Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Profit versus the Environment

Profit versus the environment –
A radical alternative

People before Profit Pamphlet



1.     Ireland’s environment in danger
2.     Why profit is so deadly
3.     Climate change – the ultimate challenge
4.     The radical alternative – People Before Profit environmental policy
5.     Conclusion


Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday.
The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.
The Guardian, 29.08.2016
As can be seen from the items listed above - radioactive elements, plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, chicken bones – the impact of humanity on the Earth in the epoch of the Anthropocene is hardly beneficial and the situation here in Ireland, beautiful country that it is, is no exception.
But this negative impact is not due to ‘human nature’ or even the behaviour of humans as a whole. The root of the problem can be summed up in three words ‘pursuit of profit’.
The fact is we live in a society – and a world – in which the pursuit of profit is systematically damaging and threatening the environment in which we all live and on which we all depend.

This is true at a local level in virtually every community, it is true nationally across the country as a whole, and it is true globally.

This pamphlet will begin by giving a number of examples from different parts of Ireland of the destruction of our environment in the interests of profit. It will explain just why profit, and an economic system based on the profit motive, is so destructive of nature. It will look at how, in the shape of climate change, this threatens the whole future of humanity.

It sets out People Before Profit’s policies for resisting every attack on our environment and our vision of a radical alternative which is required to make a sustainable future possible.

1. Ireland’s environment in danger

From one end of this island to another our natural environment is being threatened by the ruthless pursuit of profit.

In the North, just outside Derry City, there is a huge toxic time bomb – the Mobuoy dump. It’s estimated 1.5 million tonnes of illegally dumped waste have been deposited there. The dump has been described as one of the biggest criminal enterprises ever undertaken in the North and as one of the largest illegal waste sites ever uncovered in Europe. A majority of the waste has been shredded to hide its source and buried in sand and gravel pits excavated by the Campsie Sand and Gravel company.

And it’s a real threat to the people and wildlife of Derry. The Carmoney treatment plant, just a couple of hundred metres downstream from the superdump, extracts 60% of Derry’s drinking water from the River Faughan. Additionally, the western edge of this superdump abuts the River Faughan Special Area of Conservation where there are important populations of Atlantic salmon and river otter.

So why was this done? The answer is all too obvious – for profit. The polluters evaded paying up to £100 million in landfill tax. And why has it not been cleaned up? The cost, of course. Stormont’s new Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen of the DUP says a full clean-up could cost as much as £140 million.

Is this in some way an isolated case? Not at all. Ireland, north and south, has a ‘waste disposal problem’.

Thorntons, one of Ireland’s largest waste management firms, have a recycling plant in the major working class residential area of Ballyfermot in Dublin South Central. For more than twelve years this plant has been emitting a noxious sickly sweet smell over much of Ballyfermot, especially the Cherry Orchard area, the local Le Fanu Park and the Kylemore area. In hot weather it is especially unpleasant.

For twelve years local residents, spearheaded by People Before Profit Cllr (now TD) Bríd Smith, have been complaining and campaigning against this pollution of their community with public meetings, protests and blockades. The solution, they say, is simple: the source of the bad smell is the brown bins refuse so recycle the brown bins in a non-residential area. 

Thorntons refuse to do this and at a public meeting, Bríd Smith recalls, Thorntons’ Director Shane Thornton said why: it would cost him huge profits!

As it happens the terms of Thorntons’ license sets a limit of 24,000 tonnes on the amount of brown bin waste it is allowed on site. On a number of occasions it has been found in breach of that limit but the €3000 fine imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the maximum allowed, is peanuts compared to their profits – it barely amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Similar problems exist with the Ballyogan Dump in South Dublin, with the Poolbeg Incinerator in Sandymount and with a dump and proposed incinerator in Cork. In reverse order:

The Haulbowline Dump on an island in Cork Harbour is estimated to contain 700,000 tonnes of hazardous waste including highly carcinogenic chromium-6. Yet plans to clean it up have repeatedly been shelved. In 2008  a report found that the site was too contaminated to worked on. And now it is estimated the cost of a clean-up would be €450 million.

Yet despite this there have been repeated attempts by the multinational corporation Indaver to site a toxic incinerator less than 2km away at Ringaskiddy, also in Cork Harbour. Not surprisingly local residents have objected and the there has been a campaign of resistance led by CHASE (Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safer Environment, see http://www.chaseireland.org/qanda.htm ) and the project was rejected by Cork County Council. Undeterred Indaver have submitted yet another application for planning permission in 2016. When you know that they make more than €10 million profit a year from their incinerator in Meath you know why.

The Poolbeg Incinerator in Sandymount is another case in point. Once again we have a) a multinational, US energy corporation Covanta, b) opposition from local people and their elected representatives, in the shape of Dublin City Council, c) the unelected Council manager overruling the vote of the Council and siding with the multinational.

However, Poolbeg adds a twist of its own. The contract signed with Covanta guarantees them a certain quantity of waste (so they are sure to make a profit), but the estimates were made during the Celtic Tiger and since the crash waste generation fell back. As result it will be necessary to import waste in order to meet the obligation to Covanta. In other words a deal has been struck which requires Ireland to offer itself as a dumping ground for waste to maintain Covanta’s profits!

The Ballyogan Dump in South Dublin is a toxic waste facility situated immediately beside a low income residential council estate. With illegal dumping going on under cover of darkness it was an obvious blight on the environment and a clear threat to residents’ health. And again there was a local campaign that was ignored by the authorities.

Nicola Curry, one of the local activists in Ballyogan, did her thesis on ‘Living with Waste’ for her Masters in Sociology at UCD. One of her findings was that there was a major class factor involved in the location of the dump. It would not have been allowed in more affluent areas with more social and political ‘pull’. Her research suggested that as a rule ‘the presence of affluence is marked by the absence of effluents’.

