Translated by: Bircan Tamer, Helin Nur Güler, Onur Yılmaz
Economic Question / Economic Struggle
Climate crisis is an economic question.
Ecologically speaking, production is the transformation of energy and material. According to laws of physics, inputs and outputs throughout this transformation are equal to each other (benefits obtained through production processes, along with outputs being wastes left at the end). Capitalist production, on the other hand, requires obtaining a surplus product corresponding to the exploitation of labor within such an input-output equality. This is the source of the contradiction between ecology and capitalist economy (Altvater, 1989: 67). The continuous production of surplus value for capital accumulation (as in the mining, forestry, animal husbandry, fossil energy sectors) constantly increases the use of inputs. As a result, wastes such as carbon dioxide, methane etc. continuously increase.
Capital tends to grow incessantly. The slowdown or interruption of capital accumulation creates an economic crisis. The expansion of commodity production is mandatory for continuation/continuity of capital accumulation. Commodity production is possible due to exploitation of nature and labor. The aim of economic activity as commodity production is the maximization of profit (surplus value). Hence, cheap energy is provided, raw materials are intensively used, labor exploitation rate is increased, nature is commercialized and commodified at a continuously increasing rate, all of which leave nothing but waste and emissions behind. For instance, the activities of manufacturing, energy, mining, construction, cement, industrial livestock, tourism, lumber companies give rise to deforestation. Land use is modified by transforming wood into timber, forests into mining sites, valleys into quarries, pastures into landfill sites, highlands into touristic facilities, fields into housing area, olive orchards into thermal power plants. Changes that occur due to processes such as deforestation, loss of pastures and fields, concretization, etc. cripple nature’s capacity to absorb emissions. While on the one hand emissions increase in commodity production and consumption processes, changes in land use accelerate climate change.
The total mass of all objects, machines, bricks, plastic, roads, concrete and whatnot produced throughout economic activities exceeded the total mass of living things on earth for the first time in 2020. The total mass of human-made materials has doubled over the last two decades. If we continue at this rate, there will be three times the material mass that exists now by 2040. So much so that artifacts produced every week are as much as the biomass of an average person (Elhacham, Ben-Uri, Grozovski, Bar-On, Milo, 2020).
In capitalism, these artifacts and objects are produced either as commodities or as infrastructure systems such as energy, roads, airports, dams which will support commodity production and consumption. Energy is used during both production and consumption of commodities. The majority of the energy utilized during commodity production comes from fossil fuel energy sources. Due to its attributes such as easy transportation and storage, fossil fuel energy has created a certain dependency in capitalist production. Additionally, it is also accessible 24/7. In a similar vein to the increase in commodity production, the use of fossil fuel energy, and consequently emissions, have increased. Again, the industrialization of meat production as a commodity has caused an increase in methane and carbon dioxide emissions due to livestock. As I have already mentioned earlier, increased emissions are the result. The cause of climate change is the increased production and consumption of commodities to sustain capital accumulation. Therefore, climate change cannot be halted with current policies that focus merely on emissions.
This phenomenon shows the necessity of downgrading commodity production and consumption in the field of economic struggle while tackling the climate question. For this purpose, novel praxis can be developed and expanded to prevent the reproduction of private property relations in the reproduction processes of labor. Collective production and collective consumption can be organized by neighborhood committees, assemblies, and communes on the scales of houses, neighborhoods, villages, cities, where the biological and social reproduction of labor takes place. For example, communal orchards, helping each other, working together, solidarity, building collective consumption areas in the neighborhood (laundry, ironing rooms, shared internet access, sharing tools and objects for common use, cinema-TV rooms, repair workshops… ). The capital system imposes the purchase of instant tomato paste and dried okra as commodities from the markets. Local people producing tomato paste, drying okra, sharing it according to needs, establishing a sewing houses to meet the needs of the neighborhood, developing seed exchange networks among the villagers, planning the production with village tractors that are shared by every farmer who has money or takes credit, instead of buying tractors, are some examples of common production activities that may be specified here.
All of these practices prevent the purchase of objects for individual use in each single house. These practices also limit individualistic values and private ownership, they limit individual consumption in collective ways, and hinder commodity production. Thanks to these benefits, they reduce the burden on ecosystems and the climate, and also expand the socialization, co-organization and contact of the workers while bringing together production and consumption. This kind of socialization is also the first step of the politicization of the working people.
We should not consider the neighborhood as a dormitory area, but rather as a societal living space with collective production, sharing, decision-making and implementation, ecological resistance and improvement, music, art and cultural activities. The neighborhood and village as such a collective space is an experience of searching and finding possibilities for abandoning capitalist economic relations.
Trade unions are important organizations for economic struggle. They are the means of reclaiming rights as an organized, collective unity against the exploitation of the workers getting involved in commodity production. Hence, they have the opportunity to raise the struggle of labor against ecological abuse. Nevertheless, according to official figures in Turkey, only 2 million of the 14 million workers, or 14 percent, are registered in unions. Merely 6% of the two million unionized workers are women (Gazete Duvar, 2021; Çetin, 2021). Looking at these data, it is clear that there is a need for the strengthening of trade unions, for weakening of trade union bureaucracies and a breakthrough for unionization in Turkey. Today, when climate and ecology struggles are on the rise, unions will gain double benefits by taking part in these struggles. Trade union organizations can ensure unionization by establishing a relationship of trust in action with the workers who are active in the struggle for ecology. At the same time, they contribute organizational strength to labor-ecology joint action and practices. Besides, since the symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events affect the workers the most in the workplace, in the field and in the neighborhood, it is imperative that all unions make the climate struggle a direct and integrated part of the union struggle. Unions should bring climate demands into their agenda by including them in collective contracts and meetings. In addition, unions can organize training programs for their members on climate change politics, political ecology, ways of seeking rights in ecology/climate struggle, interaction and organizational coalition of labor and climate struggles.
