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Just leave it in the earth

Naomi Klein is in good company in her latest critique of capitalism, says STEPHEN HALLMARK

Well… it’s what we’ve been banging on about for years, the idea that capitalism poses a serious threat to our life on this planet.

Naomi Klein’s latest book — This Changes Everything — lays out the argument that our current economic system is the root cause of global warming.

For those of us who clung to world views fiercely opposed to neoliberalism throughout the 1990s and noughties, this idea is nothing new.

When scoffed at for adhering to unpopular radical critiques of the system, we could always take refuge in the belief that we’d ultimately be proven right because capitalism is destroying the planet’s ability to support human life.

Noam Chomsky, among others, frequently raises the spectre that, far from being the midwife of the revolution that Marx claimed, capitalism could very well be our gravedigger.

In an article published earlier this year Chomsky quotes the “generally conservative” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) claims that weather changes will bring “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

He adds: “One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs... Today, it is humans who are the asteroid.”

The IPCC report adds that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves — again quoting Chomsky — “must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.”

Arundhati Roy, George Monbiot and Greg Palast — to name but three more — have all outlined similar arguments. Keep oil in the ground or we’re all going to snuff it.

But to do this is a revolutionary act because it directly opposes the principles underpinning neoliberalism: economic growth at any cost, profit maximisation, a muzzled, cowed state and freedom for capital to roam.

It also ties into what David Graeber, in his groundbreaking anthropological book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, so eloquently outlines.

He provides a fascinating insight into how societies have functioned perfectly well without being governed by markets — societies he refers to as human economies.

He says that it is only since modern times that we have created a system whereby the market governs us, rather than the other way round.

Graeber shows how markets are far from being unique to capitalism. Earlier Muslim societies ran them in such a way that one’s own creditability was at stake.

So playing fair, without recourse to usury, and not being seen to profit too much from others were all keys to success. Each ingredient combined to create a market which itself contributed to fostering a healthy society.

So is Klein telling us anything we didn’t already know?

She begins by hammering home the point that attempts by corporations to “go green” ultimately fail, and calls billionaires such as Richard Branson and Bill Gates to task for being unable to live up to their rhetoric and their lame attempts to avert climate catastrophe.

She then calls on us to “forget everything you think you know about global warming. The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon — it’s about capitalism. The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.”

And it is this which gives her work its vitality.

The Canadian activist, who shot to fame in 1999 with the publication of her debut book No Logo, which attacked corporations for their use of sweat-shop labour, lays out ideas for how we can bring capitalism to heel.

She writes: “We have been told it’s impossible to get off fossil fuels when in fact we know exactly how to do it — it just requires breaking every rule in the ‘free-market’ playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies and reclaiming our democracies.

“We have also been told that humanity is too greedy and selfish to rise to this challenge. In fact, all around the world, the fight for the next economy and against reckless extraction is already succeeding in ways both surprising and inspiring.”

The way in which she outlines the efforts being made by a vast range of people across the planet to create another world offers that most dangerous thing of all — hope.


Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate, Allen Lane £20 was released on Sept 16


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