The reality of the Green Deal in these times
The CO2 emissions market, the basic institution of the Green Deal in Europe, reached a record high last week. Signifying not only a rise of industrial costs but energy costs as well and, through both, a rise of inflation. An inflation that is reviving the profits of big business and capital at the expense of wages. Not surprisingly, the ECB is moderate in this regard and settles for a slowdown in the rate of decline of real wages.
At the same time, the implementation of the Green Deal in the US with the famous IRA law, was a real declaration of trade war from the US to the EU and signals the launch of a massive sucker of capital, as seen in Spain with the change of location of Ferrovial's head office, one of the largest local construction companies, or the putting into question of of 79% of the projects of battery factories for electric cars.
And while in the US the first beneficiaries of this acceleration of the Green Deal will be, not surprisingly, the giants of the oil industry, the EU's response seems to be a combination of protectionism and direct transfers (subsidies) to big business.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the Green Deal means a massive transfer of income from labor to capital that governments planned from the beginning as a false response to real climate change.
But is there no support left to hold on to? Doesn't there exist a discourse that attempts to take the Green Deal down another direction in the name of Climate Justice?
What is "Climate Justice?"
There is no lack of literature on Climate Justice. If we look at NGOs like Aid in Action, we would see that it is defined as taking into account the global North-South differences when it comes to sharing the costs of the Green Deal. In other words, it would be a matter of sharing costs between countries. An approach that ends up accusing workers of the Global North of being a part of the problem as if social classes did not exist.
Environmental NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, however, seem to have a more realistic view and speak of how workers in industrialized countries are also victims of climate change. But when they discuss the problem and the stories in further detail, they take many steps backwards. In a video interview with an Andalusian union leader for example, they tell us that when the harvests of table olives, olives used for olive oil, and oranges are carried out simultaneously due to drought (which is not exactly the same as climate change), immigrant construction workers, the majority of whom are male, displace a small part of the women day laborers. Not even Vox could have found a more sexist and xenophobic narrative.
And when Oxfam compares income with emissions, the perspective isn't any better. The headline tells us that the richest 1% is responsible for 50% of global emissions. And how does Oxfam explain this? By talking about how the 1% follows the logic of capital and organizes social work and technological development in a destructive way? No, instead it argues that this is due to the richest 1% traveling frequently by plane and living in very energetically expensive mansions. Savonarola and Calvin would be proud of them.
As the methodology used only measures access to consumption, the amounts of emissions allocated to each country are approximately proportional to GDP per capita and within this are distributed equally by income levels.
What does not appear in the headline is that the same report blames the world's middle incomes, i.e. a good part of the global working class, including the Chinese, whose nominal wages are much higher than the incomes of the excluded, the peasantry and the workers of the poorest semi-colonial countries, for the emissions associated with things like going to work, heating houses that are not decently heated or eating cheap meat produced by ultra-intensive livestock farming. Damn sinners against Nature!
Result: climate justice, as Oxfam and others tell us, would be nothing more than distributing emissions reductions proportionally to GDP per capita between countries and within each country through a Sacred Climate Union, demanding sacrifices from workers in the name of a supposed shared responsibility, while covering the barbarity under the banner of special taxes for the very rich.
Responsibility for climate change
Let's start to unravel this mess by comparing two maps. The first is that of greenhouse gas emissions by country.
And now the global industrial production map by country.
Wow... the correlation is almost exact. Although this does not mean that the total greenhouse gas emissions are produced by industry. Rather, studies point to it contributing about a third of CO2 emissions.
The point is that, although industry is the main emitter along with electricity production, when a certain degree of intensity in the use of capital is reached, agriculture, construction and transportation are industrialized as well.
We have seen this in China in the last decades: free trade agreements have allowed large industrial productions that until then had been in the USA and Europe to relocate to China in order to gain competitiveness by taking advantage of low wages. Immediately after, large capital and investments flowed in to build the large factories turning China into the 3D printer of the world.
Millions of peasants and agricultural workers migrated to the cities in the east of the country to work in them. The housing shortage produced a new construction industry that built entire cities out of steel and concrete towers; the transportation system was massified and increased in scope both to get these masses of workers - who increasingly lived further and further away from the factories - to work and to transport the goods they produced to the far corners of the world; and the food system, traditionally fragile, became more and more intensive to ensure cheap food to keep wages under control until it produced the famous mega-farms capable of simultaneously raising millions of chickens and hundreds of thousands of pigs in large multi-storey buildings.
Outcome: China became an industrial power. Chinese capital gained a strength that has made it today a systemic rival of its own clients and investors (the national capitals of the USA, Great Britain, the EU, Australia, etc.) and therefore a major emitter of greenhouse gases and other forms of pollution that, by the way, kills more than two million Chinese workers a year.
We could say the same of virtually every industrialized country. Climate change is not the result of the supposed consumerist cravings of workers or of a non-existent well-being. Emissions have historically multiplied as an expression of the logic of capitalism and, having long since reached global development, the inability for (capital) growth to generate (human) development as a beneficial but involuntary by-product.
