The clarion call is here for a radical way of re-thinking the human relationship within and alongside the environment. Imagine a new paradigm and a new socio-political-economic system that is required if the climate crisis is to be addressed in such a way that our children and grandchildren will enjoy sustainable futures.
Recently, wildfire swept through acres of land in California to Big Sur, a phenomenon not ordinarily experienced in winter months. but, where climate change is concerned, these are extra-ordinary times. British Columbia witnessed over 1600 wildfires this past summer. fires that destroyed around 8700 square kilometers of land. A few months later we barely recover from the wildfires and several regions of B.C. experience rainfall considered to be an atmospheric river. In the resultant floods, as many as 15,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
On January 26, 2022, the CBC reported on a new study demonstrating that 14,000 glaciers in B.C. and Alberta “…have been melting an average of seven times faster over the past decade than in previous time periods…”. This rapid melting is creating lakes posing a threat for future flooding, not to mention related, additional, concerns impacting biodiversity.
The World Health Organization (WHO, 2021) recently observed “The life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change, and current climate commitments are nowhere near enough to protect our children, grandchildren and future generations. Every year, environmental factors take the lives of 1.7 million under the age of five, and one billion children are already at extremely high risk of the impacts of the climate crisis” (p. 58).
According to the WHO (2021),  “The climate crisis threatens to undo the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction, and to further widen existing health inequalities between and within populations” (p. 2). “Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. And while no one is safe from the health impacts of climate change, they are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged” (p. 60). Not surprisingly, but disconcerting, the Report specifically indicates that although “Everyone is harmed by the impacts of climate change to some degree…these harms fall disproportionately on disadvantaged population groups – including women and girls, Indigenous communities, people in crisis, displaced people, and the poor” (p. 21).
Sociologist John Bellamy Foster (2021) summarizes climate change concerns as expressed in the most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), Sixth Assessment Report: The Physical Science Basis, which
…explains that the various climatic and extreme weather events will tend to compound, as in the case of droughts, desertification (dust bowlification), soil erosion, wildfires, and weakened monsoons, on the one hand, and a melting crytosphere, sea level rise, mega storms, and flooding, on the other – thereby intensifying and extending these catastrophic events, which will appear to come from everywhere at once (p. 9).
Punctuating the connection between capitalism and the climate crisis, Moore (2015) observes we abide today “…in a world in which every nook and cranny bears the impress of capital’s toxification: from heavy metals in Arctic glaciers and children’s blood, to the plastic ‘garbage patches’ in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to rising atmospheric concentrations of CO2” (p. 280).
Fatalism and despair is an unacceptable response to this human manufactured crisis; catastrophic thinking and dwelling upon doomsday scenarios need be avoided. Instead, as the authors referenced here agree, it is time for action. The authors whose thinking/writing informs this reflection suggest a new paradigm and way of thinking and acting is required if human beings are to shift our interrelationship with the abstraction referred to as the natural world; in actuality, a domain human beings have sought to dominate, control, and extract from indiscriminately.
Such a relational shift requires leadership and creativity, and flexibility where ideology is concerned. Ask yourself, what sort of “leadership” is demonstrated by politicians such as Canada’s Justin Trudeau, speaking on March 9, 2017, in Houston, Texas, at a Global Energy and Environment Leadership Award dinner, proclaimed, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there. The resources will be developed” (in, Klein, 2020, p.25); Trudeau, one year later purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion. Or, the example of former U.S. President, Barack Obama, who “…bragged to an audience in Texas that ‘suddenly, America is the biggest oil producer. That was me, people’” (in, Wallace-Wells, 2021, p. 42).
An eco-socialist political philosophy presents itself as a viable challenge to the current hegemony of the capitalist mode of production, and its impact and effects. Capitalism, within the current neoliberal context, remains predatory in its material requirements and capital accumulation. As long as so-called green technology et al is considered within the economics of a global capitalist construct, neoliberal economics and the market will prevail, and profit over persons will reign, with continuing exploitation of human labour, and accompanying environmental devastation.
