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The Capitalist Roots of the Climate Crisis: The Imperative for System Change

With the climate crisis intensifying, net zero emissions by 2050 has emerged as a key policy goal to limit global warming, but its feasibility and fairness are contested across the political spectrum. This post argues for ambitious climate action to reach net zero, situating the debate within broader capitalist critiques and speculative futures.

The science exposes capital’s exploitation of nature

“Capitalism’s rapacious growth has pushed Earth’s climate to the brink – avoiding climate chaos requires a post-capitalist economic system.”

The 2018 IPCC report showed the grave dangers of allowing temperatures to breach 1.5°C. But this climate science exposes capital’s destructive rift with nature. In Marx’s theory of metabolic rift, capitalism necessarily pillages the Earth’s resources and ruptures ecological sustainability. Capital’s insatiable drive for profits has created an extractivist fossil fuel economy that is now destabilising the entire Earth system. Avoiding climate catastrophe requires going beyond capitalism and its growth imperative. We must reorganise society around production for human needs, not profit, through democratic control of the economy.

States managed in capital’s interest

“Capital has organised the state to protect its interests against environmental regulation.”

Despite proclaiming net zero goals, states continue to serve capital accumulation over climate mitigation. Carbon trading and net zero policies are designed to maintain capitalist growth, not meaningful emission cuts. Huge fossil fuel subsidies persist as states support the profitable expansion of capital over environmental limits. When climate policies threaten profits, capital goes on strike via divestment. The state in capitalist society is managed to reproduce the conditions for capital accumulation, not implement policies that seriously restrict it. Tackling the climate crisis requires the working class to take state power and rigorously regulate and transform carbon-intensive capitalism.

Corporate climate initiatives protect the capitalist class

“Voluntary corporate climate action is designed to prevent binding regulation that would undermine capitalist power and profits.”

Allowing corporations to set their own net zero timelines enables greenwashing. Such voluntary measures accept the primacy of profiteering. Under shareholder capitalism, sustainability will always lose out to returns on capital without state intervention. Renewable energy growth doesn’t change this dynamic as fossil fuels remain subsidised. Serious climate action requires binding international agreements to curtail fossil fuel capital accumulation. Corporate climate initiatives aim to prevent this regulatory threat to capitalist class power. We need systemic transformation, not reactionary incrementalism.

Climate justice through global class struggle

“Only international working-class solidarity wielding state power can deliver climate justice and system change.”

A managed transition within capitalism will never be fair or sufficient. As long as capital drives production, costs will fall on workers and the poor. Global solidarity is needed, not national policy or individual choices. Workers must unite to take state power and rapidly transform the economy to prioritise sustainable production. But the Global North must also pay its climate debt and transfer resources for green transition. Through international struggle and state power, workers can realise climate justice while moving beyond capitalism to a sustainable ecosocialist system directed by the needs of people and the planet.

The Year 2100. The North England Coast.

Sea walls breached. Cities drowned. Millions fled inland. Climate refugees huddle in camps. Food scarce. Water rationed.

Summers bring deadly heat. Hospitals overflow. Morgues full. Elderly and weak perish.

Disease returned. Cholera, malaria, typhus. No medicine. No vaccines.

Farmland underwater. Livestock slaughtered. Food prices soar. Children starve.

Government bunkers protected. Corporations profiteer. Inequality divides. Class war brews.

Armed police patrol. Civil liberty expired. Activists imprisoned. Resistance crushed.

The rich escaped. Artificial islands in Dubai. Luxury pods in space. The poor left behind.

This future was predicted. Warnings ignored. Profits protected. Costs deferred.

Now climate dystopia. Flooding, famine, conflict, disease. Suffering and chaos.

Action delayed. Decarbonisation stalled. Adaptation abandoned. Technology failed.

A bleak future born of greed and denial. The wages of capitalist sins. Now paid.

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