Climate Change is a Class Struggle: How Capitalism Destroyed the Planet (Part 2)

This essay was written by Celine Qin on the 6th of March, 2022.

The first part of this series discussed how capitalism is not ecologically sustainable. The free-market imperialist system has never been compatible with preserving the environment, as profit accumulation is the first priority above all livelihood. Capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy — all woven together as a strategic force of oppression and destruction is the root cause of the horrid environmental damage. As covered, the earth is not a fungible commodity, but it has been treated like one.

In this essay, we will analyze the global fight for climate justice and what needs to be done alongside the movement to restore the planet.

“Green capitalism” essentially advocates for a “more sustainable” version of capitalism, but with somehow eco-friendly policies. These may include eco-friendly products which consumers are urged to buy to “do their part in saving the planet” or pushing for green energy or electric cars produced by companies. It’s primary idea is utilizing the market to mend the broken environment.

Of course, the concept of “green capitalism” ignores that the free market economy is the cause of environmental destruction in the first place, and this “new and improved” approach to consumerism inflicts the same harm; The only thing that has changed is that destruction now comes in a biodegradable package.

“Sustainability” rooted in the individual’s consumption of supposedly green products perpetrates individual decisions as the root cause to blame for the state of environmental damage as we know it today. It advocates for individual changes as the primary solution, ignoring the pressing need to abolish the unethical and unsustainable capitalist mode of production.

While high mass consumption and waste, especially that of the West, is definitely unsustainable, it — and the climate crisis — should be regarded as a systemic, capitalist problem.

Therefore, marketing towards individual consumers as a pressure to — as an absolute must — buy a green product from another multinational monopoly (as otherwise they themselves will be “destroying the planet”) downplays just how serious of a stage ecological collapse the world is in, as if it is something that can be fixed through a simple medley of product choices. This shifts the blame onto often low-income, working class consumers instead of the rich.

To say that the green capitalism approach is unproductive would be an understatement, as its foundation relies on exploiting ecological problems (amidst which non-white, poor people bare the largest consequences) by having the market contort into some kind of profitable framework. In other words, capitalism took the crisis that it created and chose to make money off of it. By doing so, profit remains at the forefront of the so-called climate fight while no genuine liberation is achieved.

The climate fight is inseparable from racial justice, especially for Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples. Climate change has also unequally affected people living in impoverished communities. With the continuous surge of housing inequality, especially in the United States, people of color disproportionately living in lower-quality conditions compared to wealthier white folk are subject to environmental injustice.

In urban land use, inner-city clusters of low-income residents, many of whom are people of color, mean that particular demographics are placed in positions far more unsafe than others. Lower-quality neighborhoods can likely be located near sources of air and water pollution, inadequate public transportation, or scarce access to healthy food.

Countries in the Global South make up the smallest carbon footprint of the entire world, yet the burden of climate change and global warming is disproportionately stamped on their shoulders. Some of the people who are struggling the most include rural farmers, factory workers (often underpaid and working in dangerous conditions in manufacturing plants, many of which are outsourced by the imperial core), and women and children.

U.S.-manufactured wars are one of the greatest contributors of pollution, in addition to the mass production plants constantly operated by corporations, responsible for vast degrees of carbon emissions and footprint. For a vast number of people living in these countries, climate disaster is a reality that has already been hurting their lives for an extremely long time; The same cannot be said for the rich in the Global North.

The long history of abusive natural resource and labor exploitation created by the imperial core needs to be recognized. The growth of capital has come at the expense of the planet, especially the Global South. For this reason, the growth of capital and the imperial more is not a solution and should not serve as the forefront of the climate fight.

Mitigating the impact of the world’s ecological deterioration is indispensably tied with Global South liberation against Western imperialism and capitalism — the universal system preventing freedom for the entire human race. The forefront of the movement should be shaped by the majority of the world’s population who carry the heaviest weight; The foundation needs to be transcontinental anti-imperialist solidarity and the recognition of a global class struggle.

We do not need an “ecologically conscious” capitalist, imperialist, settler colonial, oppressive state. We need the abolition of its very existence.

“Environmentalism without class struggle is just gardening” — Chico Mendes

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