Climate Crisis Special:
SYSTEM CHANGE NOT CLIMATE CHANGE!
Questions from ND Online School of Anakbayan-Europa
Answers by Jose Maria Sison
17 November 2021
We’ve come to the last installment of our Climate Crisis Special! And what better way to culminate this discussion than to talk about how to change the system in order to save our planet.
- Tito, before we proceed to discuss the grassroots movements fighting against climate injustice, allow us to ask first about the government approach. How effective are the so-called “frameworks on the restoration and protection of biodiversity” in reversing the effect of the degradation of nature?
JMS: To this day, 84 per cent of the energy used in the world is based on fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas and methane). The imperialist powers and their oil, gas and coal monopolies obscure this fact and avoid committing themselves to any definite program of reducing dependence on fossil fuel and increasing reliance on renewable energy (solar, wind, tidal, hydrogen and so on). By a definite program, I mean solid time-bound targets by the industrialized states that will markedly slow down global warming and bring average temperatures to a lower and more stable equilibrium.
They minimize the problem of carbon emissions and global warming by simply referring to the need to keep the global average of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as limit to temperature increases of the earth’s surface in the next 20 years and faintly mention that going past the tipping point of 2 degrees Celsius means accelerating the catastrophic phenomena of heat waves, forest fires, prolonged droughts, melting of the icebergs, rise of the level and acidity of the seas, tsunamis, super-typhoons and other extreme weather conditions. But then, they belittle the already disastrous impacts of climate catastrophes that are already occurring with increasing frequency in the past 25 years since the Kyoto Protocol was signed but snubbed by the biggest carbon emitters.
Then to appease the entire world and distract us from their remorseless efforts to further emasculate the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement of 2015, they propose all sorts of frameworks and proposals such as voluntary decarbonization, carbon trades, net zero emissions, restoration and protection of biodiversity. There are no compulsory provisions for them to comply with even as they have the highest ability to adopt renewable energy faster than the underdeveloped countries.
They avoid having to pay tax for all the carbon industrial emissions that they have done to worsen the greenhouse-gas effect on the atmosphere and damage the ozone layer since the rise of monopoly capitalism. They even try with might and main to use the climate crisis as reason to prevent the industrial development of underdeveloped countries and the processing of their own mineral resources.
FF Question: In what way can this framework of restoring and protecting biodiversity aid in reducing the negative effect of human activity?
JMS: First of all, we should not allow the fossil-fuel imperialist powers to take cover under the phrase, human activity. They are the inhuman culprits for the climate crisis. But they blame the victims of the climate crisis and “human activity” in an abstract metaphysical sense, in a clever but obvious attempt to spread the blame on all of humanity for causing climate change. Since the start of the industrial revolution in 1761, 1.6 trillion tons of carbon dioxide have been emitted to the atmosphere. The main culprits have been a bloc of European countries responsible for 5i4 billion tons, the US for 400 billion tons and China for 200 billion tons (mostly in the last 40 years).
Restoring and protecting biodiversity is a desirable objective and should be part of a serious systematic program of reducing dependence on fossil fuels and increasing renewable energy at an accelerated rate. All types of land and natural-resource use, especially intensive land use for production, must be regulated so as not to worsen the already degraded situation especially of forest and marine biomes—which function both as the world’s most stable biodiversity sanctuaries and also as its biggest “lungs”, capturing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, and thus able to offset to some degree the huge carbon emissions of industrial capitalist economies.
However, many reactionary states often use biodiversity as a “motherhood slogan” to pit environmentalists and poor communities against each other, by redirecting the environmental blame on poor peasants, fisherfolk and other small producers whose subsistence livelihoods may add to diminished natural resources, but only in minute increments. Meanwhile, the imperialist corporate landgrabbers, extractive profiteers and polluters, who in fact are the biggest culprits in biodiversity depletion worldwide, are left off the hook.
- What can the government policies and/or laws do to combat the climate crisis? Laws or policies such as poverty alleviation, economic policies, tax implementation, etc.?
JMS: The people of every country should be aroused, organized and mobilized to demand and propose definite solutions to the climate crisis and compel the government to adopt and implement policies and laws to reduce dependency on fossil fuel and increase reliance on renewable energy. They should demand and compel their governments to adopt strategies of comprehensive economic development – in industry, agriculture, services, urban and rural habitats, trade and finance – which enhance the said solutions to the climate crisis.
Some of these solutions would fall into the category of mitigating measures, others adaptive measures, but all must be equitable and sustainable instead of being just short-term remedies that benefit only a few. The overwhelming majority of non-imperialist countries should use their democratic weight to compel the fossil-fuel imperialist powers to agree to solutions for the benefit of humankind.
