Climate, Justice & Global Capitalism

by BurnItDown on February 2, 2014 - 12:15pm

James Hansen. Kevin Anderson. Alice Bows. Bill McKibben. Clive Hamilton. If you are a person who is interested in climate science, you have surely noticed that the names mentioned above are some of the most prominent public intellectuals in that field. But they have something else in common as well. As prominent Canadian journalist and author Naomi Klein recently pointed out in a widely-read article, an “increasingly influential” group of climate scientists are sounding the alarm that humanity is increasingly close to irreparable disaster with regard to climate change. It has been well-documented[1] that large releases of carbon into the atmosphere have played causal roles in the earth’s previous Mass Extinction (ME) events[2], and this group of scientists is warning that humans are currently in the process of triggering a Mass Extinction event because of anthropogenic global warming. This Mass Extinction would almost surely overwhelm the human species as well. The global economy, powered by fossil fuels, has become, literally and figuratively, the engine with which this Mass Extinction is being driven. Many of these climate experts, especially Hansen[3] and McKibben[4], have dedicated themselves full-time to fighting the global economic system which is pushing the earth dangerously close to disaster. Because as complex systems researcher Brad Werner points out in a presentation[5] which Klein mentions, the only hope for preventing catastrophe is that people will “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture… [such as] environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture; as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups.”

Take a step back for a second, and think about the implications of what you just read. Climate scientists, not members of some communist party or fringe political militia, are calling for the tearing down of the global economic system. And they are arguing that if we do not, we are very soon going to see the systems of life which sustain the human species transform into forces of death. This warrants some moral examination.

On the side of the status quo, arguments in favor of the global economic order include the simple fact that fossil fuels provide wealth and jobs[6] for a relatively large number of people, and therefore should be protected in order to guard the livelihoods of those involved in the industry. It has also been argued[7] that fossil fuels are a morally sound product because they provide life-improving services to so many people. Some even argue that climate change is a hoax, but those people are, for lack of a better word, foolish. The debate on climate change is over[8]. I refuse to commit any more time to these arguments, because they do not stand up to rational inquiry. Those arguments are funded by big business[9], not impartial scientists. They are meant to deceive people into believing that we can continue burning carbon and never have to face the consequences. And companies in the carbon industry have hired the same firms[10] as the tobacco industry hired when the ties between smoking and lung cancer first began to be discovered, in order to discredit the genuine science[11] and peddle lies that support the questionable product.

The side of the environmentalists is filled with moral arguments much more valid than their profit-seeking counterparts from the carbon industry. Firstly, the principle of justice indicates that if we must sacrifice some of the privileges which we enjoy today in order to save future generations (likely the next generation, even our own[12]), then we should start doing so immediately. The principle of solidarity dictates that those of us who understand the seriousness of the environmental crisis do our part to save the planet’s future inhabitants from disaster. And the principle of truth forces us to spread the knowledge that the carbon industry literally holds the capacity to destroy the planet in their current reserves, and are planning on using that capacity fully[13]. That does not include unclaimed fuel which is still in the ground.

Some moral questions are quite ambiguous. This one is not. The moral question associated with climate change, boiled down to its most fundamental aspect, is dark in its implications. That question is: “Will we sacrifice the future of the human species because we are unwilling to give up the privileges we enjoy today?”

SOURCES - Original Article by Naomi Klein

[1] - Study of the Permian Mass Extinction, a.k.a. The Great Dying, which was directly caused by atmospheric carbon.

[2] - Study of the role of carbon in the Triassic Mass Extinction

[3] - Information on James Hansen, the man commonly described as the Godfather of modern climate science

[4] - Bill McKibben's global grassrots anti-climate change movement, sign up for localized updates!

[5] - Full article on presentation by Brad Werner titled "Is Earth F**ked?"

[6] - New York Times online article describing the "jobs boom" brought on by Hydraulic Fracturing in the the US.

[7] - A corporate-sponsored report detailing the so-called "moral case for fossil fuels."

[8] - The single most rigorous peer-reviewed study in the history of the world, which claims with 95% certainty that climate change is real, man-made, and an existential threat to the human species.

[9] - A detailed description of how "dark money" from big business is the source of funding for nearly all climate-denialist efforts.

[10] - Filmmaker Josh Fox on Hydro-Fracking, and the gas industry's use of military tactics to discredit the anti-fracking movement

[11] - Short film by Josh Fox titled "The Sky is Pink," which discusses how the gas industry has hired the same firms as the tobacco industry in the '60's to discredit climate scientists.

[12] - Coverage of a recent report by the University of Hawaii which founds that climate change is likely to devastate certain parts of the world within a decade.

[13] - Article by Bill McKibben describing how the carbon industry contains FIVE TIMES the safe level of carbon in their current reserves.


I have found your article captivating and unfortunately true. I had never seen climate changes as an ethical problem but with the points you have highlighted it does make sense. It is disgusting to see how we are unwilling to let go of the little luxury we have in order to save human kind. We are more eager to kill ourselves than to help ourselves on the sole purpose that we do not want to let go our wealth. I believe we should promote climate issues a lot more in order to finally find the solution to the issue and to sensitize the public to all the outcomes possible.