PN: Can we halt runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism?
EJ: It’s interesting that you talk about overthrowing capitalism because I think there’s a commonly used expression—overthrowing or dismantling or smashing—and I think that can sometimes be a little bit inaccurate about the nature of capitalism, which is a social relationship, an economic relationship that we are all participating in and reproducing on a daily basis. So I liked John Holloway’s description of how we need to stop the reproduction of capitalism, and I think that will enable us to be more honest and more self-critical about our own role in it. Not to individualize our relationship with capitalism, living under capitalism, but to personalize it more. I think we can all learn a lot from that process.
So yeah, of course, we absolutely need to stop the reproduction of capitalism because it’s the core driver of climate change because of its emphasis on a consumption-driven economy, on a fossil fuel-driven economy. Even if we manage to move away from fossil fuels and into more sustainable force of energy, we still have the problem of massive oversupply in some areas creating a false demand and massive inequality in wealth.
Wealth is not measured just in money—in terms of who has capital and who doesn’t—but it’s also measured in quality of life, access to healthy [air], access to land, access to the means of production and ownership of means of production wherever people are living…You can’t really divorce the global from the local, and I think climate change has taught us that.
PN: In one sentence, how would you define capitalism?
EJ: Capitalism is a system and a social relationship based on the pursuit of profit, based on competition, based on exploitation and a necessary inequality and hierarchy for its maintenance and reproduction.
I can tell you what capitalism isn’t: it’s not about mutual aid, it’s not about corporations on equal footing or a relationship of respect…capitalism is competition. It cannot survive without competition. It has to have an uneven playing field in order for it to reproduce itself.
PN: What would be the social marker that capitalism has been undermined to the benefit of climate change? What would the tell-tale sign be?
EJ: The tell-tale sign would be, I think, a world without financial markets. I think if we had, perhaps, no money—I don’t know how it works on large-scale, complex, intricate sort of city-based societies, but I would like to see a gift economy. I would like to see a barter economy, a system that isn’t based on currencies. That might be one.
Another might be we’re all owners of the means of energy production, on a community basis as well as on an individual basis. We would all have access to water, atmosphere, sources of energy. We’re all conscious and having some sort of participatory role…. There would be much more localized control over food, over energy sources, but also a say in terms of how transnational ownership or common are maintained…. The most important thing is there’s going to be… a society that’s based on mutual aid.
PN: So you would say this communal control, especially of energy, would definitely have a positive impact on reversing climate change?
EJ: There’s so much overproduction that’s created solely for the market…I’m not for the elimination of choice or the elimination of diversity. I know that under state communism you had a poverty of creativity on some levels which isn’t conducive to having a healthy, diverse society…[but] I think you’d have much less waste. So much of capitalism is based on transactions and sort of imaginary markets and…overproducing for over-saturated markets. I mean, how many washing powders do you need?
PN: Do you believe that communal control can be achieved within the time-frame of runaway climate change?
EJ: I think that depends on us and how much we can accelerate the change, how much we can accelerate a transition that is being attempted and being projected in many areas in transition towns and transition projects and local currencies.
But if we aren’t’ able to tackle some of the mega-projects and industrial factors like aviation, like the tar sands…like the coal industry. If we’re not able to somehow reverse that production—I mean, we can have our local efforts but the elephant in the living room really is the energy companies and the financial markets and capitalism itself.