However, waste management is only one of many fronts on which our environment is threatened by the pursuit of profit. Another important case was the rape of the environment and the robbery of our natural resources committed in Rossport in Mayo.

Having been gifted the Corrib Oil and Gas Field by corrupt Fianna Fail Minister, Ray Burke, Royal Dutch Shell proposed to build an oil pipeline across an area of outstanding natural beauty. It was astonishing – the Corrib Field was estimated to be worth €420 billion and the royalties Shell were required to pay to the Irish state were zero (!!).

The whole outrageous venture was fiercely and heroically resisted by local people (with much national support) . This resistance included numerous pockets, protests and demonstrations, at sea and on land, and many activists served substantial terms in jail. Sadly the forces of one the world’s richest and most powerful multinationals, shamefully assisted by the Irish government and, with considerable brutality, by the guardai, eventually prevailed in Mayo.

In Dublin Bay, however, a similar issue had a different outcome. There has been a vigorous Save Our Seafront campaign, based in Dun Laoghaire and spearheaded by Richard Boyd Barrett, since an attempt was made in 2001 to build high rise appartments in the harbour centre. So when in 2010 Tony O’Reilly’s Providence Ltd made a proposal to site an oil rig, for exploratory purposes, in the middle of Dublin Harbour  - a potentially devastating threat to the whole bay - there was a strong campaign ready to lead the resistance. Two years of vigorous campaigning later and with the support of many organisations such as An Taisce, Coastal Concern and Dublin Bay Watch, the Providence proposal was defeated.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett also played a leading role in the campaign to prevent the privatisation of Ireland’s forests in 2013.The Fine Gael/ Labour government’s plan was to sell off Coillte harvesting rights. Working with the Woodland League and other environmental organisations the campaign staged a 4000 strong ‘Walk in the Woods’ at Avondale and the Government was forced to back down.

Another threat to the environment and to health came with the UK company InfraStrata drilling for oil in Woodburn Forest in Antrim just north of Belfast. The drill site was less than 400 metres uphill from a major drinking water reservoir, which was clearly at risk of contamination by the chemicals they were pumping into the ground. And Northern Ireland Water gave Infrastrata a 50-year lease for the site, at a rent of only £10,000 a year. 

After a sustained campaign by local people InfaStrata abandoned their drilling saying no oil was found. However, this episode has important implications. While the drilling in Woodburn was not itself fracking it demonstrated how completely inadequate are current planning regulations for preventing fracking in Ireland and the urgent need for legislation. The AAA-People Before Profit group in the Dail are planning to introduce a bill banning fracking as soon as possible.

Finally there is the question of flooding. Three times in the last nine years Ireland has experienced what planners regard as a once in twenty year flood event. Clearly this is a consequence of climate change which means the threat will get worse as global warming continues to escalate. But the problem is compounded by the consistent failure of the Government and authorities to respond adequately. Cork is an example.

In recent years, areas of Cork that had never experienced flooding were badly affected. In 2009 a major emergency had to be declared when the city when the commercial centre was rendered into a series of canals and a large swathe of its environs were submerged. UCC was badly hit with the new Western Gateway building having its ground floor under water with brand new computing and IT facilties and equipment destroyed.
Ironically large areas of the northside of the city had no water supply for days because of damage to the waterworks on Lee Rd. While torrential rain poured down over the city taps ran dry, toilets went un-flushed and pressurised domestic hot water systems broke down for want of water.

But in 2016 there were no visible signs of any measures to prevent the same occurrences happening again while planning permission was granted for a 400 bedroom student apartment on a site that was badly flooded in 2009.

In April 2016 it was revealed that two key OPW committees tasked with overseeing a national strategy on flooding had simply not been meeting. The Irish Times reported ‘Minister for State for the OPW Simon Harris…acknowledged the national flood risk assessment and management programme CFRAM group failed to meet in the four years to November 2014 and that a second group, tasked with overseeing flood-risk management, had not met in the six years before July 2015.’

What explains this astonishing irresponsibility? No money in it is the answer. Independent Alliance TD Sean Canney admitted that in the past flooding “wasn’t treated as being an issue” .Compare this with the instant reponse, manic activity and immense sums of money made available, when the banks were in trouble.

If we take all these examples of threats to our environment, and many more could be provided, a clear pattern emerges: profit, especially corporate profit is the driver and the political establishment is its collaborator while ordinary people pay the price.

But ordinary people are also the key to resistance, to the defence of our environment against those who would destroy it or put it at risk. One other thing: in all the cases given People Before Profit activists have stood with the local people in their resistance.

2.Why Profit is so Deadly

‘There’s nothing wrong with profit in itself’

‘The problem isn’t profit as such, it’s excessive profits. Really the problem is human greed’

‘Sure without profit, there would be no jobs’.

These sentiments, and ideas like them, are heard so often that they sound like common sense – self-evident truths that you would have to be a fool to disagree with. Actually they are part of a way of thinking that was developed over centuries by the rich (the bosses, the capitalists, the bourgeoisie – whatever you want to call them) and then spread throughout society in order to justify their system and make it seem legitimate and unchangeable. This is a way of thinking, and a way of organising production, which we are going to have to challenge and break from because it is leading us into ecological catastrophe. Capitalism i.e. an economic system based on production for profit, is like a lumberjack perched a hundred foot up a Redwood who is sawing off the branch he is sitting on with a power saw because there is a market demand for timber.