Seth Klein (2020) argues that the kind of mobilization demonstrated by Canadians in the WW II efforts to defeat Hitler and Nazism should be used as a template to mobilize against the climate crisis. Klein writes, “What is notable about Canada’s wartime economic policies is that our leaders then were not bound by the straightjacket of neoliberal economic thinking” (p. 171); “Thus far, however, our leaders today very much are. So much of our climate-response policies to date can be summarized in four words: incentives, rebates, carbon pricing. We are fiddling at the margins while the planet burns, hoping that market-based signals can sufficiently alter household consumption and business investment. They won’t.” (p. 171).
Felli (2021) also highlights the political context of the climate crisis:
We have said that the climate question is, first and foremost, a political one – and it implies the proposal and then the enactment of a different way of producing the world. Calls to ‘politicise’ or ‘repoliticise’ the climate must, logically, result in an alternative political economy, based on solidarity, democracy and ecology. And this means a transformation of private property. Only this will make it possible to go beyond capitalism as the decisive organizing principle of the fabric of our lives (p.156).
That capitalism is inextricably aligned with the climate crisis is incontrovertible. “Capitalism’s relentless drive to accumulate capital is its defining characteristic, ensuring anthropogenic rifts and ecological destruction as it systematically undermines the overall conditions of life” (Foster and Bretts, 2021, p. 12). Again, regarding political systems, Foster and Clark (2021) write,
If historic humanity is to survive, today’s capitalist civilization devoted to the single- minded pursuit of profits as its own end, resulting in an anthropogenic rift in the Earth system, must necessarily give way to an ecological civilization rooted in communal use values. This is the real meaning of today’s widely referred to planetary ‘existential crisis’ (p. 12).
George Monbiot (2017) observes, “To most people, who are not economists or politicians or journalists, the state of the living planet features as a real but remote concern, dimly perceived through the gauze of daily life” (p. 115). Yet, as Moore (2015) notes, “Do a Google search. Get on an airplane. Shop for groceries. Pick up your child from school. Everything humans do, in our everyday lives, and in the major political, economic, and cultural events of our times, is bound up with the earth” (p. 22).
John Molneux (2021) notes, “…there is the well-known claim that 70% of greenhouse gasses emitted since 1988 have been produced by just 100 multinational corporations. There is the even more graphic assertion that it is possible to name the top 100 killing the planet (the CEOs of the 100 corporations) (p. 32). Bearing these facts in mind Foster and Clark (2021) “…propose calling this new geological age the Capitalinian Age because it marks the point at which globalizing capitalism, emerging as a geological force threatening the planet itself, began to disrupt the entire Earth System…” (p. 14, emphasis added). Foster goes on to say,
Consequently, humanity is now faced either an end-Anthropocene extinction event, in geological terms, evolving out of the Capitalinian (in the age of catastrophe capitalism), or else we will find a way to create a community with the Earth, which will require a society of ecological sustainability and substantive equality (ecosocialism), ushering in a new geological age: the Communian (p. 14).
Moore (2015) critiques that
The Anthropocene makes for an easy story. Easy, because it does not challenge the naturalized inequalities, alienation, and violence inscribed in modernity’s strategic relations of power and production. It is an easy story to tell because it does not ask us to think about these relations at all. The mosaic of human activity in the web of life is reduced to an abstract Humanity: a homogeneous acting unit. Inequality, commodification, imperialism, patriarchy, racial formations, and much more, have been largely removed from the consideration (p.170).
As Moore, amongst others, makes clear, the concept of the Anthropocene per se cannot be discussed without contextualizing the multiple factors, relationships, and inter-relationships involved.
Hern, Johal and Sacco (2018) observe, “There is a dangerously flammable idea in broad circulation today that the only reasonable path to the future is a reconstituted capitalism” (p. 149). As long as profit is privileged over persons and communities, the existing non-democratic economic system will continue to oppress and devastate human communities and all biodiversity. As Hern etalcontend, “You can do pretty well in global capitalism without any real relationship to democracy” (p. 149); as we’re increasingly aware.