The production of non-commodity objects and their share among members can be organized under the umbrella of trade unions. These areas of activity can be agricultural production on union land, as well as repair workshops for household appliances, sewing workshops, reading workshops, painting workshops, political discussion workshops, local TV and radio broadcast workshops. On the one hand, union resistance against commodity production and consumption is developed, on the other hand, an environment of political awareness on climate and other issues is created in these workshops.
In the years when the unions were stronger, labor unions in the USA, Brazil, Italy (Barca, 2012), and Australia (Pepper, 1993: 236) had struggles involving ecological demands that resulted in certain gains. More recently, trade unions and ecology struggles were on the streets of Seattle side by side in the 1999 anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations. They were in the field at the Great Climate March 2014 in New York. There were many unions that expressed their support for the 2019 school strikes and demonstrations led by Greta Thunberg. These are important, but not enough. Trade unions must be enforced to be the decisive actors of the climate struggle, which establishes organizational ties with the labor frontier. It should be challenged, encouraged and supported by its members, by different unions, professional chambers, associations, academic organizations, ecology struggles and political parties.
Food production has been monopolized around the world, including in Turkey. Food import became much more widespread (resulting in climate effects from transport). Seeds have been commodified (resulting in loss of biodiversity). State subsidies for small farmers have been reduced or removed altogether. Certain lobbying arrangements were realized for concentrating agricultural lands and agricultural production in the hands of companies.4 Industrial agriculture paved the way for current energy intensive models (with an obvious climate impact). In addition, all of these developments make it more difficult for workers to access food. So, it is especially important to jointly produce and share food among cooperative organizations without commodifying them. A critical warning here is this: The decisive criterion for the neighborhood, commune, union activities or cooperative practices I gave as an example above is not to reproduce capitalistic relations. The way to achieve our goals is through the absence of labor exploitation, the establishment of joint/democratic decision-making and collective work, and crucially, subsistence production for its members, not commodity production. The cooperative approach organized under these principles creates a barrier for industrial capitalist agriculture and animal husbandry which can be classified as climate-cidal economic activities.
Class Question / Class Struggle
While examining the ideological, temporal, space, and economic dimensions of the climate question above, I emphasized the inequalities, contradictions and antagonisms between capital and labor. In those discussions, I also showed the class ties and associations of climate change. That being said, I can now address the class aspects that I did not delve into in detail there.
The climate question is a class question. The international aviation industry can be given as a concrete example of the concept of class. In a study using data from 2018, a time when there was no Covid-19 epidemic, we see that merely 11 percent of the world’s population traveled by plane in that year, and only 4 percent traveled cross country. “Super passengers” account for half of the emissions in aviation, which makes up 1% of the world’s population. These are the so-called “elite passengers” who belong to the capitalist class and fly the most. The monetary equivalent of one-year climate damage of aviation is estimated to be $100 billion. Since the class that makes half of the emissions does not bear this loss, it can be said that it receives an “implicit” financial support of 50 billion dollars a year (the Guardian, 17 November 2020). Several aspects of the concept of class can be identified based on this result. The first is related to the fact that the poor are stuck spatially rather than tempora-spatially. Second, which class members are responsible for the emissions? Third, the world’s poor have to pay for the financial burden of aviation emissions caused by the capitalist classes. Finally, there is the class nature of hegemonic climate politics, as the aviation industry has been excluded from emission reduction mechanisms for the past three decades.
Another study allocates space for periodized findings. According to the results of the study, a population of 10 percent of the world’s wealthy is responsible for 52 percent of the total emissions made between 1990 and 2015. On the other hand, the share of the poor consisting of half of the world’s population, is only 7 percent of the emissions (in the same period). The per capita emissions generated by the consumption of the 1% of the population comprising the richest people in the world are a hundred times higher than the per capita emissions of the poor who make up half of the world’s population (Oxfam, 2020).
Comparisons made regarding per capita emission rates usually show emissions that take place during consumption processes. Taking into account the ecological burdens created during production processes led by industrialists, investors, bank owners, traders, contractors, rentiers (and their practices such as investment in fossil fuel companies), the ecological differences between capital and labor take on a more frightening appearance.
I have to repeat again and again that dealing solely with emission data is fetishizing carbon. In order to avoid this mistake, it is useful to stick to the fact that capitalism structurally causes ecological and climate destruction. As Nancy Fraser said, the classes of capital have the power and authority to extract minerals, oil, coal, gas, to generate electricity, to control forests, coasts, pastures, agriculture, to use their land, to shape food systems, to develop and patent medicines, vaccines, and to dispose of waste. They hold all of these operations in their hands. This means that they have the biggest share in controlling the substances in nature, air, water, soil, animal and plant communities, forests, oceans, atmosphere and climate. Thus, the capitalist system gives the capitalists the motive (profit), tools and opportunities to sink the earth into destruction (Fraser, 2021: 102).
