Capitalism, the Climate Crisis, and Ecosocialist Solutions

David Klein | change-links.org | October 30, 2018

The climate crisis is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.  At the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, we are headed for 4°C to 7°C of warming above pre-industrial global averages within the lifetimes of young people.  Temperature increases in this range would lead to a hothouse planet with devastating extreme weather events, and make most if not all of our planet uninhabitable. 

Global warming is an existential threat to humanity and countless other life forms.  Adding to that, the biosphere faces toxic pollution, resource depletion, species extinctions, and ocean acidification caused by CO2 emissions. Because of its urgency and global scope, any social justice movement must come to grips with, and address in some way, the climate crisis. There can be no social justice, after all, on a dead planet. 

The fundamental driver of the catastrophe is the global capitalist system.  How so?  In the simplest terms, infinite expansion on a finite planet is impossible, and by its very nature, capitalism must expand.  A corporation that cannot promise growth is a corporation that will soon collapse.  Economists from Milton Friedman to Paul Krugman agree that capitalism demands perpetual economic growth in order to avoid the economic crises of depressions and recessions.  More specifically, in order to stave off mass unemployment and economic misery, capitalism requires ever-increasing commodity production, resource extraction, trash and toxic dumping, and especially energy production.  Economic expansion is immediate cause of the world's increasing greenhouse gas emissions.  

Capitalism's war against nature includes exploding mountain tops for the cheapest possible extraction of coal, expanding dead zones and acidification of the oceans, toxic waste dumps, and much else.  The ever-increasing efficiency in waging this war serves the capitalist class by lowering costs and driving up consumption and therefore profits.  

Not only does capitalism threaten our very survival, it is a failed economic system in its own terms, leaving in its wake institutionalized racism and unprecedented extremes of wealth inequality. Its grow-or-die imperative has already driven the planet beyond its bio-capacity to regenerate resources.  The World Wildlife Fund reports that 1.6 Earths would be required to sustainably meet the demands humanity makes on nature each year. Capitalism is not only incapable of addressing the environmental crisis, it is the very cause of the crisis, and can only make matters worse.  Destruction oozes from its every pore.

The scale of change required to achieve a sustainable civilization is staggering.  Not only is it necessary to shut down the world's fossil fuel extraction industries, but also to drastically retrench the industries that depend on them, such as automobile, aircraft, airline, shipping, petrochemical, construction, agribusiness, factory farming, junk food production, packaging, plastic production, and above all, the war industries.  Earth's most devastating war machine, the Pentagon, is also the largest institutional greenhouse gas polluter. 

The de-industrialization required to save ourselves under capitalism would therefore lead to mass unemployment and economic collapse.  The only way to rationally reorganize the economy sustainably is to collectively and democratically plan most of the world’s industrial economies.  

So an alternative system of human relations, "ecosocialism" as it may be called, must replace capitalism. Included in an ecosocialist vision is sustainable production based on human needs rather than profit, along with free health care, free education, free mass transportation, and since most jobs under capitalism are pointless or destructive, drastically reduced workweeks. 

"Capitalism is killing us!" is the title of a community forum devoted to ecosocialist solutions to a warming planet.  It is sponsored by the KPFK Radio LSB Outreach Committee; Peace and Freedom - LA Climate Justice Task Force; System Change Not Climate Change (San Fernando Valley chapter); and the Democratic Socialists of America-LA Climate Justice Committee. Please join us on November 18 from 3 to 7 p.m. at First Unitarian Church at 2946 West 8th Street (zip code: 90005).

Come share your ideas and help turn the vision of an ecosocialist world into a reality.