“The fight against climate change is also a class struggle”

Feb 17, 2022
We are in the middle of an ecological and social crisis and we have no other option than to organise ourselves to get out of this predicament. To reflect on this topic, ELA and the Manu Robles-Arangiz Foundation organised a training day within the Aldaketaldia 2022 initiative. Three people gave speeches: Ainhoa Plazaola –Head of Environmental Matters at ELA; Mikel Gómez –a member of the Sukar Horia initiative and Yayo Herrero –an engineer, researcher and eco-feminist activist.


Ainhara Plazaola emphasised that the climate or ecological emergency is a concept that we have internalised, as have the institutions, although this might only be for propaganda reasons. “Unfortunately, as time goes by the situation is getting worse, the effects produced by these phenomena are getting closer and becoming more and more serious. We are not just talking about floods or droughts, but the worsening living conditions of the working class, along with job insecurity. When we say that climate change and the ecological emergency are a question of class, this is what we are talking about.”

Mikel Gómez talked on behalf of Sukar Horia, a group aimed at fair ecological transition. Before analysing its proposals about the ecological transition he gave a few notions about the energy crisis. For example, he underscored the fact that we are at the beginning of the end of an era: the era of cheap, plentiful energy. “Our generation is the one that consumes the most energy in history. Most of the energy that is consumed comes, with a large difference, from oil. And today, oil is irreplaceable. Every now and then we are sold a kind of magical solution, but oil has no replacement. Many people have put their hopes on technological development, but today, there are no technological miracles.”

He also analysed the consequences of the increase in temperature being experienced by the Earth. The experts say that the Earth’s temperature could rise by four degrees before the end of the century. “It seems that the end of the century is a long way away, but the children who are born today will live through the end of the century. Rising four degrees does not mean that if today the temperature is 12 degrees, at the end of the century it will be 16. We must compare the planet with the human body. What happens to us when our body temperature goes up four degrees? There you have your answer. In the case of the Earth, we must also be clear that the consequences would be irreversible.”

Mikel Gómez emphasised that the fight against climate change is also a class struggle. “The planet can meet everyone’s basic needs, but there is not enough to generalise the lives of the middle-high classes in the North. To guarantee everyone’s needs, we will have to share out increasingly scarce resources like never before, expropriating the large landowners. Additionally, we must call into question the primacy of private property and the market and strengthen other routes to meet the needs: common goods, public services, shared consumption... With the idea of reducing and sharing, we have good reasons for collaboration between the ecologist movement and the workers movement.”

Of course we will have discrepancies. For example, reducing contaminating industries and the infrastructures could cause job losses. We cannot forget, however, that other jobs can be created using the resources in other places. Additionally, today’s jobs are not going to carry on for long if the ecological base continues to be eroded. With the long term in mind, the contradiction is not between workers and ecologists, but between the interests of today and tomorrow. Therefore, environmentalism must always bear in mind the class perspective in order to not support regressive steps in the name of the environment, while the workers movement must be alert to not justifying destruction in the name of employment.”

Yayo Herrero started by recalling that in spite of the fact that the conventional economy forgets it, we completely depend on nature. “There is no economy or technology without nature and nature and the planet are finite. In appearance, the concept is simple. If the conventional economy needs to increase the extraction of natural assets in order to grow, but the goods are at breaking point, there is a problem; although it is a problem that transcends the well-known debate of climate change. “The challenge is not only climatic or social, we are faced with a civilisation crisis. What is at risk is not the planet, but rather human lives,” Herrero affirms.

She recalls that the rich countries exceeded the extraction limits in their own territories some time ago. The peak in conventional oil was reached in 2005; the maximum peak for all oils, in 2018; and of all possible energies, in 2020. “This has some terrible consequences in a world that eats oil,” Herrero underscores. She gives an example. “If all the planet led the same lifestyle as in the Basque Country, or in Spain, we would need three planets. If we are talking about the way of life in Norway or Switzerland, we would need four.” She warned that the highly acclaimed green economy – in the case of Switzerland or Norway – is based on relocating, “a colonial, unfair dynamic.” Therefore, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Afghanistan… have become the headquarters of the large western transnational extractionist companies that base their wealth on the impoverishment and destruction of poor countries and their inhabitants.

In view of this, Yayo Herrero is categorical: a downturn is not an option, but an unavoidable fact. She affirms that negationists do not exist, rather there are negationists of social justice and equality. “We are going to decrease, the question is how we are going to do it; by fair means or foul.” When she talks about doing it by foul means, she mentions directly (not without first warning that she intends to provoke those attending a little), fascism. “Maintaining certain lifestyles in wealthy, western countries means plundering other territories and marginalising and even leaving to die, those who live there.”

On the other hand, accepting the decrease “by fair means” involves recognising that the way of life that we have led up to now has put us at risk. It also means assuming that sustainable development, promoted at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, is no longer enough.”

In this way, she emphasises three basic principles that must govern this unavoidable downturn. In the first place, what she calls the principle of sufficiency, that is to say, to assume that some will have to let go so that others can receive. She talks about asymmetric responsibilities. In the second place, she assures that a redistribution of wealth and of obligations is urgent. When she talks about obligations she mentions caring for life, a task that corresponds to everyone: administrations, society, a task that historically has fallen to the women. In the third place, Herrero mentions care of life. She talks about sustaining life as a lever for the organisation of common life, where institutions, trade unions and society play essential roles. “There are debates that are inseparable. Managing to contain the end of the world that we are on the way to achieving if we don’t change and managing to make our pay cheques last to the end of the month are two debates that converge; they cannot be separated,” she affirms. “We must talk about vital necessities and about the limits of the biosphere, at the same time,” she underscores.