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Confronting climate change means challenging capitalism

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Photo by Spielvogel/ Wikimedia Commons

While it is not often named in the mainstream media, the economic system that we live (and die) under has a name: it is called capitalism.

There's also a strong argument that capitalism is inextricably linked to the existential crisis of our time and that we must push for a profound economic transformation while there is still time to avoid catastrophic climate disruption.

Capitalism, in its simplest terms, is an economic system based not just on profit, but on the maximization of profit. Neoliberalism can be understood as internal to the logic of capitalism and includes deregulation, corporate tax cuts, privatization and free trade. These are ideologies of huge inequalities in wealth and power.

When Justin Trudeau, promoting the tar sands, told oil and gas industry executives in Texas that, "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there," he couldn't have more clearly made the point.

While science says that 85 per cent of the tar sands needs to stay in the ground to stop runaway climate change, capitalism and Canada's neoliberal prime minister commodify the equation into billions of dollars in profit that couldn't possibly be left in the ground.

And despite Trudeau's progressive spin, that extraction and pipeline construction comes with other elements deeply related to capitalism: colonization, racism, violence against women and nature, and dispossession.

Author-activist Naomi Klein writes, "After years of recycling, carbon offsetting and light bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis. Climate change is a collective problem, and it demands collective action."

That collective action needs to include: economic planning (rather than the profit motive driving investments), strict regulation (including shutting down the tar sands), equitable and sustainable trading relationships (rather than corporate rights-based "free trade" agreements), an end to the subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and more.

These actions are the antithesis of capitalism. Klein highlights, "The role of the corporate sector, with its structural demand for increased sales and profits, would have to contract."

Expropriation, nationalization and/or heavy taxes on the oil and gas transnational corporations that made billions while pushing the world to the edge of a climate cliff will be needed to fund the transition to a renewable energy economy. In other words, the reckless centralization of wealth will need to be disrupted for the public good.

The 1% has waged a class war that has made our future survival on this planet a precarious scenario; now the 99% have to push back, with urgency. There is a fundamental truth in the statement by Utah Phillips that, "The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses."

We are already seeing how most climate refugees -- like those fleeing Syria and Yemen where climate change has exacerbated tensions have fueled wars and military interventions -- are stopped at borders when they are forced to leave their homes.

We know too that neoliberalism fuels the scourge of racism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, misogyny and fascism.

Not to be fatalistic, but if neoliberalism has already brought you precarious employment/unemployment, mounting personal debt, concerns about how you'll pay for your children's university education and for your parents' care in their latter years, while a few enjoy massive wealth and privilege, there will be more versions of that reality around the corner as climate change worsens.

There is condescension in Trudeau's recurrent pitch that "a clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand" when he quips with Big Oil about the imperative of extracting 173 billion barrels of oil, spends billions of public dollars on a tar sands pipeline, and signs on to the Paris Agreement without a plausible plan to reach its aspirational goals.

But this will be the spin his government will be using as it meets in Saskatoon this week to discuss next steps on various issues, including the Federal Court of Appeal ruling on the consultation process for the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.

We need to reject Trudeau's hypocrisy and rise up against climate capitalism. We also need a clear articulation of a different economic model. With or without tinkering, the system that brought us to this dangerous precipice isn't going to rescue us from it.

Photo by Spielvogel/ Wikimedia Commons

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