In her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Naomi Klein explains that climate change will not be solved by market mechanisms and individual changes in consumption. What is required is a fundamental change to the way our economy works.
Green movement co-opted
To prove this point Klein explains how much of the environmental movement has wedded itself to market fundamentalism and searches for a solution to climate change within the confines of capitalism, through deals and negotiations with big business.
The product of this is the co-opting of swathes of the environmental movement by big business. Various green organisations, such as Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund have all taken money from major fossil fuel companies such as Shell. Economic links are supplemented by structural links, with fossil fuel executives sitting on boards of these environmental groups. Many environmental organisations even invest in fossil fuel companies to finance their work, and in the case of The Nature Conservancy they have actually been drilling for gas on a piece of land they “rescued” from Mobil (now ExxonMobil) in 1995.
These green organisations do not seek to challenge capitalism, but instead advocate a combination of lobbying, consumerism, and individual action as the solution to climate change. We are encouraged to take shorter showers, use more energy efficient light bulbs, drive hybrid cars and recycle more, as if climate change can be solved by such small actions on a personal level.
The limits of individual action
Klein refers to such arguments as “borderline frivolous”, and rightly so. If every person in the USA did, for example, all the things suggested by Al Gore in his film An Inconvenient Truth, US carbon emissions would fall by 22%. It is generally agreed, however, that they need to fall by 75% to make an impact. In a similar vein, 90% of the water used by humanity is by agriculture and industry; so even 100% efficient water usage by ordinary people would make very little difference to water consumption generally. Even regarding waste more generally, in the USA municipal waste (that is from homes, local businesses and local government) amounts to just 3% of all the waste produced in the USA. No matter how environmentally friendly our lifestyles become, it is a drop in the ocean of pollution caused by big business.
Not only do these so-called “solutions” in fact fail to solve the problem, they actually create more of their own. Klein talks about the new species of “green human rights abuses” against indigenous populations around the world, whose land is bought up and used to make money through carbon trading and other lucrative, unproductive and dodgy schemes related to trying to save the planet using capitalist methods.
A Green New Deal?
Klein correctly demands fundamental economic change as the only viable solution to climate change. But her own solution falls short of what is required. She argues for “a Marshall plan for the earth” to invest in green energy and green jobs, which she acknowledges would be very costly, as any large Keynesian-style scheme would be, particularly one of this scale.
But such a scheme is not in the interests of big business, which often remain more competitive by polluting than by protecting the environment. The money for such a large-scale "Green Deal" would ultimately have to come - if it was not to constitute a further burden on ordinary people, or an attack on their living standards - from the profits of big business themselves. Such giant multinationals would, therefore, resist anything that threatened their profits tooth-and-nail, countering with their own threats to starve the economy of investment.
As we have seen all too clearly over the last six years, with the bank bailouts and austerity, governments are entirely under the thumb of big business. It is not government that controls industry and finance, but industry and finance that control government. If one accepts the logic of capitalism, one must also accept the domination of business interests, including their unrestricted capacity to pollute and rapaciously consume, and must therefore accept climate change.
The anarchic and destructive logic of capitalism
This is the deficiency of Klein’s book: although not a capitulation to big business, she accepts the logic of capitalism, and aims to make it a nicer capitalism which will look out for the environment. Such a policy is utopian. It is the competitive and anarchic laws of capitalism - arising from private ownership and production for profit - that are responsible for the environmental destruction and race to the bottom that we see today. Only by putting an end to this anarchy of capitalism can we end to the polluting of our planet.
We need to be talking about expropriating the big business owners and fossil fuel bosses and putting their giant companies under the democratic control of ordinary people; linking these enterprises into an integrated plan of production including transport, energy and research and development, all on an international scale. Such a transformation is the only way to fight climate change and to strike blows against the fundamental pillars of the capitalist system: competition, private property and the nation state.
These demands are demands for a socialist society, for which it is our responsibility to fight. Such a revolutionary struggle does indeed have the potential to change everything.