The idea that it is not profit itself but just greed for excessive profit that is the problem misunderstands the very nature of the profit motive and how it operates. Imagine you are the CEO of a capitalist corporation – it doesn’t matter whether it is Apple or Microsoft, Volkswagen or Toyota, Wallmart or Tesco.  What makes you want and need to make as much profit as possible is not just personal greed  - your personal desire for yet another mansion or car or aeroplane – but the fact that your company is in competition with rival companies: Apple with Microsoft, Volkswagen with Toyota (and Hyundai and Fords and Mercedes and so on). And the measure of this competition is profit.

The higher the profits your company makes the more it can pay its shareholders; the higher the dividends to shareholders the more those shareholders will invest; the higher the level of investment the more, and better machinery you can install and this in turn will enable you to produce cheaper and better products than your rivals and so make even more profits. But if your competitor makes more profit than you they will be able to undercut or out produce you, capture your share of the market and ultimately drive you out of business.

Consequently your company and your rival company or companies, and there are always rivals however big you get, are locked into this never ending competitive struggle over who can make the most profits. It’s never enough just to make a profit, you always have to be trying to make as much profit as possible The system is like a Formula One Grand Prix with Renault, Mercedes, Ferrari and the rest careering madly round the track all jockeying for pole position – with this difference: there is no finishing line - every now and then one team is knocked out (goes bankrupt or is taken over) and sometimes another one joins but the race just goes on and on.

And everybody involved is locked into this logic of competition for profits. It’s not just the giant corporations, its also medium and even small businesses and, crucially, it is also nation states. USA Ltd is competing with China Ltd is competing with Japan Ltd and Ireland limited is trying to compete with UK Ltd and Germany Ltd and so on, all on the basis of profitability. Is it going to be more profitable to invest in Ireland than in Mexico or Taiwan? Is China going to out race the US, Brazil and Germany?

In what was probably the most insightful study of profit and profit making ever written, namely his great book Capital, Karl Marx summed this up as follows ‘Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake’.(c1 p.558). Regarding capital itself Marx observes, ‘Capital eschews no profit, or very small profit, just as Nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent., positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent., and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged.’  (C1 p.712)

This dynamic is disastrous for the environment and for our relationship to the environment. Again and again and again the obsession with profit, and remember capitalist competition forces every business , on pain of going out of business, to be obsessed with profit, leads businesses and states to sacrifice the natural environment.

From the standpoint of the business, environmental damage is generally regarded what is known as an ‘externality’; an economists’ term for an external side effect which doesn’t affect the cost of the product or the businesses’ profit. For example if you are a car manufacturer the damage done to the environment by dumped scrapped cars is not something that effects your profits or that you are held responsible for. The same would be true of food companies and the consequences of the discarded plastic cartons they put food in. As a result the profit system generates immense quantities of environmentally devastating waste. Of course attempts are made by councils and governments to recycle this rubbish but in reality – but for profit – it wasn’t necessary to produce most of it in the first place.

Another factor is that environmental damage is frequently long term. It is only after years or decades that you realise that the coral reefs are being destroyed or the rain forest depleted or the climate being changed. But production for profit forces companies to think and operate short term. In the long run it might make economic sense, even in capitalist terms, to preserve the rain forest or prevent erosion of the soil but market competition means that companies won’t be around for the long term unless they maximise their profits now – they will be driven out of business by their rivals. So the environment is sacrificed.

The same pressure produces the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’ i.e. producing PR material pretending to be ‘green’ while doing the opposite. Check out the website of any giant corporation whose core activity is very obviously damaging to the environment e.g. any major car manufacturer or oil company. What you will find on every one of them is mission statements about how eco-friendly, sustainable and environmentally conscious they are.

Thus the website of one of the most notorious polluters on the planet, and especially in Ireland, Royal Dutch Shell states

One of the biggest challenges to creating a low-carbon future is the need to transform the global energy system. On June 30, 2016, Shell brought together leading thinkers and doers at its Powering Progress Together forum in London to discuss hard questions about how to make the transition a success. http://www.shell.com/about-us/events/powering-progress-together/london.html

While Ford Motor Company says

We’re committed to doing our share to prevent or reduce environmental, economic and social harm due to climate change. To meet our climate stabilization goals, we are following an ambitious plan to make our products emit less carbon dioxide. http://corporate.ford.com/microsites/sustainability-report-2015-16/products-greener.html
In 2013 Volkswagen proclaimed
‘Resource conservation and sustainability in the production sector are pivotal for achieving our Group goals for 2018. We are aiming not only to adopt eco-friendly practices but also to strike a balance between the three main factors: economy, ecology and society. http://www.volkswagenag.com/content/vwcorp/info_center/en/publications/2014/05/Group_Sustainability_Report_2013.bin.html/binarystorageitem/file/Volkswagen_
In September 2015 it was revealed that Volkswagen had been intentionally and systematically cheating environmental tests on carbon dioxide emissions of millions of its cars (about 11 million in all). The cars were fitted with a special device that lowered emissions when the cars were being tested but allowed the level of emissions to rise dramatically in ordinary driving.

The point is that all these companies, and thousands of others, know full well that there are major threats to the environment and that they are contributing to those threats on a massive scale even to the extent of putting all our futures at risk. But they don’t stop; they are driven on by the relentless need to pursue profit. Instead they try to cover their tracks with mission statements and meaningless declarations and PR greenwashing.

And the same thing is done, on an even greater scale and for the same reason, by governments. Essentially the global environmental summits and agreements  - Kyoto, Copenhagen, Rio, Paris  etc. – have been vast exercises  in ‘greenwashing’, massive charades to cover up for the fact that in reality nothing serious was being done. This brings us to the most important environmental issue of all, which is also the fundamental issue facing the whole of humanity in our era – climate change. Nothing illustrates so clearly the fatal consequences for the world of a national and global economic system driven by profit.

