May 13, 2019
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the French revolutionary workers’ group of that name.
An international conference on biodiversity was held in Paris from April 29 to May 3. Its final report was the work of thousands of scientists. They warn that thousands of living species are disappearing today. This is the sixth major wave of extinction since the earth formed.
But this one is different from the last wave of extinction 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs and thousands of other species died out. This time there is no collision with a giant asteroid. There is no rise in volcanic eruptions. This time the die-off is the result of human activities affecting the environment.
Ecosystems are damaged and species are wiped out by the cutting down of forests, the overuse of natural resources, cities sprawling ever larger, widespread use of pesticides, pollution of all kinds, and the spread of invasive species both native and imported. Global warming results, and worsens these menaces. Between half a million to a million plant and animal species out of only eight million could vanish in the near future.
In a quarter century, nearly a third of the wild vertebrates (creatures with backbones) will die off. Humans are also products of nature and we get our means of subsistence from nature. We could be threatened too.
These alarming findings lead scientists to beg governments to take some practical emergency measures. The scientists hope the conference will result in better policies. But just as with global warming, trying to preserve biodiversity runs up against a powerful obstacle.
All economic and social life is dominated by big capitalist groups driven by profit. Companies like Shell, Total, Rio Tinto (mining), Glencore, Nestlé and Colgate-Palmolive are ready to destroy forests, and to pollute rivers and groundwater in order to extract crude oil or minerals or to produce soy or palm oil at the lowest cost. When they are not allowed to pollute in Europe, they ravage Africa and Asia. When the Chinese government outlaws melting down and re-molding plastic inside China, the capitalists just send their recycling work to weaker Thailand or Malaysia.
A significant part of pollution is the result of under-development, under-industrialization. Without other sources of energy, millions of women chop wood for cooking. How can anyone preserve zones for rhinoceros and elephants when right nearby, women and men die of hunger and war?
The guilt of human activities in the destruction of life leads some political currents to say the human population is too high, or that people should stop farming animals to eat meat, and more generally that people need to drastically reduce our consumption. But even if the question of the impact of our modes of production and consumption is valid, trying to deal with them through individual choices doesn’t solve the problems. This lets the economic system off the hook, that is, capitalism.
Are there too many people? But it’s by raising the standard of living for everyone and providing education to women that the birth rate goes down. Do people need to consume less? But what does this mean in a society where one percent of the people own as much as the poorer half of humanity owns? To control the impact of human activities on nature, we have to decide collectively what to produce and under what conditions.
This requires expropriating the sharks of finance, industry, and agri-business, who have all the power today. By making production rational and taking all accumulated understanding into account, people would have a chance to stop this wave of extinction. We could then repair and rebuild what human activity has destroyed while spurred by profit.