On July 25th, the British journal Nature published an article predicting the collapse of the AMOC by the end of the century, and possibly as early as 2025. In just the month since then, the world has experienced rampant wildfires, record-breaking heat waves, and a host of other disasters that once again confirm the existence and consequences of man-made climate change.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is a system of ocean currents which transports hot, equatorial water north and cold, arctic water south across the Atlantic Ocean, warming Europe and the Mediterranean while cooling Central America and the Caribbean. The AMOC itself is a component of a larger system known as thermohaline circulation, which regulates land and ocean temperatures across the globe.
The AMOC functions as follows. As water evaporates at the equator due to heat from the sun, the salt which is left behind causes the remaining liquid water to become more dense, though the heat prevents this denser water from sinking. However, as this saltier water is driven north by wind currents, it cools down, while ice formation causes it to become even more salty and dense. The water sinks down to the bottom of the ocean and begins traveling south, eventually upwelling centuries later in the Antarctic, Indian, or Pacific Oceans.
Throughout recorded history, the AMOC has remained mostly stable, and therefore so has the Earth’s climate, with the exception of a brief cool period between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, with the rise of modern industry, the emission of greenhouse gasses due to the burning of fossil fuels has caused a sharp increase in global temperatures over this past century. As a result, massive quantities of freshwater ice, previously trapped in Arctic glaciers, have begun and continue to melt into the North Atlantic, mixing with the salt water to reduce its density and slow its flow from the surface to the ocean floor. Should this process continue—which, given the current state of global emissions, it definitely will—the AMOC could eventually shut down entirely.
Make no mistake, this shutdown will be catastrophic, both for humanity and for the Earth’s biosphere. Without the flow of the AMOC, warm water trapped in the mid-Atlantic will cause temperatures around the equator to skyrocket to unbearable levels, while cold water trapped in the Arctic will cause temperatures to plummet throughout Europe, as well as in northern Asia and America. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to flee from these regions, leading to a refugee crisis that will absolutely dwarf the Syrian crisis, while millions of non-human species will be driven out of their habitats and likely into extinction. Meanwhile, even in the temperate zone, temperatures will have shifted sufficiently enough to render millions of acres of land effectively nonviable for existing industrial agricultural practices, resulting in a collapse of global food production and famine on a scale unprecedented in human history. Needless to say, we are nowhere near prepared for an event like this.
So how do we prepare? What is to be done?
We need to fully acknowledge the reality of climate collapse, and I don’t just mean the reality of its existence. Earlier, I described climate change as “man-made,” but that isn’t precisely accurate. Yes, nearly all humans participate in maintaining and expanding the productive system which gives rise to global warming, but for the working masses, participation isn’t a choice. Workers must work to survive, and the only work to be found is in the very system leading us all to our doom. No, the real blame for our ongoing climate crisis rests with the rulers of this system, the owners of the means of production, the “people” who live only for the endless accumulation of profits. I am referring, of course, to the capitalist class.
The capitalist system is the source of climate change, and the monopolists who rule it are the ones responsible for it. The workers are simply the ones left to bear its greatest consequences. The climate crisis will not be ended by any form of capitalism, for environmental degradation is a necessary component of a system predicated on infinite growth. Further, the capitalists themselves, even with full knowledge of its unsustainability, have no interest in abolishing the system which gives them their power. Only through socialist revolution, through the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of communism, can we ever hope to find a solution that can halt environmental collapse and preserve life, human or otherwise, on this planet.
Thus, to acknowledge our situation means to acknowledge, not only that climate change is happening, but also that its cause must be found in the capitalist system, in the exploitation of the working class at the hands of the capitalist class. We must combat the myth that the crisis we face is a result of “human nature,” of the somehow innately flawed character of our species, rather than as the natural consequence of a system which exists solely for the benefit of an almost imperceptible minority. Moreover, we must combat the notion that we have passed the point of no return, that we are already doomed and should therefore stop struggling for our survival. To be sure, the crisis itself can no longer be averted, and billions of people are going to suffer its consequences. But the idea that, for this reason, we should give up hope and trudge passively into oblivion, is at best a “doomerist” excuse to shirk our responsibility to ourselves and our children, and at worst outright propaganda meant to keep us laboring right up until the moment of extinction. We must reject this reactionary pessimism and instead embrace revolutionary optimism, a belief in the power of the working class to seize a better future for humanity.
To prepare for this crisis, to combat climate change and the capitalist system, the international working class must be organized as an independent and unified political force. Salvation will not be found at the hands of the capitalists, as previously explained, but neither will it be found at the hands of the state, for in a capitalist society, the ruling government is necessarily a government owned by the capitalists. No amount of voting will ever reform the fundamental character of this system, for any such reform will immediately and mercilessly be squashed the moment it becomes a threat to profits of the monopolists. The established parties, whether they be Democratic, or Republican, or even “Communist,” will never challenge the power of the capitalist class in any meaningful way. Only a true and independent Communist Party, dedicated to the interests of the working class, can bring an end to the climate crisis that threatens our species.
Such a Party, made up of the most class-conscious workers and backed by the support of the exploited and oppressed masses, will have the power to wage a general strike against the monopolists, seize the means of production, smash the capitalist state, and bring an end to the rule of the capitalist class—to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. In its place shall stand the rule of the working class—the dictatorship of the proletariat—exercised through a new kind of state, a socialist state, which will unleash the productive forces of society and direct them towards fulfilling the real needs of humanity. Our extractive economy, based on exploitation and ceaseless “growth,” shall be transformed into a restorative economy based on cooperation and sustainability, for that is the only kind of economy that will allow us to survive any longer. The work will be hard, the sacrifices many, and even once we do succeed, the Earth’s biosphere will never be restored to what it once was. But for all we will have struggled for and lost, out of this great tragedy we shall emerge into a new world, a better world, where individuals can live their lives in harmony with the collective, where children can look forward to the future with excitement rather than dread. A human world, a green world.
A red world.