FF Question: What about the climate finance mechanism – in what way will this save the climate?
JMS: So far all the so-called green financial policies offered by the imperialist powers are in their favor against the underdeveloped and middling countries of the world. The climate finance policy and mechanism to save humankind should require the fossil-fuel imperialist powers to pay tax for the loss and damage that they have done since the advent of monopoly capitalism in England in mid-19th century. Compensation and loans must be extended to the underdeveloped countries to enable them to develop renewable energy, import a reasonable amount of fossil fuel and pursue their own drive towards industrial development without repeating the environmental sins of the advanced industrial powers.
Due consideration must be given to underdeveloped countries to develop their own fossil fuel in combination with the development of renewable energy systems and carbon-capture technologies that are cheap, decentralized and truly effective in ensuring the transition to clean energy. In this regard, there have been good proposals on climate finance that have been pushed by many climate-justice NGOs and people’s movements such as IBON International, Oxfam, and the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness. These should be studied and seriously considered by the financially more capable industrial powers.
- We’ve asked this in the opening episode of Climate Crisis Special – but again, how can those tote bags or canvas bags, metal or reusable straws, etc. reduce the waste humans are producing? Isn’t it just another form of mass production considering how many of these are being produced, and how much more ‘reusable’ products are being developed?
JMS: Plastics and other synthetic materials which are nonbiodegradeable are byproducts of monopoly oil production. Thus, they have become a widespread and growing problem. While the oil monopolies cannot be prevented soon from producing plastics, these can be recycled into useful products like bricks for construction. Discarded metals, canvas bags or reusable straws can be systematically collected and recycled.
The lifestyle shift to non-plastic substitutes for consumer products can be seen in its two aspects: From one aspect, it could be a small but positive start of much bigger and long-term shift in social values and lifestyles that gives a high premium to ecological consciousness and responsibility. Such a shift may thus represent real system change, which is what the peoples of the world aspire for.
But from another aspect, a “no-plastics” stance can simply be an easy, tokenist way for big monopolies to green-wash their business operations. Environmental activists must be conscious of this duality in certain “ecological lifestyle” positions, and continually push not just for personal lifestyle change but for social system change.
- What about the Kyoto Protocol; apart from the US and China not signing up on the said Protocol, why did it fail? Is Kyoto Protocol a failure from the very beginning?
JMS: The Kyoto Protocol failed because the US and other major fossil fuel producers and users like Russia and China did not sign up. It exempted the developing countries for any liability for damage to the environment and granted credits to them which the developing countries could buy to further generate carbon emissions. Thus, the protocol has been widely rejected as no solution to the problem of carbon emissions and global warming.
- How did the parties involved handle or penalize Russia, US and China for rejecting the Protocol?
JMS: There are no effective provisions in the Protocol to penalize Russia, US and China for rejecting the Protocol. In the first place, a state can be liable only for what it signs as an agreement with the validity and effect of a treaty. The US took the lead in denouncing the Kyoto Protocol as unjustly favoring the developing countries.
- After Kyoto, Paris is the next nodal point of the climate conferences. How effective is the Paris Agreement of 2015?
JMS: The Paris Agreement of 2015 set as goal to keep the average temperature of the earth’s surface at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to prevent it from reaching 2 degrees. Then scientists have pointed out that beyond this level global heating becomes rapidly cumulative. But there are no provisions for limiting the production and use of fossil fuel and for penalizing noncompliance with the limitations.
FF Question: Why do all these agreements come with few concrete penalties when faced with shortcomings? What does it say about the seriousness of the Parties involved?
JMS: The conferences of parties called to make these agreements include the fossil-fuel imperialists and are subject to the control of the oil, gas and coal monopolies. Thus, there are no effective provisions for the reduction of carbon emissions and the increase of renewable energy. There are also no provisions for penalizing violations of the agreement.
Here is an example of fossil-fuel imperialist double-talk. At a press conference during the UN Climate summit in Glasgow, Joe Biden attacked Putin and Xi for their absence and therefore failing to take a leadership role; at the same time he demanded from OPEC countries that they pump more oil.
- From Kyoto Protocol to Paris Agreement and now to Glasgow, why after all these years of Conferences of the Parties, lengthy discussions and agreement we keep on failing to solve the climate crisis? Do you have any idea what is happening closed doors?
