Updated March 12, 2021 | revcom.us
[Editors’ Note: This is a slightly revised version of the article “A Challenge to the Challengers… Reflections on ‘Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future’” that appeared on revcom.us on March 8.]
Seventeen well-known international researchers in biology and the environment recently issued an urgent analysis and call to squarely confront the ecological emergency. Their widely commented on paper is titled “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future.”1 It brings together evidence from many scientific fields and pointedly observes that “the scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”
The authors of “Avoiding a Ghastly Future” synthesize critical research findings about biodiversity loss—from the threat of impending extinction to some one million species to the severe damage to ocean and freshwater environments… the dangerous trends of global temperature rise, now exceeding earlier scientific predictions… and the already disruptive effects that climate change and environmental degradation are having on life and human health and well-being on the planet.
It must be said at the outset that “Avoiding a Ghastly Future” represents a highly important and much-needed call from noted scientists who are emphasizing and marshaling science to summon attention to the environmental emergency. Their paper goes on to declare that: “It is incumbent on experts in any discipline that deals with the future of the biosphere and human well-being to eschew reticence, avoid sugar-coating the overwhelming challenges ahead and ‘tell it like it is’. Anything else is misleading at best, or negligent and potentially lethal for the human enterprise at worst.”
We agree. And if indeed we are to “avoid sugar-coating the overwhelming challenges ahead and ‘tell it like it is,’” then we must confront and act on a stark but liberating truth:
We have two choices: to let humanity and the planet hurtle uncontrollably towards environmental disaster and other horrors—or to make an ACTUAL revolution to overthrow the system and, on the basis of a radically different economy and social-political system, go to work on addressing this crisis!
I. The Challenge of Being Consistently Scientific… About the Problem and Solution
In his New Year’s Statement “A New Year, The Urgent Need For A Radically New World—For The Emancipation of All Humanity”, Bob Avakian speaks of those righteously calling for science in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. He writes:
This emphasis on science and the scientific method is vitally important, but it is also necessary to emphasize the real need and great importance of being consistent with this, and following scientifically-determined truth wherever it leads, in order to correctly understand reality, in every sphere of life and society….
As Avakian goes on to point out, a crucial part of this means to:
…dig beneath the surface, to discover the underlying mainsprings and causes of things, and arrive at an understanding of the fundamental problem and the actual solution. This means coming to the scientific understanding that we are living under a system, and what that system actually is (the system of capitalism-imperialism)…
“Avoiding a Ghastly Future” indicts current governments for failing to respond in any way commensurate with the danger to humanity and the planet: “we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action…”
There IS such a political and economic system—genuine socialism, a transition to communism, as part of a worldwide process to get beyond all exploitation, oppression and antagonistic social divisions.
While genuine socialism does not hold power anywhere in the world right now, there is a concrete vision for this society in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian, and with the blueprint and working principles of such a society—including as it pertains to the environment. There has never been any founding or guiding document of any government like this in history. What is needed to establish this is a real revolution, to overthrow and get rid of this system of capitalism-imperialism and bring about the only alternative that has a chance. Such a system and socialist society would be “capable of such action” necessary for and commensurate with the existential challenges of global warming and environmental destruction.
And there IS such leadership in Bob Avakian (BA), the most important political thinker and leader in the world today. BA is the architect of a whole new framework of human emancipation, the new communism.
BA is a leader who is firmly convinced, on the basis of a consistently scientific method and approach, that the goal must be nothing less than all-out revolution, and who at the same time has emphasized:
“the new communism thoroughly repudiates and is determined to root out of the communist movement the poisonous notion, and practice, that ‘the ends justifies the means.’ It is a bedrock principle of the new communism that the ‘means’ of this movement must flow from and be consistent with the fundamental ‘ends’ of abolishing all exploitation and oppression through revolution led on a scientific basis.”2
The question is whether those concerned about the future of humanity and the planet are going to be consistently scientific, willing “to go there,” to seriously engage and get with the only real solution and alternative to the “ghastly future” under this capitalist-imperialist system.
This is the challenge, and the invitation.
