How class oppression drives climate crises

By Mirinda Crissman
April 27, 2022

Originally published in Sept. 30, 2020, this article is even more timely after Earth Day 2022. The U.S. proxy war in the Ukraine — and the continuing COVID-19 crisis — are being used by the Biden administration to excuse backing away from environmental promises of the 2020 campaign trail. 

Credit: Arctic Angels

After pledging to make the U.S. carbon neutral by 2050 and to exempt federal lands from drilling, Biden has auctioned off large swaths of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico to oil companies eyeing profits to be made, since Russian oil is under U.S. sanctions. Global supply chain problems during the pandemic are pushing manufacturing back into the U.S., with accompanying capitalist pressure loosening environmental safeguards. Crissman indicts this “greed and violence of a few hurtling us all toward environmental collapse.”

Climate emergencies and U.S. imperialism have quite a bit of overlap. Both are increasingly displacing the living at home and abroad on an almost unbelievable scale.

These conditions are creating migrants and refugees, who have to stay on the move to survive. To stave off climate annihilation induced by capitalist crisis, priority must be given to Indigenous land stewardship, food sovereignty for the masses and abolishing debts.

Displaced people and migrants in general are falsely blamed for much of the world’s scarcity. But there are more than enough resources to go around to take care of everyone. Scarcity exists because a handful of people own, hoard and amass wealth at the expense of the people who created it. While this small ruling class is the source of much suffering, hundreds of years of individualistic social conditioning in capitalist society obscure the fact that more people are closer to poverty than they will ever be to becoming millionaires.

The displaced migrants face food insecurity, unemployment, homelessness and lack of adequate health care, water, electricity and sanitation, among other issues. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 40 million people in the United States — the richest country in the world — find themselves on the brink of homelessness and facing many of the exact same conditions migrants face globally.

Military, police and climate emergencies

What the U.S. military does abroad, internal law enforcement like police do to people at home. They will forcibly displace people, whether through armed force or eviction notice, so that the ruling class can make another dollar.

Also increasingly displacing those living at home and abroad are climate emergencies. Rising global temperatures from capitalist production on stolen land — particularly overproduction and overreliance on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas — have led to extreme weather. Wildfires and hurricanes are becoming more and more frequent in displacing the living.

Native people successfully practiced stewardship of these lands for thousands of years with controlled burns and sustainable agriculture. Their forced displacement was a driving, if not the major, factor in producing misery in order to profit the few.

Land mismanagement and rising temperatures have led to drier forests and deserts primed for fire and dust storms, as well as an increase in heat energy released via hurricanes. Excessive capitalist oil production pollutes and heats up the air — which has no borders — and the waters and land. Fractured earth, ruined natural springs and aquifers, inland flooding, melting ice and rising sea levels are all “gifts” from colonial land mismanagement.

The U.S. military is one of the world’s largest consumers of oil. This armed body is guilty of displacing the living by driving climate crisis in its consumption of fossil fuels — in addition to displacing the living through violent, antagonistic conflict.

A recent report put out by Brown University’s Costs of War project conservatively estimates that U.S. wars since 9/11 have forcibly displaced at least 37 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya and Syria. This exceeds those displaced by every earlier war since 1900, with the exception of World War II. Other data suggest that the total displaced by U.S. post-9/11 wars could be closer to 48 to 59 million people.

Deaths from imperial intervention, in addition to direct combat, have been calculated to be as high as 3.1 million, with injured and traumatized folks extending into the tens of millions. (, Sept. 21, 2020)

The greed and violence of a few is hurtling us all toward environmental collapse. More and more of us will find our situations resembling the struggle of migrants globally. There are millions, even billions, of us whose collective survival depends on our ability to remake the world. What has been built by colonizers can be dismantled.

Capitalists have been “stewards” of the planet by force only in recent history. Indigenous peoples were true stewards of the land, living in harmony for thousands of years before all this destruction. And they know how to do it again.

Abolish private property on stolen land! The earth can provide for everyone’s basic human needs. Given all that we are facing with the many crises of capitalism, there is much work to be done. As long as work is dictated by what makes bosses and the ruling class money, people’s needs won’t be met. And we will see more forced migration and misery.

Engaging in explicitly anti-colonial projects is the way forward. And we can look to those who have successfully begun to do so, like Thomas Sankara.

Thomas Sankara and agroecology

Dr. Amber Murray explains: “The revolutionary transformation of the West African country Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (what is known as the August Revolution of 1983) occurred during a previous neoliberal crisis, that of the 1980s African debt crisis. Sankara vehemently and publicly denounced odious debt and rallied African political leaders to do the same.

“Sankara’s politics and political leadership challenged the idea that the global capitalist system cannot be undone. During four years as the president of Burkina Faso, he worked with the people to construct an emancipatory politics informed by human, social, ecological and planetary well-being.” (Pambazuka News, May 5, 2016)

One of the many successful projects spearheaded by Sankara in Burkina Faso included the centering of food sovereignty through a system of agroecology. Agroecology encourages “power-dispersing and power-creating” communal food cultivation that enhances “the dignity, knowledge and capacities of all involved” and the regeneration of the environment. (From the documentary “Sur les traces de Thomas Sankara,” 2013) Other successful projects included the planting of 10 million trees across the Sahel, as a means of beginning to repair colonial suffocation that made the land more arid.

Sankara met an untimely demise, due to his revolutionary ideas and ways to remake the world. His spirit and ideas live on in revolutionary struggle that dares to win a world beyond the confines of capitalist-induced death.