now been completed, but what has followed is that the poisons their drive for profit has created also nestle and settle everywhere. From the highest mountains to the depths of the oceans, from the jungles of Nigeria to the deserts of Asia, no place is untouched by these poisons.
Further research into the effects of these new chemicals as well as into global climate disruption, etc., is of course needed. However, as long as capitalism remains this research will be guided by political motives. (Scientists in the US are now complaining that they are being pressured to produce politically acceptable results by the Obama administration even more than they were by Bush & Co.) Increased regulation would, of course, be an improvement. However, the experience in the United States shows that the regulated end up controlling the regulators. Already, capitalism is creating huge dead zones. If these dead zones are not to spread and link up to create one huge, planet-wide dead zone, then capitalism must be overthrown.
This increasingly recognized fact represents a new phase in the struggle for socialism. The workers’ movement in general, and socialists in particular, must place this issue front and center in their struggles.