On the other hand, this is not the whole story. The capitalist classes prevent all other segments of society from accessing nature by transforming the elements of nature into accumulation. There are two forms of preventing this access. The first is the enclosure of nature by capital. Seed monopolies prevent farmers from using their own seeds. Tourism companies fence off coasts and plateaus, logging companies seize forests, HPP companies enclose streams, WPP companies take pastures and shores. On the other side, TPP companies occupy forests, olive groves, and plains, shopping malls enclose town squares and parks, mining seizes the stone, soil, and forests, and all are thus subjected to a regime of private property. As such, the relations of the laborers with nature as their means of subsistence and living spaces are highly severed. Secondly, the pollution and ecological destruction created by capital prevent workers from benefiting from nature in various ways. They cannot breathe clean air, they cannot drink clean water. They cannot sunbathe on the fenced shore, walk in the forest, drink water from the stream, hold a rally in the square, or sit in the parks. Moreover, the practice of experiencing nature becomes chaotic. Workers are exposed to the consequences of the changing climate due to the activities of capital, taking the form of fires, flooding, frost, storms, typhoons, extreme heat and drought. In both cases, the living conditions of the working people suffer, their quality of life decreases, and their poverty deepens (Çoban, 2018).
Owing to the consequences of climate change for the laborers and oppressed, it is imperative that workers, unions, professional organizations, cooperatives and associations be an active part of struggles taking place over forests, pastures, pastures, agricultural lands, olive groves, shores, and squares being seized by companies and put to use for their economic benefit. It is also a necessity of the economic and class struggle that these organizations must broaden the scope of these struggles.
A report of the World Bank states that it is expected that the next period will be devoted to compensation for the lost years (on the grounds of economic recovery) of the Covid-19 epidemic (World Bank, 2021). This justification will be a new ideological and class-based excuse for neglecting climate and poverty policies, and the problems of the poor and working people due to climate injustice will continue to worsen in the following years.
Faced with inequalities deepening each and every day, the spokespersons of capital advise the rich not to carry out their expensive and ostentatious consumption in front of the public. Schwab, who is the founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, emphasizes this proposal in his book. Apparently, there is a belief that class distinctions will remain hidden when the rich do not display their wealth. Moreover, we clearly see in those lines that the biggest fear of capital is to be subjected to the anger of the working class, the unemployed, the poor, and environmentalists (Schwab and Malleret, 2020: 368-9). The climate struggle can be developed by fueling capital’s fear of the workers with the tools of class politics.
The carbon tax, being among the many suggestions displayed in the hegemonic climate policy, has a feature that maintains/sustains existing social inequalities. Gasoline and diesel filter prices or a carbon tax on airfare do not mitigate current social inequality. While it certainly does not impose a financial burden that will lead the rich who already have a large budget (so it will not discourage the rich to reduce their consumption, and consequent carbon dioxide emission rates), the increasing price of the product owing to the tax puts an extra burden on the budgets of workers. On the contrary, the wealth tax as a tool of class policy does not include these drawbacks of the carbon tax. Greenhouse gas emissions happen as wealth of various forms is acquired. Plus, the wealth accumulated in the hands of the wealthy one percent of the population is a financial resource for wasteful, climate-destructive consumption in countless ways, such as air travel, yacht ownership, remodeling of automobiles, etc. which result in carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, ideological, economic, class and political struggle should be strengthened with the common demand for a 50 percent wealth tax in order to erode the economic and political effects of the capitalist and rentier sectors. The budget thus acquired should be spent only for purposes of compensating the losses of the working people and of the poor who are affected by climate change, and for improving the ecosystem.
The figures displaying the climate inequalities among the social segments are found in many publications and UN reports. As expected, in those publications the question of the class aspect/side of the climate crisis is never discussed from a perspective of class politics. However, the solution must be sought at the source of the problem. The fact that climate change is a class problem makes it inevitable that the struggle for a solution must be located and consolidated on a class foundation. The solution is achieved by limiting and neutralizing the capitalist class that gives rise to the climate question. The final solution is the abolition of class society.
When the climate question is discussed from a perspective predicated upon class, the search begins for policies that will impose the responsibility on the capitalist class causing the climate inequalities that affect the working classes and the oppressed segments. The problem would not be delayed until the fanciful “carbon offset” of 2050. In this context, in addition to the previous parts of the article, some of the tools that can be used to neutralize capital are the following:
# Nationalization or expropriation and commonization of facilities and infrastructures of electricity generation and distribution lines, mines, cement production, automobile companies, housing production, drinking and irrigation water networks. Conducting energy production plans and programs that specifically focus on meeting needs. If expropriation is reduced merely to a change of ownership, it will not be sufficient to mitigate climate impacts. Therefore, capitalist social relations and mechanisms must be displaced and done away with. Hence, productive processes should be planned and managed in accordance with ecological principles and the requirements of the climate (that is not to generate profit, but to create use value). The communization of production and management is possible if the producers are the essential/decisive elements of the democratic decision-making process.
# Local energy production and localization of energy use. Ensuring local self-sufficiency in energy terms. Thus, preventing regional social inequalities and ecological burdens born out of the energy production process. In case of energy shortage due to physical, geographic reasons, implementation of measures via central budget to improve the ecosystem in the energy producing regions.
# Putting an end to the production of property housing, preventing demolition for rent, energy loss, unnecessary cement production, stopping projects of stone, sand, marble quarries, and banning changes in land use in favor of further housing construction. Meeting everyone’s housing needs. Preventing the rent economy in the construction sector from determining the urban sprawl and thus the distance between work and home, which necessitates the use of cars. Taking measures to limit urban growth and sprawl.