JMS: Well, I have already pointed to the fossil-fuel imperialists and their oil, gas and coal monopolies. After all, all these meetings come under the bannerhead of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Framework agreements are general declarations of intent and are not as detailed and rigorous as agreements that are meant to be enforced and to penalize violations.
FF Question: What can we expect now from the Glasgow conference?
JMS: The results are already known. There are pontifications about keeping the average temperature increase of the earth’s surface at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and for net zero carbon emission. There is an acknowledgment of fossil fuel as the main source of carbon dioxide emissions and there are mere promises to phase down the use of coal. But there are as still no clear provisions for systematically reducing the 84 per cent global usage of fossil fuel and for penalizing violations of agreement.
- Are there other organizations or movements across the globe that fight against climate injustice? How different is their approach from the national democratic forces who are also concerned about climate?
JMS: There are many people’s organizations and movements across the globe that fight against climate injustice. The majority of them condemn imperialism or monopoly capitalism as culpable for destroying the environment, degrading it and bringing about the climate crisis. They do not differ from the national democratic forces in the Philippines in waging legal political struggles against the imperialist powers and the local puppets and in demanding system change to solve the climate crisis.
However, in the Philippines, there is also a people’s democratic revolution trying to stop the imperialist powers from raking in superprofits by obliging the Philippines to import fossil fuel and allowing them to operate logging, mining and plantation companies that destroy and degrade the environment, deprive of the people of the land and poison the streams towards the landholdings of Filipinos.
There are similar revolutionary movements in other countries that have a strong component on environmental protection and defense of resources against imperialist plunder, such as in India and Kurdistan.
FF Question: Given the different approaches and ideologies, what is the best way to unite with the various organizations with the same goal?
JMS: There are wide environmental, social, economic, political and cultural grounds for uniting the various organizations which are for climate justice and system change against imperialism. We should not impose any ideology on them. It is enough that there is a focused concern about the climate crisis and unity is encouraged and developed on anti-imperialist and democratic grounds. Various organizations in various countries can have their strategy and tactics in struggle according to concrete conditions.
While we emphasize unity on climate justice and system change, it must also be noted that in certain advanced capitalist countries, there are a handful of NGOs that are well-funded by giant monopoly groups. They often join the calls for “climate justice” but limit their concrete demands to lobbying for profit-driven “green solutions” that are either nothing more than corporate PR green-washing campaigns, or to sell new kinds of lucrative investment such as super-expensive geo-engineering and carbon-capture projects, megadams. These are basically false solutions and must be exposed, although this does require patient research, mass education and information campaigns directed at many citizens groups that may find such solutions appealing.
- We saw that ILPS is present in Glasgow. As the Chairman Emeritus of the broadest anti-imperialist organization, can you enlighten us on the importance of building a broader unity of an anti-imperialist front in fighting climate change?
JMS: The ILPS was present in Glasgow in order to make its demands for solving the climate crisis and to call for a broad united front against the imperialist powers responsible for the climate crisis. Building a broader unity in an anti-imperialist front in solving the climate crisis is highly important and indispensable for the survival and social progress of humankind.
The climate crisis is not just some transient problem but has become almost as wired into the imperialist system as its other fundamental self-contradictions such as financial crises, wars, fascism and national oppression. It may well be an important arena in the forthcoming people’s battles against imperialism. The ILPS’ commitment to address the imperialist roots of the climate crisis is a strategic decision that is consistent with its program and constituency.
- Why is the Philippines the second on the list of the most dangerous countries to be environmental activists? Who are these environmental activists, and what kind of intimidation do they face?
JMS: According to Global Witness, as of 2020, the Duterte regime was responsible for killing extrajudicially 227 defenders of the land and environment. These are people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate. They include social and religious activists and indigenous people resisting the drive of the regime to auction off land and natural resources to foreign monopoly companies.
The regime is at the forefront of the most rapacious and powerful exploiters, which include not just these foreign companies but also their big comprador-landlord-bureaucrat capitalist allies that benefit from the landgrabbing and plunder. Thus, the forces of coercion and intimidation are not just the regime’s military and police forces, but also various kinds of private armies, security agencies, and hired killers.
FF question: What does this say about the political situation in the country?
JMS: The political situation in the Philippines is worsening rapidly because Duterte is carrying out a policy of state terrorism under the so-called Anti-Terror Act which he railroaded last year in order to accelerate the red-tagging of all his opponents and critics and frame them up for abduction, torture and murder.
Duterte is also using drone surveillance, attack helicopters, artillery and aerial bombs to attack indigenous communities and other upland peasant settlements which are considered by the military as guerrilla bases of the New People’s Army. These attacks on civilian communities are in gross violation of human rights and international humanitarian law and are intended to grab the land for the benefit of foreign and local mining, logging and plantation companies.
