GUEST BLOG Comrade Dave Brownz – Climate Crash: The case for Survival Socialism



The recent news about the lack of ice in the Arctic has “shocked” mainstream climate scientists even if a few have been predicting such abrupt changes for years. Paul Beckwith is one of the latter. His work focuses mainly on the Arctic only because the changes there are critical to whether we can stop a climate death spiral or not. As he says “What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic, unlike Las Vegas.”

So, we face a climate change emergency that could end the existence of the human species. Why is it an emergency, and why is Beckwith’s Three-Legged Barstool strategy a logical response? Will it work? Who can say until it is tried. But it won’t be tried until we have overthrown capitalism and created a new society based on restoring a harmonious relationship with nature.

Now that climate science is catching up with events, it is time to look more closely at Beckwith’s proposals on how to stop it. It becomes clear that even to try to implement his geoengineering solutions, we have to overthrow the capitalist system which has no interest in spending the billions needed to try out these solutions. So, let’s assume that everyone now agrees that abrupt climate change is upon us and we are about to “fall off the cliff”.

We should all know by now why the Arctic ice is critical to climate change. If not watch Beckwith’s video. Beckwith “builds the scientific case for being in a climate change emergency.” The build-up of CO2 and Methane in the atmosphere and oceans is occurring at an increasing exponential rate”. The consequences are the slowing of the jet streams that allow warm air to reach the pole in winter which melts the ice and creates a positive feedback system that creates more global warming. He predicts the end of Arctic ice by 2020. The resulting breakup of climate patterns around the globe is what is causing the dramatic increase in extreme weather events.

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Can we stop it?

Responses to the threat of climate change are now less about whether it is happening, and how fast, but what to do about it. These responses fall into three broad categories:

(1) The dominant capitalist discourse, of leave it to the market. A good example is the shift from coal to Natural Gas (methane). Far from a ‘clean’ alternative Methane is several times worse than coal in rapidly raising global warming. Under market rule, not until the costs of climate change threaten already weak profits will any significant shift from burning carbon take place. China is a case in point. Now a global capitalist power competing on with other imperialist powers, China has moved to cut coal burning. But this is far short of what is needed to stop rising CO2 in time.

(2) The second response is to recognise that climate change is abrupt (posing the possibility of human extinction with decades), and that short of a total collapse of industrial/capitalist society, cannot be stopped. Those who take this view divide into those who pin their hopes on such a collapse and those who hold no such hope. Guy McPherson (currently touring NZ) is an example of a ‘maverick’ early-warning scientist who thought that the GFC of 2008 might bring about a collapse of industrial society. When the banks were bailed out he gave up that hope and now argues that there is nothing we can do to stop human extinction, so it is best to prepare ourselves for the inevitable ‘going dark’.

(3) The third response is that abrupt climate change can be stopped by emergency geoengineering techniques that slow down and reverse global warming before it is too late. Of those who think this is possible there are those who look to capitalist society to leap into action to implement urgent solutions, and those who think that capitalism is part of the problem and will have to be removed before any solutions are tried. Beckwith falls into the first category but has doubts about how capitalism can respond in time. Let’s look at his ‘Three-Legged Barstool” metaphor for a geo-engineering strategy to see if his pessimism is justified. For Beckwith, the three legs of the stool each stand for a major intervention to (a) stop carbon/methane emissions; (b) restore Arctic (and Antarctic) ice in winter; (c) reclaim carbon from the atmosphere and oceans. If you want to know what these interventions involve, check Beckwith’s explanation here.

Reform or Revolution to fix the climate?

Like Beckwith there are those who share his optimism that such interventions could work, and that they would require a major transfer of GDP from military and other budget items into emergency climate rectification programs. They also share his pessimism about whether they can be funded in time by the existing capitalist economies. Marxists understand that the capitalist market does not produce commodities unless it can make a profit. The market cannot respond to a global climate emergency, nor can capitalist governments which serve the capitalist ruling class act collectively for humanity when its own class interests are paramount.

Beckwith argues we need a new Manhattan program or Marshall plan to mobilise the resources. But war is not a good analogy because of its proclaimed defence of national interests from which the arms industry profits. So, it is not a question of fatalism of the ‘doomers’ or the pessimism of climate activists like Beckwith that is critical. The question becomes, if not capitalism, what social system can be created in time to act against climate collapse?