# Ban of intercity air transport between provinces where alternative means of transport can be used in less than six hours (because alternative public transport vehicles have less ecological burden). Doing away with the fetishistic “need” for an airport in each and every city.
# Implementation of policies to discourage automobile use. Closing off city centers to automobiles. Neither electric nor hydrogen cars, but creation of a car-free life. Minimization of extractive activities, energy use, highway and bridge construction, emissions and ecological destruction by automotive sector with strict anti-car measures. Establishing common, reliable, punctual and free public transport systems as part of this. Raising more loudly the demand for the right of free access to transportation in the meetings, in the neighborhood councils, in the municipal councils, urban councils, city councils, in the parliament, and in the streets.
# Downsizing the mining sector by prohibiting the use of precious metals like gold, diamond, etc. as investment and jewelry objects.
# Limiting land and water use and the number of animals in the factories to end industrial animal husbandry. 32 percent of methane emissions come from the livestock sector and 35 percent from the extraction, processing and distribution of fossil fuels. The climate impact of methane gas is tens of times greater than carbon dioxide. However, the atmospheric life of methane is ten years, while carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years (UNEP and Climate and Clean Air Coalition, 2021: 9). Therefore, drastically reducing methane emissions in the fossil and livestock sectors will have a positive atmospheric effect in a short time. Setting a monthly upper limit on per capita meat consumption in society is also in line with ecological justice, considering the carnivorous diet of the rich. Measures such as the following can also be considered: implementing a balanced plant-based nutrition policy for all, providing nutritional support to poor households, distributing free seeds, allocating vacant lands for subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry with the principle of communal production and sharing according to needs.
Reducing emissions by abandoning fossil fuels is an important demand. However, the proposal of shifting to renewable energy to reduce emissions in hegemonic climate discourses has been wrapped up by a sectarian content that makes the fighting the sectors outside the energy almost meaningless. The capitalist reliance on fossil fuel as its energy source indicates the importance of an anti-fossil fuel struggle. But, when this struggle takes the form of supporting renewable energy companies to replace the fossil, the capitalist accumulation keeps continuing without interruption. Numerous ecological and social problems arise from renewable energy facilities while this replacement of the fossil with renewables. However, it is necessary to reduce the continuously increasing fossil and renewable energy demand of capital. The ways to do this are also the measures I have previously enumerated. Moreover, it is possible to convert the fossil fuel dependency of the capital into a crisis for capital. The path for this is preventing new oil, coal, natural gas extraction projects5; preventing electricity generation in thermal power plants, in natural gas power plants; and preventing the renewable energy projects that are turned into a pot of gold for capital, via a democratic struggle.
Armed conflicts and wars lead to people’s death, the losing living and non-living natural entities, greenhouse gas emissions, allocation of energy sources and labor force for armament. This serves capital and allows arms dealers to dominate the society and governments, silencing any social opposition including the climate struggle. For these reasons, the establishment of social peace on local, national and international scales should be one of the integral and priority items of the climate struggle.
Making the climate question a class question should not be understood as “class reductionism”. Although the class is common line, there are also relations of domination and pressure in the capitalist society alongside the relations of exploitation. Inequalities created by these relationships have the effects that increase climate inequalities. For example, peasant women, Kurdish workers, and Syrian refugee children are more exposed to the effects of climate change because they are subjected to these layered social injustices. Capitalism fed on labor exploitation and ecological destruction is also a patriarchal order that enslaves woman. Similarly, behind the pressure and domination on different racial and ethnic identities, there lie reasons such as colonialism, access to natural resources to maintain capital accumulation, employment of laborers in slave-like conditions, marginalization of anti-systemic opposition to block its development. Racial and ethnic discrimination around the world, colonialism and imperialism have ecological dimensions taking the form of mining and plunder of natural entities, the form of spatial distribution of ecological destruction, or the form of hindering the actual subsistence production activities (livestock farming, fishing, agriculture, use of forest, pasture and highland areas) and prohibition of these activities on security grounds, or the form of displacement and forced-migration of the population. For this reason, the ecological ground of freedom struggles against colonialism, imperialism and all kinds of discrimination overlap with the grounds of struggle for the labor, ecology and women’s movements. Concepts such as “intersectionalism” (Crenshaw, 1996) and “transenvironmentalism” (Fraser, 2021) in the relevant literature emphasize the overlapping areas of exploitation and suppression and domination, which increase in orders of magnitude at points of overlap; therefore emphasize the possibilities of common struggles of class, racial, ethnic identity and women’s movements.
Political Question / Struggle for Political Power
The climate crisis is a political question. The capitalist state is the part of the climate question and the obstacle to a solution. Therefore, the solution of the climate question requires the political power of laborers and oppressed sections of society. I can justify this thesis with four bases.
The first basis relates to the role of the state where politics is centralized and intensified under capitalism. The capitalist state takes the side of capital in the labor-capital and nature-capital contradictions. So, the state is on the one side of both contradictions. As the main political apparatus, the state is the partner of capital in ecological destruction. First of all, the capitalist state is organized as a means of domination of the capitalist class on laboring classes and nature. All policies; climate, energy, transportation, mining, industry, construction, land use, agriculture, animal husbandry and other policies of the country are decided at the state’s legislative and executive organs. These policies are made to look out for the interests of the capital, not the benefit of laborers and nature. In almost every country, it is the state that sets and implement both inadequate and unsuccessful emission mitigation targets, which again, reveals the political dimension of the climate crisis. Similarly, the climate crisis is also political because states have not taken necessary measures to prevent laborers and oppressed sections from adverse effects of climate change, not established organizational structures, not allocated necessary budgets.
