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Capitalism vs. Climate Change: It’s not about Carbon, but Free Market idealogy

There were indeed, important and interesting signs ahead of this upcoming UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris. With the recent key events that Obama has rejected Keystone XL pipeline project after 6 years of review and Vatican leaders have released Pope Francis’s 192 pages encyclical on the environment this year, it is ambivalent to ride on the optimism that COP 21 will deliver what COP 15 in Copenhagen has failed, a legal binding agreement for countries to stay below the 2 degree Celsius increase in global temperature. However, the treaty is not a bargain for the African and other vulnerable countries, as they were pushing for 1.5 degree Celsius instead because 2 degrees Celsius spells genocide for their countries. I am uncertain, as hope is embarking scarcity this time. The world’s governments have been negotiating about their’ carbon’ for my entire life, literally, from the mid-1990s, and the only thing rising faster than our emissions is the amount of pledges to lower them. So why the paradox occurrence where our global emission is just getting off the charts? Naomi Klein latest anti-globalization trilogy book “This Changes Everything” might refresh you on the bigger picture of climate change isn’t about carbon, but capitalism.

Naomi Klein’s latest trilogy book on anti-capitalism “This Changes Everything”
Naomi Klein’s latest trilogy book on anti-capitalism “This Changes Everything”

We knew (know) what is coming

Let us not fool ourselves that climate destabilization is a hoax, as surveys of the peer-reviewed scientific literature consistently show a 97-98% that humans are causing global warming. In fact, the climate conversation began back in 1988 when Dr James Hansen, climatologist and director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, testified that climate change is an anthropogenic effect. While majority Malaysians are clouded with the current political drama and financial hardships, the conversation on climate change has gone into adaptation by building more dams and flood mitigation infrastructures, rather in depth public conversations on cutting down absolute carbon emissions (which our government opted for an absurd 40% carbon reduction as per GDP intensity in COP15). The ecology and economic damages of climate change is prevalent, as seen from the new norm, the annual dry spell and flood on the east and west coast respectively. The weatherman recorded an increase of 0.7 degrees in average peninsula temperature since the 1969, while the mean Malaysian seas level has been rising at a rate of 1.42-4.08mm/year. Record breaking typhoons, floods and droughts are getting off the charts at various corners of the world, and scientists have also confirmed that we have entered the sixth mass extinction where animals are dying out 100 times the normal rate. Clearly, we are no longer at the terms discussing about preventing climate change, but instead, avoiding catastrophic damages by transiting into a resilience economy.

But what is stopping us?

Many of us have already known this inconvenient truth well, but why aren’t many recognizing and taking the necessary action? Most Malaysians will conveniently browse through the disastrous scenes of typhoon Haiyan or Katrina in grief and anger but back to business as usual the next day. Many wants the change but does not want to be the change. Why? Even if, only few that talk about going energy efficient, switching off the light bulbs, permaculture gardening, or green buildings. But, what we need here is a radical transformation that will mobilize the mass movement. In which, Klein explicitly pointed out, those huge efforts we yearn to see fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are trapped because the actions that would be the best chance of averting catastrophe and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy (oil and gas particularly), political process (that is lobbied by rich corporations), and our media outlets. Interestingly from a socialism point of view, a research from Yales found that people with strong ‘communitarian’ (incline towards collective action and social justice) worldviews accept the scientific consensus on climate change. Conversely, those with strong ‘hierarchical’ and ‘individualistic’ (strong support for industry) worldviews reject the scientific consensus. It is always easier to deny reality than to allow our worldview to be shattered. But what about ‘green technology’ attempts in saving the world? Ironically, finding new ways to privatize the commons and profit from disaster is also what our current system is built to do. The benefits goes to the ‘climate-ready’ crops producer such as Monsanto, and big contractors, insurance companies benefiting through disaster mitigation projects. What about big companies and Individuals such as Shell and Richard Branson declaring that environmental conservation is in their agenda? It is nothing more than a public relations stunt, reflected in their tiny investment on environmental obligations.

The top 90 companies that are responsible for two thirds of our global carbon emissions (source: The Guardian)
The top 90 companies that are responsible for two thirds of our global carbon emissions (source: The Guardian)

The climate change and capitalism parallelism

The scenario is distinctively identical across the globe. The privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and lower corporate taxation, paid for with cuts to public spending. The occupy wall street movement echoes the real world costs of these policies, the instability of financial market, the ever widening rich poor gap, as well as the failing state of public infrastructure and services. Klein reinforced her past 15 years of experience by linking how capitalism has systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change, a happening threat that came knocking just as this ideology was reaching its zenith. If one has to look back the past quarter century of international negotiations, two defining process stand out. There will be the climate process, which struggles and failing utterly to achieve its goals, and there will be the corporate globalization process, hammering victorious milestones, from the first trade deal between Canada and the United States (which forms NAFTA) to the creation of World Trade Organization to the transformation of large parts of Asia into sprawling free trade zones, with the latest Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Both, interestingly began in the 1990s. In mid of 2014, the IPCC has also finally acknowledged the reality of growing share of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions is released in the manufacture of products that are traded across international borders.