II. Some Particular Ways “Avoiding a Ghastly Future” Falls Short in Applying Science to Society
While “Avoiding a Ghastly Future” squarely confronts and calls to attention major environmental challenges, it falls short in crucial ways in being consistently scientific in how this relates to the underlying economic and political system and overall society. Given the stakes for humanity, the planet and its ecosystems, it matters greatly to get clarity on this. Here is some food for thought:
*Whom do the governments of the world actually represent?
“Avoiding a Ghastly Future” states: “If most of the world’s population truly understood and appreciated the magnitude of the crises we summarize here, and the inevitability of worsening conditions, one could logically expect positive changes in politics and policies to match the gravity of the existential threats. But the opposite is unfolding.”
It is certainly true that politics and policies are not matching “the gravity of existential threats.” But it is NOT the case that even if the world’s population understood the magnitude of the crisis, we could or should “logically” expect the governments to act in the interests of the people anywhere in the world or in the world as a whole. In basic terms, any evidence-based approach would show that the world’s current governments do not represent the fundamental interests of the people—rather, they represent rule over the people, rule of the exploitative and oppressive capitalist-imperialist system and its rulers.
*“Avoiding a Ghastly Future” calls for “changing the rules of the game.” But what is “the game”?
“The game” is a system, capitalism-imperialism, which operates according to its rules. It is driven by the expand-or-die logic built into its foundation. This is a system of privately organized units of capital—organized around profit based on exploitation—anarchically competing against each other to cheapen costs to capture greater market share for survival and dominance. As a consequence, private capital does not and cannot take into account its “externalities of production” (the broader, destructive effects on the environment) like the greenhouse gases emitted, the waste and pollution it generates, or damage to biodiversity. This system does not and cannot take into account the longer term. The rivalry among the imperial powers for global control and influence makes sharing of scientific and technical knowledge and cooperative planning impossible.3
All of this drives increasing lopsidedness in the world, with massive and growing inequality and misery among the most oppressed, especially among the people of the Third World, and global refugee crises of unprecedented—and genocidal—scales.4
Any evidence-based approach would show that this system reacts to serious challenges to its rule, and to its “rules,” with massive force, repression, and violence. To act as if fundamental change of the kind needed to have any realistic chance of dealing with this emergency can happen short of overthrowing this system flies in the face of all the evidence. Attempting to “change the rules of the game” with anything short of a real revolution squanders time that humanity simply does not have!
To “change the rules” in any meaningful way requires a revolution to establish a socialist system, a radically different political and economic system than capitalism-imperialism.
On the basis of socialist state-public ownership of the means of production and conscious economic-social planning—and forging a radically different society that promotes dissent and intellectual ferment, “enabling people to pursue the truth wherever it leads,” and a conscious approach to and appreciation of nature—it becomes possible to unleash people to protect and repair the environment and to work for a liberating future. See the box “It is a fact that, nowhere else, in any actual or proposed founding or guiding document of any government, is there anything like…” and Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development for a vivid picture.
*Population growth is not the primary cause of the ecological crisis.
“Avoiding a Ghastly Future” lays a big part of the blame for the crisis we face on population size itself: rapidly expanding numbers of humans absorbing and degrading finite resources. But population size is not the principal factor driving environmental degradation, global warming, loss of biodiversity, and the overall, escalating ecological emergency. What is essential and determining is how the populations of human society are organized and interact with nature. Certainly, a larger human population has larger impacts on the environment. But the “environmental footprint” of world humanity would be qualitatively different under a socialist economic and social system that aimed to consciously and sustainably interact with nature.5
*The reality of fascism and its assault on science.
“Avoiding a Ghastly Future” warns of “the continued rise of extreme ideologies” internationally, “potentially accelerating a vicious cycle of global ecological deterioration and its penalties.” This is true and is concentrated in the worldwide emergence of fascist movements and governments. As Bob Avakian writes about the U.S.: “The unavoidable truth is that this country, the much-proclaimed ‘Shining City on a Hill,’ is full of fascists!—in the government at all levels and in large parts of the society as a whole.” One post-Trump example: in 23 states, Republicans (most of them climate-deniers) control the office of governor, and both houses of the state legislature. They are rapidly passing laws against protesting at fossil-fuel energy facilities. All this gravely threatens the environment.