Let’s see what would have to happen to stop climate change in time. The capitalist ruling class will not allow their profits confiscated to fund climate action. Its motivation is to protect and increase its historic accumulation of capital. So not only are capitalists living off centuries of stolen wealth, they will risk the destruction not only of the climate, but the habitability of the planet necessary for the working class to survive to create the surplus-value needed to maintain and increase their wealth.

Would a social- democratic majority government make any difference compared with those of right wing deniers like Trump? No. The political program of social democracy is to nationalise the private property of capitalists only as a subsidy to all capitalists. What social-democratic government would implement taxes against the rich or against polluters to raise the billions necessary for emergency climate action? Even if such a government was elected it would be on the basis of defending a threat to private property posed by a rising mass workers’ mobilisation to take power.

Survival Socialism

This is why more and more Marxists, and leftists in general, see socialism as the only road to human survival. First, to stop abrupt climate change bringing a destruction of nature and society and with it human extinction within decades, it will be necessary to expropriate the wealth of the ruling class, in particular the big banks and corporations, to pay for climate correction.

Second, since the ruling class will not agree to expropriation by legislating higher taxes etc., and will stage coups to remove leftist governments, it is necessary for the vast majority of workers to mobilise as an organised movement to take power; removing the capitalist ruling class and creating a workers’ state. A workers’ state that is based on the democratic will of the working people would immediately use the expropriated wealth to fund the massive geo-engineering interventions that are necessary.

Even if these desperate measures do not work in time, or only mitigate climate change partially, a socialist society is the only way to prepare for meeting the challenges of living in a post-capitalist world by prioritising what is necessary to ensure the conditions for human survival over the interests of warring nations and gangs of mercenaries, collapsing economies and social destruction. Better Red than Dead!


Comrade Dave Brownz is TDBs guest Marxist blogger


  1. Bloody good article Dave, we need a wake up call like Auckland being taken out by a monster Tornado/hurricane such as I saw as a kiwi living in Florida’s south east coast when Andrew came and destroyed a mid sized city of Homestead, not at the tome thought ton ever occur but it was was taken out after Hurricane Andrew causing $25 billion in that time in 1992.

    That should change peoples minds rapidly.

    • Most people living in Auckland carry on as usual, and do very, very little to address the causes of the human contribution to climate change. The many residents, including the many new migrants who have made Auckland their home, they do in their majority have their heads deep in the sand.

      I live in one of the outer central suburbs, and never have I ever really smelled so much in the way of almost permanent car exhaust fumes in the air, as I have this spring and now beginning of summer. This was never much noticeable before, but now it is, at least when there is little or no wind.

      The growing population of the sprawling city, the increase in car sales and the continued use of the private motor-vehicle, that is the cause for this now noticeable smell in the air. And traffic has increased substantially over the last 5 or more years, as too few use public transport, which also does not reach many areas, at least not frequently.

      Every day is the same, come morning, comes the rush hour, come late afternoon, comes the daily rush hour for people traveling home, also picking the kids up from school, doing shopping, and so forth.

      And the hybrid or electric vehicles are only used by a tiny minority of environmentally concerned or elitist drivers, who can spend that extra money on such cars.

      As long as we have this “growth”, still based on fossil fuel use, we will have no improvements in New Zealand, the government of course does as little as it can get away with. And the media only very rarely reports on the main causes of climate change.

      So there we are, heads deep in the sand, that is most. And when some say they care about the environment, they certainly do not match their words with action, that is most of them. A sad state of affairs.

  2. I have been warning about abrupt climate change since 2001. Nobody was interested when it was possible to do anything about it, and its now too late.

    Interestingly, when I talked with Paul Beckwith on the phone three years ago about the instantaneous multiplier for methane versus carbon dioxide he said he thought it was about 250, but wasn’t sure. Three years later still no answer. Beckwith is not a chemist, of course, and doesn’t seem to understand many of the important factors on our path to self-annihilation.

    Never mind, we know exactly where we are heading. It’s just the timing we’re not sure about. All the evidence now indicates some time between 2040 and 2050 for human extinction.

