capitalism vs climate

I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson, 1954

Our world is changing. You know the signs:  extreme weather events on the rise, widening inequality, growing social and political unrest, less good jobs especially for young people, militarization of police forces, more wars, increasing surveillance.

Naomi Klein, Canadian author, journalist and activist tells us in her new breathtaking book, This Changes Everything (winner of the 2014 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction) that the world as we know it will soon transform, whether we like it or not. And it’s up to us what form it will take.

Can we agree that the climate is changing, humans have caused it, and that it poses an existential threat?

Countries have agreed to keep global average temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (anything higher is suicide). So far we’ve experienced an increase of 0.74 degrees Celsius over the past century (more than half of which occurred since 1979), and already we are seeing significantly more extreme weather events. No longer are we solely worried about the effects climate change will have on our grandchildren; suddenly it’s about how climate change will wreak havoc on our own lives.

Can we agree that global attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions have failed?

With all the dithering, we (predominantly the developed countries) have used up most of the atmospheric allowance for carbon dioxide emissions. In the November 2014 Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), over 800 scientists collaborated to say that the countries of the world now need to drop emissions by 40 to 70 percent between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero by 2100. That means we need to start now, and that most of the fossil fuel reserves on the books must stay in the ground. Meanwhile, Canada’s carbon emissions will balloon 38% by 2030, mainly due to tar sands projects, according to Environment Canada’s own projections. Clearly, we’re not getting the job done.

Why are we are locked into a destructive path, guaranteed to make Earth unlivable for all but a scant few?

Naomi Klein puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of capitalism.

Above and beyond any other responsibilities, corporate boards have a fiduciary duty to maximize profit for their shareholders, at any cost. You don’t have to look far to find stories of people who have been seriously harmed or killed by corporate activities with little or no recourse for redress (take the people in Fort Chipewyan downstream from the Alberta tar sands, for instance). Profit over life.

The corporate elite have bought and infiltrated politics. Their undue influence ensures that public policy is friendly to their cause. Marc Eliesen, a senior energy executive, publicly resigned on November 2 from the National Energy Board, tasked with reviewing the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project in BC, stating, “Continued involvement in the process endorses this sham and is not in the public interest.”  Profit over justice and equality.

Corporations control the message. They successfully co-opt big green organizations to greenwash their images and promote “climate solutions that adhere to market logic.” In other words, use the climate crisis as a public relations and marketing opportunity. And corporate control of media leaves it vulnerable to bias. Profit over truth.

You can’t blame corporations for being bad. Morality has nothing to do with it. They are doing exactly what they were designed to do, and doing it extremely well.

So let’s get real. Big business will not save us. Politicians will not save us. It’s up to us, the people, to force the change we need. For, either we change, or the climate does.

Naomi Klein has clear instructions for what we must do. Right now, first and foremost, we must delegitimize the burning of fossil fuels. That is the purpose behind the worldwide divestment campaign that urges social organizations like schools, churches, and municipalities, as well as pension funds and insurance companies to sell off their holdings in fossil fuels. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is an active divestment promoter. Let’s face it – if most of the reserves on the books must be left in the ground, then the stocks are over-inflated.

Can we change public opinion about the legitimacy of fossil fuels? The only comparable social movement was the abolition of slavery. Historian Eric Foner reveals that at the start of the Civil War, “slaves as property were worth more than all the banks, factories and railroads in the country put together.” They were considered the backbone of American wealth. Yet, abolitionists found the remarkable strength and courage to challenge this predominant world view. So, yes, it can be done.

Secondly, we must hit the streets in what Klein calls “extraordinary levels of social mobilization.We must find our moral voice and ensure that it is heard. On September 21, four hundred thousand people turned out for the People’s Climate March in New York City, the largest climate march in history, to demand action from public leaders. It was huge, although it garnered only minimal mainstream media attention. Still, it’s a sign of how willing people now are to take to the streets.

Taking the stuffing out of capitalism is our only chance to rein in run-away climate change. And if done right, could also bring about a more humane and equitable world. The time has come for the mother of all social justice movements. I hope to see you in the streets.

 “There is very good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism itself will no longer exist…” – David Graeber, American anthropologist, author, activist and Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics