Beyond Kyoto -- Capitalism Is Not Sustainable
eugene at tao.ca
Tue Jan 7 06:29:38 MST 2003
Industrial Workers of the World
Edmonton General Membership Branch
PO Box 75175, Edmonton T6E 6K1
Email: iww-edm at iww.ca
Web Page: edmonton.iww.ca
Alberta has been a right wing oil producing province opposing Kyoto (the
Alberta position parrots the US position) while the Federal Liberal
Government has approved Kyoto. The Edmonton IWW Branch is issuing our paper
on Kyoto and Sustainable Capitalism. The Labour movement in Alberta is
divided over this issue. While Kyoto has passed in parliment the fallout
from this debate is not over.
A radical critique of Capitalism demands that we move beyond the pro and
anti Kyoto debate.
The fact is that Kyoto IS flawed. It is a "capitalist solution" to Climate
Change and the ecological crisis we face.
The Kyoto accord allows for nations and corporations to develop
technological and capitalist/market driven solutions for green house gas
emissions. It allows for the capitalist ideology of pollution credits which
is one of its key market principles.
Kyoto is flawed because it arises out of the sustainable development
ideology that is capitalism's answer to the ecological crisis of
development. It is the belief that capitalism can be sustainable, which is
contradicted by the simple fact that capitalism needs to grow and
accumulate in order to be sustained. There can be no limits to growth
applied to the market, or else capitalism will go into a crisis. It is
exactly this need to accumulate and grow that has created the ecological
Sustainable development means many things to many people, in this case to
capitalists it means growth, accumulation and profit that is ongoing. Any
social or technological changes made, such as addressing the environmental
impacts of resource extraction and manufacturing means that corporations
will tinker with technology that cleans up their dirty businesses. The
primary business of extraction and production will not essentially change
it will just be more "environmentally friendly".
Kyoto was drafted as the outcome of the UN Rio conference on the
environment and sustainable development. It was the UN's way of addressing
the ecological crisis of capitalism. It coincided with the development of
international free trade agreements. Kyoto speaks in the same language as
the free trade agreements. It allows corporations and their governments to
come up with solutions to reduce green house gases in their own way at
their own speed, as long as those emissions are reduced to 1990 levels.
The accord and the whole sustainable development model is a corporatist
model. Kyoto says we only wish to ameliorate the worst excesses of
capitalist development, not eliminate it as the source of the environmental
The debate pro and anti- Kyoto does not go to the root of the problem.
Capitalism is the source of climate change. It is the modern historical
source of environmental destruction and change since it is based on
production for profit rather than for social use.
Since the Industrial revolution and the creation of coal fired mass
"the dark satanic mills", the environment has been seriously affected by
the pollution of the technology and the products of capitalism.1
In the past 100 years, environmental degradation has been greater than in
the previous thousand.2 This rapid acceleration of the ecological crisis
has not just impacted the regions where production takes place, but the
So if Capitalism is the root cause of our environmental crisis why then are
we discussing Kyoto?
Kyoto reflects the attempt by governments, corporations and civil society
(NGO's, environmentalists, and the labour movement) to ameliorate the worst
environmental excesses of capitalism.
Kyoto is defended as a reform limiting capitalist excess. Yet the labour
movement is divided on this issue, as are politicians, scientists and
IT'S ALL ABOUT JOBS
Capitalist production equals jobs. Change the nature of production and you
impact the lives of working people who will defend their current means of
livelihood, and who can blame them. This is the defensive aspect of class
Since the Luddites smashed the factory machines in the 1820's, in favour of
home-based production, the struggle of the working class has been to hold
back the inevitable tide of change which capitalism brings.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC),
the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) and the Communications Energy and
Paperworkers (CEP) are promoting Kyoto in order to save jobs.
The Alberta Building Trades Council, representing trades and construction
unions, joined the Alberta Government in opposing Kyoto. They want to save
The house of labour is not as divided as it may first appear. Unions pro
and con see Kyoto as impacting on jobs.
The AFL/CLC/CAW/CEP say that a transition fund must be set up to create
economic security of workers impacted by Kyoto. The Building Trades say the
Both the construction workers (building trades) and the gas plant workers
(CEP) see Kyoto impacting on oil sands and energy plant expansion in
Alberta. Neither is challenging the root cause of the environmental health
problem of production in a capitalist system.
The building trade unions taking a short-term view say that this will
impact on their jobs by reducing oil sands expansion projects. In fact
Kyoto favours retrofitting, which their members will do.
The pro Kyoto unions talk about transition funding to replace lost jobs,
and to create new ones. This does not challenge the fact that capitalist
production is the source of our environmental crisis.
Green technologies and green energy have been available for over thirty
years, if they have not been developed its simply because they are
currently capital intensive. Green energy and technologies can be adapted
without challenging the capitalist system.