The state is the principle actor of the international climate regime. Such that, the state formats the decisions taken on the international scale, adopts or remains outside climate agreements, and implements or does not implement some parts of the agreements adopted, through laws and policies.
State apparatuses comply with capital’s demands to loosen laws and policies regarding nature protection and climate. For example, despite the amendment to existing laws via the public pressure after six years postponement, the governmental institutions still condone the operation of thermal power plants without a gas filter in Turkey. Turkey’s lack of a climate policy to reduce emissions is deliberately preferred in order to protect the interests of the capital in the sectors of mining, fossil fuel energy generation, cement, industry, steel, construction, automobile, maritime, air transportation. In the newly released IPCC report, the Mediterranean region which also includes Turkey is assigned a higher temperature increase than the global average for the summer, as well as a decrease in the amount of rainfall, consequent decrease in soil moisture, and a predicted increase in fires (IPCC, 2021: SPM-12; TS -51, 75, 77, 90). Despite all this, the AKP government, which have been in power for twenty years, continue to pursue a path without a climate policy.
State bureaucracies under capitalism give all permits and licenses that lead to plunder of nature by capital. In the audits, companies’ activities against regulations are ignored. Besides, the president or the government in the parliamentary system as the executive organs control the army, police and gendarmerie, which are the “repressive state apparatuses” in the terms of Louis Althusser. The executive also exercises authority to assign to judicial institutions. Again, as the “ideological state apparatuses”, schools, media, yellow unions are also in the control of the executive body although its degree varies from country to country (Althusser, 1989). Moreover, the state apparatus restrains the social opposition’s demands to develop environmental protection measures, to prevent capital from destroying nature, and to improve the climate policy. Social demands regarding ecology and climate are attempted to be discouraged with the state’s monopoly of violence, police coercion, judicial organs, courts, penalties and media institutions. The organs and institutions of the state also intimidate ecological resistance against the destruction while paving the way for the demolition forces of the capital. The capitalist state ensures the sustainability of the existing order by putting pressure on social sections that are oppressed due to their racial, ethnic and gender identities.
That is to say, all class and domination relations under capitalism are protected and maintained via the enactment of policies in the parliament, the jurisdiction in the courts and the state organs at which mandates of implementation and supervision are concentrated. In this respect, rather than a separation, there is an integrity of powers of the state as legislative, executive, and jurisdiction.
The fact that the state is the political node of ideological, economic and class networks that create capitalist hegemony makes the climate question political. And the solution is to cut this political node that is the umbilical cord feeding the common life (symbiosis) relationship between the state and capital. This necessitates a change of political power in which laboring classes and the oppressed sections of society seize control of the state and economic activities. Thus, it is possible to create and put into practice climate policies based on scientific and effective measures, and by considering the interests of laboring sections and ecosystems.
The state is part of the climate question due to its capitalist quality. The state continues to create ecological problems along with the companies when left in its existing form. Therefore, the capitalist quality of the state should be terminated. Under the power of labor, the state transforms into a means that quickly prevents the companies’ activities that disregard the laboring sections of society and the climate. In this case, the main role cast to the state within the framework of climate politics is to undermine and do away with capital.
In parallel to disabling the capitalist classes, according to the political proposition of Marxism, the process of the withering away of the state, which is the product of the class society, will be completed.
Climate policies cannot succeed by meeting the capital’s demands and delaying decarbonization calendar to 2050. On contrary, alternative climate policies achieve success to the degree that the capital, which is the creator of the climate question with its economic activities and political connections, is brought to its knees. Because, as I highlighted, the climate question is an economic and class issue, the way to undermine the capitalist classes that create the climate question is to end the capitalist quality of the state. In this way, the democratic conditions of climate politics will be laid out for laborers when the capital which leads us to ecological destruction is politically neutralized.
The second basis of obtaining political power relates to the political deadlock created by the hegemonic climate policies in practice. The abyss between the targets of the climate regime and the application tools show that the climate question is politically deadlocked. The main goal of the international climate regime is to ensure that the global temperature increase is stabilized at a 1.5 degree increase by 2100. However, compared to the 1850-1900 period taken as a basis, the increase in the average surface temperature of the world has already overshot 1 degree. Moreover, 1.5-degree increase in various parts of the world has already been reached. When the existing increase trends continues, the 1.5-degree threshold in the average temperature increase around the world will be reached, not by 2100, but as early as the 2030s (IPCC, 2021: TS-9).
There are studies showing the mismatch between the policies and the necessary emission reduction target. For example, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2015, the states party to the agreement should update and upgrade greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2030. Because if the temperature rise is to hold at 1.5 degrees in 2100, it is necessary to reduce the emissions of the parties by 55 percent according to their first pledges. However, according to a report that examines the declaration of the 75 states who reported a renovated target, there is only 2.8 percent of additional reduction pledges from these countries compared to their targets 5 years ago (UNFCCC, 2021: 5; Fransen and Waskow, 2021). This is a mere drop in the bucket.
Besides, the total emissions of the countries have been increasing since 1992 in which the UN Climate Convention was signed. Annual emissions have increased by 60 percent while the global cumulative emission has doubled in the period of 1990-2015 (Oxfam, 2020). Let alone the reduction of emissions, the hegemonic climate policy measures have doubled cumulative output and thus clearly indicate their own ineffectuality.
