Capitalism and climate crisis

Capitalism and climate change are two sides of the same coin

Muhammad Wajahat Sultan January 07, 2023
The writer is a UET graduate and holds Master’s degrees from Sargodha University and Allama Iqbal Open University Islamabad. He can be contacted at [email protected]

In the 21st century, humanity is facing the insurmountable challenge of ecological collapse emanating after the rise of industrialisation as a result of capitalism. Capitalism and climate change are two sides of the same coin. Climate change is killing the cedars of Lebanon. Not just that. Since 1998, extreme heat has killed more than 160,000 people, and could kill millions more if climate change goes unchecked. The free market is the greatest invention of human beings. But here is the catch: markets only work their magic when prices reflect real costs. And current prices are out of whack. We are letting the firms that sell fossil fuels and, indeed, anyone who emits greenhouse gases cause enormous damage for which they don’t have to pay. If capitalism is not controlled and reimagined for the sake of humanity, it will result in horrendous fallout for the earth and its inhabitants. Capitalist-driven climate change could cause some unyielding fallouts that are potentially hazardous to society.

The world is failing to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — and the consequences are dire. Due to the capitalist mode of production, the emission of greenhouse gases causes record heatwaves and droughts which adversely affect not only the human ecosystem but also food production. Ocean acidification threatens coral reef ecosystems and fish populations, which provide food for billions of people around the world. Furthermore, the warm seasons will last longer, as disease-carrying insects will become more prevalent and occupy larger areas, infecting countless people with life-threatening illnesses. Farming regions will be at tremendous risk of crop failure as local weather behaves erratically or changes completely. In the developing world, it will create massive water and food shortages, resulting in unspeakable death tolls.

Capitalism is beholden to the philosophy of extractivism — a non-reciprocal approach. Capitalist countries extract natural resources — oil, gas, minerals and coal — from every corner of the world. During the process, the sites are poisoned, drained or otherwise destroyed. As capitalist economies do not reciprocate by adding greenery, this will emerge as a potential threat to human survival in the coming days. Additionally, it must abandon “free market fundamentalism” in order to regulate nature and prevent the fallout.

According to the IPCC’s special report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security and Greenhouse Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems, the earth’s landscape, soil patterns and ecosystems will suffer due to unregulated growth and modes of production under capitalism. We need to implement comprehensive early warning systems for extreme weather as well as other observational programmes to monitor land use, the degradation of biodiversity and the spread of disease-bearing insects. Capitalism is driven primarily by the desire for ever-increasing profits and the accumulation of capital, and such a structure is incompatible with long-term planning. Large multinational corporations — Exxon, for instance — make decisions primarily based on short-term profit. In the 1970s, when Exxon was at the forefront of climate research, their scientists discovered just how harmful fossil fuels are. Instead of making this info public and working with policymakers to find a solution they marked those documents confidential and launched a decade-long propaganda campaign to sow doubt on the effects of GHG emissions. To maximise their short-term profits, they sacrificed the long-term survival of millions of humans.

The hidden costs of doing things like burning oil and gas are unbearable. Everyone who is trying to build a clean economy has to compete with firms that are heavily subsidised by the government. Eventually, these firms will destroy our health and contribute to the degradation of our climate. If we want to ensure a livable future for the human race, we must move past capitalism, which is incapable of solving the problems it creates. We should adhere to ethical consumption in order to preserve our atmosphere for future generations.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2023.

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