In ‘This Changes Everything’, a critique of capitalism and climate change, Naomi Klein quotes a scientist who asks ‘Is the world fucked?’ The answer apparently, is pretty much yes, especially if we don’t change our CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, and basically our whole economic model. What we need is system change, not climate change.
Climate change reflects all the systematically bad things we’re doing to the planet – the destruction of vast global commons with wicked consequences. We’re burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow, and at this rate there might not be. Deforestation, habitat loss, extinction of species, polar ice melt, erosion, destruction of cultures as sea levels rise and storms swamp island homes…climate change is now. We’re squandering the carbon heritage of generations past and generations to come, and despoiling the whole planet in the process.
This weekend’s climate change marches in 2000 different communities around the world including 35 centres in NZ, show the people of this planet want action and not just more hot air from our ‘leaders’ at this week’s international climate change conference in Paris.
New Zealand makes a disproportionate per capita contribution to greenhouse gases, and our high standard of living, arguably adds both responsibility and ability to New Zealand’s efforts to address at least our own contribution to climate change. But at the conference this week, our country supports only a weak and underwhelming non-binding multi-lateral agreement on carbon emissions that shows no leadership at all. Agriculture, which comprises 48% of NZ’s carbon emissions is exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme because other than decreasing the national herd size and intensity, there’s no way of reducing emissions. Addressing climate change is incompatible with the economic growth model. In fact, NZ proposes one of the weakest climate change action plans and has one of the worst pollution reduction records of all developed states attending, according to Russel Norman, new Executive Director for Greenpeace NZ.
But economic instruments like emission trading (pollution markets) won’t solve the climate change eco-apocalypse. Market systems are what got us into this problem in the first place. What we need is a whole new economic system, system change, not climate change.
After all, climate change is just the latest expression of a fatalistic commodification and abuse of the planet that is Coca-cola capitalism. It’s the model that is flawed, and we can’t use ‘green growth’ as a way out of environmental damage without creating more. We can’t continue to chop down rainforests and burn ancient peatlands releasing smoke, CO2, and destroying habitats without a kickback from nature. Capitalism is eating itself because it’s using up all the natural capital and polluting the free commons that underpinned its development in the first place. There can’t be infinite growth in a finite world. It’s estimated we’ve made 50% of species extinct in the last 40 years, a process called ‘the great acceleration’ in the effects of mankind, capitalism and industrialisation on the ecosphere. There’s only so much (so little) rainforest left, so many fish (so few), limited clean water, glaciers, biodiversity… and capitalism is reducing it to waste that’s clogging up the ocean and atmospheric commons. We can only externalise environmental effects to a limit given we live in a closed system and reports are that we have already pushed it over the brink.
Politicians have short, electoral cycle based time horizons, so it’s no coincidence that Bill English, Finance Minister, considers preparation for climate change effects “not a pressing issue”. Capitalism is too big to fail, and capital interests are too big for NZ’s ministers to get into a staring contest with. The government won’t go near its own ‘sacred cow’, dairy farming, and put measures in place to attenuate its effects. Just the same way Barak Obama refused to link clean energy with the bail out of the major car companies in the US after the Global Financial Crisis, crony capitalism is king. No wonder Parisian climate change activists have been sentenced to house arrest and protests have been banned. Leaders don’t really want their growth agenda disturbed by calls for alternative action.
But the response of the world’s public to climate change fears, is what provides hope, even if our leaders fail. We are the 99% and many environmental solutions lie in our hands. We are the power behind the ‘great transition’ to a more democratic, just system for all nature, humans included. Refusing to be part of a corrupt, ecocidal and wasteful system is within our capacity. Refusing to buy products with palm oil, not eating meat, riding a bike, picking up rubbish, planting a garden, participating in the informal and gift economy, creating and occupying new commons, forging new forms of creative resistance, these are all paths to a new economic and social model and a better environmental future.
Climate change is a deeply moral issue reflecting how we share the world with human and non-human others and what we leave for tomorrow. We know our political leaders are weak and incapable of taking action that would reshape the system that keeps them there. Let’s not give up, it’s up to us, to unFuck the World.