3. Climate Change – the Ultimate Challenge

The moment we start to address the question of climate change we confront an apparent paradox. On the one hand everybody, or almost everybody, knows it is happening, on the other no one takes it very seriously or at least no one is doing anything serious about it. Let’s briefly unpack the elements of this statement.

Everybody knows about it. The existence of humanly caused global warming or climate change was discovered gradually but it was a pretty well established fact by the late 1970s.  Major attempts were made to cast doubt on this by climate sceptics with vested interests e.g. the Global Climate Coalition founded and funded by ExxonMobil [1] but to no avail. [The Grand Climate Coalition was wound up in 2001].
The scientific consensus on the matter is now close to absolute. The single most authoritative body, namely the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ) says the consensus among scientists stands at over 95%. There is an easily accessible list of 200 reputable and prestigious scientific associations that hold the position that climate change has been caused by human action, ranging from the Academy of Sciences of Chile to the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), the Palestinian Academy of Science and Technology, the Science Council of Japan  and the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. https://www.opr.ca.gov/s_listoforganizations.php
More or less every important ‘world leader’ now acknowledges the reality of climate change. ‘President Obama remains committed to making the United States the global leader in the fight against climate change—and so do I’, says Hillary Clinton

She goes on ‘The climate change deniers, defeatists and obstructionists should know that their cynical efforts will fail. Climate change threatens every corner of our country, every sector of our economy and the health and future of every child. We are already seeing its impacts and we know the poorest and most vulnerable people in the United States and around the world will suffer most of all.

The Chinese Government agrees as does the Russian and the Pope, speaking on the White House Lawn in September 2015 said, “Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,”

In 2004 there appeared the following skilful summary of the evidence for climate change.

The 10 warmest years on record have all been since 1990. Over the last century average global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius: the most drastic temperature rise for over 1,000 years in the northern hemisphere.
· Extreme events are becoming more frequent. Glaciers are melting. Sea ice and snow cover is declining. Animals and plants are responding to an earlier spring. Sea levels are rising and are forecast to rise another 88cm by 2100 threatening 100m people globally who currently live below this level.
· The number of people affected by floods worldwide has already risen from 7 million in the 1960s to 150 million today.
· In Europe alone, the severe floods in 2002  had an estimated cost of $16bn.
· This summer we have seen violent weather extremes in parts of the UK.
These environmental changes and severe weather events are already affecting the world insurance industry. Swiss Re, the world's second largest insurer, has estimated that the economic costs of global warming could double to $150bn each year in the next 10 years, hitting insurers with $30-40bn in claims.
By the middle of this century, temperatures could have risen enough to trigger irreversible melting of the Greenland ice-cap - eventually increasing sea levels by around seven metres.
There is good evidence that last year's European heat wave was influenced by global warming. It resulted in 26,000 premature deaths and cost $13.5bn.
It is calculated that such a summer is a one in about 800 year event. On the latest modelling climate change means that as soon as the 2040s at least one year in two is likely to be even warmer than 2003.
This summary was provided by none other than Tony Blair. From this evidence he concluded:

What is now plain is that the emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialisation and strong economic growth from a world population that has increased sixfold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long-term. And by long-term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence

This was in 2004 and you would have thought it was clear enough and yet 12 years later, during which the situation has manifestly been getting worse, neither Tony Blair, nor Obama nor Cameron nor any of the other ‘world leaders’ have made a serious attempt to stop global warming. Yes they have made statements, yes they have held ‘important’ conferences such as those at Kyoto, Copenhagen, Rio and Paris, but none of these has taken the action necessary to avert the coming catastrophe.

Of these Climate Summits the most recent COP 21 in Paris in December 2015 was, in terms of its verbal commitments, by far the most successful. Nevertheless it fell far short of what is needed to secure humanity’s future. The Paris agreement spoke of ‘pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees,’ which was clearly a non-binding and inadequate commitment.  And when it came to limiting greenhouse gas emissions to a level where they are balanced out by the capacity of trees, soil and oceans to act as sinks to absorb them this was set for some unspecified time between 2050 and 2100 – far too late.

Two analogies spring to mind. The first is with the captain of an ocean liner with 2000 passengers on board who receives a warning that his ship is headed into an iceberg field but, fearful of the cost of delay or major detour, continues to sail full steam ahead only  trying to change course as the ship is actually about to hit an iceberg. We know how that ended.

The second is with a train driver heading for a canyon, the bridge over which has been destroyed. On receiving this news he starts to slow down and tells everyone on board that the breaks are on and all is well, ignoring the palpable fact although the train is slowing it is at a rate not fast enough to stop it plunging into the canyon.

Both these analogies capture some features of the way our world leaders and governments, including of course the Irish government, are behaving. Why are they pursuing this disastrous course?

Is it perhaps that they have failed to understand the consequences; that they do not understand that climate change will mean – at the very least – more and more extreme weather events, more storms , floods, fires, droughts, famines claiming first millions, then tens and hundreds of millions of lives; more rising sea levels destroying low lying islands and coastal cities (Manhattan, Shanghai?); more and more areas of the earth becoming uninhabitable; more and more climate refugees on a scale that makes the flight from Syria look like a trickle. That they are unaware of these consequences is not credible. They are well established and well known. If the likes of Obama, Merkel, Putin, Cameron, May and co have not really faced or ‘grasped’  these facts it is because they don’t want to

Is it, maybe, they don’t know what to do? Again this is not credible. What needs to be done is straightforward and well known (it has been known for a long time). Basically it can be summarised in four bullet points:

  • Switch rapidly on a global scale from greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) to renewable sources of energy – wind, solar and tidal power. This can be done: the world is full of wind, sun and seas.
  • Switch rapidly on a global scale from dependence on the private car to public transport in the form of buses, trams and trains. Seriously reduce air travel.
  • Carry out on a global scale a huge programme of house insulation and construction of eco-friendly houses and buildings.
  • Launch a massive process of tree planting. Start reforesting the planet instead of deforesting it.