The fact that emissions are increasing instead of decreasing is open evidence of the inappropriateness and inadequacy of the policy instruments implemented. In other words, the conflict between the emission reduction policy and its application tools cannot be ignored. Ironically, they are presented as emission reduction tools. But in fact, most of them have nothing to do with the blocking or reducing the emissions that are being currently released or will be released to the atmosphere. One of the policy instruments, “carbon trade”, is based not on reduction in the amount of emissions, but on the exchange of them between companies. Similarly, the “clean development” and “common implementation” mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol allow the country that does not decrease its emissions to trade them with other countries in order to make it look like it achieving its own reduction target. The method of accounting the amount of forests relies upon the carbon suction of the trees in a country from the atmosphere rather than reduction of the actual emissions. “Carbon capture and storage” and “direct air capture” methods are policy tools for which the technology has not yet been developed. With an assertion that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be reduced, based on these two technological methods that do not even have any application, and are mostly hypothetical (see Dyke, Watson, Knorr, 2021; Malm and Carton, Knorr, 2021; Malm and Carton, 2021) the emission targets announced for 2050 are tried to be sold to the people as if they are going to be met. Geo-engineering dreams to prevent the sun rays from reaching the earth, also do not intend to reduce the amount of emissions caused by corporate activity, they are merely pursuits to stop the Earth’s temperature increase. The transition program to renewable energy to move away from fossil fuels may result in a reduction of emissions. However, instead of planning the production and consumption of commodities and energy, they are just selling a dream that the climate and ecological degradation problem will be solved in capitalism by just shifting from one energy source to another. The same impudence is also seen in the policy of replacing gasoline vehicles with electric vehicles. The processes of supply of the necessary minerals, metals, elements for the production of electrical vehicle, of batteries and charging stations and of electricity itself all cause greenhouse gas emissions.
The climate policies and tools in practice do not resolve the climate question because they preserve the functioning economic and class apparatuses of the capitalist order. This is why the policy goals and tools are incomplete, irrelevant, insufficient and inappropriate in the first place. It is clear that the contradiction between the necessity of effective climate policies and the demands of capital cannot be overcome in the bourgeois political order. This contradiction can be overcome by disabling capital through ending the relations of private property.
Private property means the capture of what belongs to all beings and to the earth by an individual. Private property results in domination, enclosure, exclusion, prevention from the use of nature, not only in terms of relations between classes of the property owner and dispossessed, but also in terms of living beings taken under the yoke of private ownership. Therefore, the elimination of private property directly affects the forms of relation to nature by all living beings. But capital will not voluntarily abandon the private property relations. The condition to change property relations by positioning the state, that is the monopoly of coercion, against the property owners instead of siding with them is to take political power. Taken in this way, the solution of the climate question regarding all beings on the earth depends on the political power of the laborers.
Conversion of the means of production into private property provides economic and political power to property owners. Property relations, on the other hand, are legally established, protected and maintained by the state through legislative, executive, judiciary powers. The importance of changing political power lies here. When laborer classes seize state power, they will socialize the means of production, end private property, and break the economic and political power of the capitalist classes. Thus, the barrier put before climate policy by capital and the capitalist state will be removed; abandonment of fossil fuel energy, emission reduction, curtailing away of commodity production, basing the economic planning on ecological principles, organization of production-consumption based on use value in a way that reduces the burden on nature will be possible; thanks to the rational relation with nature, climate change and ecological destruction will be prevented. In other words, ideological, class, economic, structural transformations that I address in this article will leap forward with the transformation in the political structure.
The third basis is related to the functionalization of the antidote of depoliticization. The ideological diversion that I discussed in the first section obscures the economic and political reasons of the climate question. The policy tools that I’ve just emphasized, on the other hand, create the illusion that the climate question can be solved within the system by financial, technological and geoengineering methods. The problem is passed on to experts in ideological and technical terms. Thus, first of all, the responsibility of political power in the deepening of the problem is left off the agenda. People are prevented from directing their rage at political powers and at state apparatuses (The blame is put on incompetent experts and lack of technology). And secondly, the public is prevented from politicizing the climate question, from discussing the issue on a social scale. The relationship between climate and politics is suppressed by arresting, pressuring and criminalizing those who raise their climate demands by democratic means. In both cases the climate question is depoliticized.
The creation of a language of experts compressed into the technical tools makes individuals from the general public who want to enter political debate on the climate mute. It is very difficult for those wide sections who can’t speak the language of expertise to get involved with the political decision-making processes and to affect the policy means. On the one hand, the majority of the population consisting of laborers, who don’t have access to the language of experts, are kept outside the political process. And on the other hand, the claim that “everyone is in the same boat” is promoted vis-à-vis the climate issue via ideological state apparatuses. This claim provides depoliticization a legitimacy ground. Accordingly, climate change will be solved for everyone by measures without getting involved with politics, with a supra-political impartiality, and by technically doing whatever is necessary. Thus, those who hold political power find the opportunity to expand and adopt “measures” to the benefit of the ruling classes and their companies as if these measures are to the benefit of all. Thanks to depoliticization, the class order is maintained without any wounds.
The opposite phenomenon of depoliticization isolating the cause and solution of climate change from the existing capitalist order is politicizing the climate question and the solution strategy. Democratic struggle for political power horizontally expands the political field which governments try to depoliticize by making the climate issue a topic of political discussion and action. And through this struggle, the dissident political forces with ecological understanding gather together around the climate demands with the aim of acting together to replace the existing political power.
