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Protests against climate change increase, but blame put on wrong miscreants

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Global Climate Strike in London, March 2019. Image: Garry Knight/Flickr

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmental activist, made headlines at the recent United Nations climate summit. In a fiery speech, she berated the world's governments for their persistent failure to curb climate change.

"How dare you steal my dreams and my childhood with your empty words?" she demanded.

Thunberg is one of the more prominent young activists who have taken to the streets to protest this political dereliction. While this latest feeble UN climate summit was being held, thousands of schoolchildren were staging protests in front of legislatures around the world. They waved placards demanding that governments finally get serious about averting an environmental catastrophe.

As I watched the demonstrations on my TV screen, I applauded these young people, but couldn't suppress a doleful sigh and shake of my head. They are among the billions who suffer from a huge blind spot in their perception of the planet's mounting malaise.

They are directing their wrath against the wrong perpetrators of climate change. It's not the world's governments; it's the world's big multinational corporations, to whom governments have become meekly subservient.

The planet is being polluted by air-borne and water-borne industrial waste -- the detritus of the prevalent capitalist economic system. Its core operating function is based on the irrational assumption that infinite economic growth can be maintained indefinitely on a planet with finite natural resources.

Perpetuating a colossal myth

It's a colossal myth that is being perpetuated because, without it -- without unchecked global warming, depletion of natural resources, deforestation, wildlife extinction, air and water pollution -- capitalism could not long survive. It's eventually doomed, anyway, of course, if it's permitted to keep demolishing the planet and most of its inhabitants. That permissiveness, however, can only be withdrawn by the world's governments, which still show no sign of becoming the world's saviours.       

Political leaders, far from restraining corrosive corporate greed, lavish its CEOs and major investors with massive tax cuts and billion-dollar subsidies. Our governments' blatant pretence to be sincerely concerned about Earth's declining viability shouldn't fool any intelligent person.

Most people who have been bedazzled by that huge mental blind spot might have their eyes opened to reality, if some concerted effort were made to enlighten them. But all our major media outlets remain silent. So do all our political parties. So do all the environmental organizations.

None of them has publicly exposed the capitalist economic system as by far the worst generator of global warming. None of them has declared that unchecked capitalism is incompatible with a clean climate. They all are keenly aware of this reality, but behave as if they actually share the deniers' delusion that climate change is a hoax.

The billion-dollar promises being made in the current election campaign by the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and even by the Greens, are blithely projected into the far future -- as if that future is not facing the horrendous blight of climate crisis. The Liberals' pledge to completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2050 is just one example of this futuristic folly.

Naomi Klein's proposals ignored 

Of all the prominent writers about climate change, I'm aware of only one who has openly and bluntly identified capitalism as the principal climate miscreant. That was Naomi Klein, in her book, This Changes Everything.

"Responding to climate change," she declared, "requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatization, re-localize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, and cut military spending.

"Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping the corporations of their status as 'people' under the law."

She could have added that none of this has a hope in hell of happening as long as "progressive" political parties, activists, and organizations continue to ignore her indisputable claim that capitalism is the climate villain that must first be subjugated.

This Changes Everything was published five years ago, but Klein's exposure of capitalism as the chief climate culprit has since been entirely dismissed by left-wing political and environmental groups. They are clearly afraid of the negative political backlash if they dare cast aspersions on the world's global economic "religion." It's safer to blame the government lackeys of corporations instead, safer to keep staging protests outside legislatures, safer to keep depending for action by an impotent UN.

The number of environmental activists and protesters keeps growing by the hundreds of thousands, especially among the youth who are most in jeopardy. But they still, knowingly or not, keep clustering under that cognitive blind spot, content to share the illusion that governments, not corporations, are the chief climate change villains.

Klein ended her book on a note of optimism. "There is no joy in being right about something so terrifying. But for progressives, it means that our ideas are more important than ever. It means that a green-left worldview, which rejects the centrality of profit in our economy, offers humanity's best hope [for the future]."

That would be true if the "progressives" to whom she referred hadn't become "regressives." That's what their refusal to accept and act on Klein's proposed reforms have made them. They shrink from joining in her call for the replacement of capitalism by some form of democratic socialism.

And that timidity, that hypocritical acceptance of planet-wrecking capitalism will be their sordid legacy to the survivors of the global Armageddon (if any).

Author's note: A new book by Naomi Klein -- On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal -- has recently been published. I haven't yet had time to purchase and read it, but I'm sure none of its contents will affect or conflict with the excerpts I've quoted from her previous book.

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he worked as a printer's apprentice, reporter, columnist and editor of that city’s daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.

Image: Garry Knight/Flickr

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