Go Wellington versus environmental justice


Ian Anderson

The conduct of Go Wellington demonstrates the struggle between capitalism and environmental justice.

 Environmental justice refers not only to environmental impact, but the full participation of those affected. ‘Sustainability’ is the current buzzword amongst politicians, generally meaning the capacity of capitalist practices to dodge points-of-no-return for environmental reproduction. However, working people are disproportionately affected both by environmental degradation and capitalist solutions; as phrased by Karl Marx, “Capitalist production [works] by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the worker.”

Public transport is often touted as a solution, with companies such as Go Wellington subsidised by local government. This approach is insufficient, primarily serving capitalist ends. Resources must be managed in service of human and environmental need, rather than profit.

 One line currently popular amongst politicians goes, ‘You don’t have to choose between sustainability and profit.’ In fact, green practices can increase profit; avoiding waste cuts costs, and there are enormous PR advantages to going green.

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Socialism key to sustainability says Workers Party candidate

Workers Party media release

They key to creating an environmentally sustainable society is to put production in the hands of workers, says the Workers Party’s Christchurch Central candidate Byron Clark.

“Right now production is done for private profit, rather than human need, which means environmental concerns are secondary for capitalism.”

Clark is an environmental sociology student but has little time for “modern Luddites and doomsayers.” He is advocating ecological modernisation as the way to deal with environmental problems.

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The environment: a class issue

– Byron Clark

When environmentalists talk of ecological doomsday (real or imagined) it’s unusual for working-class people, or groups fighting for the working class, to respond. As Alan Roberts pointed out in 1979, in words that are even more relevant today:

“The bulk of the population of the underdeveloped world live continuously with the threat of doomsdays over their heads; but even in the supposedly ‘affluent’ societies, the life of the majority is hardly so unflowed that they can indulge in the luxury of anxiety over some remote apocalypse. There are threats much closer at hand, promising an equally drastic demolition of the world as they themselves experience it – for example, those that affect their productive activities: whether their health will survive over fifty years of working life, whether they will have a job next week, and whether, if they have a job, they will be able to drag themselves out of bed when the alarm clock rings.” (The Self-Managing Environment, p7-8)

Both liberal environmentalists and “workerist” leftists can develop a mistaken view that workers have no concern with environmental issues. Liberals then orient themselves to groups like students and more affluent sections of society, while leftists focus their energy on issues like wages and job losses.

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The environment – what do Workers Party candidates say?

– Byron Clark, Workers Party candidate for Christchurch Central.

As a Workers Party candidate in this year’s election, I am often asked for my opinion on environmental issues. These are important to me as a socialist, as environmental issues are also class issues.

Those who are suffering (and will potentially suffer most) from environmental damage are the poor and oppressed, especially those in the third world. With the climate warming, you get tropical diseases like malaria spreading further north and south, and rising sea levels causing island nations to depopulate, creating refugees. Changes in ocean temperature mean changes in fish migration and breeding, affecting what is a food source for a lot of people; and people world-wide, including in the first world, are currently suffering from rising food prices and lack of decent drinking water caused by drought.

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