By Paul Atkin
As revealed in this Oxfam Report, the poorest 50% and middle 40% of the global population have a minimal or declining carbon footprint. The top 10%, and even more the top 1%, already have carbon footprints that are unviable and are increasing so fast that they will have bust us through the 1.5C limit on their own by 2030.
The top 10% are people who are on more than £125,000 a year. Most of them live in the Global North, but are a minority even here. The working class in the Global North, is overwhelmingly in the middle 40%.
The strategy of the ruling class in the Global North is primarily to sustain their own wealth and power.
- Some of them are in denial about climate change as a result.
- Even those that recognise reality can only envisage a green transition which prioritises their own consumption standards by keeping the bottom 50% impoverished. Carbon offsetting by keeping the global majority in their place.
- Hence the failure to transfer investment to the Global South and the prospect that the 350 carbon bombs identified by the Guardian will be dropped; because it is profitable to do so.
- This underlines the paradox of the debate about “stranded assets”, as assets are only stranded if there is a viable transition. If there isn’t, they stay profitable until everything collapses around us; which will always be the stronger motivation for companies operating on quarterly profit returns. The notion that Fossil Fuel capital will be more motivated by social responsibility than profits runs counter not only to the record of its counterparts in the tobacco and asbestos industries, but also its own record in covering up its own research on the climate impacts of its operations from the 1950s onwards. They knew. They covered it up. Now that we know, they greenwash instead.
- As they recognise that climate breakdown will create social and political crises on an unimaginable scale, from waves of climate refugees to possible war in the Arctic, they are prioritising military spending over solving the problem. The US government is spending 14 times as much on its armed forces as it planned to do on domestic climate measures – and then didn’t agree to. They have committed $40 billion to stoke the war in Ukraine rather than seek a peace deal; while climate transition funding for the Global South is reluctantly dispensed through an eye dropper.
What that means is an immediate future dominated, not by win-win global cooperation to solve our problems and build a sustainable society, but by wars and crises that make doing so ever more difficult. Campaigning against these is an urgent priority for anyone committed to Just Transition.
A strategic challenge for the working class in the Global North is therefore recognising that our own ruling classes are structurally incapable of making the transition; but are divided between those that will openly sabotage it and those that will float half measures.
While we can bloc with the latter against the former, if we want a full transition, we have to lead it. If we don’t want to be thrown under the bus, we have to be driving the bus. That means thinking like the leaders of society, because it’s our job now. And we need to seek alliances with the global majority, including countries that see themselves as Socialist.
The tactical challenge is that we operate in a national polity that presumes a “national interest” that subordinates the working class to the ruling class and this is deeply ingrained in popular perception, political (and union) movements; so consciously thinking internationally – outside the limits of the Brit Box – and framing our campaigning accordingly is essential.