Anti-Capitalism and Climate Justice are Intertwined

On the 15th of March there will be a Climate Strike as part of #FridaysForFuture. Fridays For Future is:

a movement that began in August 2018, after 15 years old Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament every schoolday for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and it soon went viral. On the 8th of September, Greta decided to continue striking every Friday until the Swedish policies provided a safe pathway well under 2-degree C, i.e. in line with the Paris agreement. The hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #Climatestrike spread and many students and adults began to protest outside of their parliaments and local city halls all over the world.

It is truly inspirational to see young people leading the way when it comes to climate justice. We really do not have much time left to make radical changes required to prevent our own extinction. “If I don’t have a future, why go to school?” hits hard. Whilst it is exciting to see young people taking action when it comes to the most pressing problem of our history (given climate change has the power to end our history!), it is equally despairing to see the attitude by some – such as the U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein– towards these young people challenging the inept attitude and approach many in positions of power have towards the environmental crisis.

Something I read as part of the book, Fictitious Capital: How Finance is Appropriating Our Future, struck me as being a perfect example of what is wrong with the current political and economic relations and how this links with the environmental crisis we are facing. Essentially, hydrocarbon reserves are key for how companies are valued by the stock market, as they are central to the guessing of what future profits will be. However, as the book explains:

according to IPCC estimates, if we are to keep the temperature rise beneath the 2°C limit, then we will have to leave somewhere between two-thirds and four-fifths of these reserves unused. Companies in the energy sector, together with those in the directly affected industrial sectors, represent close to one-third of worldwide stock-market capitalisation. Taking the political measures necessary to halt fossil fuel extraction would immediately result in a knock-on destabilisation of the financial markets.

This shows how capitalism and the focus on profit over all else is at the core of the environmental damage. We have to challenge capitalism if we want to stop environmental destruction. As discussed in a previous article, Oxfam’s recent report shows that the “26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population” and that “2018 had been a year in which the rich had grown richer and the poor poorer”. The legitimacy of this unequal economic and political system is under attack, no more so than by those raising awareness of the seriousness of climate catastrophe we find ourselves facing.

We need to move towards renewable, clean energy, which as Greenpeace outline has two clear benefits:

Clean energy comes from the Earth’s natural resources – sunlight, wind, waves, tides and geothermal heat. As a source of power it has two great advantages: it will never run out and, unlike oil, coal and gas, it does not pollute the planet or cause dangerous climate change.

Given this, it makes it difficult for it to become a commodity that people can factor into value and stock market prices. It means that we tackle the monopolisation of access to vital resources, alongside the high prices that come with this. It also provides us an opportunity to tailor energy production via natural resources according to different geographical areas, encouraging decentralised, local democracy with the potential for democratic organisational forms, key to helping implement and run this (linking in with some of Murray Bookchin’s ideas regarding communalism and how this can relate to environmental justice). The increased local, democratic control over energy production and use would also help reduce international conflict, as shown by Venezuela at the moment with the US’s intentions towards the country very much influenced by the fact that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world (see my article on this here).

These reasons link into why capitalism is directly opposed to renewable energy – even if it would create jobs, it would be a big threat to a lot of powerful people’s and organisations’ profits and directly challenge the commodification and ownership of such invaluable energy by a few people. This applies to all basic needs, such as access to clean water as well. Look at what has happened to the water supply in Flint, Michigan, which Michael Moore covered in his latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, where the people of Flint have been poisoned so that a few vested interests can make money – see more here. Only through challenging the unjust political and economic relations can this be stopped.

Greenpeace also argue:

Solar power alone has the potential to meet the world’s energy needs many times over. Here in Britain we have more than enough wind, wave and tidal resources to meet our own energy needs and export energy to other countries.

Additional to this, there are arguments that we would only need to utilise a small part of the Sahara desert to provide all of the world’s energy usage:

That means 1.2% of the Sahara desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy. There is no way coal, oil, wind, geothermal or nuclear can compete with this.

Oil and gas and other environmental-damaging practices are intertwined with the capitalist system. Some very powerful vested interests make a lot of money from this, and these vested interests utilise some of their money to help them politically. This is why anti-capitalism has to be central to all movements and organisations fighting for social justice. Without this we won’t have a planet left for much longer.

Feature photo credit: David Tong / WWF New Zealand

Jane Watkinson (she/her) is an anti-capitalist, intersectional feminist and vegan interested in Marxism, social ecology, sociology, revolutionary humanism, and studying radical social, economic, and political theory and how this can be applied in practice. She is a freelance researcher working in the community sector. Her LinkTree is here.