Climate change and capitalism: Barry Cager (The Happendon Wood Action Camp)

Blog by Sam McCann, Barry Cager

PN: Can we halt runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism?

BC: No, it’s impossible. Short answer. Well, I really don’t believe it’s possible at all, because, for a start, the way capitalism is set up is based on growth, and it would basically disintegrate without growing. And so, a planet is finite, and all the resources that capitalism depends on are finite, so it’s not going to last, it’s not sustainable. But before it’s actually stopped by the laws of the physics, it’s going to get as much out of it—it being the planet—as it can with no regard to the consequences for future generations, or current ones for that matter.

But I don’t think it stops there. I’m not proposing any sort of alternative like communism…. I believe that the problem lies with civilization in general, really. It’s based on getting resources out of the countryside into the cities, and it’s impossible to do that in a sustainable way. So to a large degree, the problem started a lot longer ago than capitalism did.

PN: So in your opinion a civilization divorced of capitalism would still inevitably lead to the degradation of the environment?

BC: Yeah, because capitalism seems to be the most efficient way of getting stuff out of the ground and burning it up…but the domination of nature started with agriculture ten thousand years ago and the domination of nature is always going to lead to the degradation of nature because we’ve sort of taken ourselves out of the web of connectedness with beings that are alive.

PN: If climate change is driven by civilization itself, is there a good way to combat it?

BC: I think so, but it’s also pretty much an article of faith. I don’t know the science of this, if you know what I mean. It’s more the idea that we need to scale back drastically.

It’s not just about justice between people, but justice to every other being in the universe that’s alive. It’s pretty radical in that radical means back to the root and the root of the problem is domination of nature instead of treating it with the respect it deserves.

If communism is another political system that is supposed to deal with people on an equal level and the redistribution of goods, then what we’d be saying is anti-civilization in the sense that it’s not the redistribution of goods, it’s not having any more goods. The idea of having commodities has to be left behind.

PN: Do you think there’s a way in which people can get away from goods and in turn address climate change?

BC: We have a lot of discussions about that amongst ourselves [at Happendon Wood] because there’s no set answer and most of us are looking for a way to do that with our lives independent of some doctrine or dogma or some attitude like that.

But I can tell you for myself, one of the things that’s probably going to be part of that transition is permaculture, but then permaculture is still not going far enough for me, but is very much a way in between because it starts from the idea that you can only learn from nature in how to deal with nature. But it’s still not far enough because it doesn’t fully—and that includes spiritually—fill us as part of nature.

PN: The time frame for avoiding runaway climate change seems to be getting tighter. Do you think you can achieve your ends within that timeframe? In other words, is it fixable before our planet expires?

BC: I’m afraid I’m a bit pessimistic in that sense because I don’t think so, because, to be completely honest, I think it’s too late already. We’re already facing a global temperature rise of around four degrees, and that’s according to the science that I’m aware of.

I’m also aware that most of climate science tends to revise its [predictions] every few years and it’s usually worse than what they said before. I’ve also got a lot of faith in the regenerative force of nature and the adaptability of humans in that. It’s not as if we’re going to have to repopulate, but I’m also already accepting that we’ve already wiped out half the species alive at this moment due to this runaway climate change.

PN: If you believe that result is inevitable, what do you hope to accomplish?

BC: Certainly to stop it from getting any worse than it already is. For a start, we can probably manage to wipe out everything if we keep going…. the sooner it all comes down, the better it will be for everybody and everything.

Everyday we keep going is another day we keep destroying stuff, and everyday we stop sooner means there will be a lot more left to be part of the regeneration…. I have no illusion that we’re going to stop it or reverse it—there’s no techno-fix.

PN: Well what do you think it’s going to take for us to come to that stop?

BC: Well, seeing as people don’t voluntarily go down in their comfort level, I think something really bad is going to happen. The pretense of going out and being able to convince everybody that they have to live in a more primitive way—they’re not going to do that.

PN: So then what would be the social marker that capitalism and civilization has given way altogether to this more basic way of life? What would this society look like?

BC: Well, I’m afraid this is going to sound really harsh, but there’ll definitely be a lot less people. This is not something I intend to achieve or part of a political program. The fact is, to live sustainably on this planet, we not only have to use less, but there has to be less of us.

Because, like, every Chinese person owning a car and a fridge is like instant death to the planet. I don’t mean that in any racist way, it’s just the sheer numbers of stuff involved. There’s so many people using up so much stuff at such a rate.

The other thing is that cities are starting to get left behind. That is, more people moving to the country to have more of a relationship on a day-to-day basis.

Topics: Climate Change