For the last year or two, every time I sit down to write about climate change, I keep running into the same wall: Without a radical change to how the entire global economy functions, and who it serves, humanity has no future.
There are endless arguments to be had about to what degree renewable energy can replace fossil fuels, what role nuclear power should play, how much efficiency we can wring out of our technology, how we can make food production sustainable, and so on, but none of that really deals with the central, driving force that has destabilized our climate and pushed us into a hellish future of accelerating global warming. The global economy is designed to maintain and concentrate the wealth and power of those who are already wealthy and powerful, at the expense of everyone else. The fires in Brazil demonstrate this pretty well – The neo-fascist regime headed by known terrorist Jair Bolsonaro, and the conservatives who support him in places like the United States, have gone beyond being willing to burn the world to rule the ashes. Now, it seems, they prefer the ashes to any other option.
In fact, the conservative movement in general seems pretty hostile to most of the planet, and most of the people on it, so maybe it shouldn’t have taken me so long to realize that they don’t have much incentive to act. They might not like the smell, or the annoying ash fall, but in general, they seem to think that if most of humanity burns, the world will be better off for it. Their oddly karma-like view of poverty – that it shows a moral failing on the part of the poor – means that no matter how much blood and misery the future brings, it’s either a good thing, or it’s all just an “unfortunate necessity”. We don’t have enough money to house the homeless, despite the millions of homes standing empty. Not everybody can have safe drinking water, despite more and more of the world’s fresh water being turned into private property to be sold for profit. No matter what we’re talking about, there’s always a reason why it’s… not “OK”, exactly, but a necessary reality that most of humanity cannot have the resources needed for a good life.
And in the background, a handful of people profit off of the artificial scarcity. The reason we have so many homes standing empty is that housing the homeless doesn’t generate profit, and having a limited number of adequate homes allows landlords to charge more for the homes people are allowed to live in. While people around the world get sick from drinking water contaminated with industrial waste and bacteria, companies like Nestle are declaring the world’s fresh water sources to be their property, so that they can force people to pay higher prices for bottled water.
It may be that there really aren’t enough resources for everyone to have access to clean water, sufficient food, and adequate housing, but that’s not a claim we’ve ever really tested. We’ve started from the default assumption that there’s not, and therefore it’s OK that those problems are made worse and worse as a tiny number of people hoard more and more money. As long as access to the planet’s resources is governed by assumptions like that, we will never be able to deal with problems like climate change. We can’t feed everyone, so we shouldn’t try. We can’t house everyone, so we shouldn’t try. In fact, anyone who does try is evil for doing so.
Mark Fisher proposed that for a lot of people, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. For a lot of people, that seems to be less a matter of acceptance than it is one of preference – the end of the world would be better than the end of capitalism.
For Bolsonaro and those who support him, this has gotten to the point of actively playing chicken with the extinction of humanity, and unless they are stopped, no progress we manage to scrape around the edges will be enough. The effort that I’ve put into reducing my personal carbon footprint is meaningless in the face of the methane released through natural gas production, or more recently the burning of the Amazon rain forest. Individual action was never a viable solution for a problem this scale.
So it’s hard to know what to write about. For a time my approach was to focus on obvious first steps, like generating power from sewage, but so long as we have billionaires hoarding access to the resources we need, every tiny bit of progress requires far, far more effort than we have time for. We’re on a different planet now – one that was once hospitable to human civilization, but is becoming less so with each passing year. We’ve entered an age of endless recovery, in which we stagger from one climate-fueled crisis to the next. Never again will there be a time when those who value money over life cannot make the case that there’s simply too much going on for us to afford what’s needed. They would rather see billions die than give up their power.
The only path forward that I can see is to take away their power, just as they’ve taken away our entire world. The conservatives say that if we raise taxes on the money hoarders, they’ll take their hoards and go somewhere else. Fine. We’ll take over the resources they leave behind, put them to use, and then follow them to their new lairs to do it again. Maybe, in time, they’ll all get on one of Elon Musk’s rockets and go to eat their money on Mars.
Even if that does happen, though, there will never be a time when that struggle is over. There will always be people who can’t tell when they’ve had enough, and who think the rest of humanity exists to feed their bottomless appetites. No matter the society we build, we will always have to be on guard. That means empowering the powerless. That means breaking down barriers of prejudice and bigotry. If people have to fight for basic rights and equality, that’s energy they can’t spend fighting for humanity as a whole. That means fighting until everyone has access to food, and healthcare, and shelter, and education, and leisure time, so that they have time and energy to hold the line, to live lives they find fulfilling, and to fight for an even better world.