Maybe it is because it would cost a lot of jobs. This is nonsense. Carrying out any or all of the simple programme listed above would create millions of jobs. Please note that the plea of “jobs!” is the hypocritical cry of every conservative wanting to resist change.  If there was Auschwitz operating in the West of Ireland and it was proposed to close it down they would say ‘this will destroy local jobs”. Suggest in Britain that the mad and useless Trident missile system should be cancelled and both Tories and Blairites will claim it will destroy jobs. Exactly the same people will not hesitate for a moment to throw people out of work the moment a business or industry becomes unprofitable.

Is it then that they just don’t care what happens to the future of humanity?  Actually the real problem is that whether they care about their fellow human beings or not, there is something else they care about more – and that is profit.

As far as our rulers or ‘leaders’ are concerned it’s not just a question of personal greed, though most of them are pretty greedy, it is that they are part of the ruling class under capitalism and are locked into capitalism which, as we have seen, is driven by the pursuit of profit. This is true of virtually all of them – Obama, Clinton, Trump, Merkel, Putin, Hollande, Xi Jinping, May, Kenny and so on – and this prevents them, individually or collectively, doing what obviously needs to be done about climate change. It prevents them taking even the first step which is to seriously reduce carbon emissions by switching to renewables.  Why? This table provides a large part of the answer:

World’s largest companies by revenue


Revenue (USD billions)
As of:
Revenue growth
January 2016
Decrease 0.7%
Decrease 1.7%
Decrease 1.1%
Increase 6.2%
China State Grid
Increase 8.9%
Decrease 9.2%
Oil and gas
Decrease 7.2%
Oil and gas
Decrease 7.2%
Decrease 13.7%
Oil and gas
Increase 8%
Increase 2.8%
Increase 28%
March 31, 2015
Increase 6.0%
Oil and gas
Decrease 37.9%
Decrease 5.3%
Oil and gas
Decrease 11.5%
Increase 8.3%
March 31, 2015
Increase 30.1%
Decrease 4.7%
Oil and gas
Decrease 6.4%
March 31, 2015
Decrease 6.9%
Increase 10.1%
Decrease 1.7%
Increase 1.7%
Financial services
Increase 7.8%
Increase 10.4%
Decrease 2.0%
Oil and gas
Increase 1.6%
Oil and gas
Increase 1.9%
Increase 20.0%

The first thing this table shows is the immense role played in global capitalism by oil, gas and automotive companies, i.e. companies with a direct and total vested interest in fossil fuels. Six out of the top ten, eleven out of the top twenty and seventeen out of the top thirty are in this category. No other industry or group of industries, not pharmaceuticals or computers or armaments comes anywhere near equalling this.  The total profits made by, revenues turned over by and capital invested in these firms is astronomical.  Morover these bare figures understate the role of carbon emitting fossil fuels in the economy because so many other industries e.g. every airline, every engineering factory, every steel plant, every lorry firm, every shipping line etc is dependent on oil, gas or coal  as a source of power.

World capitalism, driven by competition for profit, is addicted to fossil fuels far more strongly than any junkie to heroin or smoker to nicotine.

There are two other very relevant features of the system that can be seen from this table. One is that it is evidently not stable. It can be seen from the right hand column that while the revenues of many of the companies are rising the revenues of others, including some of the very biggest, are falling.  In some cases, such as BP, they are falling dramatically. This shows that no company or business is safe or can afford to rest on its laurels  - a few years ago Exxon Mobile was number one, now it is eighth, a few decades ago General Motors was number one, now its number 23 and not even the biggest car company. The competition – the struggle to grow and make more profits - is relentless and so there is no way that Exxon or Shell or BP or Volkswagen or Toyota or any of the others are going to ‘take a hit for the team’ i.e. the human race, by stopping or seriously reducing oil or car production.

The second is that the balance of forces internationally has changed. Twenty years ago the top of this list and the list overall would have been overwhelmingly dominated by US corporations. Now the US is still the largest player but China has three in the top five and Volkswagen and Toyota are well ahead of General Motors and Ford. The US State and Government whose job it is to represent the interests of these American businesses and the Chinese State and Government whose job is to represent Chinese business will both view climate change negotiations in relation to this changing situation. From the standpoint of the US they will be terrified that if they make too many ‘concessions’ the Chinese will steel a march on them even more than they have done already and the US will lose its position as No.1 in the world economy. From the standpoint of China they will be unwilling to be forced into ‘concessions’ that will lead them to miss their golden opportunity to become No.1 and even force them back into the subordinate position they endured for centuries.

One of Britain’s leading climate sceptics, former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson, has explained this capitalist ‘logic’. Speaking to the British  House of Lords’ Economic Committee Lord Lawson  admitted the scientific validity of the greenhouse effect but argued, it would be “crazy” for the UK to try to stop burning the fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide, claiming countries like China were simply carrying on doing so.

This is why for all their fine talk they have actually done next to nothing. Those who say surely, faced with looming disaster, they will see reason and change course in time should recall the run up to the First World War. Then the clash of interests between the major imperial powers (they were also capitalist powers driven by fundamentally the same imperatives as their counterparts today) created an international conflict that, unless they stepped back from the brink, was clearly going end in a catastrophic global war. They didn’t step back and it did – 16 million people died.

