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      Capitalism Vs. Climate Crisis, What Next for Humanity?

      By Alison Bodine

      This is a discussion meant for people that are not only here to talk about the crisis facing the planet, to discuss the destruction of Mother Earth, but to organize against the crisis, to fight to build a better and more just world and to reverse the catastrophe that humanity currently faces. This is the most significant part of all the webinars that Climate Convergence has organized. Although we are in this situation because of a worldwide pandemic, we have remained committed to growing our ideas and our thoughts and connections across Canada and around the world as best we can in this difficult situation. We are committing ourselves to be being prepared when we go back to the streets for our local fights here against TMX (Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion), against CGL (Coastal GasLink pipeline), against the Site C Dam, but also for the larger global struggles against climate change.

      The Climate Crisis is Here, and It Is Very Real

      It is clear that the delicate balance between humans and nature is falling apart. The Covid-19 pandemic, which was the result, in many ways, of the infringement of humans on nature, is just one sign and one example of this delicate balance. The rift between humans and Mother Nature has reached a critical point, and now we are getting close to the point of no return. As Lee Maracle said, of no return for humans, not of the wonderful Mother Earth that we live on, this rock in space.

      The melting of glacial sea ice is accelerating rapidly. A recent report in Nature magazine described the rate of this acceleration. When they broke it down between 2000 and 2004, glaciers lost 227 billion tons of ice per year. But between 2015-and 2019, that number was as high as 300 billion tons annually. We're constantly facing exponential curves of the crisis that is coming.

      The oceans are sick. The International Pollutants Elimination Network and the National Toxics Network just published a report saying that the oceans were on the precipice of disaster: chemical pollutants, pesticides, plastics, overfishing, and the warming of the oceans.

      Despite the pandemic shutdowns, which initially had people thinking that there might be a dip in global greenhouse gas emissions, recent reports have shown that the atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane levels in 2020 continued to surge. And now, carbon dioxide concentration is at the highest level in 3.6 million years, when the earth was four degrees Celsius warmer than today. There are too many signs; humans, earth, and nature are related, and that cannot be ignored.

      The climate crisis is air pollution and climate change, deforestation, species extinction, soil degradation, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples alongside continued wars and occupations and the mass movement of millions and millions of refugees on this planet. Thinking about the world this way can really make someone wonder how there can be so much misery? While, at the same time, we know ourselves and we know our human feelings towards one another, and we know that we feel love, appreciation, and community. So, how is it that the way that the world is run is so anti-human, so contradictory to what we as individuals feel and experience?

      Capitalism is the Cause of the Climate Crisis

      The capitalist system we live under is not a system that considers the needs and desires of humanity. It is an anti-human system that only recognizes one logic, that of the profit of capital. This makes capitalism fundamentally incompatible with Mother Nature because it simply ignores that our planet is made up of finite resources. It ignores this fact and exploits nature continually and does not renew the resources that it exploits.

      Under capitalism's endless drive for market growth, the world now contains islands the size of Texas made of plastic in the ocean, and greenhouse gas levels are skyrocketing. Capitalism has turned the great Amazon rainforest into a region of the world that is beginning to generate more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

      We live in a world where profits for the capitalist class and corporations take precedence over people and the planet. Where profit comes way before and in front of social need, and it's not an exaggeration or a cliché to say that capitalism continues to consider everything to be for sale: human labor, human bodies, health care, education, and every component of nature can be bought or sold at a profit. It's not cynical to say that. It's really to understand that if the capitalist system continues, we will not be able to save the planet from destruction.

      A report from three climate scientists was released recently about net-zero and what that means. This report describes how climate change has been a known danger for more than 30 years. They talk about James Hansen, who worked at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In 1988 he testified in front of U.S. Congress, presenting clear evidence that the Earth's climate was warming and that humans were the primary cause, saying, "the greenhouse gas effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now." This report says that the most significant barrier and the reason that nothing fundamentally changed from that moment 30+ years ago was essentially the cost.

