Argue for Reforms: Fight for Revolution
In 1992 the Earth Summit met in Rio de Janeiro with the intention to signal that the World Governments now took environmental issues seriously. A total of 154 Countries signalled two ground breaking global conventions.
First a Climate Convention, with the industrialised countries pledging to peg emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, at 1990 levels by 2000.
Second, a Biodiversity Convention imposing a legal obligation on nations to conserve their indigenous plant, bird and animal life [Agenda is set for Earth Summit Follow up 23 June 1997, www.wwf.org.uk].
Here in Medway, Kent, UK - as a result of the Earth Summit, a Local Agenda 21 Group (LA21) was established. About the same time, I instigated the formation of Medway Pensioners Forum which became one of the LA21 forums. The other Forums were for Transport, Health, Waste and Countryside. A lot of work was done by these forums in addition to a lot of detailed policy analysis and proposals by the Local Authority.
What I learnt from the experience of these times was the need to argue for reforms, but also to fight for revolution. There was a great deal of cooperation between the various groups. But I also found a reluctance among some groups to join in activities initiated by the Socialist Workers Party, even when they were in agreement with what was being done.
The other problem I found was the difficulty in bringing together the LA21 Groups, the voluntary sector and the political organisations, all of which I was involved with. All this can be dismissed as personal and from a past age, however history has a habit of repeating itself, but in worse conditions.
In the immediate past, Climate Change became a key issue, affecting especially young people around Extinction Rebellion (XR). Scientific forecasts warned that the level of greenhouse gases was leading to a tipping point for the environment with the year 2030 a crucial time by which action had to be taken.
The actual situation is a lot worse than that to which the Governments had pledged in 1992. So indeed is the situation with regards to plants, birds and animals. We are heading for a third major species extinction.
I have recently subscribed to the magazine - 'Resurgence and Ecologist'. In this I find information about actions being taken, worldwide, to defend the environment, the green new deal, the planting of trees, in this issue particular attention is paid to the work that women are doing.
Here in Medway we have a small XR group seeking to link in with the work done elsewhere and to develop action in our own locality. It has not had time to grow nor has it had time to develop a political dimension. This along with with the Trade Union Group for Climate Change and other organisations working on behalf of the environment is extremely commendable.
But, and there is always a ‘But’, we see the same weakness that we saw in the earlier period of activity, in general the stress on reforms and individual actions. What is lacking is the general acceptance that the present economic system is based on a principle that is the basis of the problem, namely accumulation to accumulate for profit.
Suddenly, at the present time it appears as if this struggle for climate change is a distraction. We are faced with a global pandemic which is costing the lives of hundreds of thousand and affecting two million people worldwide [as at 14 April 2020, ncov2019.live].
I watched an interview with Bill Gates [Coronavirus:Bill Gates interview@BBC Breakfast - BBC – YouTube]. He made clear that, in 2015, he had warned of the risk of a pandemic, but had not been listened to. The investment that should have been made had not been made. He estimated that 5% of what should have been done was done.
Gates compared the response of Governments to their response to war, where they carry out simulations to deal with the many situations that could possibly occur. The risk of pandemics is greater that that of war, and yet there was very little preparation or planning of a similar kind carried out.
Gates noted that it was not considered to be worth the financial investment. He said that there is no private sector incentive to do such investment. People do not see this war as something to fund! He called for a global response. There is now a global response to get a vaccine, but also a wish that we had invested more to get the drugs and a vaccine. He raised issues about research, manufacture and distribution.
On the future Gates was more optimistic. Noting that the curve rises exponentially, he said that it was important to act at the beginning of the curve. It was his view that, although we were not ready for this pandemic, there are several stages to go through before we have a safe vaccine, we will be ready for the next pandemic.
Gates' expectation was that, with other things in place, diagnostics should be available within a month, therapeutics (all that is necessary to treat patients) within four months and a vaccine within a year. He commented that urgency did not allow for all the comprehensive testing that normally goes with a new drug would not in this case be possible. He considers that, eventually, the economy will return to what it was.
This interview is very revealing in what it says. There is a general view, being promoted, that we should all now get behind the Government - and leave scrutiny until it is over, and then we can study the lessons to be learnt. This to my mind is not good enough.
Looking at events in this country (the UK), it is clear that the people, on the whole, have led Government. They have seen what needed to be done and have acted. The Government has followed having initially adopted the concept of herd immunity.
Clearly such advice as hand washing, social distancing, keeping at home, and only going out when necessary, are all desirable actions to take. However, we are not all in this together. We should adopt a critical position with regard to Government and challenge their priorities.
Which leads us back to the statement I made earlier: argue for reforms, fight for revolution. Bill Gates said the warnings were ignored and provision not made. In fact, with austerity, cuts and privatisation in the Health Service, the health and social care provision has been severely weakened over the years.
As soon as events occurred in China, action should have been taken with regard to testing, contact follow up, provision of protective equipment, isolation where necessary, and the search for a vaccine. The Government was negligent in all of these areas.
Even now they are not in control of events nor informed of the details of who has or had the virus, to what extent different populations are affected, or even the numbers of deaths in hospitals, care homes and within the general public. Bill Gates made clear that the private sector has no incentive to act.
As well as demanding all necessary equipment and support for front line staff, we should be demanding that the needs of all citizens, especially the low paid and the vulnerable, are met. We should weep no tears for landlords but demand that rents are abolished during the crisis. There are many arguments to be made as to what is needed in the immediate present.
However, we cannot allow the economy to return back to ‘normal’ . Exploitation must cease. Capitalism has shown that it cannot prevent major crises. Revolutionary change is the only way forward to deal with the crises of the economy, Climate Change and the health pandemics; and to create a world in which we can all live in harmony with each other and with the natural world.
Ralph A Tebbutt is retired schoolteacher, and a lifelong socialist. He is now in his 80s. This article was written for theleftberlin.com.