Climate change is a social issue

BY: Ben Stahnke| August 30, 2018
Climate change is a social issue
QGreetings, I have a question I cannot seem to find an answer to. A major topic enshrouded by much debate in this country are the issues of Climate Change and Global Warming. Though these are not social issues, per se, they are issues that need to be dealt with. Neglecting to address these issues, I think, would be a terrible idea, one that could easily lead to a catastrophe that would overshadow any social issues present at the time. My question is as follows; what is the stance of the CPUSA on Climate Change and Global Warming? If they held positions in public office, would they take steps to lessen the effect of them?
AThank you for your very important questions. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has asserted, “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.”

The Communist Party USA joins in the overwhelming consensus of both the IPCC and the international community of ecological, geological, and climatological experts. We acknowledge that global environmental change is indeed occurring, that it is catalyzed by human socio-economic activity, that it will impact human life in profound and often catastrophic ways, and that such impacts will fall on poor and oppressed populations in increasingly disproportionate ways.

In other words, environmental change and climate change are not separate issues above and beyond the present issues of society itself. Environmental and social issues can only ever go hand in hand.

Agencies such as the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) have estimated that approximately 150 million environmental refugees could become displaced by the year 2050, with 26 million people “already [having] been displaced as a direct result of climate change.” According to the EJF, 12 million people presently live in poverty due to climate change, 250 million are presently affected by desertification, 508 million presently live in water-stressed or water-scarce areas, and 2.8 billion people presently “live in areas of the world prone to more than one of the physical manifestations of climate change: floods, storms, droughts, [and] sea level rise.” Where such a precariousness exists, CPUSA’s struggle for social justice could only ever occur alongside the struggle for environmental justice.

However, in saying that climate change is driven by human activity, we must be clear: capitalism itself is the primary culprit. Capitalist production depends upon a continuous commodification of the environment to sustain its growth; a continuous and unsustainable harvesting of resources in the never-ending quest for profit.  Under capitalism, a tiny minority of wealthy shareholders profit from the consumption of entire ecosystems, while the planet and the vast majority of its living inhabitants suffer the consequences.  Because capitalism and the capitalist class stand poised against the earth itself, a truly ecological and sustainable stance must by necessity be anti-capitalist in nature.

Given that climate change and global environmental change are, in addition to social and environmental issues, political issues as well, CPUSA understands that political, legislative, and regulatory actions are desperately needed. In public offices, we would adhere to the advice of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report and their Summary for Policymakers, which identifies the need for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and recommends  "an integrated approach that combines measures to reduce energy use and the greenhouse gas intensity of end-use sectors, decarbonize energy supply, reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sinks in land-based sectors."

We understand that emissions reductions—and the technological, economic, social, and institutional challenges which stand in their way—call not only for strong regulatory and legislative actions, but for deep economic structural changes as well. CPUSA stands strongly against climate misinformation, pervasive climate denial, and regressive climate legislation; we stand against capitalism, and in solidarity with the people and the planet.

Further Reading

Brainard, Lael, et al. Climate Change and Global Poverty : A Billion Lives in the Balance? Brookings Institute Press, 2009.

Dawson, Ashley. Extinction: A Radical History. OR Books, 2016.

Hannah, Lee, Thomas Lovejoy, and Stephen Schneider. “Biodiversity and Climate Change in Context.” In Climate Change and Biodiversity, edited by Thomas Lovejoy and Lee Hannah, 2005.

Steffen, Will and Regina Angelina Sanderson. Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet Under Pressure. Springer, 2005.

Watson, Robert T. "Emissions Reductions and Alternative Futures." Climate Change and Biodiversity, edited by Thomas Lovejoy and Lee Hannah. Yale University Press, 2005.

Image: Mongolia's Tavan Tolgoi coal mine--one of the largest on earth, and currently being privatized--illustrates capitalism's impact on the earth and its inhabitants. The energy and wealth flow to investors, while the human and environmental costs are borne disproportionately by workers and oppressed people. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Ben Stahnke is a Ph.D. student and President's Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Environmental Studies at Antioch University, where he is conducting research on the intersection of political philosophy, environmental policy-making, and ecology. Ben holds an M.A. in social and political philosophy from Antioch University, and a B.A. in classical philosophy and anthropology from The Evergreen State College. Ben's essays have been published in Climate & Capitalism, and Forward: Popular Theory and Practice.

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