Social Change not Climate Change

Capitalism and the government have already proved to us that they lack the will, the power, and the inclination to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change. Both rely on the continuous, maximal economic growth which results in climate change, and both have shown us again and again that they can find ways to benefit from ecological disaster.

In a recent Guardian article, self styled climate policy guru Geoge Monbiot claimed that real social change was not required to tackle climate change, and even went as far as saying that fighting for social change, decentralisation, and the eventual death of capitalism would cause the failure of the climate change movement. He was criticising an article by Ewa Jasiewicz, published in the guardian a few days before. Ewa claimed that:

“Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power, will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the “solution”, we need a revolution.”

Monbiot, furious that an activist would dare advocate something so bold as ‘autonomous communities of happy campers’, hit back calling this ‘magical thinking of the most desperate kind.’ He told us what we all already know: we have less than a decade to act to prevent runaway climate change, and said that the only possible solution (though an imperfect one) is massive action on the part of the government to scrap coal, build new public transport infrastructure and invest massively in renewables. Activists have been promoting these policies for the last two decades, and governments have been ignoring them for just as long.

In his book Heat, Monbiot does ‘spell out what is required to bring about a 90% cut in emissions by 2030.’ It is a book much more akin to ‘magical thinking’ than any of Jasiewicz’s propositions. He proposes a state-led, fully integrated, subsidised public transport system, a massive investment in renewable energy, again provided by the state, an enormous re-fit of the country’s natural gas infrastructure to convert it to hydrogen power, and, most wildly optimistic of all, a reduction of the aviation industry to a mere fraction of what exists today. All state-led, without revolution, without confronting capitalism, without substantive social change.

Does he believe that the airline industry, powerful centralised energy interests and the oil giants (not to mention the financial backers who profit from such ventures) will simply stand back and accept their complete disintegration? Does he believe that governments, who rely on economic growth to win elections (they certainly can’t rely on reducing poverty, improving health care or reducing inequality, as these are not things that governments try to do anymore), will simply change their entire game plan, their entire institutional model. Scarily, yes, he does.

Geogre Monbiot seems to forget that every large scale economic change (which the challenge of climate change makes inevitable- one way or another) requires struggle, and massive social change. Has he forgotten the lengths that the owners of big business will go to in order to protect their own investments?

Monbiot likes to paint himself as a great pragmatist; he is a great researcher, and has a detailed understanding of climate science and sustainable technology, but when it comes to realistic action on a large scale, he is lost at sea. He looks to corporatism for the solution to allow the massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions required – he seriously believes that the government and capitalism, who have done so much to cause climate change, and so little to reduce and mitigate its effects, are capable of providing a solution.

Capitalism loves centralised energy production, it loves private transport that relies on enormous private consumption, and most importantly, it loves a disaster that displaces massive numbers of poor people while allowing the rich to protect themselves. One only need look at two examples to be convinced of this: the Asian Tsunami of 2004, and New Orleans post-Katrina. These two test cases for the social effects of climate change demonstrate that the destruction wrought by natural disasters primarily falls on the poor (we all know this), and, under the current global economic regime, venture capital and big business take advantage of the dislocation of the poor to erode their rights, take their land, and to roll back collectively provided social services. Naomi Klein’s book ‘The Shock Doctrine’, (though not a rigorous economic analysis) demonstrates that capitalism has taken on a form that can withstand, and benefit from, massive disasters. Will this new economic system act to prevent climate change? Of course not! Climate change will bring on the sale of the century. Homeless workers, defunct states, destroyed communities, they will all be up for grabs, sold to the highest bidder to be restructured and exploited.

As for the state, there is little additiontal hope that it is capable of taking action. Recently, states have grown in power and thrived, and governments have been re-elected on the basis of two broad arguments. The first is based on unending economic growth, constant improvements in the material quality of life, regardless of the social consequences in terms of inequality or cultural destruction. The second is based on instability and fear-mongering: fear of terrorism, immigration, and further afield, on chauvinistic nationalism: basic fear of the other. The former discourse caused climate change in the first place, and the latter will allow states to adapt to its disastrous effects, while ever increasing their grip on society.

Capitalism and the capitalist state combined to cause climate change, and they have proved that they can and will adapt to it and turn it to their advantage. They will not, and will never provide the solution.

– Patrick Rolfe


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