Mother Earth and the Human Factor/Social Consciousness

Today we are focusing on the dangers for the human species and the environment – in a word, the importance to humanity at this critical time of safeguarding Mother Earth, her human offspring and the whole of life and its delicate balance. It is common ground that harming either the whole earth or the mass of humanity will bring ruination and devastation to human existence. The conclusion is that there is an urgent need to halt and reverse this destructive trend. What I wish to emphasise is that to counter the trend is to counter the striving for private enrichment and domination of human and natural resources of the world by the vested interests that totally disregard the warnings of impending disasters. It is to develop a counter trend of political and social responsibility that begins with the people.

            Of course, there is also the cynicism generated by the powers-that-be, that the coming and present dangers are all unfounded, which works as a kind of double-bluff when it is said that talk of impending disaster is simply a means for governments to manipulate the people. While it is true that governments do have an agenda which they will use the spectre of climate change to push as well as through other means, it is important not to succumb to this cynicism, and in particular to throw the baby out with the bath-water. Equally, the powers-that-be generate hysteria, that disaster is so close that humankind is going to be overwhelmed, and in generating hysteria the precise aim is to overwhelm the people so that they are not able to think and do not take action to bring about solutions. It is therefore also important not to succumb to marginalisation and powerlessness. Empowerment is the key. The fundamental point of the working people having a decisive say and control over all political and economic decisions in a socialised economy is extremely key. Therefore, to develop the widespread concern over the crisis of climate change, and environmental despoliation into a conscious movement for people’s empowerment is certainly the order of the day. Otherwise, how is the people’s will to be enforced?

            In opposition comes the disinformation of the ruling elite which controls the mass media, working to articulate the issue to create hysteria, disinform the people and push the agenda of monopolies. This disinformation is used, for example, to try and induce a change of behaviour. The point here is that the onus is being put on the individual as the source of the problem, not that this is an issue for the society and humanity as a whole, i.e. that everything is ok apart from the behaviour of individuals, who must consume less in terms of energy and material goods. This lets society off the hook, and induces guilt of the individual. In emphasising that the human factor/social consciousness must be activated, one is also saying that the emphasis must be put on the responsibility of society and not individuals to take up the problems and solve them. It was once infamously said that there is no such thing as society (only individuals and family values). This is actually the nub of the problem. Once the objective reality of society is denied, then that coherence which comes from social organisation is also destroyed, and individuals are made to think that it is “up to them” and behave accordingly, i.e. that they have no alternative but to fend for themselves.

            This is not to downplay the initiative of the people in raising the issue, taking action themselves and demanding that governments take action. Far from it. But the power-that-be create this gulf between themselves and the society they are meant to represent, so the two proceed along different tracks. As long as the people are appealed to as individuals, for example the issue being for the individual to reduce their “carbon footprint” and “do their bit”, then the ability to deal with the problem at a fundamental level lacks coherence, and the state, with its huge power, is not prevented from pressing ahead with its neo-liberal agenda. In fact, along with this disempowerment go the attempts to split the people ideologically or on the grounds of tactics, which also deflects from and attempts to cover up the huge war agenda and the brute grabbing of resources by these state machines and the contention between them.

            Along with the increase in wars and aggression and nuclear weapons, climate change is now one of the most crucial issues affecting the whole human species. It can be said that these issues are in fact very much intertwined. Not only is war and aggression a great despoiler and polluter, but it is a vast machine to destroy produced values, to lay waste to precious resources, and a huge diversion of expenditure away from the people’s well-being and returning investment to Mother Earth, to the natural and social environments. It is the greatest attack on the globe and all the working people.

            The earth is a dynamical system. It has its identity as a whole, which must be respected. There is society, with its social consciousness, and the individual as a part of society, the human factor. And there is the whole earth: the dynamic of the precious relationship between the human societies and the whole earth of which they are part. For example, in the economic sphere, the agenda of working people must be to build a harmonious national economy based on need and the claims of individuals. This contrasts with the agenda of neo-liberal globalisation and its law of the jungle, its imposition of anti-worker, anti-social and anti-national regimes. As in the required development of national economies, so with the whole earth: more must be put in than is taken out, not the opposite. There is a need for a definite pattern of organisation, for self-determination for the human species in equilibrium with its environment. The earth is crying out for sustainable development in the interests of humanity and the whole earth.

            Modern social organisation presents the opportunity for solution, with the interconnectedness of the world, particularly of society. This should not be made a fetish as anything else should not be made a fetish. That is to say, local solutions need to be tied in with both global and national solutions. At all levels, the issue of self-determination is fundamental. This principle, however, cannot be realised without determined resistance against all blocks to social progress, of which the block to the people determining their own future is also fundamental.

