George Monbiot

For years it seemed that anti-capitalism wasn’t really the stuff of polite conversation.

It may have been okay to talk about corporate power or corporate rule and maybe more recently about the 1% or even neo-liberalism, but in many civil society circles in this country, it felt like it was a step too far to be explicitly anti-capitalist.

With climate breakdown upon us, might that be changing?

On a recent BBC-TV program, respected journalist George Monbiot made an astonishing comment. He said, “What we have to do is the big structural, political economic stuff. We have to overthrow this system which is eating the planet with perpetual growth. We’ve got to go straight to the heart of capitalism and overthrow it.”

Naomi Klein — whose 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate helped move this critique along — tweeted about Monbiot’s TV appearance, “Gotta love it when the live studio audience of a British chat show cheers for overthrowing capitalism to save our habitat.”

Maybe we are here now because the pitch that individual environmentally-friendly consumerist choices is finally falling flat with more and more people.

Klein has commented, “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.”

Always ready with a new trick, the Trudeau government is now trying to sell us the spin that the carbon tax is a significant measure to address climate breakdown.

But that argument quickly breaks down when you look at the numbers, says Mark Jaccard, professor in the School of Environment and Resource Management at Simon Fraser University.

Jaccard says that to meet the Trudeau government’s (weak and insufficient) target to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 would require a carbon tax starting at $30 a tonne and hitting $200 a tone by 2030.

And yet, the federal carbon tax is $20 a tonne and will max out at $50 a tonne in 2022. In other words, it’s an insufficient tax that won’t help us reach an insufficient target.

In a recent piece in The Guardian titled “Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism,” Phil McDuff writes, “Policy tweaks such as a carbon tax won’t do it.”

This isn’t much of a surprise for anyone who has seen the federal Liberals spin small measures while simultaneously doing big things like spend $4.5 billion on a tar sands pipeline, break a promise to phase out $3.3 billion in annual fossil fuel subsidies to corporations, give the go-ahead for liquefied natural gas export terminals, and greenlight BP drilling for oil and gas offshore of Nova Scotia.

And in a sign that Liberal spin may no longer be able obscure their evident hypocrisy, the public has responded with outrage to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s decision to give $12 million to the billionaire Weston-owned Loblaws grocery store chain to buy new freezers to cut their emissions.

Forget the Weston family using some of their own billions padded with the extra tens of millions that came with fixing the price of bread for more than 14 years, or even legislating that grocery stores buy more local produce to cut down on the emissions related to trucking food long distance. No, the answer to climate breakdown is a public subsidy for a very profitable corporation.

It’s enough to make one recall James Connolly’s statement of more than 100 years ago that, “Governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class.”

And it may well be that it’s Trudeau’s failure, and the failure of liberalism more broadly, to credibly address climate breakdown that has prompted the more radical calls that are now entering the mainstream to challenge capitalism directly.

Stuart Basden, one of the founding members of Extinction Rebellion, has gone even farther to say that “the climate’s breakdown is a symptom of a toxic system” of colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, Eurocentrism, hetero-sexism/heteronormativity, class hierarchy and other oppressions.

Will we be hearing more of this soon and frequently from environmental NGOs, trade union leaders, and others? Will we hear civil society echo Monbiot’s call to overthrow capitalism and see their institutional support for Extinction Rebellion’s call for economic disruption to pressure governments to address climate breakdown?

Or will we be offered another e-petition to sign?

Years ago, while imprisoned by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, Antonio Gramsci wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” That observation seems just as true in this current political moment.

Gramsci also wrote that, “To tell the truth is revolutionary.” Perhaps Monbiot’s comment on a BBC talk show is a small glimmer of hope that a broader political shift may be on the horizon and that together, we could organize to see the birth of a new world free of the scourge of capitalism and climate chaos.

Image: John Russell/Flickr

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer. He has worked in solidarity with revolutionary Nicaragua, advocated for the rights of prisoners in jails and federal prisons, taken part in civil...