Saving capitalism and maybe the environment too: how will you do it?

Published online 23 August 2015.

On one of those fun Facebook feeds I saw this piece, from HuffPo, April of this year:

Economic Collapse Will Limit Climate Change, Predicts Climate Scientist

What’s the fun passage in this one?  Here it is:

To wrap up the interview, I asked Christopher Reyer how much hotter he thought the planet would be by the year 2100. “I’m not sure,” he replied, “I’m not an expert on the policy side.” I persisted, asking him not for an official projection, just for his best personal guess, a single number. He visibly relaxed.

   “I guess it should be between three and four degrees hotter. We used to think that we were headed for +8°C, but that will never happen. We are not even on track for +6°C because economies will be collapsing long before we get there.

So even the climate experts, who aren’t likely to know much about the historical trajectory of the capitalist system, suggest that economic collapse is likely.But why bother with economic collapse?  There is, after all, a school of thought which suggests “degrowth,” a controlled reduction in total economic activity.  As the header says on the linked webpage: “Research and actions to consume less and share more.”  I suppose it’s a start, especially the “share more” part.

But you know what’s really important with our fearless oligopoly leaders?  Drilling for oil in the Arctic.  Is that our fearless President out there telling us “I’ve got this one”?

Here’s a fun one from back in July: “Fossil fuel industry must ‘implode’ to avoid climate disaster, says top scientist.”  Is this a serious notion in a world in which all the politicians are campaigning on platforms of “more of the same” or of “here’s a diversion”?

Here’s one way to deal with it: sue.  But this is just the response of a few people, and how much can the courts really do?  What’s needed is a general movement to phase out capitalism.

“Oh but we don’t have enough time,” say the false prophets of social transformation.  It’s not politically-expedient, they say, to get rid of capitalism; what we need is action NOW!  Never mind that what this “call to action” means in real life is public relations now.  With the status quo, with a kleptocratic oligarchy on top pushing neoliberalism, pushing neoliberal thinking and the society of money, it’s not going to happen.

Read the section in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything titled “No Messiahs: The Green Billionaires Won’t Save Us.”  It’s about Richard Branson, the billionaire who wanted to be a green messiah.  Problem is, Branson can’t seem to hold his interest in “being green” for long enough when there are all sorts of great profit opportunities out there in not being green.  And he’s the best of the bunch!

As for our envoys from the owning class favorite politicians, they’re too busy propping up a fictional “economy” to concern themselves with collective survival.  From late may, in Politico:

5 reasons Obama’s transformative power plan won’t transform anything

But while environmentalists have hailed the Clean Power Plan as Obama’s crowning climate achievement, and Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have denounced it as climate radicalism, it doesn’t really anticipate more dramatic emissions reductions than we’re getting now.

Meanwhile the forests are burning.  They’re burning now in Washington state, just as they’re burning now in Alaska and Canada.  Climate change doesn’t make these disasters, of course — it just makes them worse, and they’re going to get even worse as the feedback effects chime in and as the momentum of climate change accelerates.  This is like the planet dying of lung cancer.Try to remember, as you read about the chronicles of climate change disaster, that climate change is only the most visible of the disasters being visited upon the Earth by capitalist industry.  From species extinction to ocean acidification to deforestation to air pollution to nuclear pollution to water issues to the outcomes of mining to the monstrosity of industrial food production, there are quite a few bad outcomes of capitalist production, and the only remedy available at this stage of the game is if planet Earth gets a break from capitalist production.

The government is just not moving fast enough to be effective in mitigating climate change, and no number of “we’ll do this by 2050 or whenever is long past the time our politicians have retired to their golf courses” measures is really going to do anything beyond what’s already being done.  The problem is that, as Naomi Klein points out, to fight climate change we must fight capitalism.  We might do a few nice things now to put up solar panels under our existing capitalist system, but really, seriously, any transformative change is going to require a fight against capitalist power.  The existing leadership can’t make it happen.  If you want to “save the climate” in Klein’s terms, you have to fight the power, which means fighting the system that keeps the power in place.  We should be asking Bernie if he can do it.  We don’t need to have the perfect system in place today, but we can say with Klein that acquiescence in capitalism will get us nowhere.

OK, now it’s your turn.  We know the old arguments for capitalism, so feel free to innovate.  Capitalism delivers the goods; never mind the billion or so people who remain hungry.  It’s the only way to get out of poverty; never mind the system’s own creation of poverty.  It’s provided immeasurable benefits to the world; never mind that the benefits to the masses are incidental and the real purpose of the system is capital accumulation, in which the super-rich own the world and, eventually, destroy it for this great fiction they call “profit.”

Under capitalism, everything is a commodity, and the purpose of world-society is to develop that commodity for profit.  When the commodity is developed, marketed, purchased, consumed, and used up, then, then everything becomes a piece of trash.  “Well-regulated” capitalism can only slow the process down.  OK, so show me how things are otherwise.

There’s a passage in Yuval Noah Harari’s easy history titled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind in which the author discusses the unification of humankind in the modern era — but, before getting to this topic, he feels obliged to say something about money, about what money is, and about its rule over the world:

People are willing to do (what they do) when they trust the figments of their collective imagination.  Trust is the raw material from which all types of money are minted.  When a wealthy farmer sold his possessions for a sack of cowry shells and traveled with them to another province, he trusted that upon reaching his destination other people would be willing to sell him rice, houses, and fields in exchange for the shells.  Money is accordingly a system of mutual trust, and not just any system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and most efficient system of trust ever devised.  (p 180)

Harari continues:

What created this trust was a very complex and long-term network of political, social and economic relations.  Why do I believe in the cowry shell or gold coin or dollar bill?  Because my neighbours believe in them.  And my neighbours believe in them because I believe in them.  And we all believe in them because our king believes in them and demands them in taxes, and because our priest believes in them and demands them in tithes. (op. cit.)

OK, so here’s my question.  If we can’t trust the existing “network of political, social and economic relations” to stop runaway climate change, why should we continue with them and their system of money, capital accumulation, capitalism, and their “all of the above” energy policies?


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