Averting Climate Catastrophe: What DSA Should Do

By James N and Magenna B

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report stating  that “limiting global warming to 1.5° C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” over the next 12 years so that greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2020 and decline dramatically thereafter. A massive coordinated effort is needed to achieve these goals. It must start now.

The NYC-DSA Ecosocialist Working Group has joined campaigns for public banking to fund public, green energy utilities; a transition to a sustainable economy that puts workers first; and a sustainable, just food production system to reverse current trends toward climate chaos. The climate crisis intersects with every sector of the economy and every aspect of DSA’s work.

If achieved, demands for livable and affordable cities, universal healthcare, refugee rights, and liberation from all forms of racial, gender, and sexual oppression would improve workers’ lives while reducing climate-destroying waste. A housing crisis in a city full of empty luxury apartments, the insurance bureaucracy, and the militarized border would be no more. To win a livable future, DSA must combine our struggles into a last-ditch confrontation with the biggest waste of all: the capitalist class.  

DSA working groups and campaigns should contribute to this monumental struggle by integrating climate concerns and demands into all they do. Here are some examples:

When organizing for affordable housing and tenant rights, we should point out the unequal impact  of environmental problems. Many NYCHA buildings rely on dirty boilers that pollute the air residents breathe and break down in the winter, and Hurricane Sandy decimated poor communities in the Rockaways. We must argue that housing justice includes the right to safe housing. No one should have to live in fear of that poisoned air will make them sick or kill them. No one should fear that their home will be flooded in the next big storm or burn down in a wildfire. Housing justice means we must rebuild safe and sustainable social housing. At a time when almost 90,000 New Yorkers are homeless, we cannot allow the construction of new luxury apartments so that the rich can store their capital in real estate they have no intention of living in.

Similarly, when organizing around healthcare or education, we should point out that children in the South Bronx, a logistics hub for New York City’s food and waste systems, suffer from the highest rates of asthma in the United States; they often miss school to go to the hospital for treatment. We should promote the vision in Alyssa Battisoni’s essay “Living, Not Just Surviving,” of  a low-carbon future where workers whose labor is “oriented toward sustaining and improving human life” enjoy the prestige they deserve. Safe staffing for nurses and doctors, fully funded public schools, and Medicare for All would be major gains for American workers, improve quality of life for the community, and generate value without producing  commodities. We need to replace the extractive economy with a nurturing economy.

In antiwar and immigration campaigns, we should explain that refugees fleeing Syria and Central America are de facto climate refugees; there will be many more without drastic action to address climate change. In demanding freedom of movement for human beings, not for goods and capital, we should discuss the US role in propping up violent, exploitative regimes across the world to feed capital’s endless hunger for resources and market. We should explain that US trade policies promoting US agricultural interests and biofuels have displaced millions of campesinos across Mexico and Latin America, while driving deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and the slaughter of indigenous peoples. DSA should also join Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA)’s call for transforming agriculture, restoring forests and wild lands, and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and small farmers. We should support the fight for food sovereignty against big landholders and humane trade and immigration policies. The House of Representatives’ review of  the “new” US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (NAFTA) next year may provide an opportunity to assert these values.

Climate science emerged as a distinct discipline in the late 70s and early 80s, bringing together perspectives from systems theory, atmospheric science, oceanography, geology, and other fields. Solving the climate crisis calls for a political vision that likewise draws from every movement and struggle. Pressuring newly-elected Democratic lawmakers to take bold action on housing, healthcare, and climate  will be part of that work. Organizing and political education rooted in the needs of working people will help us build power to disrupt, strike, and block capitalism from finishing off Planet Earth for good.

The IPCC report is unambiguous in recognizing that time is running out. There are hard limits to growth. But a just world with a stable climate can satisfy human needs without endless consumption. We can only win that dream by seizing power from the few for the many. Ultimately, we can only achieve our goals if we combine all of our struggles in a last-ditch confrontation with capitalism.

About Rebecca Capua 117 Articles
Red Letter spotlights editor, former MWG OC