Climate Imperialism and the Movement
The Copenhagen conference failed to produce anything remotely resembling a solution to the climate crisis, but it also failed from the perspective of the US ruling class. The US and other capitalist powers had planned to produce an agreement that would maintain their global dominance while undermining the development of their biggest competitors, pushing as much of the burden of emissions reduction as possible onto the neo-colonial world, and just generally forcing the rest of the world to clean up after their mess. They didn’t succeed—to the credit of the protestors outside the gates and especially of the bloc of poorer countries, who would not tolerate the US’s manipulations.
It’s no longer possible to ascribe the insufficiency of US climate policy to a lack of “political will” or ignorance of the dangers. There was plenty of “will” to go around, as seen in the now-infamous “Danish text”, the imperialist countries’ dream climate treaty, which would have imposed identical emissions targets on rich and poor countries and taken oversight of the carbon emissions accord out of the hands of the UN. In the refusal to do anything without China agreeing to binding emissions cuts, in the rejection of climate reparations by the US negotiator, and in the announcement of 10 Democratic senators that they would not vote for any climate treaty that would harm US business interests, the American ruling class aimed to impose its vision of a climate treaty on the world, and to sabotage any treaty that did not suit its needs.
In short, the failure of the Copenhagen conference was due to imperialism. Global warming is not just a side effect of capitalism; the climate crisis is clearly now an arena in which imperial conflict actively plays out. This means that the climate justice movement must, in order to be effective, take an anti-imperialist approach, and socialists must integrate climate justice into our anti-imperialist work. It appears that the movement is already moving in this direction, spurred by the resistance of poor countries to the eco-imperialist assault. Some observers of the Copenhagen protests drew parallels with the iconic Seattle WTO protests, as developing countries sporadically boycotted the talks and some delegates walked out to join the protesters. The comparison is apt: once again an international movement is arising at the intersection of imperialism, exploitation, and ecological destruction. The climate justice movement could be the next global justice movement—will the socialist left keep up?