Rather than relying on the establishment, here or in other countries, it is going to require ordinary people across the world to take matters into their own hands if humanity is to have a decent future and central to that mobilisation of people power will have to be a challenge to the rule of profit and to subordination to the so-called laws of the market.

Market solutions?

It has been said that some people find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This certainly applies to those who govern Ireland.

Even when they are forced by incontrovertible facts and unavoidable evidence to accept that they face a serious crisis, as with climate change, their commitment to neoliberalism and the capitalist market is such that they insist on looking to the market for solutions.

This is what they have done with the ever growing housing crisis to which they have insisted on responding by means of ‘incentives’ for landlords and developers rather than imposing rent controls or building council houses. The result has been a total and escalating disaster.

And this is what the system and those who support it try to do in response to the environmental crisis in general and climate change in particular. For example there is carbon trading and carbon offsetting as means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon trading is used by countries to appear to meet their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Under carbon trading a country that has higher carbon emissions can purchase the right to release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from countries that have lower carbon emissions. But this just changes appearances; it doesn’t address at all the real problem, which is the global level of emissions. It won’t be possible to say we in Ireland, or anywhere else, demand exemption from the effects of climate change on the grounds that we traded our emissions with Ethiopia.

Carbon offsetting allows businesses or individuals to compensate for their emissions by investing to carbon reducing projects elsewhere e.g planting trees which absorb carbon dioxide. But, while planting trees is obviously a good thing, the idea that this and other schemes will stop climate change without drastically reducing carbon emissions is fantasy and is daily being proven to be a fantasy. It is another form of greenwashing designed to give the appearance of doing something without confronting the central issue.

The fact that wind turbine manufacturing and operation is treated as a business for profit also undermines it because it means that giant noisy wind turbines are located close to people’s homes without proper consultation and so become immensely unpopular.

Similarly we have market for licenses for access to the electricity market, which then become an object of speculation. This has the effect of small scale producers like community wind farms being unable to gain access to the national electricity grid.

We have now had twenty years or so of attempted ‘market solutions’ and it is abundantly clear that a) they are not working and b) time is fast running out. The fundamental fact with all these ‘market solutions’ is that they are an evasion of what really needs to be done, namely challenge the priorities of profit and cut drastically the production of greenhouse gases by shifting massively to renewables as part of establishing a new relationship between human beings and nature based on democratic planning and production for need which will offer Ireland and the world a sustainable future.


The Green Party
-sailing under a false flag.

Whenever an environmental issue arises there is a tendency in much of the media to
assume that the Green Party and its leader, Eamon Ryan, is the first point of call
for an opinion.
 The Green Party, understandably given its name, is seen as having the franchise on green issues. Its record in government as junior partner in coalition with Fianna Fáil shows this to be a misconception.

·         The Greens had marched and supported the campaign against the Rossport pipeline in Mayo and had attended solidarity marches for the jailed Rossport five. In 2007 their conference committed to opposing the pipeline. In government, Eamon Ryan, now minister for natural resources did nothing to oppose Shell’s pipeline.  And during his tenure the company, media and police increased their campaign against protesters and the local community. Ryan was minister during this crucial period, and far from condemning the policing or company tactics only said that the gas would now “give the state greater energy security

·         Before entering Government, the Greens had campaigned for the rerouting of the M3 motorway that was set to cut through the ancient historic area around the Hill of Tara. Once in Government, the Environment Minister claimed his hands were tied and the project went ahead.

·                     The Green Party sanctioned and supported massive cuts to public transport across bus and rail state companies in 2009. Between Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann this meant over 300 buses scrapped and hundreds of redundancies.
These failures and betrayals on specifically environmental issues were accompanied by the abandonment of progressive policies on every other issue such as supporting reactionary austerity budgets which cut services to the poor, maintaining the racist Direct Provision system and accepting the US military use of Shannon, including for rendition (torture) flights.
 The basic reason for these sell outs is that, despite ‘radical’ talk about ‘fresh thinking’ and ‘new economic paradigms’, the Green Party fundamentally accepts and supports capitalism. Consequently when it gets into power it finds itself forced to accept the priorities of capitalism i.e. the pursuit of profit and that is incompatible with defending the environment or doing anything serious about climate change. It was the same story with the Green Party in    Germany.


4.The Radical Alternative: People Before Profit Environment Policy.

People Before Profit is committed to defending our natural environment and fighting for a sustainable future both here in Ireland and internationally. We reproduce here our environment policy adopted at our policy making conference in September 2015.

People Before Profit’s Environmental Policy

Our environment, the natural world around us and our towns and cities face an unprecedented crisis. The planet is now in the midst of the sixth great extinction event in its history with thousands of species facing wipe-out while the earth’s climate is facing the real prospect of catastrophic change caused by Capitalism and the burning of fossil fuels. Other earth systems essential for life are at or approaching unsustainable depletion. The ability of the planet to continue to provide a habitable home for future generations of humanity and the animal kingdom is now in question.

The People Before Profit Alliance environmental policy seeks to address the root causes of all these different forms of environmental destruction and despoliation. We reject the thesis that the environmental crisis is caused by any innate human instinct, overpopulation or simple consumerism. The crisis comes from the economic system of capitalism and its drive toward profit and competition. It is a system that eulogises the profit motive and relegates both human, environmental and other species rights and existence below the need for profit and economic growth.

 Looking to capitalism and markets to provide solutions for any environmental crisis will not work because it is the operation of free market capitalism that is the root cause of each of these crises. In every issue examined from climate change to biodiversity and conservation, attempts at binding international treaties based on commodifying nature or incentivising markets have and will continue to fail to protect our environment. Only a radical challenge to the priorities of capitalism can save our natural world and preserve the earth’s biodiversity for future generations.