Nancy Fraser (2021) writes, “Capitalism…represents the socio-historical driver of climate change, and the core institutionalized dynamic that must be dismantled in order to stop it” (p. 96), continuing, “Anti-capitalism, therefore, could – indeed, should – become the central organizing motif of a new commonsense” (p. 97, emphasis in original). Fraser argues that capitalism’s hegemony is all-encompassing and omnipresent; as capitalism
…is also deeply implicated in seemingly non-ecological forms of social injustice – from class exploitation to racial-imperial oppression and gender and sexual domination. And capitalism figures central, too, in seemingly non-ecological social impasses – in crises of care and social reproduction; of finance, supply chains, wages and work; of governance and de-democratization (p. 97).
Importantly, for Fraser, “…eco-politics today must transcend the ‘merely environmental’ by becoming anti-systemic across the board… I claim that green movements should turn trans-environmental, positioning themselves as participants in the emerging counter-hegemonic bloc, centered on anti-capitalism, which could, at least in principle, save the planet” (p. 97, emphasis in original). Again, merely aligning environmental concerns to neoliberal, capitalist, economics will not and cannot address the pervasiveness and nuances of capitalist exploitation and oppression. As the WHO (2021) observed, “Interconnected climate, nature crises and inequality threaten the health and livelihoods of present and future generations” (p. 42), within the context of “capitalism in the web of life” (Moore, 2015).
This is no utopian vision and as Fraser observes,
Environmental-justice movements are already in principle trans-environmental, targeting entwinements of eco-damage with one or more axes of domination, especially gender, race, ethnicity and nationality; and some of them are explicitly anti-capitalist. Likewise, labour movements, Green New Dealers and some eco-populists grasp (some of) the class prerequisites for fighting global warming, especially the need to link the transition to renewable energy to pro-working-class politics on incomes and jobs, and the need to strengthen the power of states against corporations (pp. 124-125).
Part Two of this reflection will look at the human narrative often disappeared in climate change discussion; that is, for example, what needs to be done for persons whose lives, families, and communities, employment prospects, pensions et al are impacted by moving away from fossil fuel reliance. Part Two will also look at various forms of resistance that have been or are occurring in protest against further and continuing environmental destruction and human suffering.
Felli, R. (2021). The Great Adaptation: Climate, Capitalism and Catastrophe. London & New York: Verso.
Foster, J. B. & Clark, B. (2021). The Capitalinian: The First Geological Age of the Anthropocene. Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine, 73, 4, (September), 1-16.
Foster, J. B. (2021). The Planetary Emergency: What is to be done now? Interview with John Bellamy Foster. Interviewed by John Molyneux and Owen McCormack, Irish Marxist Review, 1o, 31, 1-12.
Fraser, N. (2021). Climates of Capital: For a Trans-Environmental Eco-Socialism. New Left Review, (January-February), 94-127.
Hern, M. & Johal, A. (With K. Sacco). (2018). Global Warming: And the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale. Cambridge, MA & London, England: MIT Press.
Klein, S. (2020). A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency. Toronto:ON, ECW Press.
Lawrence, M. & Laybourn-Langton, L. (2021). Planet on Fire: A Manifesto for the Age of Environmental Breakdown. London & Brooklyn: Verso.
Malm, A. (2021). How to Blow Up a Pipeline. London & Brooklyn: Verso.
Moore, J. W. (2015). Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London & Brooklyn: Verso.
Monbiot, G. (2017). Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. London & Brooklyn: Verso.
Wallace-Wells, D. (20121). Ten Million a Year: David Wallace-Wells on polluted air. London Review of Books, December 2, 2021, 39-42.
COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health: The Health Argument for Climate Action, Advanced proof version, 2021.
 Malm (2021) devotes the final chapter, “Fighting Despair”,of his book How to Blow Up a Pipeline, to a critique of the apolitical claims associated with “climate fatalism”, and those who espouse “…the futility of protest and resistance” (p. 134).
 For a full and thorough exposition of the logic of Fraser’s thesis, see her book, Cannibal Capitalism, (2021), Verso Press.
About the Author
Colin James Sanders, Ph.D. lives with his partner Gail on BC’s The Sunshine Coast, where he reads, writes, paints, and walks the trails and beaches with their dog Garcia. Gail and Colin have seven grandchildren and believe Earth is worth saving for their sake.