      That means that no one was willing to sacrifice profit or able to sacrifice their profit to cut off the pouring of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere 30 years ago. Technologies such as installing carbon scrubbers or capturing carbon in other ways were known, but none was implemented because it was too expensive. That is to say that up to today, there are many technological solutions out there to reduce greenhouse gases, but they are not being implemented, and they will not be implemented under the capitalist system.

      Biden is Lying, U.S. Government Continues to Fund Climate Change

      We can examine the climate plan presented by U.S. President Biden in 2021. Former Green Party U.S. Presidential candidate Howie Hawkins wrote an article where he really tore the plan apart. He exposed its many weaknesses and its inability to face the problem of climate change fundamentally.

      As Howie Hawkins describes in this article, "Biden’s plan emphasizes corporate welfare: subsidies and tax incentives for clean energy that will take uncertain effect at a leisurely pace in the markets. Moreover, it does nothing to stop more oil and gas fracking and pipelines for more gas-fired power plants or to shut down coal-fired power plants. Without directly saying so, it is a plan to burn fossil fuels for decades to come."

      There is another important point to be made about the Biden Administration's "climate plan" - even though it is a lot of money - it pales in comparison to the U.S. military budget. The climate/infrastructure plan is $2.3 trillion over eight years. Meanwhile, the U.S. government invests at least $700 billion each year in the world's largest killing machine, also the world's biggest climate polluter.

      It is also important to emphasize that military emissions are always excluded from international climate agreements and country-wide greenhouse gas emission targets. These emissions are considered a necessary emission and are not regulated even under the most stringent of agreements.

      Even if the $2.3 trillion was spent only on reducing the carbon footprint of the United States, it is less than the four-year budget of the U.S. Department of Defense. Yearly, the U.S. military sends an estimated 59 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of 2.8 million cars, and the U.S. government is not reducing the military budget by a penny. It is clear to see where their priorities lie.

      In Canada, the Department of National Defense also makes an immense contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and it's growing. Right now, the government of Canada is looking to buy 88 new fighter jets, for example, which burn an insane amount of very high polluting fuel.

      The Unequal Impact of the Climate Disaster

      Although climate change will impact everyone, it will not do so equally. The divide between rich developed and poor developing countries- if you like -colonial and semi colonial countries- and people who have access to resources and those who do not- is growing. Poor developing countries and the people that live in them are already facing the brunt of the climate crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to migrate. Extreme weather events are killing hundreds of thousands of people yearly.

      The unequal impact of climate change is another result of the capitalist system we live under today because capitalism is a system based on the exploitation of one by another - of the ruling class over the working class or of the rich developed countries over the poor developing countries.

      The United Nations has reported extensively about the disproportionate impact of climate change. As the "World Social Report 2020, Chapter 3 - Climate Change: Exacerbating Inequality and Poverty” summarizes, "Within countries, people living in poverty and other vulnerable groups – including smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples, and rural coastal populations – are more exposed to climate change and incur greater losses from it, while having fewer resources with which to cope and recover." This same report goes on to explain, "Whether they manifest as individual shocks or gradual environmental degradation, the effects of climate change are contributing to the loss of lives and homes, poor health, and damage to infrastructure, livelihoods, and environmental resources. In extreme flooding and coastal erosion cases, the physical survival of whole communities – or even nations, in the case of small island developing States – may be at stake. In 2010, deaths resulting from climate change were estimated at 400,000 (DARA and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, 2012). By the end of the century, this number may increase to 1.5 million per year if the rate of emissions remains unchanged (Climate Impact Lab, 2018)."

      When discussing how climate change disproportionately impacts people, we should also discuss global wealth inequality. The world's 2,153 wealthiest billionaires have more wealth today than 4.6 billion people, who make up 60% of the planet's population. This enraging and incomprehensible inequality has been growing - the number of people at the top decreases, and the number of people at the bottom increases. Again, this is a consequence of the capitalist system we live under.

