Spoiler alert: The free market will not be saving our environment
Two years ago, one of my fellow students at Tufts University participated in a protest with a group on campus called Tufts Climate Action. Him and about 30 others performed a sit-in inside of President Anthony Monaco’s office for 3 days, demanding that the administration consider divestment.
In the aftermath, some of them were served with what was considered the highest degree of disciplinary probation – for occupying a private office – and my friend was given an open judicial hearing. The severity of the backlash, surprised many on campus.
You see, my friend and the others behind him wanted a revolution, a drastic change to the way our school thinks about fossil fuels. Not compromise, but something radical. Which is inherently controversial. This Changes Everything, written by Naomi Klein, a journalist and a member of the board of directors of 350.org, suggests that a revolution is exactly what we need to combat the problem of climate change.
The tagline of this book is “Capitalism vs. the Climate.” She writes “Is it possible without challenging the fundamental logic of deregulated capitalism? Not a chance.”
The history of global warming practices leaves many of the same ideological traces. A key mentality, Klein says, has been “extractivism,” or the feeling of entitlement to extract and use natural resources without cost or consequence. That exploitation, throughout history, has actually been really easy to do, given that these resources are public goods — a quality that enables a profit-maximizing society.
The lucrative-ness of fossil fuels is the reason why Britain’s BG Group plans to invest $30 billion into ultra-deepwater “subsalt” oil extraction, three thousand meters into the Santos basin, it is the reason why Shell is building the largest offshore natural gas facility ever in Australia, more than four soccer fields long, it is the reason why a group of anonymous U.S. billionaires donated about $120 million to “groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change” between 2002 and 2010, as revealed by The Guardian in 2013.
As Klien writes, Investopedia says that a shareholder-assured company is expected to have an equal amount of oil and gas in its proven reserves and in current production — stock prices go up if the company shows they are constantly, relentlessly, and competitively producing.
However, fossil fuels companies, cannot be the only ones to blame. Members of society, Americans, we too are complicit, agreeable to the established world built by neoliberalism. Our everyday behaviors, opinions, and ideas fit into this comfortable and convenient frame of thinking. When we feel too much of a tremor, we turn to “market-based solutions.” In a chilling conclusion of one of the chapters, Klein writes “Because the truth is that, while contemporary, hyper-globalized capitalism has exacerbated the climate crisis, it did not create it. We started treating the atmosphere as our waste dump when we began using coal on a commercial scale in the later 1700s and engaged in similarly reckless ecological practices well before that.”
Here is an excerpt:
What concerns me is less the mechanics of the transition — the shift from brown to green energy, from sole-rider cars to mass transit, from sprawling exurbs to dense and walkable cities — than the power and ideological roadblocks that have so far prevented any of these long understood solutions from taking hold on anything close to the scale required… Because underneath all of this is the real truth we have been avoiding: climate change isn’t an “issue” to add to the list of things to worry about, next to healthcare and taxes. Its is a civilizational wake up call. A powerful message – spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions — telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this plant. Telling us that we need to evolve (25).
My research with the Climate Narrative Project is ongoing. We, the fellows, want to seek and galvanize solutions for sustainability, and find new ways to communicate the necessity for action against climate change. What Klein reminds us though, is that long-lasting and meaningful answers cannot be found until we recognize that the most effective solution, may also be the most disruptive.
Photo courtesy of Mount Holyoke College