Capitalism and the Climate

One of the hardest decisions that faces a progressive right now is how to consider the environment when there are so many justice — race, class, and immigration — issues confronting this country. And yet it is arguable that the Trump administration is doing more harm to our environment than it is even to undocumented immigrants.

I just finished reading Naomi Klein’s excellent 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. One of Klein’s central points, as the book’s subtitle suggests, is that combating climate change requires all the elements of the progressive worldview, not just the traditional environmental conservationism. It has become clear that the values of free-market capitalism will do nothing to slow down climate change; “only mass social movements can save us now,” she writes in her Conclusion, just the sort of movements that are emerging more powerfully now than in a long time.

Where can we look for a time when social movements made a huge change to the U.S.? We can look to the gains of the labor movement in the Great Depression, and to those of the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century. In times like this, “activism becomes something that is not performed by a small tribe within a culture…, but becomes an entirely normal activity throughout society.” This is arguably what the succession of marches and rallies is seeking.

Klein writes that “any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of world-views, a process of rebuilding and reinventing the very idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil, and the civic after so many decades of attack and neglect. … [I]t requires breaking so many rules at once—rules written into national laws and trade agreements, as well as powerful unwritten rules that tell us that no government can increase taxes and stay in power, or say no to major investments no matter how damaging, or plan to gradually contract those parts of our economies that endanger us all. … [T]he task is to articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.”

Fighting climate change requires the same ideas, attitudes, and methods as fighting income, wealth, educational, racial, and criminal justice inequality. The biggest difference with climate change is that we have so little time, and that what our society has done, and what the current administration is doing, hurts not just our country, but the world, and not just now, but for a long time.

At a more local level, Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven recognizes the importance of environmental concerns in urban housing in its new Environmental Leadership program, which starts in mid-June.

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