Capitalism vs the Climate: Fight of no return?

A strange and bewildering fight is taking place. Capitalism versus the Climate. A fierce battle about values, beliefs, ideologies, spurred by the desire to dominate public discourse, people, politics. As with so many things questionable (from mildly amusing to surprisingly short-sighted), the US have gained quite a reputation as a hotspot for climate change denial. Fed and bred on neo-liberal free-market logic and ideology, any warning about future consequences and shortcomings of an inherently unsustainable economic and social system is rejected as hostile communist takeover. Like few other issues, climate change reveals the failure of individuals, communities and nation-states to assume responsibility for their actions. However, the ongoing battle is not only about climate change denial and rejected responsibilities. Rather, “The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally”, as Naomi Klein writes in The Nation. In her view, “the abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.”

Rather than the issue, she goes on, “climate change is a message, one that is telling us that many of our culture’s most cherished ideas are no longer viable. These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress, unaccustomed to having our ambitions confined by natural boundaries.”

“Climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.”

And further: “Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back over-consumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations,…”

Clearly, not everyone will buy into such an open call for radical change. On the other hand, even conservative and liberal minds will have realized by now that a simple ‘keep going as if nothing had happened’ won’t do the trick. Recent economic and financial crises show that unsustainable development – be it neo-liberal capitalism or narrow-minded socialism – is doomed to fail. Climate change makes us realize this and, as most of the leading classes are conservative by nature, induces quite a bit of internal struggle. As Naomi puts it, the ideological fight about climate realities has turned so nasty “because it detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. There is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.”

In the end, a healthy amount of social consensus is indispensable for reaching those fundamental changes needed to get us back on track towards a peaceful life within the means of nature. Only if everyone feels welcome on board and leaves all too radical convictions and outdated beliefs behind, is there a real chance to stop the fight and get on with problem solving and adaptation.

What do you think?

Picture credit: transnationalinstitute, Flickr, creative commons

One thought on “Capitalism vs the Climate: Fight of no return?

  1. Well thought.I am a masters student on climate change and sustainability in Kenya also a blogger on issues of green economy and climate change.Believe me those denying climate change didn’t travel outside their precinct to see the devastating and irreversible damages its visiting on vulnerable people specifically those in Africa.What awes me is that will the Americans be willing to tackle climate change if it entails on not cutting back on our global use of fossil fuel or its premised on their ignorance of this monster that is real and not perceived.

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