            The issue is not even so much global warming. One must look at the threats to the human species and to the dignity and balance of the earth as a whole. The people world-wide must be in a position to develop their unity in assessing these threats, resisting all those that wilfully and irresponsibly escalate these threats, and work out how to take a path which gives them the power to take action. In other words, they must be in a position to set a human-centred agenda, and concern for humanity and its world, its varied and precious environment which nurtures humanity and society which gives humanity its social consciousness has to be the determining factor. Building resistance and planting the alternative – the two go hand in hand.

            The issue is that the problem has to be framed in the way that reality actually poses it, and to discuss how it is posed is actually the starting point. That is really the point of today’s symposium. Sometimes it is very difficult to make this start because the problem is posed in such a way as to divide people into two camps, for and against (or to divide the polity into hostile camps in the interests of getting political parties elected), when, one might say, there is a grain of truth (or falsity) in each camp. One might cite the issue of whether global warming is or is not man-made. In other words, one can become either aloof or fatalistic, or hysterical. One example of the implications of this is the debate over bio-fuels. This is now quite a well-known example. The argument of cutting down on CO2 emissions and moving to renewable energy is being used to divert from food production, push genetic engineering and massively exacerbate the problem of food insecurity. As one writer has put it, only by framing the problem in the context of “liveability” does the impact on poor people become apparent. In other words, the problem is not posed in conformity with reality; it is being posed out of the context of the relation of human beings to their natural and social environments.

            It is necessary to mention both the natural and social environments because the issue is not simply one of a balance or equilibrium between the human beings and the natural world. It is also one of the relationship between human beings and the society in which they live, in which the relations between rich and poor, between the powerful and the disempowered, determine the direction of society and determine who is to be responsible for the fate of humanity and the natural world.

            There are serious issues to address, but it cannot be said that is the people who are asleep and those in power who are simply taking advantage of them. The people, in the face of the irresponsibility of vested interests – interests, that is to say, which are vested in making the biggest return on capital – do have the ingenuity to turn around even the most pessimistic projections. Human revolutions have, in the past, for instance, overcome the direst Malthusian warnings, and they can today overcome the most dire predictions of the chaos caused by the depletion of energy resources, for example. But “resource wars” are a serious warning that something fundamental has to change in the organisation of society and who makes the life and death decisions. It can and is argued, for example, that the agenda of the “war on terror”, amongst other things, is a programme to control precious energy resources.

            This is not all. It is ironic that while those advocating the “war on terror” frequently target so-called “failed and failing states”, these self-same states are failing their citizens totally when it comes to the effects of spectacular natural events. The example of the US administration’s response to the threat and then the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina – and more generally the crisis of climate change – is precisely one of a failed state, a state failing to safeguard the lives, livelihoods and well-being of its inhabitants. In our own case of the recent flooding in this country, the Environment Agency and others have displayed astonishing complacency, while the people and the public services which have put the human factor in command are the ones that have shown initiative. I am indebted to an article by Phil England for bringing to my attention a quote from Raymond Williams used in the 2006 Camp for Climate Action publication Time Up: “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.”

            To arrive at the solution and get to the roots of the problem, one has to look at the considerations. What guides what the people must demand and what they must do? A theoretical consideration is that putting the human factor in command has enabled humanity in the past to overcome what have seemed insuperable crises, of war, of feeding the population, of housing and guaranteeing them security. Humankind’s ingenuity has ensured that the collectives of the people have been able to provide solutions. But the demand for the people to be the decision makers and become empowered is at the same time under the greatest threat at present. But that only underlines that what is essential is that the initiative must lie with the people and not those with the economic and political power who have usurped that power by virtue of not only the ownership of capital but of armed might, the control of the media and so on.

            When these considerations are taken into account, it must be said that only if working people themselves have the decision-making power and control over the production and distribution of social product can the serious problems facing Mother Earth and our societies by provided with solutions. Of fundamental importance is that a people must be sovereign to exercise control over its natural and human resources. The fundamental principle in this regard is then that of recognition of the inviolable right of all peoples to determine their own affairs nationally and internationally. The people must be in a position to provide legal guarantees for the protection of the environment in the interests of humanity. There is a pressing and fundamental issue of how to release the productive forces, material and social, under the command of society to deal with the general crisis.

            The issue is which will prevail: the political will of the government to pay the rich and of the powerful countries to continue to exploit and divide up the world between themselves, and to use the environment as a political instrument, or the political will of the entire world’s people? The aim is that human rights need to be recognised as fundamental and that the political process be renewed so that the will of the people is the key political force.

            In summary, to confront the crisis of climate change and the threat to Mother Earth and the human species, the people first and foremost must determine to set their own agenda and implement their own decisions. The people must organise to become the decision-makers! People are in motion at many levels to this end, organising to take ownership of their own future. It is this trend which must be cherished, fostered, widened and deepened. Respect for the dignity of Mother Earth and for the dignity of human beings go hand in hand. To eliminate imbalance and degradation, which actually favours no one, let us activate the human factor/social consciousness to advance to a situation where the people are in control and global balance is restored in their favour.

* Michael Chant is editor of Workers’ Weekly.