Is Our Changing Climate the Result of Capitalism and is there any way Back?

by | Jul 16, 2022 | Climate change and sustainable development | 0 comments

Article by Josie Cathcart

Photo by Studio Media on Unsplash

Ever since humans first evolved, between five million and seven million years ago, the climate has been changing. This is due to the changing configurations of landmass, changes in the intensity of light from the sun, and volcanic eruptions.[1] However, the vast increase in human activity and production in response to the rise of capitalism has had a devastating effect on our climate. The temperature of the planet, as a result of global warming, has increased by an unprecedented 1.5 degrees since the late 1800s. Social activist Naomi Klein argues in her book ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate’, that capitalism is the root cause of the pending climate disaster. She points out that those corporations who are most responsible for carbon emissions (including companies such as BP and Chevron[2]) have been rewarded with extraordinary wealth.[3] Her book was published in 2014, and still, little has changed. Industry, power stations, transport and agriculture are all associated with vast greenhouse gas emissions. Sociologist Allan Schnaiberg put forward the theory of the treadmill of production. He noted that the increase and intensification of economic production has led to higher demand and exploitation of natural resources inevitably accelerating environmental degradation.[4] The nature of capitalism is to place the importance of profit before all else, including the health of the earth and the plethora of life that inhabits it. But what are the consequences of this uncontainable greed? Our planet is made up of complex systems which interact in order to regulate each other and create the conditions necessary for life to thrive. Extensive change in even one system can destabilise the whole system. If capitalist activity is allowed to continue to wage a war on our planet, the consequences will be severe. As geochemist Wallace Broeker said, “The climate system is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks.”[5]

Therefore, the question remains, if capitalism is the root cause of climate change, is there anyway to reverse the detrimental effects global warming is having on our planet? In theory, as individuals there are steps we can be taking to reduce the burden of greenhouse gases on the ozone layer. Measures such as eating less meat and dairy, cutting back on flying and driving, reducing energy usage and cutting down on waste are all good places to start.[6] However in reality, these changes are too small and too gradual in the face of the systemic nature of the problem. It is our world leaders and the heads of huge corporations that have the ability to enact significant change that could turn the tide on climate change. They need to make rapid and radical change, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, investing in renewable energy and protecting the natural world including rainforests and oceans.[7] Whilst this may be costly and reduce profits, it is essential that these measures are taken to prevent an increase in extreme weather, habitat loss and loss of life. A major restructuring and reorganisation of the political and economic system is required. Our priorities need to change from making money to acting sustainably and ensuring human and animal welfare.

To conclude, capitalism and climate change prevention will inevitably always to a certain extent be at odds with one another. This culture which places making money as a number one priority has been harming our planet for over a century now. However, it is not too late to turn the tide on global warming. It is certainly possible for big businesses to remain profitable whilst having a limited impact on the environment. It is essential that the human race changes our ideology for the sake of all the creatures who call this planet home.

[1] Australian Academy of Science. How Has Climate Changed? Available at’s%20climate%20has%20changed%20dramatically,of%20Earth%2C%20and%20volcanic%20eruptions. Accessed 15/03/22

[2] The Guardian. Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions. Available at Accessed 15/03.21

[3] Klein, Naomi (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. (Manhattan: Simon and Schuster).

[4] Schnaiberg, Allen et al (2008). Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy. (Oxfordshire: Routledge).

[5] Grist. RIP Wallace Broecker, the scientist who changed the way we think about the climate. Available at Accessed 15/03/22

[6] Imperial College London. 9 things you can do about climate change. Available at Accessed 16/03/22

[7] Greenpeace. What are the solutions to climate change? Availabe at Accessed 16/03/22


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