Capitalism is the Cause of Climate Change

by Chris Bisson

Yesterday I attended a march for the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. The atmosphere was lively as thousands of protesters (estimated at 6,500) demonstrated against the failure of parties to negotiate fair and ambitious solutions to the current climate crisis. As the global working class filled the streets of Durban today, one message became very clear. Capitalism is causing climate change.

The event was organized by a coalition of the Democratic Left Front, the Rural Women’s Alliance, Climate Justice Now!, Climate Action Network, and attended by many other organizations in solidarity such as Canada’s own Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the Polaris Institute, and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. The rally began at 9:00am and started marching around 10:30am. The march went on for about five hours taking the streets from central Durban, past the International Convention Centre, and to the North Beach.

This coalition of movements were strongly directing their messaging at the fact that the global elite is gambling with our planet for the sake of their personal gain. With word that an agreement on a second protocol on climate change to start in 2020, it is clear that politicians and business leaders are colluding to support the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor. As the historical responsibility of rich countries for causing of the climate crisis is ignored, the world’s peasant farmers, labourers, and Indigenous peoples are already facing the impacts of extreme weather events and long-term climatic changes.

The latent failure of this COP is clear, the world is currently in an international struggle of the poor and working peoples against political, industrial and financial elites over control for the global commons. It is in this struggle that one can see the cause of climate change is capitalism. The origins of climate change is based on the bourgeois project of rich land owners in 18th century England to enclose land to rent farms out to peasant farmers, and subsequently to industrialize cities to increase the separation of wealth of the working class from their labour for private profit. This political economy set in motion a system that demanded constant exponential growth in profitability in order to maintain the power of the owners of factories and machines over the workers. What resulted was the unprecedented drive of the capitalists and the state to seek more energy, resources and labour from further afield of Europe. This pressure drove the imperial project of “developing” the world through colonial exploitation and converting nature worldwide into consumable commodities. This process of “creative destruction” has come to privilege the drive for energy over the needs of the people and planet.

The present stage of the global capitalist project that witnesses the current climate crisis is simply a continuation of the project started by the industrial capitalists, and it is no coincidence that it strongly resembles the strategy of enclosure used by English landowners. Projects such as REDD, other clean development mechanisms and the greater carbon credit market is an attempt of the capitalist and political classes to use the climate crisis as an opportunity for accumulation. What these mechanisms would do is enclose the world’s atmosphere, soils and forests for global financial trade. As markets fail, as they inevitably do, property – regardless of use or function – is returned to its owners: industry. I cannot think of a more irresponsible project than to invest immense political and financial capital, as well as waste the time of international climate negotiations, in order to place ownership of the world’s forests and atmosphere into the hands of the most violent and destructive people in history. The UNFCCC and its parties are literally fighting fire with fire.

As we come halfway through COP17 it seems evident that the messaging that ought to be carried forward to Rio+20 by international civil society, and dissenting parties ought to be the liberation and democratic control of the global commons. Capitalism caused this crisis, it is not going to fix it, and we as a global society are not going to fix it until it is gone.

4 Responses to “Capitalism is the Cause of Climate Change”
  1. Bengo says:

    Pretty simplistic analysis, no? I suppose when the USSR were expanding their productive base they never felled forests, massively industrialized, searched for and mined new fossil and other resources, all with the great gusto of a centralized bureaucratic state with immense human capital at it’s disposal (and often to be disposed of). Try again. I’m all for the reform of the system, and ideas like true cost accounting, the genuine progress index, and so on, but if CYD is really spewing this kind of knee-jerk leftist mumbo-jumbo as its analysis, it really reflects poorly on our youth’s ability to challenge themselves, think deeply about what’s going on at the conference, and synthesize new information, rather than simply go seek out a bunch of people who are chanting what you already believe, and then using that event as “confirmation” of your foregone conclusion.

    • Chris Bisson says:

      Simplistic would be the conflation of the Soviet Union with anti-capitalist critique. I call this knee-jerk liberalism. If you want the extended analysis of the connection between capitalism and climate change read all the other blogs I have written. Furthermore, you will find extensive analysis of the negotiations from the inside. I can tell you from sitting in on hours and hours of negotiations, what the anti-capitalist civil society is saying is spot on. A little elitist to assume that the worker’s of Africa demonstrating in the streets of Durban don’t know how the rich are destroying the planet, no?

  2. am says:

    Perhaps it is time to take the issue of global warming into our own hands. REDUCE your use of energy and we will use less coal in electricity plants. REDUCE your use of single-use vehicles to get to work, buy groceries, etc.; this will ensure there is less need to dig in the tar sands and drill in the sea for oil. REUSE those plastic bags made of the same petroleum and/or use cotton bags. RECYCLE all you can so these items can be put back in the system and less resources have to be extracted.
    If consumerism is the cause of planet destruction, less of it can be its salvation. Consumers have enormous power when it comes to decision-making! If people stopped buying a product, i.e. there is is no demand for it, it would no longer be produced. Think of the supply/demand curve in economics.
    The power is in our hands!

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  1. […] Originally posted  Dec 4, 2011 in CYD […]

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