Climate change and capitalism: Phil Thornhill (Campaign Against Climate Change)

Blog by Phil Thornhill, Sam McCann

PN: In your view, can we halt runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism as well?

PT: I think you’d have to take the first question, which is a quite valid one, which is: ‘can we halt runaway climate change.’ There are serious reasons to think that we won’t be able to and that we’re too late already…. It could be a more complex question in that, if we ever get into a situation in which something that dire is happening, we’ll be doing all sorts of things like geo-engineering solutions and stuff like that, all of which are likely to be very damaging in themselves.…

What is very clear is the moral imperative to try to stop it… With something so big and so calamitous, in a sense you might as well forget all the other struggles and moral questions and whatever that beset the world because if we don’t deal with the biggest problem it will lead to a kind of pervasive cynicism in dealing with anything.

When it gets to capitalism, as Campaign Against Climate Change, our organisation is focused on the climate change issue…. [Overthrowing capitalism] is not something the Campaign would identify itself with – or could. For me personally, I find that kind of thing is too vague to be useful really. What exactly does that mean? Because it’s too undefined to be useful, to be honest.

PN: Well that leads pretty well into one of my other questions: What is your one-sentence definition of capitalism?

PT: I precisely don’t have a one-sentence definition of capitalism, and, personally speaking I’d rather avoid using the word because it’s too much of an easy catch-all for everything we don’t like for the way society is today

PN: What is the social marker that capitalism has been overthrown? If you were looking into the future, how would you define where capitalism ends?

PT: That question really presupposes that we share certain views that I probably don’t, I don’t think.… I think you’d probably make more sense by abolishing the term [capitalism] completely. It’d be an interesting mental exercise, at least, to try and define a political philosophy on what you think ought to happen without using the word. I think that would be quite interesting, because then people couldn’t succumb to the temptation.

PN: Is it dangerous for an organisation such as Campaign Against Climate Change to take a stance on an issue such as capitalism at the risk of dividing supporters?

PT: We’re trying to bring people together on the platform of stopping catastrophic climate change.

To the extent that people define themselves in that way makes it easier. To the extent that people define themselves by any specific kind of politics, it makes it harder to bring people together. So for somebody who’s trying to bring people together on a single issue, because that’s what we are, a single-issue campaign, it makes my life harder.

PN: Do you believe that the shift away from huge transnational corporations wielding significant influence can be achieved within the time frame of avoiding runaway climate change?

PT: What you’re talking about is a lot of changes in society that people have wanted for a long time, and there has been ongoing political debate and discussion about that for a hell of a long time, whereas climate change is becoming increasingly immediate and overwhelming.

Clearly, if you say, “Oh, we’re going to solve those problems first,” it looks hopeless, frankly, because climate change is just happening too quickly.

In my view, to take that attitude is definitely not going to work. That doesn’t mean how you deal with climate change must not or should not—and probably inevitably has to be—kind of influenced by your understanding of how politics works. If anything, it’s how climate change is going to impact those other problems.

Topics: Climate Change