Capitalism vs the Climate

We rely on the earth for many things in order to survive. It provides us with air to breathe, water to drink, and without its atmosphere the earth would not be warm enough to inhabit. With the earth’s climate and ecosystem held in delicate balance and our reliance on the earth to survive, why are we exploiting the earth’s resources to the point of depletion?

Merrill Singer writes in his article “Capitalism vs the Climate” that within the past forty years anthropogenic greenhouse gasses (GHG), mainly carbon dioxide and methane, have been increasing exponentially. The increase of GHGs can have irreversible effects on human health and well-being, as well as on other animal species and their ecosystems. The cause of this increase, Singer writes, is due to the burning of fossil fuels from the expansion of the economy. This economic expansion tied to a productivist ethic “has resulted in emission levels that outpace improvements in energy efficiency or other mitigation strategies”. Significant changes must be made in order to reduce GHG emissions and the growing climate change, and according to the International Energy Agency, failure to reduce GHG emissions by 2017 “will lock-in a dire level of warming…that will no longer require new anthropogenic inputs to continue”. So if we know that the climate change “point of no return” is within our sights, why is it so hard for us to make the necessary changes to save our earth?

Singer writes that humanity fails to recognize the need for environmental reform because in society capitalism wins. He says capitalism wins “every time the need for economic growth is used to delay climate change mitigation efforts” and “whenever economic progress is made the fundamental goal of human existence”. We as a society are always listening to advertisements and waiting in lines to buy the newest products, and every time that we do we are feeding into the capitalist regime of big businesses that resort to burning fossil fuels in factories to produce the goods we so desperately need. In short, our consumerism has directly led to humans being the main source for our own destruction. If we continue to use up the earth’s resources for our own capitalist gain at the rate in which we are, then the earth as we know it, the earth we rely on so greatly to survive, will no longer be able to survive itself.