Climate change, capitalism and society.
By Daniel Barrett
Climate change and capitalism are deeply linked issues impacting our world today. The consumer society created by capitalism has led to production of goods on an enormous scale, which has in turn had a profound impact on climate change, including an increase in extreme weathers and the melting of the ice caps. Furthermore, these two subjects are two of the most prevalent issues in political conflict, with many people claiming that the climate crisis is humankind’s most pressing issue, even that we may already be too late to reverse the damage we have done the planet, while other governments and individuals place less importance on climate change, some even dispelling it as a myth.
Why is climate change a societal issue?
Climate change is obviously a societal issue because of the impact it is having on our planet and how this will impact future generations. However, what make climate change such a societal issue is how much we as a society contribute to the climate crisis. The consumer driven society that we live in has been producing an abundance of goods for years while the danger of the climate crisis has largely been ignored, only in more recent years becoming an issue focused on within the discipline of sociology. Catton and Dunlap’s article in 1980 began to challenge people into thinking more about the climate crisis and to acknowledge how much we as a society depend upon a stable climate. Not only do we depend upon a stable climate, but the resources being used – which in turn is affecting climate change- are the driving forces in keeping our capitalist, or any society for that matter, a viable option. Since 1980, environment sociology began to develop as a subsidiary of the discipline. In 1992 world scientists ‘warned humanity‘ about the danger of climate change, work that was agreed upon in 70 countries as being necessary and imperative to the survival of society. However, it is only in perhaps the last decade that the climate crisis has really become arguably the most pressing issue for society as even in 2004, works on climate change arguing for proactive change were seen as trying to spark conflict and being overly negative and pessimistic.
The connection between capitalism and climate change
As detailed in Schnaiberg’s ‘The environment: from surplus to scarcity’ which was released in 1980 argued that the driving idea of capitalism, progression for progressions sake, is the main force deteriorating the climate. This is because of the abundance of products that are produced to satisfy consumerism in a capitalist society and the resources put into updating technology to maintain this level of production. Schnaiberg’s work was based upon a marxist view and understanding of capitalism. In the opinion of many people, particularly Marxists, in order to reverse the damage we have inflicted upon the climate – if that’s even possible- we would need to dramatically change the political and economic state of our society. At the end of the day individual responses to climate change are going to have a minimal effect on reversing the climate crisis, a global effort led by corporations and governments, with huge upheavals and changes in major industries. Ulrich Beck argued that we have entered a ‘second modernity’ which he referred to as ‘risk societies’ due to the many dilemmas societies are facing in this day and age, perhaps the chief of all being the climate crisis. In the case of the climate crisis, the effects of what may unfold are too great for mere small precautions to be taken, particularly considering the amount of other risks that have to be calculated.
The climate, capitalism and society are all closely linked due to how they each affect each other. It seems that in the consumer driven society we now live in which was created by capitalism, tackling climate change is very improbable due to the resources put into the production of goods and the maintenance of these production lines. Radical change must happen in order to properly tackle the climate crisis and it must be led by large corporations, institutions and governments and must be on a global scale.