Capitalism and Climate Change
(Above: 500 gather in February 2020 to oppose the Walker Corporation’s development plans for the RAMSAR-listed Toondah Harbour wetlands in Queensland.)
Some people and societies have an investment in denying climate change. These include companies and societies that profit from extracting fossil fuels and selling them at a profit.
They have the backing of some media outlets such as News Corp to fool the population into believing that not only are people not responsible for climate change but that there isn’t any crisis at all. They claim that the changes to weather patterns are simply the result of natural causes.
In the recent devastating bush fires that ravaged parts of Australia the climate change deniers went so far as to deflect blame by suggesting that the bush fires were the result of lack of back burning or that arsonists were responsible.
They ignore the facts that science has made clear. Namely that climate change is a threat to our survival and that, since human behaviour is a major cause of it, we should make every effort to change the way we treat the environment.
The myth of endless resources
How then do the events such as unprecedented bush fires happen? They happen because the world economy is capitalist and the capitalist world view allow basically for only one kind of value - how much a product can be exchanged for.
This one-eyed view of the world also leads to the assumption that it is possible for the planet to cope with an endless consumption of products.
This view is clearly at odds with facts about the planet. Among the key premises which underpin the capitalist world view is that the earth’s resources are limitless. That there is an endless supply of fossil fuels, an endless supply of water, clean air, arable land, soil and animals for consumption at their disposal and that there is no limit to the amount of greenhouse gases the planet can absorb.
This idea of endless resources is a myth. The planet – its living and non- living things, ecological systems and atmosphere – is not limitless in the amount of raw materials that are available.
For capitalism everything is a potential commodity
Moreover, there is a limit to the planet’s ability to deal with waste disposal most of which is the result capitalism’s unrestrained manufacture of products that we do not really need and which often have an inbuilt short life span.
At the heart of capitalism is the idea that the value of everything lies in its potential to be made into a commodity and that everything is a potential commodity. That is, that its value lies in its potential to be exchanged in the pursuit of profits.
This includes basic needs such water and energy which were once provided for by governments. However, since they have been privatised the costs have sky rocketed as they have become sources of profit for their new capitalist owners.
This core idea of capitalism that the value of everything lies in its potential to be made into a commodity even extends to the provision of health care and education which were – after long struggle by the people – once seen as rights. Now they are regarded as commodities and opportunities for private providers to make a profit.
Let climate scientists not governments decide!
The consequences for the planet and all that is on it, including people, are pollution, disease, deforestation, the extinction of species and climate change.
The myth of endless resources is false. The planet, its living and non living things, ecological systems and atmosphere is not a limitless store of raw materials nor is it capable of dealing with limitless amounts of waste disposal.
Unless capitalism is replaced by an economic system based on science and which takes into account the needs of the environment and all living creatures whose lives depend on it then the situation can only get worse.
Climate scientists not governments should be responsible for setting environmental protection guidelines for any proposed development to ensure that the guidelines are not influenced by vested interests.
Time is running out. There is no way the planet can continue forever to recuperate from the damage capitalist practices inflict on it.