The fourth basis of the necessity of struggle for political power is related to the interaction of economic and political structures in capitalism. Capitalism is based on the formal separation of economic and political fields. In the economic field where production is done, capitalists do not use political and armed coercion during the process of appropriating surplus value produced by labor exploitation, unlike slavery and serfdom. The worker and boss are considered to be agreed “voluntarily”. Thus, the economic social field where production is done and the political field which also includes the state holding the monopoly of coercion seem to be separate from one another. However, the separation of economy and politics in capitalism is only a formal one (Meiksins Wood, 1981). Because capitalist classes shape the related policies by penetrating political structure through parties, employer organizations, companies, media, and the experts they fund. The state also supports and facilitates capital accumulation with economic, financial, political, ideological tools and with reconstruction, infrastructural and similar tools. Besides, companies interfere in the economic and social relations with political tools by receiving support from the army and police as the forces of coercion of the state in order to discipline laborers and ecological struggles. In this respect, the market economy and the capitalist state are two dimensions of labor exploitation and ecological destruction, that feed and complement each other. Unless the capitalist quality of the state is terminated, the water-carriers of climate-damaging activities of capital, which include political, legal, judicial, financial, ideological apparatuses, and the apparatuses based on coercion or consent cannot be stopped. Unless these water-carriers are stopped, capitalist activities changing the climate cannot be prevented.
This proposition also has consequences in terms of relations between approaches which focus on social, economic, trade union, cooperative, collectivistic (commons), communal and solidarity struggles and approaches of struggle focusing on taking political power. If the separation between civil society/economic structure and political structure were not a formal one, but instead, were an absolute rupture, then in that case, one could claim that the interaction of political and social struggles divided between two separate branches in two different fields is not necessary.
Economic and political fields are separate in capitalism in a formal sense, but since they have an integral relationship, economic and political struggles cannot be independent and detached from one another. Therefore, it becomes an incomplete approach to focus the climate struggle only on the economic field, the private sector, civil society, or only on the political arena and the state. Hence, the approaches to struggle focusing on “social transformation” or “political transformation” in these two fields should not be considered separate from one another, or against one another, or alternatives to each other; on the contrary, both approaches will resolve each other’s shortcomings, improve each other, complement and complete each other. The purposes of both struggles are the same. The goal is to get rid of the exploitation, domination, discrimination, colonialism, pressure and individualism in capitalism, to establish, develop, disseminate rational, ecological and collective relationships with nature, and thus, overcome the climate question. Actualizing these relations in real life in communes, cooperatives and collectives generates an accumulation of social experience which builds the future today. However, the limits of such social experiences cannot be ignored. Firstly, for example, subsistence agricultural production cooperatives are a climate-friendly tool since they are abrasive to capitalist commodity production. However, such cooperatives do not destroy the climate-changing effects of industrial agriculture and animal farming companies, thermal power plants, companies in the cement, steel, mining, airway and maritime transportation sectors. In order to achieve this, it is imperative to break the economic and political power of companies in different sectors, and for that, a change of political power is necessary that will put into practice macro policies such as the socialization of the means of production and ending private ownership, etc. Secondly, capital and the capitalist state strive to strangle, disable and prevent the spread of not only those who demand change of political power, but also these experiences in social life since they are seen as rivals. The way to reverse this effort and to open the path for social transformations is a political transformation that will end the cooperation of the state with capital.
Interaction between different struggles is facilitated by looking to the sections of society which the existing order excludes. Seeing that groups other than themselves are also marginalized helps to translate the demands of particular marginalized identities into a common language. In the case of Turkey, the list of social sections whose demands have long been excluded is long: Kurds, women, Alawites, LGBTI+ people, laborers, peasants, the unemployed, refugees, ecological activists… Discussing the motives for exclusion on the part of the political regime sheds light on the attributes of the existing order, capital against laborers, patriarchy against women, discrimination against ethnic and religious identities, oppression of nature, etc. Since it is not enough to change one of these attributes, one needs to transform the capitalist order beyond all recognition. Achieving this is possible by forming a political subjectivity from the intersecting opposition of those whose demands are excluded, that aims to take political power.
The excluded sections of society can build a social and political struggle that does not ignore the other, does not reduce one into another, but, acting together, creates forces of unity in the actions aimed at common targets, forging crosslinks, organizing together, intertwining. The struggle for the climate is suitable for such building. The climate struggle allows us to establish a political and ecological bridge between different social sections, between their struggles taking various forms. Thus, while struggling for the climate, a path is also opened to create a moment of political gathering, a new political configuration of agents of various struggles including unions, commons, cooperatives, associations, communes, parties, platforms, local environmental resistance movements, and others.
The climate struggle provides a moment of social, ecological and political clustering among various struggles. Because, as we have seen under the topics above, various social sections who are victims of unemployment, poverty, social inequalities, discrimination, oppression, domination and labor exploitation which capitalism creates and owes its existence to, are also social sections which are exposed to the most condensed, most unequal, deadliest impacts of climate change and ecological destruction. In this sense, organizing the struggle for the climate is the cement for organizing those whose demands are excluded under the capitalist order together for its overthrow.
