- Nick Kelly
from The Spark October 2007
On this year’s local body hustings, everyone is an environmentalist. All candidates want to be carbon neutral, and tell us we need to cut our energy consumption. So I finally decided to bite the bullet and watch Al Gore’s movie, An inconvenient truth: a global warning (2006).
Al Gore was a conservative Democrat US Vice-President under a regime that launched heavy attacks on US welfare, caused the deaths of over half a million Iraqi children, and reversed virtually nothing that had been introduced under the previous Reagan-Bush Republican administrations. In eight years as Vice-President, Gore did little to stop the environmental destruction caused by capitalism. And yet his movie is now hailed as holy scripture of environmental politics.
The movie is probably one of the most significant bits of bourgeois ideology to come out this decade. And like other bourgeois ideology it is based on at least surface-level reality. Gore talks of carbon-emission levels increasing at an unprecedented rate since the 1950s. He shows pictures of glaciers having significantly retreated in recent years.
The inside cover of the Inconvenient Truth DVD lists 10 things to do to stop climate change. These include “using less hot water”, “driving less”, “turning off electronic devices”, and other suggestions all aimed at getting people to consume less.
After a couple of decades of attacks on working people in the US, NZ and other capitalist countries to try and counter falling rates of capitalist profits, having an environmental movement calling on working people to cut consumption is anything but “inconvenient”.
The fundamental problem is that capitalist production is to create profit rather than to meet human need. It is this, not the amount of water a worker uses in the shower, which is the cause of pollution, increased carbon emissions, melting polar ice caps and other destruction to the environment. But this isn’t the message Al Gore or other “Green capitalists” are putting forward.
In the movie, Gore compares the profits of Japanese car manufacturers Toyota, who have produced more fuel-efficient cars, and US manufacturers Ford and GM, who haven’t. The result was that internationally Toyota’s profits have increased, while Ford’s and GM’s have fallen. Gore argues that governmental restrictions and regulations on carbon emissions such as those suggested by the Kyoto Protocol, which the US hasn’t signed, could actually benefit the US capitalist class.
The true nature of Al Gore’s politics comes through at the end, when he gives examples of people changing the world in the past. The movie cuts to shots of people smashing down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Al Gore’s voiceover talks of how “people smashed down communism” and then suggests humans can over come climate change in the same way they overcame this earlier “evil”.
In the coming years, the politics of climate change and environmental politics are going to dominate the political stage. The emerging capitalist consensus on this issue will be coupled with attacks on people’s standard of living, using it as an excuse for increased user-pays such as water metering, and user taxes like petrol taxes - none of which will do anything to stop the capitalist system’s damage to the environment.
The task for socialists is to expose “Green capitalism” and its supporters at every opportunity, and show that those wanting to end the destruction of the environment should be looking to overthrow the system - not taking shorter showers.