Translated from a leaflet distributed by socialists in France. Printed in the latest Socialist Standard.
The environment is not under threat from industrial production as such, but from this in the service of profit-seeking.
All forms of vegetable and animal life are part of a network of relations called an "ecosystem" in ecology. Normally this system is self-regulating to the extent that, if an imbalance develops, this is rectified spontaneously, either by the restoration of the previous balance or by the establishment of a new balance.
The problem is that there's been the industrial revolution: the pollution of water and the ground due to the massive disposal of toxic or non-recyclable wastes and to the use in intensive agriculture of chemical fertilisers, nitrates and pesticides; the pollution of the oceans due to the increase of maritime traffic, the flow from polluted rivers, the shipwreck of oil tankers (70 alone in 1996!), the discharge of toxic, chemical and radioactive waste, desludging at sea, etc; overfishing; the pollution of the air due to the massive use of fossil fuels, the development of the individual motor car, and the clearance by fire of forests (despite these being the lungs of the planet!); industrial accidents (Seveso (1996), Bhopal (1984), Chernobyl (1986), Toulouse (2001)); the emission of greenhouse gases (CO2) by petrol vehicles and factories, deforestation, leading to global warming and its consequences (rise in the sea level due to the melting of the icepack and of polar and continental glaciers, floods, desertification, storms); acid rain; extinction of living species; introduction of GM organisms; storage of nuclear waste; expansion of towns (where now more than half the world's population live).
And for a good reason! No State is going to implement legislation which would penalise the competitiveness of its national enterprises in the face of foreign competition. States only take into account environmental questions if they can find an agreement at international level which will disadvantage none of them. But that's the snag because competition for the appropriation of world profits is one of the bases of the present system. Attempts at international cooperation have already been made: the League of Nations, then the UN, for example, were set up to "maintain" peace. But the 20th century saw the most devastating and murderous wars in history!
No agreement to limit the activities of the multinationals in their relentless quest for profits is possible. Measures in favour of the environment (and the far-reaching transformation of the productive apparatus and transport system these imply) come up against the interests of enterprises (and their shareholders!) because by increasing costs they decrease profits.
Humans are capable, whatever the form of production, of integrating themselves into a stable ecosystem. That was the case of many "primitive" societies which coexisted in complete harmony with the rest of nature, and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, all the more so that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, waves, biomass, etc) but, for the capitalists, these are a "cost" which penalises them in face of international competition.
So it's not production as such (i. e., the fashioning of nature to meet human needs) which is incompatible with a stable balance of nature, but the application of certain productive methods which disregard natural balances or which involve changes that are too rapid to allow a natural balance to develop.
The preservation of the environment is a social problem which requires humanity to establish a viable and stable relationship with the rest of nature. In practice this implies a society which uses, as far as possible, renewable energy and raw material resources and which practises the recycling of non-renewable resources; a society which, once an appropriate balance with nature has been formed, will tend towards a stable level of production, indeed towards "zero growth". This does not mean that changes are to be excluded on principle, but that any change will have to respect the environment by taking place at a pace to which nature can adapt. But the employment by capitalism of destructive methods of production has, over two centuries, upset the balance of nature.
Whether it is called "the market economy", "economic liberalism", "free enterprise" or any other euphemism, the social system under which we live is capitalism. Under this system the means of the production and distribution of social wealth – the means of society's existence – are the exclusive property of a dominant parasitic minority – the holders of capital, or capitalist class – for whose benefit they are inevitably managed.
As a system governed by economic laws which impose themselves as external constraints on human productive activities, and in which enterprises are in competition with each other to obtain short-term economic gains, capitalism pushes economic decision-makers to adopt productive methods which serve profitability rather than concern for the future.
So it is not "Man" but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems. In fact, not only have workers no influence over the decisions taken by enterprises but those who do have the power to decide - the capitalists - are themselves subject to the laws of profit and competition.
Of course capitalism has sooner or later to face up to the ecological problems caused by the search for profit, but only afterwards, after the damage has been done. But the ecologists, so critical of "liberal" capitalism, accept, like all the other varieties of reformism, the economic dictatorship of the owning minority since they don't understand the link that exists between the destruction of the environment and the private ownership of the means of production. That is why the Greens were forced to make concessions when, from 1997-2002, they were part of the Jospin government: over the authorisations given by this government of the "plural" Left, in November 1997 and July 1998, for transgenetic maize, over nuclear questions and other matters, not to mention their complicity over "social" questions such as the suppression of 3100 jobs with the closure of the Renault factory at Vilvord or the repression of the occupation of employment offices by the unemployed in 1997, the closure of the naval shipyards in Le Havre in 1998, the calling into question of retirement at age 60 with a full pension, or the suppression of 10,000 hospital beds in the Ile de France in 1999, etc.
Because by definition capitalism can only function in the interest of the capitalists, no palliative, no rearrangement, no measure, no reform can (nor ever will be able to) subordinate capitalist private property to the general interest. For this reason only the threat of a socialist movement setting down as the only realistic and immediate aim the establishment of social property (hence the name socialism) of society's means of existence so as to ensure their management by (and so in the interest of) the whole community, would be able to force the capitalists to concede reforms favourable to the workers for fear of losing the whole cake.
So it is for building such a movement that we launch an appeal to all workers who understand the opposition and incompatibility of their interests with those of the capitalists, to all those who, concerned about the ceaseless attacks of which we are the victims and of the dangers to which the capitalists are exposing our planet, want not to patch up but to end existing society. Our numerical superiority allows all hope.
It is only after having placed the means of society's existence under the control of the community that we will be able to at last ensure their management, no longer in the selfish interest of their present owners, but this time really in the general interest.
Only then will we be in a position to achieve a world in which the present system of rival States will be replaced by a world community without frontiers, the rationing of money and the wages system by free access to the wealth produced, competition by cooperation, and class antagonism by social equality.
We can only "cure the planet" by establishing a society without private productive property or profit where humans will be freed from the uncontrollable economic laws of the pursuit of profit and the accumulation of capital. In short, only a world socialist society, based on the common ownership and democratic control of natural resources, is compatible with production that respects the natural environment.