Is Capitalism the Cause of Climate Change?

by | Jul 16, 2022 | Corporate power | 0 comments

Article by Jenny Furnell

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

What is climate change and why is it such an issue in capitalist society? Climate change is caused by human activity that allows for the growth in the use of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane within the atmosphere. Such human activity consists of the use of coal and gas-fired power stations, the use of transport such as cars and aeroplanes and aviation and animal agriculture which all are key activities individuals perform whilst living in a capitalist society. This is alarming as this means there is an increase in land, air and sea temperatures around the world causing global warming and natural disasters. Therefore, society must change how it operates under capitalism in order to save the planet.

Due to society being under capitalism there has been a sharp increase in consumerist culture as new technology allows us to mass produce multiple products ‘the scale and impact of ‘waste’ production have moved upwards’ (Urry, 2009) however, this production is destructive for society and it may be argued that there ‘is no way forward without a drastic reduction in consumption and production. As far as energy is concerned, the reduction has to be maintained indefinitely.’ (Leahy, 2008: 480). Large companies and corporations are intensely investing in changing technologies which allow them to produce more economically which results in an increase in resource exploitation, consumption, and pollution. It may be suggested that if the amount of consumption is unlimited then climate change cannot be reversed under capitalism, ‘ infinite consumption, total social exclusion and physical security, and architectural monumentality – that are clearly incompatible with the ecological and moral survival of humanity’ (Davis and Monk, 2007: xv). This is extremely detrimental to society as consumers are blamed for the capitalist system, for overconsuming when it is modern industrial societies that produce the carbon dioxide emissions in the quantities that cause climate change through mass production in factories and excess use of new technologies. For example, ‘individuals, communities, states and corporations consume only the outputs of a given production technology… While consumers can accept or reject these products, they have no influence over the allocation of capital to productive technologies.’ (Gould, Pellow & Schnaiberg, 2008: 20).

Under capitalism, individuals hold enough power that allows them to have the freedom to do almost anything. For example, the power capitalists such as Elon Musk hold has created the possibility of flying rockets into space, ultimately causing more pollution through greenhouse gas emissions. The power capitalists hold makes climate change almost unavoidable as these corporations make so much revenue and profit that their extreme wealth makes it possible for them to avoid laws and regulations. Capitalists will break laws against climate change which consequently creates an unequal responsibility for the pollution produced, as the less powerful general public lack the capacity to reverse the actions of climate change. An example of this is the climate change scandal involving Volkswagen where the company admitted that it had installed secret software to cheat US emissions tests (Volkswagen to be sued by Norway fund over the emissions scandal, 2016) showing how economic power gives people the power to pollute the earth and contribute significantly to climate change. Ulrich Beck argues that modernity, industry, science and technology brought about by capitalism allow for new risks in society, which are increasingly characterised by dilemmas around massive risks and pervasive risk anxiety. These risks consist of Megahazards’ which are nuclear, bio-tech, chemical-industrial and climate threats but they are now beyond effective social management and control as the threat is existential. The current issue of climate change is so extensive and unmanageable. “Since the middle of the [20th] century, the social institutions of industrial society have been presented with the historically unprecedented possibility of the destruction through the decision-making of all life on this planet” (Beck, 1992). He also implies that authorities also engage in systematic denial and cover-ups, exposed by each accident, leading to a pervasive lack of public trust and ‘rational paranoia’ suggesting that those who hold the most power under capitalism are the most responsible for climate change.



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