Who is really responsible for climate change has been there for a long time: the dictatorship of capital accumulation over each and every aspect of social life.
What is "climate justice" really about?
The COP27 slogan was: "together for implementation".
The strategy called Green Deal is not in its core and ultimate objectives a strategy against climate change, but is rather a strategy to re-value capital. Its essence is to legally and internationally force an abrupt technological change to render obsolete a good part of the fixed capital -from vehicles to power plants- giving a profitable destination to the great masses of idle capital that the system has produced and has nowhere to place them in.
Since the new technology is less productive than the one it replaces -if we remove emission rights, burning fuel is still cheaper than using solar panels- this technological change necessarily involves a massive transfer of income from labor to capital and the consequent restriction of workers' consumption, i.e., of access to their basic needs. This is what we are seeing in the form of inflation and falling real wages.
If it approached the problem from this perspective, demanding for example that capital and not labor be devalued as a result of the Green Deal, Climate Justice might make some sense: it would be defending at least the current insufficient level of satisfaction of human needs. But no, it focuses on the supposed Global North-South conflict. What's that about?
As we saw during the pandemic, the bourgeoisie, by its very nature, is incapable of organizing a coordinated global response to anything short of perhaps, a revolution that calls it globally into question. And evidently the Green Deal, however much it may be of more or less general interest to all national capitals, was not going to be an exception.
Such a brutal and rapid change of rules in the global market can only raise the level of contradictions between the interests of the various national capitals, even if they all, in principle, accept the general framework. After all, it is the conditions of access to markets and capital that we are talking about, the very core of the imperialist interests of each country.
The outcome is palpable in the latest COPs, conferences organized by the UN to globally coordinate the Green Deal:
In theory, the objective of the COPs is to assess and coordinate the greenhouse gas emission reduction policies of the member states. In reality they were created as a multilateral tool for the EU and the US to impose on the different groups of countries their rhythms, forms and interests to implement the Green Deal globally.
In practice, the COPs have been floundering as the US and the EU have found it increasingly difficult to impose themselves through such bodies by guaranteeing or restricting access to capital and markets in third countries. The erosion of the strictly economic mechanisms of domination, which ends with the failure of sanctions against Russia and the outbreak of war in Ukraine, have distanced the COPs from the results that the so-called "Western" bloc intended to impose.
In this framework, the Climate Justice of which NGOs, governments and international organizations speak of is nothing more than an attempt to reorganize a certain coordination of the different strategies in order to negotiate an outcome in which the capitals and the ruling classes of the semi-colonial countries have certain options to benefit as well. Nothing more.
The point is that the workers, be they from the so-called Global North, from China or from the semicolonial countries, remain outside the framework of such Justice. The only thing that is clear is that in one place or another, they have to sacrifice themselves for the good of the planet... while their exploiters maintain and improve the sacrosanct dividends of their investments.
How to respond to "Climate Justice"?
- Emissions that produce climate change are not distributed according to population and average wage distribution.
- The map of emissions is practically the same as the map of large industrial investments. Investments were concentrated for almost two hundred years in the "rich countries", but when great industry moved to countries like China, Mexico or Brazil in search of cheap wages, they brought emissions with them and multiplied them. This was obviously not a choice of the workers.
- Destructive industrial development in turn brings forth an energy system and a way of life (construction and transportation systems, distance to work, etc.) that is wasteful and responds only to the logic of capital (profit). The outcome at certain scales is a system that is as destructive of human life as it is of the surrounding rural and natural environment. The "climate crisis" is only one facet of the crisis of capitalist civilization.
- Workers are, everywhere in the world and everywhere at the same time, the main resource, the main productive force. But they do not decide the forms and places of their own exploitation.
- The strategy called the Green Deal is not in its core and ultimate objectives a strategy against climate change, but is rather a strategy to re-value capital. Its essence is to legally and internationally force an abrupt technological change to render obsolete a good part of the fixed capital -from vehicles to power plants- by giving a profitable destination to the great masses of idle capital that the system has produced and has nowhere to place them in.
- Since the new technology is less productive than the one it replaces - if we remove emission rights, burning fuel is still cheaper than using solar panels - this technological change necessarily involves a massive transfer of income from labor to capital and the consequent restriction of workers' consumption, i.e., of access to their basic needs. This is what we are seeing in the form of inflation and falling real wages.
- Understanding "climate justice" as part of a conflict between (capitals and states of) "rich" countries and (capitals and states of) "poor" countries is the same as defending the "sharing out" of the extra profits of capital at the expense of the basic needs of workers in the "North" and the "South".
- It does not seem very "fair" that the exploited of the system bare the cost of the good health of the dividends of their exploiters and the recovery of their own exploitation just so that their exploiters can destroy the natural environment a little less.
- What is "just", in the sense of what is right, what is necessary, is to put an end to that great crusher of all living things that is an economic system that has become antagonistic to life in all its facets.