Climate change and capitalism: Cath Cornerstone (radical co-operator)

Blog by Sam McCann, Cornerstone Cath

PN: How do you see the relationship between capitalism and climate change?

CC: I think they’re inherently linked because capitalism can only exist with continual growth based on turning natural resources, i.e. bits of planet, into money. And the way it does that is by chopping it up, excavating it, turning it into product, burning it, disposing of it. Basically whatever it takes, we’ll degrade, and that leads to climate change.

PN: Can we stop runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism or at least altering the way our economic system works?

CC: That’s a difficult question—I don’t think so, no. Whether we can stop it at all is another question.

PN: Well do you think we can?

CC: I don’t see any signs that we can. I don’t think we can. I think we can maybe try to mitigate its effects or make it go a bit slower until we can handle it better but no, I don’t think you can stop it now.

PN: If we were in a society not so reliant on capitalism, do you think that would be a different story?

CC: Yes, possibly, but you can’t imagine. That’s kind of an unlimited scenario, it can be any kind of society.

I mean, the problem is, it’s not so much capitalism actually, but it’s the kind of society capitalism has created. It’s absolutely apathetic and unable to make decisions collectively, and is entirely distracted.

So either you’re in a society that your government imposes apathy by force or where your government and the corporations enforce apathy by distraction. So I don’t know, it would totally depend on what other kind of society we were talking about.

And there’s so many people on the planet, it’s really difficult to think how you would organize all those people without kind of a mass dictate, and I’m also not sure I’d want to live in a society in which that was possible.

PN: What’s your one-sentence definition of capitalism?

CC: It’s an economic system which uses, initially at least, some form of currency for transaction which doesn’t degrade, which leads therefore to hoarding, to some people having more than others, and once the status of people is dependent on a currency rather than their role in society, than that currency itself takes over as the driving force. And that’s where we’ve got today, with people just making money off of money off of money and finding new and more ways to turn ideas, information and anything—air, water, whatever you like—into something that can generate currency.

PN: Is a move away from capitalism possible in the timeframe necessary for runaway climate change?

CC: My knowledge of how far along we are or any kind of time scale is pretty limited; I tend to assume the worst.

It strikes me that it’s not so much: ‘Can we change society in time to mitigate something.’ It’s more that: ‘In the difficult times ahead, can we save society from being turned into a real extreme version of dominant and submissive people. Some form of fascism or a warlord kind of scenario. Can we change society at all in the face of the terrible kind of things that are facing us.’

And I think that’s where the interesting action is happening. There’re all kinds of initiatives going around. There’s a renaissance in the co-operative movement, which is where I’m active, so that’s what I know about.

But at the same time there’s the rise of the far right. How these things play out against each other is already interesting. I think there’re all kinds of forces at work trying to create more participative communities, and I’m fairly optimistic that will happen. Whether it’s in any kind of time frame to overcome climate change, I have no idea.

PN: You’re been involved in Earth First, which is sort of a grassroots effort directed specifically at preventing environmental degradation. Do you think the best means to fighting climate change lies in that sort of work?

CC: I don’t think there really is a best way, I really don’t. I think that whatever anybody does is probably whatever the best thing that can be done. People sit around and say it’d be good if we all did one thing, but it’s never ever going to happen, so it’s much better to live in the real world and say, ‘What can we do? What is happening? Who are doing stuff? Are they doing the best they can be doing?’

So I think all the stunts and direct action that gets in the media helps move the public consciousness, I think all the kinds of Friends of the Earth…helps the public agenda, I think people who are organizing in communities to build stronger communities are creating the kind of communities that can then take decisions that are informed by that raised agenda.

Every level needs to be pushing at the door in one way or another, whether it’s people who are working within the corporations and the government or whether it’s people outside that doing things for themselves.

Topics: Climate Change