Capitalism vs The Climate

I believe myself to be a realist. I have no doubt that many who know me would scoff at this, having long ago slotted me firmly in the ‘pessimist’ pigeonhole.

Nevertheless, my weeks of late seem to be full of Thursdays. As in “This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” This particular week, my copy of Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything arrived and, though snuffling and sneezing from a streaming cold, I tore through it in about five thick gulps.

I found it a fascinating read.

The book is aptly subtitled ‘Capitalism vs The Climate’. Here’s a passage that I think summarises both the book, and our situation, rather well:

The idea that capitalism and only capitalism can save the world from a crisis created by capitalism is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested and retested in the real world. We are now able to set theory aside and take a hard look at the results: at the celebrities and media conglomerates that were supposed to model chic green lifestyles who have long since moved on to the next fad; at the green products that were shunted to the back of the supermarket shelves at the first signs of recession; at the venture capitalists who were supposed to bankroll a parade of innovation but have come up far short; at the fraud-infested, boom-and-bust carbon market that has failed miserably to lower emissions; at the natural gas sector that was supposed to be our bridge to renewables but ended up devouring much of their market instead. And most of all, at the parade of billionaires who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided that, on second thought, the old one was just too profitable to surrender.

We’ve tried it Branson’s way. (And Buffett’s, Bloomberg’s, Gates’s, and Pickens’s way.) The soaring emissions speak for themselves. There will, no doubt, be more billionaire saviors who make splashy entrances, with more schemes to rebrand capitalism. The trouble is, we simply don’t have another decade to lose pinning our hopes on these sideshows. There is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy; but the profit motive is not going to be the midwife for that great transformation.

This is important because Branson was onto something with his pledge [to spend $3 billion developing technologies to battle climate change — a pledge he has yet to fulfil]. It makes perfect sense to make the profits and proceeds from the businesses that are most responsible for exacerbating the climate crisis help pay for the transition to a safer, greener future. Branson’s original idea — to spend 100 percent of the proceeds from his trains and airlines on figuring out a way to get off fossil fuels — was, at least in theory, exactly the kind of thing that needs to take place on a grand scale. The problem is that under current business models, once the shareholders have taken a slice, once the executives have given themselves yet another raise, once Richard Branson has launched yet another world-domination project and purchased another private island, there doesn’t seem to be much left over to fulfill the promise.

— Naomi Klein, ‘This Changes Everything’, pp 252-3

A half pint of beer

It’s in print so it must be true.

One of the many features of homo fatuus brutus is an uncompromising optimism, a trait that has helped to get us to the top of the food chain. Unfortunately, we’re busily demolishing all the links below us. Our species has had so much practise finding ways out of problems that the precipice ahead is literally unthinkable, as in ‘impossible to think about’. And yet, full of hope and optimism, Klein points to a path out of the nightmare. ‘This Changes Everything’ is the kind of book I would love to write; though I doubt I could ever flavour our predicament with the verve and confident enthusiasm with which she has imbued it.

I’m too much the realist, you see 😉

In fact, having finished the book, I’m resolved to read it again to try to figure out how Klein pulled off the optimistic view trick… because where she sees burgeoning mass activism everywhere, I only see sporadic signs; bubbling under, perhaps, but never making enough impact.

Whitehall is just one place that must be choked by a throng demanding action every week — not just once in a blue moon — until Those In Power feel their cosy positions under threat. Because until they feel they absolutely must act, they.
Absolutely.
Will.
Not.

Whether optimist, pessimist, or realist, we all need to pull together, soon, because the last drop will soon be gone — and there will be no way to refill the glass.

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About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
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10 Responses to Capitalism vs The Climate

  1. All I can say is that I loved to read your comment about this kind of book you would love to write.

    Hopes and expectations?
    I think all this is a gigantic magnification of the Easter Island Syndrom. ( incurable ) Not clear where we will be gone, but earth will patienly sit it out.

    I’m a very optimistic pessimist.
    Cheers Pendant!

  2. disperser says:

    Not optimistic at all (but I will read the book, it sounds interesting).

    At the very least, even if we ever do manage to gain a measure of control over what looks to me like a runaway process, it will be at the cost of suffering to perhaps billions.

    The scarier scenario is that we’ll limp along, quality of life slowly degrading (although our shiny new iPhones will keep our minds from dwelling on it).

    I don’t know if you are familiar with RoadRunner cartoons . . . there is always a scene that is analogous to how I see the world these days.

    The coyote is chasing the roadrunner who is running away and raising a trail of dust. The coyote overshoots the roadrunner, and when the dust clears, the coyote is 10 feet past the edge of a cliff, with no way back.

    It seems to me humanity has had many of those moments, and having each time rebuilt better, stronger . . . and more destructive. At some point, the fall will be too great to recover.

    . . . and I do miss Douglas Adams . . .

    • pendantry says:

      Wile. E. Coyote holding up banner saying 'help!'The forces set in motion will affect billions (of humans) regardless of whether we attempt to address the problems. There are other ‘billions’ too: for instance we have, over the last 40 years, driven over half the planet’s vertebrates to extinction. Bees are dropping like flies because Big Ag prefers profits over sanity. ‘Gaining a measure of control’ comes with a cost… but that uncovers another can of worms, since it is our belief in our supremacy over all of creation that has led us to try to exert control in the first place. Some people think that we are headed for total collapse, of the economy, our ‘civilisation’, and possibly the biosphere itself. Yes, I’m familiar with the road runner (meep! meep!) and agree with your appraisal of the situation. Malthus was right, as was the Council of Rome.