- Has it always been like this for the Filipino environmental activists? How did the US-backed Duterte regime aggravate their situation?
JMS: The Duterte regime has been the worst assailant of the land and environmental defenders and the indigenous people since the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship. I have already referred to the hundreds of land and environmental defenders that he has butchered and the indigenous and other upland peasant communities that he has indiscriminately bombed.
It is remarkable that Duterte had at first appointed Regina Lopez, a highly dedicated and much-admired environmentalist who was very vocal against corporate mining and other ecologically destructive projects, as his Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources. Then Duterte figuratively stabbed her in the back by allowing her appointment to be bypassed by the Commission on Appointments. Not yet one year into her DENR post, but already undertaking some very positive pro-environment measures, Lopez was unceremoniously replaced in 2017 by one of Duterte’s trusted henchmen, ex-AFP chief of staff and retired general Roy Cimatu.
Duterte quickly lifted the official ban on new mining agreements (EO 79, issued by then President Benigno Aquino III in 2012). Under his new EO 130 and a militarized DENR, foreign mining firms rapidly expanded their operations, including brazenly illegal magnetite (black sand) quarrying operations by Chinese firms. Military operations quickly intensified, especially in Mindanao where many rural communities had been strongly opposing the destructive mines.
Indeed, the peasant activists in the Philippines are at the forefront of the struggle against the climate crisis. The mass activists learn from the peasant masses first their conditions, needs and demands and thus they know how to avoid the technical jargon of scientists, discuss the climate crisis in understandable terms and succeed at their educational and propaganda work on the subject.
- The peasant activists in the Philippines are at the forefront of the struggle against the climate crisis. The discussion on climate is loaded with technical jargon; how do the mass activists conduct education and propaganda on this subject?
JMS:The important thing is that the peasant communities’ daily concerns are explained in ways that show how these are linked to scientific concepts such as climate-change phenomena. Ordinary people can readily connect worse floods, typhoons, droughts, even infestations, to climate change when the causal links are explained in simpler terms. Peasants and indigenous peoples are in fact more observant because their production and daily lives are tightly intertwined with natural cycles and specific ecosystems.
FF Question: How can the petty bourgeoisie help in education and propaganda work?
JMS: The petty bourgeois with formal education from the bourgeois universities can help a lot in education and propaganda work if they learn to distinguish the pro-imperialist and reactionary ideas from the correct ideas that he can begin to learn from social investigation and from the masses. He can advance wave upon wave in gaining correct knowledge through the continuous interaction of revolutionary theory and practice.
All scientific questions that involve fairly recent discoveries and technology applications, especially those that impact on people’s health, daily lives and livelihoods, must of course be first correctly understood and validated by leading activists, through their own rigorous research and social investigation. This is what differentiates revolutionary activists from sleek demagogues. An alliance between science and activism can make sure that such understanding is brought to public awareness leading to effective mass response.
The Philippine mass movement has no lack of such a scientific mass base. There has long been close cooperation on environmental issues by scientists, research institutions, NGOs advocating ecology issues and people’s rights, and mass organizations, and allies in the academe like in the AGHAM, mass media, even Churches and local officials. Let us recall, for example, the sudden rise in public consciousness about climate change in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda, when the entire world’s focus was on Philippines as one tragic example.
Through the correct approach and persistence in mass education and propaganda, key scientific terms can soon escape the jargon-house, become part of popular usage, and represent a higher level of mass understanding about important social issues. Just consider, for example, how epidemiology terms and scientific debates have become part of the global public awareness in just the past two years of the Covid pandemic.
- How should the mass organizations proceed now that the Glasgow conference has been concluded? How can we ensure that it won’t be another Kyoto Protocol or Paris Agreement – a band-aid solution.
JMS: The mass organizations dedicated to system change and solving the climate crisis should persevere in arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people to condemn the continuing attempts of the US and other imperialist powers to prevent real solutions to the climate crisis and continue to take superprofits from dependency on fossil fuel.
At the same time, they must also expose and oppose the many schemes by big-tech monopolies and big-finance groups for riding on popular “green technologies” but only to strengthen their monopolies, open up new investment niches, and rake in more superprofits, while hiding the fact that they still remain dependent on fossil-fuel corporate consumers (both upstream and downstream on the supply chain).
- What about the revolutionary movement, not just in the Philippines but around the world. How can they unite to end climate imperialism?