      System Change, Not Climate Change!
      We Must Build a Mass Movement

      Now, what we have been talking about so far tonight has the potential to be disheartening. The climate crisis can be overwhelming and can seem just too big to tackle at times. But I think what is most important to say, after taking a good objective look at the planet this way, after understanding the immense destruction that capitalism perpetuates on humanity, is that, in fact, we do have a way to confront the climate crisis. We have the tools we need to build a mass movement for climate justice and Indigenous rights. These are the tools that we need to fight against racism and against all of the ills that result from the capitalist system we live under today.

      In Canada, as in the United States, we live in countries with the world's largest ecological footprints, at the expense of the vast majority of the world. Therefore, we have the most responsibility to change rapidly and fight for the world that we know is possible. To stand against these corrupt policies by the governments of Canada and the United States that we live under.

      From here in British Columbia and within Climate Convergence, we must support all actions taken for our planet. We support actions locally here in BC as we continue to strive for an international climate justice movement that is united across borders and recognizes fundamental human rights: self-determination for oppressed nations, access to food and water, and housing and education.

      For this, we also know the climate justice movement must have a long view. The situation is dire and urgent, but we have to take what we're doing very seriously and work together to build the mass movement we need. We need a network of local struggles, and we need to be connected and coordinate our work together to build an effective protest movement for a complete change.

      We also need to articulate the world we want to live in, a world where we live, not just exist. A world where we relate to each other and nature entirely differently than the system we currently live under.

      From Henry David Thoreau and Joel Kovel, to Fidel Castro

      In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau describes an essential feature of the capitalist system that we have not yet discussed: our alienation from nature. The fact that capitalism has turned nature into a resource to be exploited has driven a separation from humanity and nature that did not exist before. For example, yes, we can go for walks here in British Columbia, we can feel very close to nature in a lot of ways, but these sentiments contradict our daily lives where we are forced to sell our time and energy in exchange for money to buy things which nature could provide. In 1854, Henry David Thoreau described this alienation as, "The laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain manliness with men; his labor would be depreciated in the market. He has no time to be anything but a machine."

      The revolutionary scientist Joel Kovel, who is one of the formulators and originators of the idea of eco-socialism, has a book called "The Five Theses on Eco Socialism." He describes in many ways throughout the book how we have to be open to rethinking the world as we've been taught. And one of those fundamental lessons that we've been told repeatedly is that the capitalist system we live under is the system that humans were meant to live under that we will always live under. It is the best that humanity can do. When the world we live in is dynamic and ever-changing and will not stay the same and is definitely not always this way. Joel Kovel addresses how capitalism is not human nature. In one quote, he says, "Capitalism is the first system of production in the history of the world where exchange value [buying and selling] rules over use-value [the real value of everything]." Use value can be conceived as how valuable something is based on human need, and exchange value is instead valuing something based on how much profit it makes. So, he says, "Its whole history and culture may be seen from this perspective, which requires that money rules the economy and that the economy rules over society, subordinating humanity and nature to the logic of accumulation."

      But that's not the way it has to be. In 1992, at the Rio Summit, Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro described the world as he saw it, which is not so different than today. Fidel said, "An important biological species, humankind, is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat. We are becoming aware of this problem when it is almost too late to prevent it. It must be said that consumer societies are chiefly responsible for this appalling environmental destruction. They were spawned by the former colonial metropolis. They are the offspring of imperial policies, which in turn brought forth the backwardness and poverty that have become the scourge for the great majority of humankind"..."Enough of selfishness, enough of schemes of domination, enough of insensitivity, irresponsibility, and deceit. Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago."

      They are right! We have no option but to change the world.

      This article is based on Alison's talk at Climate Convergence Webinar on May 5, 2021

      Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette

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