Capitalism and Climate Change

John Bellamy Foster: We need to go down to 350 parts per million [the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere], which means very big social transformations on a scale that would be considered revolutionary by anybody in society today — transformation of our whole society quite fundamentally.  We have to aim at that, and we have to demand that of our society.  Forget about capitalism, forget about whether the system can do it.  Don’t let that be your barometer.  Say this is necessary for the planet, for human survival, for justice, for environmental justice, and we just have to do it.  We demand that be done, and we work out the operating system of the world economy, we work out our social relations of production, in accordance with necessity, in accordance with what is necessary for the planet, not in accordance with what is necessary for the accumulation of wealth and profits for a very few.

I think there is no other choice — any other choice is absolutely irrational.  We’re living in an irrational system — we can’t let that level of irrationality dictate our action.  So, we need to do that, but climate change isn’t the whole environmental problem.  There’s species extinction, there’s deforestation, desertification, there are a water crisis and the attempt of capital to privatize water, there are umpteen numbers of problems.  We have to fight on all these fronts.  These are material questions, material in terms of environmental materialism but also in terms of social, historical materialism, and actually all of these problems are going to be connected if we do it right, so that the traditional issues of the working-class are going to conjoin with their materialism, and their attempts to materially transform the world are going to conjoin with any kind of genuine environmentalism that we need. 

So there are innumerable ways to struggle.  We simply have to do it on the broadest basis that we can.  And that means starting with the bottom of society, not relying on the elites to solve the problem for us, because capitalism sells people out.  That’s the nature of the system — it sells out — that defines it more than anything else.

John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review and professor of sociology at the University of Oregon.  Video courtesy of World Productions based in the United Kingdom.  The text above is a transcript of the video.

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