    • Stuff will happen before then.

      Climate change is not the problem but a symptom of many things changing with human “progress”.

      Growth is terminated by death.

      Population will shrink with the food supply.

      Industrialisation which has been a major destructive force is now faltering to soon peak by 2020 then fall away to approx two third of present output by 2030. It cannot carry on with depleted Non Renewable Natural Resources and other intertwined support of wasteful consumerism and fiscal empire over burden.

      By 2050 life as we know it will be all over replaced by a much grimmer struggle as a consequence of man’s stupidity. We will all pay for the deliberate greed and denial of a powerful ruling group..

      The deserve no homage nor respect they demand.

      The Earth has been over shot by human ignorance for many decades.

  3. I reckon that all talk about climate change is a waste of time, with this going on;

    I also ask, would some perhaps consider that shooting Donald Trump may do the world a great favour? I do not suggest this should be done, far from it, but the thought and consideration may make him caution his position.

  4. As Prof. McPherson has noted even the total destruction of industrialised society (the heat engine) would lead to a rapid warming due to the loss of masking particulate in the atmosphere (the dimming effect).

    After decades of living sustainably and “giving a shit” about the environment and climate change I now realise that our fate is sealed in a Darwinian way – humans simply cannot deal with long-term threats as we are hardwired to bias toward short-term threats.

    Nothing we do will change this inevitable outcome – this is Prof. McPherson’s message and one now that is impossible to argue against.

  5. Of course it is possible to argue against McPherson’s conclusions.
    His position is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
    We can only know if he is right by trying to stop reverse runaway warming.
    The protesters at Standing Rock are not doomsters.
    The rebels who fight Assad, Russia and the US have not turned their backs on theirs struggle to become doomsters.
    What we need is a commitment from worker activists in the main polluting countries to stop the big emitters.
    We know who they are, big oil and big chemicals.
    Here is Richard Heede on tracing greenhouse gases back to the monopoly emitters mainly oil majors cement makers between 1854-2010.
    A short list for expropriation, to shut down and make them pay for carbon extraction.
    We don’t need a UN resolution to hold these monopolies responsible for historic emissions.

  6. Obviously I agree with Dave that “the market” (corporate supremacy unregulated by democratic decision-making of any kind) will not magically fix a problem it has created and continues to make worse. Anyone who continues to deny this is just not in touch with reality, like anyone over 14 who still believes in Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny.

    Where I part ways with Dave is the idea that money is needed to fix the problem. Money is just a metaphor for the power to make people do stuff they wouldn’t otherwise do. It’s an obscure form of coercion, where an elite take away most people’s access to the common wealth of Earth, and offer to give some of it back to them if they do what they’re told.

    As the open source movement (among many others) continues to demonstrate, there are plenty of other ways to motivate people. How about we convince people to do stuff that sequesters carbon without being coerced (planting trees for permanent forests, converting farms to organic systems with carbon-rich soil etc)? How about we get to work figuring out how to provide them with housing, food, transportation etc (in zero-carbon ways of course) while they do it?

    Capitalism doesn’t need to be fought. Like the Matrix, it can only work for as long as people agree to participate in it, even if that agreement is at a near subconcious level. How about we offer post-capitalist alternatives that we can get started without having to fight other people or destroy everything that already exists first? That might be more appealing than trying to get people to arm themselves and fight the most militarized state machine in human history, don’t you think?

    Would it be socialism? Would it be “real capitalism” without corporate cronyism that utopian libertarians yearn for? Who cares what we call it. All isms are wasms. We’re in a climate emergency. Let’s just roll up our sleeves and start doing what needs doing.

  7. After 9/11 nothing few in US airspace.
    The polluting by products of jet travel reduced greatly and the
    average temperature went up over the USA by 1 degree.
    This became known as global dimming. Once the arctic ice goes there will be a boost to warming. This will increase the release of methane into the atmosphere.
    Global grain production is already under stress with current levels of warming. Any large increase will make grain production nonviable.
    When that happens 10.000 years of civilization [city based society] closes down. Now we are back to that dimming I mentioned earlier.
    This could commence within the next three to five years. The Arctic ice is going.

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