Breathing is Getting Harder Under Capitalism

I have noticed how life has taken a toll on all of us. It’s getting harder to breathe each day because of the inequality and injustice we live under. Toxic pollution is hanging over our cities’, possessing a major threat to our health and the climate. We are slowly dying, capital is fueling the earth’s destruction.

Capitalism is deeply rooted in the the exploitation of nature, either as an unlimited supply of resources to produce a product or as a waste dump. Under the capitalist system, production decisions are made by the small, wealthy minority that owns and controls The growing concentration of the world’s wealth.

Oxfam said the wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in 2018 – or $2.5bn a day. The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population. The study also said 2018 had been a year in which the rich had grown richer and the poor poorer.

The widening gap is hindering the fight against not only poverty but the number of vulnerable people who will be affected by toxic -air pollution. From the capitalist point of view, it is generally less expensive to dump pollutants into the environment than to fund pollution-control equipment or pollution-free processes. It is more profitable to continue energy production as toxic as it is rather than invest more heavily in solar, wind, or other alternative green energy sources.

Clean air is a fundamental right. Yet, millions of people are denied that right every day in communities across the country as dirty capital industrial plants blanket schools, playgrounds, and homes in layers of pollution.

Toxic air has been causing more premature deaths than unsafe water or childhood malnutrition on the continent while significantly contributing to the climate crisis. A report by UNICEF notes that deaths from outdoor air pollution in Africa have increased by 57% in less than three decades, from 164,000 in 1990 to 258,000 in 2017, resulting in a GDP loss of over $215bn annually. The pollution has also cut short the lives of children by 24 months.

A recent study from NASA states that pollution from industrial sources and motor vehicles causes high mortality rates in Nigeria and South Africa while emissions from burning biomass and poor air quality due to dust storms increase the number of premature deaths in West and Central Africa.

Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants, this air pollution is causing long-term health problems, such as asthma, and reduces children’s cognitive development.

Millions of people in South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan could see their lifespan cut short by five years on average because of the increasing levels of air pollution caused by capital.

Air pollution is also causing global warming. for example, Black carbon is produced by diesel engines, burning trash, and dirty cookstoves, which is extremely harmful when inhaled. According to an atmospheric scientist, black carbon and methane are responsible for 30-40% of global warming.

New data from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which converts particulate air pollution into its
impact on life expectancy, suggests that nearly a quarter of the global population that lives in four countries in South Asia are among the world’s most polluted. Citizens in these countries are exposed to pollution levels that are 44% higher than they were two decades ago.

Air pollution, acid rain, toxic landfills and toxic drinking water, industrial pollutants in our rivers and oceans, toxic or cancer-producing pesticides on the produce we eat, poisons in the fish we eat, unhealthy hormones and antibiotics in meat and dairy products, nuclear waste and accidents, radiation testing by the government on unsuspecting thousands, ozone depletion and global warming shows that socially harmful decisions are made to suit the financial needs of the businesses making them.

Capital’s need for constant growth has led to the interruption of the natural cycle that took millions of years to develop. With climate crisis posing a grave threat to our collective future, millions living below the poverty line, the economic and social shocks of the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment wave still resounding, Capitalism has shown us how exploitative it is for both people and the planet. It is driven by a desperate need for profit and accumulation. Which is the overriding priority.

Under capitalism, the government itself is essentially a tool of the capitalist class. Politicians may be elected “democratically,” but because they are financed, supported, and decisively influenced by the economic power of the capitalist class, democratic forms are reduced to a mockery.

Because of this, the world’s polluters remain stubbornly defensive of their profits. This will bear far greater costs in the present and future, the longer profit continues to be put before the earth, the greater the disastrous consequences for all of us.

Tackling pollution is a double opportunity, to not only fight for clean air but to also fight to dismantle capitalism. The best solution to pollution is to confront its main source of production. The solution to the crisis cannot emerge from the system that created it. We need to fight to put the earth and people first.

We need to put matters into our own hands by subjecting the world economy to a socialist plan, as Karl Marx said, through “the introduction of reason into the sphere of economic relations.” This will only be possible if the economy is in the hands of the only class that, as a result of its objective situation and material interests, has an interest in preventing a catastrophe: the working class.

 

Contributor: Orthalia Kunene

Orthalia Kunene is a mother, activist, feminist and writer based in Soweto.

Orthalia

Her journey started as a activist fighting for service delivery issues in Soweto, with an Organisation called Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Operation Khanyisa Movement. Her writing  gave her strength to not shy away from the truth, it gave her strength to hold local government accountable and to advocate for access to information and  transparency through addressing socio-economic issues; inequalities around gender-based violence and climate change.

She is currently volunteering for an Organisation called keep left, as a working group member, keep left is a revolutionary socialist organisation that believes in workers control of society and the means of production. She is also a volunteer at an Organization called Extinction Rebellion, a climate change Organisation that seeks to fight the climate crisis. Her main focus is on Climate change issues, gender inequality and addressing issues of capitalism and how it feeds on inequality – particularly in South Africa.

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