WeeklyWorker

01.10.2020
Species extinction happening at an alarming rate

Loss of biodiversity continues

A global socialist solution is becoming ever more urgent declares Jim Moody

A mainstream fanfare greeted world leaders when they backed yet another declaration on the environment. This time under the slogan, ‘Leaders’ pledge for nature’. Together they claim to be “united to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 for sustainable development”.

While 64 heads of state and government (including Boris Johnson) signed up, the USA, Brazil, China, Russia, India and Australia did not. As these six countries are key players in the biodiversity stakes, because of their size and current levels of environmental destruction, that might seem to be a big problem.

But the real problem is that capitalism itself cannot even begin to deliver what is required. It is incapable of tackling the climate crisis, habitat destruction and consequent loss of biodiversity; but most bourgeois governments would prefer that their pretence of doing something went unexposed. Ironically, the sordid six’s refusal to chime with the majority helps put them in the camp of the virtuous.

On September 30 the circus went up a notch in the shape of a UN summit in New York. However, in reality, all that happened was a series of speeches by worthless worthies, each followed by a tawdry video presentation.

All becomes clear when we realise that the end of the UN ‘Decade on Biodiversity’ (2011-20) is approaching. That is what this week’s signing and junketing was all about: the precursor to another UN event in 2021 - the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This is supposed to produce yet another “global biodiversity framework”. And we are told, too, that “its effective implementation must put nature on a path to recovery … and realise the vision of living in harmony with nature”. Some hope! There have already clearly been 14 such conferences, producing precisely results of little or no consequence.

Ten

Assessing the achievements of the last 10 years, the UN’s own publication Global Biodiversity Outlook No5, published mid-September, had to admit: “Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying.” Indeed, ‘progress’ in implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity was revealing:

Overall, little progress has been made over the past decade in eliminating, phasing out or reforming subsidies and other incentives potentially harmful to biodiversity, and in developing positive incentives for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.

The recent rate of deforestation is lower than that of the previous decade, but only by about one third, and deforestation may be accelerating again in some areas.

… a third of marine fish stocks are overfished, a higher proportion than 10 years ago. Many fisheries are still causing unsustainable levels of bycatch of non-target species and are damaging marine habitats.

… biodiversity continues to decline in landscapes used to produce food and timber; and food and agricultural production remains among the main drivers of global biodiversity loss.

Pollution, including from excess nutrients, pesticides, plastics and other waste, continues to be a major driver of biodiversity loss … Plastic pollution is accumulating in the oceans, with severe impacts on marine ecosystems, and in other ecosystems with still largely unknown implications.

… [eradication] successes represent only a small proportion of all occurrences of invasive species. There is no evidence of a slowing down in the number of new introductions of alien species.

Multiple threats continue to affect coral reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change and ocean acidification.

… nearly one quarter (23.7%) of species are threatened with extinction unless the drivers of biodiversity loss are drastically reduced, with an estimated total of one million threatened species across all groups. Wild animal populations have fallen by more than two-thirds since 1970, and have continued to decline since 2010.

Genetic diversity of cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals, and wild relatives continues to be eroded …

The capacity of ecosystems to provide the essential services on which societies depend continues to decline, and consequently most ecosystem services (nature’s contributions to people) are in decline.

Progress towards the target of restoring 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020 is limited.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has also recently published A lost decade for nature. Recognising a global failure to halt loss of biodiversity by 2020, it states:

According to the UK government’s own assessment of performance, the UK has also failed in its contribution towards this global goal. The UK’s Sixth National Report, published by the UK government in March 2019, shows the UK will miss nearly all its commitments for nature made in 2010 (14 out of 20).

It goes on to say:

Scientists agree that the destruction of natural habitats and the trade in wild animals increase the risks of disease outbreaks like Covid-19. They have also made it clear that without action to protect and restore nature we have no chance of controlling climate change, or adapting to its impacts.

Similarly, the World Wildlife Fund is extremely concerned. Its Living Planet Index has been tracking the decline in species and populations over decades. According to its 2020 report: “The population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an alarming average drop of 68% since 1970.” The WWF goes on to declare:

A deep cultural and systemic shift is urgently needed, one that so far our civilisation has failed to embrace: a transition to a society and economic system that values nature … The way we produce and consume food and energy, and the blatant disregard for the environment entrenched in our current economic model, has pushed the natural world to its limits. Covid-19 is a clear manifestation of our broken relationship with nature …

This begs the question. There is an urgent need to replace the social system.

Green New Deal

Worse than useless is the ‘like to be seen as radical’ Green Party, whose attitude toward capitalism is summed up by a sentence on its policy page: “Britain is one of the wealthiest nations in the world but this wealth isn’t being shared fairly.” But this is hardly surprising for a petty bourgeois party.

There are, of course, liberal politicians and commentators aplenty who bemoan how ‘we’ (ie, humanity) have treated the planet badly and produced the current precarious position by ‘our’ actions. Occasional mainstream mentions of capitalism’s problems are presumably a sop to those who might see the social system as faulty. But the mass media certainly cannot countenance, as part of the support mechanism for capitalism, any real discussion of an alternative form of society.

Usefully, environmentalist Anna Pigott took matters in an anti-capitalist direction in a recent publication:

By naming capitalism as a root cause, on the other hand, we identify a particular set of practices and ideas that are by no means permanent nor inherent to the condition of being human. In doing so, we learn to see that things could be otherwise. There is a power to naming something in order to expose it.

In this regard, Pigott also references environmentalist Rebecca Solnit:

Calling things by their true names cuts through the lies that excuse, buffer, muddle, disguise, avoid or encourage inaction, indifference, obliviousness. It’s not all there is to changing the world, but it’s a key step.

Pigott is more astute politically than those who cooked up the Green New Deal. On its ‘Our demands’ page the UK franchise makes no mention of capitalism, socialism, or class society, simply coming out with trite nostrums. For example, “We know from our history that as a society we can work together against the odds and win.” In other words, class collaboration, merely “tackling climate change” (in one country!), and most mendaciously of all a deal for “people and families” that will mean “putting power back in their hands.” When have we ever had power? Whatever cloud cuckoo land these Green New Dealers inhabit - it does not seem to be the class-riven world in which the rest of us live.

Labour’s 2019 general election manifesto asserted that its policy of a “Green Industrial Revolution is complemented by our Plan for Nature”. But this ‘plan’ puts forward only what capitalism can accept. It includes milk-and-water proposals, such as legally binding targets to drive the restoration of species and habitats; a programme of tree planting; funding frontline environment agencies; creating new national parks and protected areas; and making sure that administrative decisions accord with environmental and nature-recovery obligations. As for waste treatment, the manifesto is completely inadequate even in its own terms. It evidently was intended to have no truck with socialist solutions. Amazingly, some purportedly on the left saw this as a door to socialism.

The next step is to deepen, solidify and generalise an understanding of capitalism’s responsibility for environmental and biodiversity destruction. Loss of biodiversity and other environmental disasters, including climate change, sorely affect and will continue to affect the whole of humanity, while capitalism lasts (and for some time afterwards). Capitalism is far from being able to solve these problems; on the contrary, it is exacerbating them with every year that passes. Its unending thirst for profit, not the needs of humanity and the planet, prioritises the task before us: the current system must go.

It is central for the continuation of life itself that we destroy capitalism and embark on the road to socialism and communism on a global scale.