JMS: There are already international anti-imperialist and democratic united front organizations like the ILPS, ICOR and others which are uniting to fight and end climate imperialism.
The revolutionary movements around the world are of course not the only ones that are fighting to end imperialism as the historical cause of global warming in the industrial era. In recent years, millions have marched in the streets to protest the weak, obscurantist and evasive responses of imperialist states to the climate problem.
Like I said in response to some earlier questions (Questions 8 and 9): There is a great need for a broader unity in fighting climate imperialism. The workers’, peasant, youth, women and indigenous peoples’ movements have important roles to play in giving sustained power to this important area of struggle, so that it is not limited to lobbying the UN and holding ritualized protests during COP meetings.
- What about in the Philippines, Tito. How can National Industrialization and Genuine Agrarian Reform ensure the safety of our country against imperialist plunder?
JMS: First of all, there must be full national independence. The Filipino people and their revolutionary forces must achieve national liberation from imperialism and the puppet reactionary forces before there can be genuine land reform and national industrialization.
At the same time, national liberation must be powered by genuine popular sovereignty, or people’s democracy in the various fields, to ensure that imperialism and its local reactionary forces cannot easily launch a comeback, or engineer disruptions that will sabotage land reform and national industrialization.
- Does CPP-NDF have a specific program addressing the climate issue?
JMS: Yes, of course, the CPP and NDFP have a program of wisely utilizing the natural resources and promoting a clean and healthy environment. They are against the imperialist powers and their puppets continuing to plunder and degrade the environment and take out our natural resources as they please. When they are already in power, the CPP and NDFP will take care to protect the environment and use the natural resources without ruining and degrading the environment and without contributing to the climate crisis.
In the context of the aborted NDFP-GRP peace talks (2016-2018), the NDFP was able to forge a comprehensive draft CASER that proposed a number of provisions on ecological protection. These could have been implemented upon the advance of the talks, even as these need to rely on the strength of other socio-economic, political and constitutional reformsconomic , especially on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and National Industrialization and Economic Development as the pillars of socio-economic reform.
FF Question: How is it being implemented then?
JMS: The CPP, NPA and the NDFP are now waging a people’s democratic revolution to fight and stop the imperialist powers and their local puppets from plundering and destroying the environment with their open pit mining, logging and monocrop plantations and from perpetuating dependency on imported fossil fuel.
Inspired and strengthened by the CPP-led forces, and often taking the cue from the pro-environment policies and program of the NDFP, so many communities, groups, and activists of all colors have in fact been launching mass struggles to oppose specific cases of environmental destruction. So many environmental NGOs, institutions, and allies have been supporting them and defending them against state repression. In that sense, the climate-justice movement in the Philippines is not just a CPP-led mass struggle, but a broad movement by the entire people.
- Tito, lastly, can you tell us how will the world be in a socialist society. What is the future of our planet in a socialist society? How significant is our fight to end capitalism in building a better planet?
JMS: The world will be fundamentally better when the world capitalist system is ended and socialism reigns. In fact the end of capitalism in the entire world will usher in communism, a classless society. In the meantime, the proletariat is striving to win socialist revolution in various countries before monopoly capitalism can be totally ended. The Filipino proletariat and entire people are now struggling to win the new democratic revolution and proceed to the socialist revolution. They are thus making a significant contribution to the world proletariat revolution for socialism and communism.
The world has had ample experience of socialist construction in the Soviet Union (1917-1956), Maoist China (1949-1976), and in several other countries where proletarian parties won political power, to prove the assertions of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao about the socialist system providing the best conditions for ensuring ecological balance and sustainability. Mao displayed the most advanced understanding in this regard, especially in his work “On the Ten Great Relationships” and in pushing for state policies which advanced that framework. From the 1950s until 1976, China has offered a pioneering and shining example of how to rapidly build a modern socialist economy by “walking on two legs” (i.e., combining collectivized agriculture and modern industry), achieving zero-waste levels of production, encouraging thrift and eschewing waste and profligacy.
Socialism upholds the primacy of social benefit (as against the capitalist profit motive) and provides central economic planning. This removes the root cause of capitalism’s systemic crises of overproduction and destructive competition, allows for appropriate balance among the various components of the social economy. Socialist culture encourages a high level of commitment among the people to nurture their homeland and its resources for the benefit of future generations. Most importantly, the scientific outlook of proletarian ideology combines advanced theory with people’s practice, relies on mass initiative to solve problems, and encourages self-criticism to point out weaknesses and provide lessons—which are crucial for a socialist society to face the scientific challenges of climate change.###