In fact that is exactly what the Kyoto accord promotes. Supporters hope
Kyoto will force capitalism to reform its nastier environmental practices
and still make a profit.
This contradiction is played out in society as a whole. The government of
Alberta staying true to its neo-liberal pro privatization ideology backed
by the free market think tanks like the Fraser Institute, and the Federal
Canadian Alliance Party opposes Kyoto. The Federal Liberals, Bloc Quebecois
and New Democrats support Kyoto.
Some provinces support Kyoto others are leery, but Alberta is the most
outspoken, as the voice of one dominant sector of the energy industry and
right wing business interests.
The Federal government is made out to be the straw dog enemy of Alberta,
always an effective tool for pulling the wool over Albertans eyes.
Comparisons are made between the National Energy Policy (NEP), hurting
Alberta and Kyoto being its modern equivalent. In reality the NEP had
nothing to do with the Alberta economic decline in the 1980's, except as a
The oil crisis of the 1970's and 1980's eventually meant that Alberta would
also face a decline, even though we had a decade of boom due to this same
oil crisis. Once again the capitalist cycle of boom and bust played itself
out. Alberta politicians used the federal NEP as its scapegoat to distract
workers being laid off during the bust.
The free marketers first tried to claim that there was no Climate Change.
Except they cannot explain away the current two-year drought in Australia,
which is the worst in recorded history.
When their scientists were found wanting, they claimed that Climate Change
impacts were exaggerated.
Except then they could not explain the brown cloud of pollution covering
Asia and the pacific basin.
Finally they have accepted Climate Change and global warming, but want to
push for capital protection, pollution exchange credits, carbon sink
credits, and other market models of sustainable development they have been
pushing since the Reagan Thatcher era.
The fact is that some capitalists will profit from Kyoto and some
capitalists will be negatively impacted. Some jobs will disappear, some new
jobs will be created. Some expansion of resource extraction will be
temporarily curtailed, some new technologies will develop, as will new
green energy resources.
The Kyoto accord exits to ameliorate the worst effects of capitalism on the
environment, its a stop gap measure that does not challenge capitalist
Workers live in the communities, which are exposed to environmental
pollution; they work in the plants producing this pollution.
A recent study3 has shown that pollution from Hamilton steel mills
increases the chance of people living in that city suffering genetic damage
and an increase in cases of cancer. This fact is also known to the workers
in the plant represented by the Steelworkers Union who have bargained for
early retirement packages for coke-oven workers in the mills because their
health is affected by this pollution.
The pollution and environmental hazards of capitalist production are not
just a health and safety issue for unions they are an issue for our
communities. We must recognize that what is a health and safety issue in
the plant is an environmental issue in society. The two are linked.
We need to make every battle over health and safety an environmental
battle, and every environmental battle a health and safety issue. We need
to move beyond workplace-based health and safety and create a movement for
Environmental Health. Capitalism is killing us for profit.
IT'S NOT ABOUT JOBS
IT'S ABOUT OUR SURVIVAL
This issue is not about jobs it's about our health, the health of our
families and our planet.
For workers to move beyond the just defending their jobs, pro or anti-Kyoto
means that we must pose an alternative to the idea of sustainable
capitalist development. The ecological crisis we face on a global scale is
a result of capitalism. A kinder greener capitalism is not the answer.
The free marketers are correct in defending their self-interest as
capitalist apologists. They make no bones about it. They see the
environmental crisis as a crisis of capitalism. It would do well for
labour, social and environmental activists to realize this as well. You
cannot challenge the environmental crisis of capitalism without challenging
capitalism itself. It is not a matter of being either pro or anti Kyoto.
Capitalism is not sustainable.
The challenge we face is to replace capitalism with production for use, not
profit. To abolish the wage system and replace it with a common ownership
of production, to produce goods we need, under conditions that enhance our
lives and our environment, not degrade them.
Socialism, the democratic self-management of our industries and communities
is our alternative to Kyoto and sustainable capitalism.
1. The twin sources of this environmental havoc were also known to
observers in 1900. The first was the worlds human population, which had
grown rather slowly for almost four million years, began to accelerate, in
the late eighteenth century and still showed no sign of slacking. The
second was that human economic activity had also accelerated ever since the
post-1760 Industrial Revolution had allowed the substitution of inanimate
for animate energy."
2."According to Neills (rough) calculations, humans in the twentieth
century used TEN TIMES more energy than their forebears over the entire
thousand years preceding 1900."
Paul Kennedy, Forward to ' something new under the sun, an Environmental
History of the Twentieth-Century" by J.R. McNeill. W.W. Norton Books 2000
3. Study Suggests Gene Damage, Steel Mills Linked, Martin Mittelstadt,
Globe and Mail Tuesday, December 10, 2002
"The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There
can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the
working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the
good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the
world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production,
abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth."
Preamble to the Constitution of the IWW
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