      I, too, miss Douglas Adams. A genius in his own lunchtime if there ever was one.

    • disperser says:

      Not sure if that is a review per se . . . more like a condemnation while inciting to what sounds like revolution. Dare I say a populus revolution, with ‘people’ taking control of things?

      Very few ‘revolutions’ ever produced anything good. The problem is that there is no such thing as populations being in charge of anything. It’s always a few individuals, and benevolent dictators are few and far between.

      My only hope is that things limp along for at least 20-30 years . . . then I won’t care. It may sound callous, but if people with kids don’t seem to care, I don’t see why I should.

      • pendantry says:

        I don’t see how you can not be sure that it’s a review. I am very sure that it is one. I guess we agree to differ.

        As for ‘revolutions never producing anything good’: I don’t really know how to respond to that, since revolutions of various kinds over the last ten or so millennia is pretty much how homo fatuus brutus got where it is today. Unless that’s what you mean? I find I’m tending to agree with “Industrial Revolution: bad” — in retrospect, but then of course it’s always easy to pick the winners after the race has been run.

        My view on ‘people with kids’ is that of course they care, but their focus is too short term. Which, of course, suits our ‘democratic process’ to a tee since that’s based on leaving the bill for those who follow. There ought by now to be a word that means “The situation we inherited…” because politicians (in the UK at least) (a) over-use that phrase all the time and (b) have a fondness for obfuscation.

      • disperser says:

        The article basically quotes the book, then says good points, but wrong conclusion.

        Say I review a movie like Avengers . . . bad guy makes deal with badder guys causing good guys to assemble a team in response. There’s some trouble. There are fights, action, and the good guys win. I would have have ended it differently.

        I suppose that can be considered a review, but it was not that helpful. It’s as helpful as a summary of the book, and for the site to advance their own ideas (whacky as they are). However, for the first part I could have just read an abstract.

        Not a big deal. People can differ in perspectives.

        As for revolutions, I characterize them as last resorts by people who were too stupid to find other ways to deal with a problem, or that let the problem grow to begin with.

        I suppose I am thinking of the Russian Revolution, French Revolution, Cuban Revolution, etc. etc. Can’t say the aftermath of those revolutions made things better. Eventually, maybe, but it’s questionable in most of the cases. In each of those cases, the people arose to ‘take power’. Didn’t quite work out as they might have hoped.

        I suppose there are still people who think violent, sudden, and drastic change is a good thing. Personally, I’ve never known that to be the case. Even when it’s not violent. Even when it’s with the best intentions.

        Again, perspectives differ. I could say the American revolution was an initial success, but many others might argue the eventual outcome was not so good for the world.

        Ultimately, as I said, I don’t care that much. Not any more. That’s tied to my perception of people. The vast majority (left, right, and center) of individuals do not have the making of either good leaders or critical thinkers. A dangerous combination exploited by countless people over the short history of mankind.

        To be more specific, the idea that people of diverse cultures, climates, economic, education, and social backgrounds could organize to common goals is outside my ability to imagine. Even people in the same power/social/political groups often can’t agree on what to do, let alone how to do it.

        ‘Solutions’ that do not take that factor into account are no solutions at all. Ergo, no solutions; we are screwed.

        • pendantry says:

          I don’t believe that social revolutions need necessarily include hostility. Examples include the industrial and information revolutions; emancipations of a variety of groups have been conducted relatively calmly.

          I agree with you about perspectives. This is, I assure you, not meant as a slur: you characterise revolutions as ‘last resorts of stupid people’, and list a bunch of nations who have had them — yet you classify the American revolution as… a success. I don’t know your nationality, but I’m willing to bet you’re a USAn. Nobody considers themselves to be stupid. (This is possibly one reason why The Age of Stupid didn’t get a much wider audience.)

          “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” — Bertrand Russell.

          The world’s various nations are too selfish and insular to cooperate meaningfully. I agree with your conclusion: homo fatuus brutus is boorishly sleepwalking into oblivion.

        • disperser says:

          The revolutions you mentioned were driven by . . . capitalism.

          I agree with you about the emancipation of various groups.

          I am in the USA, but not USA born. The reason I mentioned the American Revolution is that the aftermath of it was not a dictatorship, or more bloody conflicts (until the Civil War, but you can’t pin that on the revolution).

          The reason I say stupid is that it’s a bad habit. It’s more of a colloquialism than an actual assessment of the people. I really should break that habit.

          Nonetheless, many revolutions were the result of people finally waking up to the fact that kings don’t have divine rights.

          Or, realizing that through complacency their own rights have been ceded to a given group or class of people. But at the start of every such situation are people willing to take advantage of the, if not stupidity, at least gullibility of the populus. Resistance at the beginning of a problem is less bloody and traumatic than attempting to change something that has established itself, controls courts and armies, and has grown to think nothing can hamper their desires, and that they have no responsibility to those they rule.

          Looking at history, every system gets there . . . even, eventually, the US.

          • disperser says:

            Forgot to mention . . . the emancipation of various groups is often tied to capitalism, both as offering opportunities and because capitalism needs a continuous supply of customers.

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