Climate Change Isn’t Just “Man-Made” — It’s Made by Capitalism
It’s looking pretty apocalyptic out there. We’re not just losing the fight against climate change — we’re losing it badly. Carbon emissions aren’t just not falling — they’re accelerating: 2018’s going to be the highest year ever.
What’s going wrong here? I think that we need to change the story that we tell about climate change, if we want to change our world. So far, it goes like this.
Climate change is “anthropogenic”, man-made, an inevitable outcome of a crowded, industrializing world. This story is vague, imprecise. It says that we are all responsible. It assigns us all some measure of guilt and shame, and therefore, some measure of responsibility and grief, too. The problem is that this story is true only in the most limited way — and for that reason, it limits our power to ever really fight climate change, too.
If we look a little deeper, I think we see a truer truth. Climate change isn’t just “man-made”, as in caused by all of us, “humankind”, a sad but inescapable outcome of more people using more stuff. This story — which is a Malthusian one — dooms us to impotence, through fatalism, resignation, and sheer powerlessness. But climate change isn’t some kind of hopeless tragedy — whose lines were written by sociobiological destiny.
Climate change isn’t just “anthropogenic.” It’s caused by capitalism. If we’re wise, we’d start calling it CCCC, capitalist caused climate change, or corporate caused climate change if you prefer.
Mom!! Umair’s being mean to me again!! Calm down, Tucker. Before you accuse me of being a college leftist, I invite you to consider two stark empirical realities, which lead me to that conclusion. When I put these two facts together, there is simply no other conclusion that I think any reasonable person can really come to, except that the story of climate change as merely “anthropogenic” is inadequate, a half-truth, a polite evasion — but I’ll return to all that. First, the two realities.
The vast majority of carbon emissions come not from just 100 companies — a full 71% of them. That’s a stunning figure, isn’t it? But what does it tell us? Well, nearly all of them are oil and gas suppliers — and most of them are corporations. It’s a truism to say something like “those companies supply your energy!” Of course they do. The point is that as corporations, they have no incentive to do so on what we might call genuinely economical terms. Their sole purpose is to profit, and sweep their “externalities”, their hidden and unwanted costs, under the rug, or shift them right back to you and me. Hence, you and I pay a far larger chunk of our incomes in taxes than the corporations responsible for 71% of carbon emissions do — and we go on hoping that one day maybe the hugely disproportionate tax dollars we pay will rein these giants in.
That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster — because while government can tax you and me, doing so won’t really alter how energy is supplied in the first place. Under capitalist terms, the supply of energy will always be as dirty, brutal, and costly to society and the planet as a corporation can possibly get away with. Hence, stark evidence emerging that these very same corporations have tried to brush the facts of climate change under the rug, turning what should be a fact into a “controversy”, funding propaganda and pseudoscience and so forth, just like with tobacco.
(That isn’t to say something like “every oil and gas supplier is bad!” Or “India and China are bad!” I want you to really understand the point. The rules of global capitalism still simply don’t count environmental costs as “real”, even while cities are beginning to drown (LOL), and therefore, the way that energy is extracted and supplied has little incentive to ever really change. The cheapest, dirtiest forms, kinds, and methods will always be used until they simply run out. Capitalism needs fundamental, systemic transformation at the level that global GDP is counted, measured, and conceptualized.) MORE