Although the proletariat and its organizations have for some time fallen in the esteem of popular consciousness, Marxism still considers it is the working class that will emancipate humanity along with itself by eliminating classes. Considering the findings obtained throughout the article, this proposition has two implications with regard to the climate debate. The first is, the working class being the opposite of the capitalist class, that the working class has the capacity to undermine capital is critical since the capitalist class and the order it shapes are the cause of climate change. Capital is undermined both from below through political-economic and ecological-class struggles and from above via expropriations which are carried out as soon as political power is taken.
The second result is related to the concept of hegemony, including political, economic, ideological and cultural elements. I discussed above the elements of the hegemonic climate politics of the capital. The role of the working class for humanity and the climate is important in terms of the establishment of a counter-hegemony against the hegemony of the capital. Thinkers such as Lenin, Gramsci and, despite his different understanding, Trotsky consider that the proletariat should undertake the hegemonic routing function among the various classes, social sections and movements that come together (Yetiş, 2013: 87). Due to their roles in the production process, only the main classes under capitalism, the bourgeoisie and proletariat, have the ability to build hegemony. It is exactly for this reason that the working class has to stand out in the struggle, rather than from notions such as “essentialism”, “class reduction” or similar views. The selection of practices of ideological, class, economic and political struggles throughout the article gave shape to a framework of a people’s climate politics, the alternative to the climate politics of capital. There is no obstacle to upholding the struggle starting from today to realizing the elements of such politics exemplified in the article, one by one, or indeed all at once. Crystallization of counter-hegemony and its completion by seizing political power and taking state institutions under its control, on the other hand, depends on one condition. In order to settle on the climate strategy as counter-hegemonic climate politics, a leadership, a backbone with a capacity to establish hegemony is needed. The proletariat must raise its class consciousness so that it can gather a variety of movements, struggles and tendencies in a hegemonic bloc. The principle current problem that delays the process of establishing this hegemony both in Turkey and in the world is that the working class stays away from this role under these circumstances. This is a serious problem because bringing the climate and ecology, labor, Kurdish liberation, women’s liberation, the rights of Alawites, LGBTI+ people, trade unions, cooperatives, communes, animal rights, peace and similar social movements all together in a joint climate struggle bloc is a greater task than adjoining forces physically, organizationally, ideologically and morally. A more important task is the establishment of the hegemony of the workers and all oppressed with this joint struggle, which is only possible with the leadership of the proletariat as many thinkers emphasize. In this respect, the climate struggle is a biophysical update for the proletariat’s historical role that lays groundwork for the future of humanity.
The fact that the climate crisis has been increasingly deepening for the last thirty years is clear evidence of a stalemate created by the hegemonic climate politics of the capitalist order. Hegemonic climate politics conceals that capitalism’s structural contradictions cause climate change, either articulating itself without confronting such contradictions or offers solutions which bring new equally sharp contradictions to the fore instead. I elaborate on the following contradictions throughout the article: capital and nature; capital and labor; time of capital and time of nature/climate; time of capital and time of labor; the necessity of effective climate policies and the demands of capital; the urgency of climate measures and postponement of targets to 2050; the climate commitments which pin its faith upon the order of capitalist economy and upon market mechanisms and emission reduction targets and the actual climate policies under operation; mitigation policies and application tools that do not have a feature for mitigation.
I tried to identify the framework of the people’s climate politics against the hegemonic climate politics, which is full of sharp contradictions and doomed to fail, by putting forward five theses. In these five theses, I opened up for discussion the main elements of an anticapitalist climate politics that focuses on the root causes of climate question and offers policy proposals to remove those causes.
Since the climate question is a problem of global scale, I spoke in very broad terms, but I did not leave Turkey out of these terms. Since Turkey’s official climate policy is actually a lack of climate policy, some environmentalist NGOs, some left circles, trade unions, political parties, etc. give voice to the demands of hegemonic climate politics, which have been absent and not adopted in Turkey. The examples of this can be seen in the media almost every day. Yet resorting to the hegemonic climate politics in Turkey will be waste of time and breath due to the contradictions I have enumerated above. It is possible and necessary to find another way forward without resorting to this. The findings obtained from the discussions in the article show that anticapitalist climate politics is a necessity in order to simultaneously realize the interests of nature and laborers composed of those social sections who are exploited and oppressed, a necessity in order not to reproduce the hegemonic climate politics, and a necessity for the requirements of climate policies that actually resolve the problem. I hope that in this article, the people’s climate politics attains a clear framework with the possibilities offered by it, its concrete policy proposals and application tools, and the frequently converging paths of agents of struggles. Even this framework of people’s climate politics, which are open to be developed, is sufficient to reveal the existence of way forward to solving to the climate question, with its ideological, spatial-temporal, economic, class and political dimensions, in the face of deadlock into which the hegemony of capital has dragged humanity.
4. One of the final examples is the regulation that comes into effect on 1 July 2021 regarding the production and sale of tobacco. With the regulation change published in Official Gazette (of Turkey) on 31 December 2020, tobacco production and sales are stipulated on the condition of receiving an authorization certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. For that, farmers are forced to set up a cooperative requiring at least 250 tobacco producers. Thousands of smaller producers could not satisfy these requirements and could not sell the tobacco they produced. Consequently, producers protested with the slogan “no to the ‘tirşikçî’ capitalists” (tirşikçî means deadbeat or sycophant). Through ministry regulation, small tobacco producers are disposed of, while the sovereignty of large tobacco companies are reinforced.
5. Apart from the examples of “leave the fossil fuels underground” around the world, there is the Don’t Dig Campaign in Turkey worth mentioning.
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