Survival of the richest
(Illustration by Sébastien Thibault)
post by Clare Simpson
For many in the West, we see freedom as our uninterrupted ability to set up businesses, make money, and then go and spend it in places like Dubai or Monaco. Yet what we don’t realise is that it’s those ‘freedoms’ that take away the freedom to live from millions of others. In a billionaire’s playground such as Dubai, there is a bubble of richness that envelopes and hides the richest 1% from the stark realities of their empires. It hides the fact that almost all labour in Dubai is imported, with migrants’ passports being taken away on entry to the country, meaning that the man-made islands they love to party on are the cause of separation of workers’ families. It hides the fact that the planes they flew on to get there are contributing to the 14% of greenhouse gasses that are from carbon use within transport – greenhouse gasses which lead to the wildfires of California being followed by snowstorms.
The world is increasingly more interconnected, meaning that capitalism has managed to spread and become the dominant economic system. While we have for so long seen economics as separate to nature, we have reached a point where capitalism’s need for constant growth is interfering with the Earth’s natural cycles, and scientists claim we are in a new ecological era – the Anthropocene – due to human activity. Capitalism is widely being acknowledged as a driving force for climate change, with Alan Schnaiberg arguing it is because of the relentless intensification of economic production, resulting in resource and worker exploitation, consumption, and pollution. Without this constant need for production and economic growth, the Earth’s natural resources such as oil wouldn’t be in crisis. This is due to fossil fuels being non-renewable, meaning they take millions of years to be formed and are being used faster than the Earth can replenish them – it has been estimated we are using nature 1.7 times faster than ecosystems can regenerate. If these properties weren’t nearing catastrophe, future generations wouldn’t be facing water shortages, resource wars and energy shortages. By continuing to abide by capitalist growth needs, we are taking away the freedom to live from our children.
However, it is not just the future generations we need to be concerned about, there is current suffering caused by climate change. Capitalism is unequal in its nature, as it relies on people at the bottom working for the people at the top, for less money than the product they’re producing will sell for. This inequality is now being transferred to the effects of climate change, as the global south are disproportionately affected, with over 150,000 deaths caused each year by global warming. This inequality is due to the lack of ability of the poor to buy themselves safety nets, for example, global warming causes crops to die, meaning not only are the farmers unable to sell them and make money, the people dependent on buying those crops then also go without, triggering the downfall of an entire community. This is avoided by the rich as it is uncommon for CEOs to have to live pay-check to pay-check, and so even if one month is tougher than the next, they can still survive, and it is the workers that take the blow.
We are currently in a society where being rich means you can escape the wrath of climate change, but this will not last. We are on the precipice of a global disaster, and it will not discriminate. We need to slow down the race for growth and productivity, and our global focus must be on a more sustainable economic system. We need modernisation processes which focus on environmental efficiency and non-exploitative professions. The 99% may suffer first, but the 1% can only hide behind their wealth for so long, and mother nature will soon bring them back down to Earth.