Communist Youth Organization

The Youth Branch of The Workers’ Communist Party of Iran

Chia Barsen: Paris agreement and capital’s relation to nature

This year, in Paris, 196 nations signed an agreement to curb carbon dioxide emissions and ‘save’ the world from the brink of complete environmental disaster. However, the intention behind the corralling of the representatives of all the nation states under one roof is better understood in relation to the state of class-struggle, rather than the state of the natural environment.  The fact that capitalism is broaching the issue of global warming is a telling sign of its internal fear of the global shift of the working-class towards the left. Capitalism does not see the environmental crisis as a capital accumulation crisis, but fears the growing anti-capitalism movement that has gripped the heart of the global environmental movement. At least at the surface level, capitalism wants to appear to have the solutions to global warming and to pacify this dangerous and burgeoning working-class movement.

Capital has a contradictory-unity relation to nature. Just as every commodity has a contradictory-unity relation within it (having both use-value and market set exchange-value). Within capitalism nature, is viewed as a large store of potential use-values (both things and processes) that can be used in the production and realization of commodities. Capital produces and destroys nature to fit the needs of the market all the way to a molecular level (DNA sequencing of crops such as the soya bean). In short, capital sees nature as a massive “gasoline station”. There is no room in this definition of nature for humane distribution of the use-values in nature. What is congealed in this definition is the cold process of capital circulation and accumulation and above all, profit. By congregating 196 nation-state representatives it does not breathe humanity into capital’s definition of nature.  

Capital accumulation is not in crisis due to global warming, because capital profits from both destroying nature and from producing technologies that help fix it. In fact capital has a tendency to create “needs” in order to profit from fulfilling them. This is especially the case when you consider the big business that has sprouted in the environmental technologies. This includes everything from solar energy to the technologies designed to clean the oceans of the toxic chemical and human waste. In China, air, something which has the ultimate use-value for every human being, is bottled and sold for profit. Carbon trading, another fictitious capital market, is generating real profit. This fictitious capital market has done nothing to curb carbon dioxide emissions, however the profit that is produced is real, since money stores value, in large quantities it also has with it social power. This social power is ultimately used in the context of global class-relations and for the oppression of the working-class.

Further support to the argument, is to view the environmental movement in the context of neoliberalism. For the last four decades since Reagan and Thatcher, the welfare state, a working-class achievement, has been dismantled and sold in the private market. Unions and working-class associations have been repressed through globalization and trade treaties. The working-class globally has been repressed. All the while corporations have been granted larger and larger freedom from the state both in taxes and in laws that control them. Today, TTIP is what NAFTA was several decades ago. This year, for the first time, an oil company has sued the American government for lost profits up to 22 Billion dollars. This is the context that the Paris agreement takes place in. Neoliberalism has spent four decades deteriorating the power of the state and creating a “free” market playground for itself. Today corporations have power over governments like never before. In this context it doesn’t make sense for capital to return this power to the state.

The solution to the environmental crisis cannot be found in a market economy. Even if capitalism “cleans” the air, it will only be as far as it does not danger its profits, nothing more and nothing less. As long as nature is defined under an exchange-value relation, basic human need to breathe, eat and drink in a clean world will come secondary to profits. Capitalism has never shied away from killing scores of people for a profit motive, and it will not see the human tragedy in aftermath of large storms and rising sea levels as a reason to fix the environment. Only in a world where humanity is not plagued by the insanity of capital accumulation, and nature is defined rightly for its use-value rather than exchange-value, can real sustainable change take place.

Chia Barsen
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