While the environmental crisis threatens all of humanity, we believe that the world’s poorest and ordinary working class people will suffer the greatest from the chaos that capitalism is creating in our climate and environment. We reject the idea that there is a conflict between safeguarding the environment and the earth’s species and the right to a decent living for ordinary people. The conflict lies between the priorities of capitalism and markets on one hand and our environment, biodiversity and most of humanity.

We believe that a new, radical environmental and social movement is needed that identifies the root causes of the current mass extinction of species and threats to humanity and the natural world. We stand with those communities and groups that are campaigning against all forms of environmental destruction or trying to protect and conserve endangered species and habitats. But we want to unite these struggles, in our countryside and cities to take on the real cause of this crisis.

Climate Change

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggests that CO2 will need to be reduced from [current levels] to at most 350 ppm” James Hansen

 Levels of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere are currently at over 400ppm, well beyond the levels that most Environmental Policy scientists believe can be accommodated if we are to avoid the risk of dangerous climate change. We are already witnessing extreme weather events, droughts, record storms, heat waves and altered rainfall patterns with tragic consequences for millions. Such change is already a feature of life, affecting huge numbers of the world’s populations and especially the poorest and most marginalised.

 Ireland has failed to effectively curb its own emissions and instead continued to allow big business and sections of the agricultural industry (especially the so-called beef barons) to dictate that no policy is enacted that might undermine their profits. During the Celtic Tiger period, Irish emissions were well above the Kyoto targets and these emissions only declined with the collapse of the economy. The Environmental Protection Agency has calculated that Ireland will be producing between 4.1 and 8.8 million tons of carbons above the EU target in 2020, leaving it open to possible fines.

People Before Profit will support practical and immediate steps to dramatically cut our CO2 emissions, and will not rely on market mechanisms to deliver this. These include;

A Public Transport Revolution; We will oversee massive state investment in the public transport systems. We would abolish the National Transport Agency as it is a neoliberal agency whose chief concern is competition and facilitating private for-profit transport companies. The remit of a new state agency will be to provide cheap and efficient public transport that can facilitate the dramatic reduction in the use of private cars from the roads and ensure ease of movement in our towns and cities. This will mean a significant increase in the bus fleet numbers of existing state companies in both Dublin and Bus Eireann and the expansion of the rail network. We will involve transport users and local communities in planning new routes with the goal of a dramatic reduction in Co2 emissions from private car usage. We will reverse the dramatic increases in the cost of public transport over recent years and stop any attempts to privatise this essential service.

Building Sustainable Homes And Towns ; We will introduce and enforce new building codes that insure all new buildings and homes are up to the latest standards in energy efficiency and insulating (eg; Passive Home standards). We will empower a new state agency to work with local authorities to oversee the retro-fitting of older buildings and homes to reach the same standards and with a remit to dramatically cut the use of energy for home heating. (The present home improvement grants are a wholly inadequate response and will never oversee the retro-fitting of homes on the scale or to the standard needed).

Opposition To Fossil Fuel Corporations; We will support the building of a European-wide movement that aims to challenge the power and control of energy resources by multinational corporations in the fossil fuel industries. We will campaign to ensure that new proven reserves of gas, oil and coal that corporations intend to exploit remain in the ground and that all available resources are utilised to switch to non-carbon and sustainable forms of energy production.

Our Natural Resources; We will nationalise all of the state’s gas and oil fields and use all of the state’s natural resources to switch the economy to a carbon neutral basis as soon as practically possible. We will support the taxing of corporate profits to fund the switch to renewable forms of energy generation and invest in wave, solar and wind power generation.

 Renewable Energy; We will insure that the switch to renewable energy, (wind, wave, solar, thermal and biomass) is democratically controlled and aimed at ensuring a sustainable and carbon neutral economy. At present the small advances in total amount of energy produced by wind or solar energy is at the dictate of the market and the profit margins of companies involved. This is why many communities are opposed to the imposition of massive wind farms in their locality. We are in favour of wind energy and will support and fund a massive expansion in this sector. But the imposition of wind farms is not how we should be harnessing this power; they are primarily concerned with the profits of large firms and not with the sustainability of renewable energy. Instead we will seek to diffuse the expansion of all renewables to every town and city and ensure communities have ownership and control of all projects. We will ensure that wind and solar energy are harnessed at local levels and at scales that will make profound differences to energy generation, not to the profits of existing companies.

Biofuels/Biomass: We will oppose the way in which biofuels are currently being harvested. This is often disguised as an environmentally friendly measure to combat global climate change. It is not. These measures will have a negligible impact on carbon emissions but are having profound effects on the poorest communities in the developing world. Recent policies have seen an effective land grab by multinational corporations and others in many parts of the world that have destroyed the livelihoods of peasants. The result is that biofuel monocultures are replacing food production and are increasing the food insecurity and malnutrition of the world’s poorest. We will support sustainable use of indigenous biomass where possible and in conjunction with a radical policy for our forests and woodlands. We will ensure that increases in the use of biofuels will not impact on food production here or in the developing world.

Nuclear Power: We will oppose any measures that seek to promote nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. Some environmentalists have become so demoralised by the failure of capitalism to counter climate change that they have reluctantly accepted nuclear energy as a solution. We reject these arguments. Nuclear energy remains linked to the production of nuclear weapons, its growth would not be carbon neutral and the risks it poses remain unacceptable with no solution to the long term problem of the removal and storage of nuclear waste. The proposed growth of this industry to reduce carbon emissions would have to be on a massive scale and with huge costs both financial and environmental. Such resources should be used to build and invest in other renewable energies.

Fracking And Shale Gas. We will oppose any attempt to introduce fracking into Ireland and pledge full support to communities that are opposing such projects. Shale gas will do nothing to reduce carbon emissions, and its use in other countries has simply taken investment away from renewables and shored up the fossil fuel industry and its infrastructure.