A Moral issue – Solving This Solving More

Climate destabilization is a moral issue transcended through our current economic system. Between 1990 and 1998, more than 94 percent of the world’s biggest natural disasters occurred in developing world, places with weak and poor infrastructure, where people are not responsible for the majority of the carbon emissions. Instead, 80 percent of the world’s emissions lies with just 20 percent of the inhabitants of the world’s wealthiest nations. Research also suggests that the climate crisis is fuelled by 90 companies (mostly oil and gas), which between them produced nearly two thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions since the dawning of industrial age. The act of culprits extend to huge industries such as aviation, automobile and even military, which are decided by consumers like us. We know that various social issues are caused and amplified by wealth inequality and injustice (at all scales, from individuals to countries) which directly contradicts humanity values and religious teachings. Fixing this moral issue we know, is not merely a chance to respond to the climate crisis but it restores hope and progress of the human race as a whole. As what James Martin has rightly pointed out in his book “The Meaning of the 21st Century”, we are at the junction of our civilization in determining our future.

Infographic shows comparison of carbon emissions per unit geographic area, where evidently south Africa being the smallest, yet most vulnerable to natural disasters.
Infographic shows comparison of carbon emissions per unit geographic area, where evidently south Africa being the smallest, yet most vulnerable to natural disasters.

The Great Wake-Up Call

So how do we do it? Definitely not the next generation ‘clean’ nuclear power plant that takes another decade of research, not some giant carbon dioxide sucking machine, not slowly awaiting our “green companies” or “green Messiahs”. We, simply do not have the time. But instead, people power. Cliché it may sound, but Klein underlines that we have the technological solutions for the problems we face, what we need urgently is to unite across the globe for a mass movement. It is the unification among society groups and widely exploited indigenous people to resist against the construction of pipelines and the slaughtering act of our green lungs, the large act of civil disobedience that puts a strong message across, the divestment movement that redirects money away from polluters to entities that have a clear vision for our planet healing process. Many have cited on Mark Jacobson’s team at Stanford that shows a global transition to 100 percent renewable energy is both technically and economically feasible by as early as 2030, which essentially cancels the argument of several countries having a ‘transition’ fuel which is oil, gas or nuclear. Is it really possible? Various experiences across the globe and era have shown us the miraculous transition we are capable of in times of urgency. The Germans have shown us how political will accelerated the transition to renewables in a short amount of time. Last year about 27 percent of its electricity came from renewables, where after the 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, which led Chancellor Angela Merkel to declare that Germany would shut all 17 of its own reactors by 2022. The fear of meltdown is a much more powerful and immediate motive than the fear of slowly rising temperatures and seas. History has shown that we are willing to collectively sacrifice in the face of threats many times, most famously in the embrace of rationing, self-sufficient farming during World Wars I and II. To support fuel conservation during World War II, pleasure driving was virtually eliminated in the U.K between 1938 and 1944, use of public transit went up by 87 percent in the U.S and by 95 percent in Canada. Interestingly, all of these activities together dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Yes, the threat of war seemed immediate and substantial during then but why haven’t we seen climate change or capitalism the same way too?

Majority Bottom has to Act

We need to shift from privatization to community ownership and control. We need large public sector investments for emissions reduction: shift to renewables, smart grids, free of charge public transport infrastructure, urban redesigns that obsolete car usages, preparation for storms and other emergencies. And of course, revenues should come from polluters, such as high royalties, or a steep carbon tax with redistribution to those who cannot afford higher prices. Paradox to this, it is immoral for some countries to even subsidize dirty fossil fuels using public funds. We need game-changing policies that don’t merely aim to change laws but change patterns of thought. We need to continue to preach across how we owe to one another based on our shared humanity on this common earth, and what it is that we collectively value more than economic growth and corporate profits. Imagine a powerful social movement with a coalition of trade unions, immigrants, students, environmentalists, and everyone else whose dreams were getting crushed by the crashing economic model. The real solutions to this climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more stable and equitable economic system, one that strengthen and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically flushes off corporate greed. What we are really talking about, if we are honest with ourselves, is transforming everything about the way we live on this planet. And, it just requires breaking every rule in the ‘free market’ playbook, reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies, and reclaiming our democracies. Solving this solving more than what climate change affects us alone but redefining our obsoleting capitalism model that has robbed humanity’s dignity apart. This changes everything.

And yes i am still half way through the book! What do you think?