Climate change deniers and slavery
Slavery as a mass trade in people only developed under capitalism.
The expansion of capitalism from its European heartlands around the world saw up to 15 million Africans stolen and sold into slavery.
The slave trade itself built profits for the traders.
Some trade burghers became very wealthy. Liverpool for example was established on the trade in people.
Slaves built the sugar and cotton industries around the world.
The United States would not exist as it is now without slavery. Its systemic racism today is a consequence of the slave trade and the industries built on it.
In other words there were deeply entrenched industries whose profits depended on the continuation of slavery.
They resisted change that threatened their interests, their profits.
Wage labour is more efficient and more profitable (as more surplus value can be extracted from wage labour) than slave labour.
The pro-slave faction of the ruling class resisted any attempts to restrict the flow of wealth to it through replacing salve labour with wage labour.
In the United States this resistance to wage labour led to civil war, with the more productive North eventually victorious.
It is common misconception that brave individuals like Wilberforce ended the slave trade. In fact the development of capitalism as a form of wage slavery challenged the more outmoded form of production.
Further, the development of capitalism could only occur in the context in Europe of revolutions against the old feudal order.
The progressive bourgeoisie emerged from the French Revolution with slogans of equality, liberty and fraternity. Napoleon took the modernising project across Europe with the force of arms.
In the US the colonists threw off the yoke of British rule and proclaimed all men to be equal.
Yet that equality was limited to those who belonged to the same social system, gender and often class, and were of the same colour. Slaves were not men.
In Haiti Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave rebellion that won freedom for the slaves from the British, the Spanish and the French.
The abolitionists in Britain took 50 years to achieve their aim, limited as it was to the United Kingdom and its colonies. As climate change threatens to produce tipping points that unleash forces beyond our imagination the earth does not have the luxury of time.
Even then, slavery was phased out over time and massive compensation paid to the slave owners. Sound familiar?
Those who profited from slavery used a whole range of arguments in defence of their interests.
There was n appeal to false science to show that the ‘different’ races were actually different species, with whites superior, of course. A subset of this was that slavery was good for slaves, much like some deniers who claim that CO2 emissions are good for us.
This appeal to false science finds echoes today in the climate change deniers claiming that the earth has actually cooled since 1998 or that sun spots are causing warming.
I do not need to make a distinction here between those who deny climate change is occurring and those who claim it is not caused by human activity. Both cases are rebutted by the vast majority of scientific research. Both cases rely on fake science and the false short term economic impacts of action to address change.
The pro-slavery profiteers scoured the Bible successfully for passages to support their position. Today the many political proponents of the irrationality of climate change denial appear to be spiritual irrationalists (for example Christians) too.
Like their forbears in the slavery debates, some argue that the Bible provides guidance to humanity’s relationship to the earth. For example in Genesis god told human beings to
fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every living creature that moves on the ground….I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.
Some deniers use these sort of statements to justify continued pollution as part of God’s grand plan.
The slavers also used economic arguments. Abolishing slavery would destroy the British economy; it would merely see the trade move to other countries; it would diminish the power of British capitalism round the world.
Sound familiar? The climate change deniers use exactly the same arguments.
Like the pro-slavers their arguments protect the profits of one corrupt and corrupting section of capital, in this case the polluters.
It’s time to consign climate change denialism and its enslavement of humanity to the museum of history.