Environmental Crises and Class Struggle

BY:Marc Brodine| March 18, 2024
Environmental Crises and Class Struggle


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

It is important that the main political discussion document identifies the climate change crisis as a crucial aspect of the general crisis of the capitalist system, as one of the elements which capitalism cannot solve on its own.

The climate crisis is getting worse. The extreme weather events, multi-year droughts, mega-fires, intense hurricanes, melting permafrost and glaciers and ice sheets, are all piling up, happening with much greater frequency. It’s already worse than the predictions from just a few years ago. There are several reasons for this.

One reason is that only consensus science is accepted. That is understandable, since scientists for the most part don’t want to make guesses or apocalyptic statements unless there is good science to back them up. However, there are many aspects of our complex climate systems that we don’t know enough about yet to include in the prediction models, but we do know enough to worry about their impacts, know enough to be aware that there are more threats awaiting humanity from climate change.

Some of the areas we don’t know enough about yet include:

  • how oceans react to the massive amounts of greenhouse gasses (oceans absorb a lot of it, but for how long?),
  • clouds (which reflect sunlight back into space, but how much?),
  • methane in the oceans and permafrost (methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and there is enough frozen methane that if it is emitted due to melting, it can overwhelm our efforts to prevent runaway warming),
  • the health effects of changing disease zones (such as malaria),
  • ice shelves, glaciers, and ice sheets and how they are melting and at what rate

So, we still have much more to learn. Scientific knowledge is increasing, leading to predictions which are ever closer approximations of reality, but the knowledge and the predictions are not the reality themselves. Previous predictions have proposed ranges of effects, and reality has pushed us to the worst predictions; the worst case scenarios from previous predictions are now the most likely outcomes

We already face more environmental crises (increased hurricane intensity, increased number and intensity of forest fires, massive flooding and multi-year droughts, losses of homes, jobs, communities, insurance woes, health impacts). The environmental aspects of life on earth will only grow in intensity and importance over the coming decades.

Environmental issues are arenas of class struggle. For example, the UAW strike earlier this year included issues around organizing new electric vehicle plants and battery plants. The union wanted to be sure that environmental crises didn’t become the excuse for new plants being non-union. The “new” energy sector is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and those workers need to be organized too—many hundreds of thousands of them.

All workers face environmental degradation at work and in their communities. Workers in many industries are subjected to toxic chemicals, to poor ventilation, and to unnecessary accidents on the job. They often live in communities which have been and continue to be used as dumping grounds for industrial waste, often including chemicals which we don’t yet know the health effects of.

Capitalists want to impose the costs to fix environmental crises onto workers. Companies use bankruptcy laws to evade their pension plan obligations, but also their obligations to clean up the toxic messes they leave behind. They seek to dump the costs of cleanup onto the taxpayers, who by and large are the same workers the same companies try to pay less, try to evade paying taxes and pensions, try to avoid having to tell their workers about the chemicals they are exposed to on the job (companies lobby against “Worker Right to Know” legislation).

Our strategy has to give more importance to the environmental aspect of most struggles.

This is necessary to be able to reach youth, who worry about their future for very good reasons. This is necessary because many existing workers will face disruption when environmentally destructive work gets shut down—retraining, jobs, and extended unemployment insurance are required so that workers don’t pay the price for the crimes committed by the companies they work for.

The unfortunate reality is that the Paris Climate Accords and other international agreements and commitments are nowhere near enough to stop the increasing amounts of greenhouse gasses being emitted, so things are already worse with no sign of a major shift in policy, meaning things will get worse still. We need a fundamental restructuring of our industry, agriculture, distribution, and the legal framework to tackle these new massive problems facing all humanity.

Our electoral strategy has to incorporate environmental issues. There are growing numbers of environmental voters; focus on environmental issues is part of energizing young voters; our electoral work is one way of insisting on a class approach to environmental issues; and environmental justice issues are part of the struggle over immigration—environmental crises are part of the cause of immigration and refugees fleeing environmental degradation, and all this will just escalate over coming decades.

Environmental consciousness is a developing path to socialist consciousness, a new pathway to understanding the need for humanity to fundamentally transform our entire relationship to the natural world on which we depend.

The environmental movement has grown considerably, and learned that it must build alliances with other progressive movements. However, our Party has a unique role to play in fighting for class approaches to winning and implementing real solutions.


    Marc Brodine is Chair of the Washington State CPUSA. A former AFSCME member and local officer, he is currently an artist and guitar player. Marc writes on environmental issues and answers many web site questions. Marc is the author of an extended essay on Marxist philosophy and the environment, titled Dialectics of Climate Change.

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