But in the face of this, “Avoiding a Ghastly Future” calls for a “universal mode of self-preservation and planetary protection.” This is a dangerous illusion that papers over both the reality of capitalist-imperialist class domination and the fact that a powerful section of the U.S. ruling class has opted for fascism as a solution to the grave crises this system confronts. It has fanned a fascist movement that attempted a coup to overturn an election, a movement that is increasingly unhinged and in basic opposition to the Enlightenment, rational thought, and evidence-based science. In the case of other countries like Brazil, with Bolsonaro, it is fundamentally no different.
In the U.S., this fascism is deeply rooted in American history and culture. We need a revolution to get rid of the system that spawns this.
III. Let us think and act in ways commensurate with what the times truly demand of us.
The revolution humanity needs—to get rid of this system of capitalism-imperialism—is not a utopian dream. It is the real-world and the only solution to the deepest crises that humanity has faced. There is an actual scientific method and pathway that Bob Avakian has forged… that can lead to a radically different and far better future for humanity and the planet.
We challenge scientists, and everyone who has a sense of the magnitude of the environmental crisis, to act in the spirit of your own deep concern for humanity and the life on this planet—and to consistently and thoroughly apply and carry through with your scientific curiosity and critical spirit. Start with the New Year’s Statement by Bob Avakian—and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian.
The hour is late; and the whole world really is at stake. We end with these words of caution and urgency:
The electoral defeat of the Trump/Pence regime only “buys some time”—both in relation to the imminent danger posed by the fascism this regime represents, and more fundamentally in terms of the potentially existential crisis humanity is increasingly facing as a consequence of being bound to the dynamics of this system of capitalism-imperialism. But, in essential terms, time is not on the side of the struggle for a better future for humanity. So the time there is must not be squandered—mired in oblivious individualism and political paralysis or misspent on misdirected activity that only reinforces this system which perpetuates endless horrors for the masses of humanity and has brought things to the brink of very real catastrophe. (From the New Year’s Statement by Bob Avakian)
2. From BOB AVAKIAN: A RADICALLY DIFFERENT LEADER—A WHOLE NEW FRAMEWORK FOR HUMAN EMANCIPATION, available at revcom.us. [back]
3. Agreements on climate change and biodiversity are voluntary (and even if they are not voluntary the powerful countries can bow out of them when it suits their interests). But private ownership and decision-making of blocs of capital are built-into (indeed sacrosanct) to capitalism and impossible to “bow out” of. Renewables make “scientific/environmental sense” and the costs are going down dramatically—but 80 percent of the energy used today comes from oil and other fossil fuels. They remain foundational to profitability and are strategic jugulars of this global system. For fuller analysis, see Raymond Lotta, “50 Years Since Earth Day 1: Reflections on the Catastrophe That Is Capitalism-Imperialism.” [back]
4. See the video of the talk by Bob Avakian, Why We Need An Actual Revolution and How We Can Really Make Revolution—in particular, the clip “Bob Avakian On the Environment: Why Is the Problem NOT Greed As Such, And What Must Actually Be Done To Prevent Catastrophe?” [back]
5. In mis-identifying human population growth, especially high birth rates in the global South, as a principal factor driving the environmental crisis, the authors downplay how capitalism-imperialism plunders nature. In this regard, note that in the early 2010s, the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population, concentrated in the heartlands of capitalism-imperialism, were responsible for half of all carbon emissions. On the other hand, the poorest 3.5 billion, mainly in the global South, accounted for just one-tenth of those emissions, while suffering the worst consequences of global warming. See Oxfam, Extreme Carbon Inequality, 2015.
The socialist society envisioned in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America would right away be altering its “ecological footprint”: decisively transitioning away from fossil fuels; transforming how we live and produce the means of life; and putting an end to the environmentally wasteful “consumer society” that exploits the global South. This society would be working urgently to repair ravaged ecosystems and biodiversity. Further, a liberatory socialist revolution would ensure reproductive freedom for women, safe and subsidized access to birth control, and socialized child and health care as part of the ongoing struggle and societal transformations for the full emancipation of women. [back]
- A. The Economy.
- B. The Environment.
- Article IV. The Economy and Economic Development in the New Socialist Republic in North America.
- Section 5. The System of Public-State Ownership is the Foundation of the New Socialist Economy.