The environmental pressure group Extinction Rebellion (XR) has issued what it terms an “open call” to “take a stand against the fossil fuel economy”.
It asserts that the British public is “beyond ready to get rid of fossil fuels”, but that governments “lack the courage and imagination to do what’s necessary”. In which case, XR urges, the public must “choose not to be complicit in the destruction that is decimating communities around the globe”, and concludes breathlessly that its own brand of activism is “the most empowering thing”.
The problem for XR is that it misidentifies the real enemy, sending its supporters off on a wild goose chase against any and every use of fossil fuels whilst diverting attention from the true culprit: imperialism.
In conversations with XR enthusiasts there may be ritual sideswipes at corporate greed and short-sighted capitalism, but what is never seriously addressed is the fundamental role of government and state in preserving the interests of a tiny minority of monopoly capitalist exploiters – interests which stand in irreconcilable contradiction to both the interests of the vast mass of workers and the interests of a healthy natural environment.
It’s the profit system, stupid
It is not a ‘lack of courage and imagination’ that stops the government implementing rational measures to limit or reverse harm to the natural world. Rather, it is the fact that such measures would be bound to put a dent in the profit margins of BP and the rest – and no government that runs directly counter to the amassing of maximum profits by monopoly capital will survive for long.
Commodity production is driven by the thirst for maximum profits. Any satisfaction of social needs that happens to occur along the way is a purely secondary consideration, whilst any satisfaction of environmental needs ranks a poor third.
The short-sighted and planless anarchy of production obtaining under capitalism has devastating consequences for both the human and natural world, with irrational and wasteful use of all resources. Commodities are shunted around the planet on convoluted supply chains, travelling hundreds of miles to link production in low-wage economies to consumption in the affluent west.
From the social perspective, this way of organising things is completely mad, but from the capitalist perspective, it makes perfect sense. And it is the latter perspective that must of necessity always prevail – unless and until the working class wins state power, socialises the means of production and establishes a planned socialist economy capable of taking decisions driven by the satisfaction of social and environmental needs rather than by the greed of a tiny group of exploiters.
It will be argued that such radical social change is either an unattainable dream or will prove impossible to effect in time to avert catastrophe. Yet unlike the phony sense of ‘empowerment’ (which encourages XR activists to believe that by putting moral pressure on our exploiters we can persuade them to turn their backs on the profit system in an unprecedented act of self-liquidation as a class), the successful pursuit of state power by the organised working class has been proven possible more than once by history and is set fair to be proven so again in the future.
Just how long this will take in Britain rather depends upon how long the mounting anger of the working class is misdirected into rabbit holes like the one being promoted by XR.
Only under a national energy plan can society in a common sense way weigh up the best mix of energy resources to bring to bear in any given social context. Dismissing out of hand the possible advantages offered by one or other resource, without reference to the concrete situation at hand, achieves nothing.
For example, we are told that the British public is ‘beyond ready to get rid of fossil fuels’, but the fact that thousands of tons of coal are imported from Australia to fuel British steel production whilst vast indigenous coal resources remain locked underground sins against common sense.
Whether this anomaly is best tackled by (a) further scaling back the steel industry (thereby accelerating the deindustrialisation of Britain and turning yet more areas into post-industrial wastelands), (b) reopening some of the deep coal mines shut down by Margaret Thatcher and ending coal imports, or (c) pioneering some new clean technological fix to bridge the gap as fossil fuel use is phased out, can only be rationally decided by reference to a national plan geared to social and environmental need.
Fixating on fossil fuels as the root of all evil just lets capitalism off the hook.