Protecting Our Environment and The Natural World.

People Before Profit will campaign both in the streets and in the Dail for a radical approach that places people and nature before the needs of multi-national corporations and profiteers.

 Protecting Our Environment: We will ensure that there is a properly financed and strong Environmental Protection Agency with a clear remit to protect the natural environment and people’s rights to clean water, air and a safe built environment for both this and future generations. We will ensure that this agency is independent of commercial interests and that it is democratically accountable.

Access To The Environment: We will establish a clear legal right of responsible access to the physical heritage of the country; its mountains, countryside, lakes, rivers and seashore, with the right to roam in remote and highland areas.

Extending Our Forests: We will seek the extension and protection of Ireland’s forests, both as a measure to combat climate change and to increase biodiversity. Ireland has the third lowest level of forestry coverage in the EU with only 12 percent of its landmass compared to an EU average of 40 percent. We will campaign for  the land assets, commercial forests and amenity woodlands of Coillte to be retained in public ownership. We will seek a radical re-organisation of Coillte and the empowering of both workers and communities in managing and extending the forest cover and the potential to increase its sustainable harvesting and the biodiversity contained therein. With a democratically accountable forest management structure, we will ensure the enlarging and linking up of existing native woodlands to encourage biodiversity and connectivity within areas like Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and Natural Heritage Areas where appropriate.

 A Publicly Owned And Control Waste Management Policy: We will seek the re-municipalisation of the waste collection and recycling industries. The privatisation of this essential industry has been a disaster for any hope of a coherent and safe waste management policy for the country. Unbridled competition between firms has produced a race to the bottom in standards in both the working conditions of those employed in the industry and of the management of society’s waste. The volume of dangerous and toxic waste is increasing and is an inevitable by-product of a system where production is geared only for profit with no thought to its consequences. We will plan for a rational waste management strategy that seeks to reduce the volume of waste that industry produces and make companies that produce it responsible for its safe disposal and recycling.

GM Foods

We reject the idea that GM foods/crops are necessary to feed growing populations here or in the developing world. There is a huge push to force acceptance of GM foods onto consumers. Objections are dismissed as unscientific and irrational. But the reasons advanced for GM foods are false. GM foods will not solve world hunger or vitamin deficiency of the world’s poorest people. Social and economic inequality are the root causes of these problems, not a lack of food production. There is at present an abundance of food globally, but the poorest have no access to it.

 Control of the food industry by global corporations and profit-driven production ensures that the adoption of any new technology will simply see the continuation of these injustices. GM crops are being imposed on populations and are forcing more peasants to switch to cash crop production instead of food for local consumption. This is also part of the cause of the world-wide exodus from farming by the poorest as larger commercialised farms drive the world’s peasants off the land.

The drive towards GM crops is about allowing corporations to have patentable commodities that will enhance their control of all aspects of food production and consumption from “the seed to the plate.” Such crops will not stop world hunger nor deal with dietary deficiencies caused by poverty. They will ultimately strengthen the system that is actually responsible for these problems. Behind the rhetoric of feeding the world’s poor lies a corporate agenda that will do nothing to deal with the underlying social inequalities and injustices that ensure such hunger exists. We will campaign to ensure all such research is publicly controlled and funded and that the rights of corporations to patent seeds or crops that may be vital for a sustainable agriculture is ended.

5. Conclusion

The policies outlined in the last chapter are both radical and necessary. They are radical because the damage being done to the environment at every level from the local to the global is now so serious that nothing short of radical policies will secure the future of humanity and millions of other species.

Three further comments need to be made. First, that there is no possibility of implementing even a fraction of these alternative policies without the mobilisation of ordinary people at grassroots level, without people power on the streets and in our communities.

People Before Profit is committed to supporting all movements by ordinary people in defence of their environment against the damage repeatedly inflicted on it by profit hungry corporations or complicit government and politicians.

Second, while defending our environment is a hugely important issue in its own right it is not a ‘separate’ issue which can be viewed or tackled in isolation from a multitude of other issues in our society.

One example of this is the question of water charges. Advocates of water charges, who included the Green Party, claimed the policy was necessary on grounds of conservation and ecology. But in reality this was a clear case of ‘greenwashing’ i.e. presenting an environmental cover for an unfair tax designed to make ordinary people pay for the economic crisis and the bank bail out while preparing the way for privatisation. Nevertheless, fighting the water charges – in Ireland as in Bolivia and elsewhere – raises the question of defending water as a human right and resisting its commodification, which has enormous implications in a world of climate change.

Another example is housing. The housing crisis in Ireland has reached extreme proportions and having a reasonable home to live in is the most immediate ‘environmental’ concern for most people. At the same time resolving the housing crisis cannot be done satisfactorily without regard for environmental considerations. We cannot simply say leave it to the market and the developers to build ecologically- unfriendly apartment blocks for private profit wherever they can make a quick buck, destroying people’s limited green spaces in the process.

What these examples and many others show is the need for coordinated environmentally aware democratic planning but that stands in opposition to the market driven neoliberal orthodoxy that has dominated Irish politics at every level in recent decades.

This brings us to the third point: that these necessary radical policies as a whole cannot be achieved without a fundamental change in the economic priorities of society. A transformation from an economic system based on profit to one based on human need has become a environmental and human necessity. This in turn requires a radical political alternative which cannot be provided by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour or the Greens or by any political party or movement which accepts capitalism


·                    [1] Along with   Amoco, BP, Daimler Chrysler, Dow Chemical Co., Enron, Fords, General Motors,  Texaco, Shell Oil, the US Chamber of Commerce and many others.