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Articles from the Peace News log: Climate Change

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

Climate change and capitalism: Six points of view

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.

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Climate change and capitalism: Six points of view

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.

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Climate change and capitalism: Six points of view

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.

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Climate change and capitalism: Six points of view

PN: In your view, can we halt runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism? If not, why not? Or, if we can, why do you think that is possible?

MA: In theory, yes – capitalism has a built in drive to accumulate – and a structural incapacity to count effects on the environment into market valuations. So left to its own, with regulation, etc., it is not just incredibly harmful and destructive of human potentials, productive of poverty, and so on – but it also so violates the economy that not only would it be impossible to stop climate catastrophe – but, if capitalism had been functioning with zero restraints in the past, we would probably be fried – so to speak – already.

However, it is possible – technically possible – to have government intervention that is very effective to limited ends. You can outlaw child labour – it will still happen, but not much. You can put in minimum wage laws – people will violate them, but not too much. And so on.

So yes, you could image – technically – a mass upsurge in desire for climate sanity that propelled governments worldwide to impose very tough restraints on market choices and action – even to the point of redressing problems. Fact is, we saw this decades ago in regard to many ecological matters – not perfect, not even wonderful – but quite effective in some respects. Just like child labour laws…

The problem is, climate disaster arises from much more mainstream pursuits that are far harder to curtail and limit and reverse – so the movement pushing governments to behave thusly has to be much stronger – even than movements for child labour laws, affirmative action, and so on.

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Milan Rai reports from the WRI Triennial in India

What was the “breaking news” I promised at the beginning of the last posting? Well, yesterday I sat in on a discussion group that decided to put forward a major proposal to the council of War Resisters International, suggesting an investigation of the feasibility and desirability of WRI addressing the extent to which climate change, and in particular the threat of runaway climate change, affects the anti-militarist and social justice struggles it is currently involved in, or supporting.

The peace movement, by and large, operates on the assumption that the basic fabric of life will continue to be much as it is, with perhaps some deterioration or some improvement. (I only know of the British and US peace movements, but my impression is that this is a more general phenomenon.) We assume a continuing stable climate framework within which our opponents and ourselves will continue our struggle.

This is not a tenable assumption.

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