Climate change: Born out of society and killed by society
By Madeleine Van Ruiten
Climate change: a global emergency that threatens the survival of the human species. We are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making (Extinction Rebellion, 2022). The earth is a jigsaw made up of complex systems that work together in a specific pattern to stabilise life on our planet. The continuing increase in global temperatures is leading to a destabilisation of this system, the result predicted to be the massacre of all life on earth.
The earth has maintained stable conditions to support human, animal, and plant life for the longest period in the planet’s history, however, due to the development of capitalism, the misalignment of values has caused destruction through a society driven by wasteful mass consumption. Capitalist society is fuelled by the single desire for infinite economic growth, this comes at the cost of our health and the environment. Yet what the system does not seem to comprehend is that its greedy appetite is digesting itself as it continues to accelerate climate change. The empirical evidence of rising sea levels, extreme weather and deforestation are not the only impacts of the climate crisis, the social and economic structures are equally facing the negative effects.
‘Even in purely monetary terms–if we isolate nature’s intrinsic value from the equation–the costs of environmentally unsustainable practices are enormous. The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health estimates welfare losses due to environmental pollution at more than US$ 4.6 trillion per year, or 6.2 per cent of global GDP’ (Landrigan et al., 2017).
Climate change is leading to a future where inequality increases, climate injustices mean that the global south are increasingly losing agency in contributing to, or decreasing the effects of climate change. A temperature increase of 2.1 degrees would create water shortages for up to 3 billion people. This will cause: an increase in significant problems of food security, large protest marches and flooding, desertification and rising costs of grain, with the harshest effects hitting the countries of the global south (Urry, 2009). However, it is not to say that the wealthy countries of the north will remain comfortable as the effects climate change intensify.
In the UK we are already seeing the effects of climate change through the increase in wildfires, dangerous heatwaves, and destructive storms. February 2020 was the wettest February on record (Greenpeace UK, 2022). Significant flooding could impact two or three million people across the country if temperatures reach 2ºC or 3ºC above pre-industrial levels (Black, 2022).
The obvious cause of climate change is the organisation of society into a capitalist regime, this illuminates the singular solution, the reorganisation of society. Our species had the power to create this crisis, so we therefore have the power to create the antidote. The diminishing resources available for human manipulation will hinder the economic growth so central to society. Meadows and Randers (2004) convey that ‘profound, proactive societal innovation through technological, cultural, and institutional change (are required) to avoid an increase in the ecological footprint of humanity beyond the carrying capacity of planet Earth’. The end of economic growth is inevitable; it can either occur through an uncontrolled decline characterised by poverty and hunger or a planned systemic approach, a managed transition (Gould et. al, 2008).
The state is the key component in operating the economic and political changes necessary to stop the climate crisis. Ecological sustainability, resource distribution and human welfare need to be prioritised over endless uneven growth and wealth accumulation. Policy can force companies and guide the public to make sustainable changes to business and lifestyle, transitions to zero waste and carbon neutral communities will ensure the success of repairing our planet. Corporations must be held accountable for their heavy contribution to climate change through generating carbon emissions and embedding an addiction to consumption. These productive forces are what construct a society compelled by consumption, the consumer is but a manipulated puppet of our capitalist economy, the responsibility to change the destructive actions causing climate change lies directly with the production systems.
Whilst it is technology which can aid us to solve the environmental challenge, it is the people who must be re-socialised to value the resources on this planet. The science to corrupt and kill this planet is being utilised through human choice. The science available now also gives humanity the autonomy to make profound positive change. Sociology and economics are the sword that must be wielded to pierce the heart of climate change.
Black, R. (2022) Flood risk and the UK, Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit. Available at: https://eciu.net/analysis/briefings/climate-impacts/flood-risk-and-the-uk (Accessed: 17 March 2022).
Extinction Rebellion (2022) ‘Tell The Truth’, Extinction Rebellion UK. Available at: https://extinctionrebellion.uk/the-truth/ (Accessed: 16 March 2022).
Greenpeace UK (no date) How will climate change affect the UK?, Greenpeace UK. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/challenges/climate-change/how-will-climate-change-affect-the-uk/ (Accessed: 17 March 2022).
Kenneth Gould, David Pellow & Allan Schnaiberg (2008) The Treadmill of Production: Justice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy.
Landrigan, P.J., Fuller, R., Acosta, N.J., Adeyi, O., Arnold, R., Baldé, A.B., Bertollini, R., Bose-O’Reilly, S., Boufford, J.I., Breysse, P.N., & Chiles, T. (2017). The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. The Lancet.
Urry, J. (2009) ‘Sociology and Climate Change’. Available at: https://journals-sagepub-com.manchester.idm.oclc.org/doi/epub/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2010.01887.x.
What Lurks Below (2019) 9 TRAGIC Truths About Ocean Pollution! Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQskinZdw_Q.