FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE A vision is required
On Thursday 14th March, Cyclone Idai made landfall in southern Africa, leaving a trail of destruction behind it in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. As its path ripped through towns and villages, many lives were lost as homes were uprooted. Then came the torrential rains, the floods, leaving thousands stranded on rooftops. Beira, Mozambique’s fourth largest city, has virtually gone. Ten days later, at least 2 million people have been affected, many people are still waiting to be rescued, and over 110 000 are in camps. The final death toll is likely to be in the thousands.
This is our region’s first big climate shock
As the planet warms due to human induced climate change, sub Saharan Africa will be worst hit as climate patterns that have sustained life on earth for thousands of years break down. The way that the ruling elite have responded to the cyclone gives us a good indication of how much trouble we are in.
There is no plan
It will always be poor and vulnerable people who are hit hardest. The people affected in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe were poor people. South Africa sent two helicopters to the region, where hundreds of thousands are desperately in need of rescue. They also sent some SANDF soldiers, but their brief was to repair damaged power lines, not to help stranded people. A few months ago, the small village of Muizenberg in the Western Cape endured several days of military parades and heavy artillery being fired into the sea. It was a disgusting, wasteful and mindless display of military might. Why couldn’t they put their resources towards helping to rescue people after the cyclone? This lack of humanity by the government shows how little they actually care about workers and the poor and we should all be worried as Cyclone Idai is only the beginning of the new normal. We are going to have to get used to extreme weather events and mega storms as the planet warms because the ruling elite continue to put profit before tackling carbon emissions.
This is an emergency for humanity and socialists should be at the centre
We have had lots of warnings that climate change is going to tip into a more ferocious period, called runaway climate change. We know that a warming planet results in extremes – storms, droughts and floods. In South Africa, we’ve been experiencing droughts, floods and heatwaves for over a decade, and they’ve been progressively worsening. People are already starving as their crops dry out and their livestock die. But the ruling elite has continued down a path of accumulating wealth through mineral wealth, and relied on outdated and polluting coal-based power stations to supply energy. We can point to the richer nations in the north and blame them, quite rightly, for the lion’s share of carbon emissions, but this does not justify pouring more and more money into coal.
Jobs in coal or cooperatives running the renewable industry?
The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party has released a draft discussion document on land and mining, which talks about policies that will support a participatory democracy in the mining industry, which they see as an important sector of the economy. There is no mention of climate collapse or the phasing out of mining, but there is mention of respecting communities’ right to say no to mining companies. This is a step forward, but doesn’t reflect any urgency about the threat of climate change and the need to end coal production and reduce carbon emissions. NUMSA has a position on saving jobs in coal mining. They also talk about a Just Transition towards renewables. The metal union rightly fears that the move to introduce Independent Energy Producers to the mix that supplies the grid, which will include renewables, is a move towards privatisation of the state energy utility, Eskom. Eskom is a colossal failure – it is limping in debt from being mismanaged for decades. Corruption has allowed the plundering of money that was meant to go into upkeep and supply, and now ordinary people are paying heavy prices for power and facing load shedding in their daily lives. Privatisation is not the answer, but neither is having an incoherent position on the climate crisis we face.
The working class will be hit hardest
Left unions and organisations should be at the centre of the fight for socially owned renewable energy supplies, controlled by workers cooperatives. Mineworkers do the job because they need an income. No mineworker wants to work in the dangerous and badly paid conditions they toil under. Plus, many mineworkers, like other working class communities, don’t even have basic services like electricity even though they risk their lives every day to make profits for the rich. Given a choice of being retrained and working in a cooperative that produces and installs solar panels, for example, to working class communities, would anyone fight to continue to mine? The One Million Climate Jobs Campaign was launched in South Africa 8 years ago. It puts trade unions and worker led organisations at the centre of the fight to reduce carbon emissions by leading the fight for polluting industries to be closed down as climate jobs are created. These would be created on a massive scale and involve training for workers and unemployed people to build infrastructure in renewables and public transport, to maintain the systems and so on. It would get people working together to solve the crisis. You can read more about the campaign here: http://aidc. org.za/programmes/million-climate-jobscampaign/about/ In 2011, many of us on the left took part in demonstrations at COP17 in Durban, trying to put pressure on the government to hold a radical position for Africa. We knew then that this region would be hit hardest. We complained for years that no one seems interested or even switched on about the threat that we are facing. But on the 15th March, a day after the Cyclone hit, over 1.5 million youth took to the streets across the world, to demand action over climate change. One of their major slogans is #SystemChangeNotClimateChange. Many of them blame capitalism for denying them a future. Every Friday youth are on the streets. The movement is growing, activism is growing. People are no longer passive about this. As socialists we should be part of it, having the conversations about ‘system change’ now that youth are on the move. We need to be part of this, first because it is putting pressure on the ruling class across the globe not to ignore the biggest crisis facing humanity, second, because it forces us to imagine the possibilities of a different world while we argue for socially controlled renewable energy, and finally because any socialist organisation worth its salt wants to be where the best fighters are and the youth are showing us the way right now. They have nothing to lose.