How Fighting For The Overthrow Of Capitalism Has Helped Me With My Climate Grief
Think of your childhood home. A lot of your memories about it likely involve the natural landscapes that it was surrounded with. You might come up with pictures of the beaches you went to as a kid, the kinds of trees that are unique to the area you were in, the feel of the air and the routine of the seasons.
Now think of the fact that within your lifetime, this landscape will be irrevocably changed. Sea levels are projected to rise by around 1.5 meters by 2100, with many scientific opinions placing it higher. It’s also expected that in the late 21st century, most of America will have summers with average daily temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, with the currently more mild climes experiencing only less intense increases in heat. This is the reality that everyone will have to face in the coming decades: the coasts we know will be reshaped, the forests and fields we remember will look different, and the air and seasonal rhythms won’t be the same.
This is the harm from climate change that’s added onto the destroyed property, resource shortages, and natural disasters that we often hear about. The experience of losing the landscapes that we’re used to is an emotional loss that’s hard to fathom. It gives us the sense that something deep within us is being violated, because the environments we’ve lived in are part of our identities. Not only is human civilization imperiled, but the earth that’s always reliably cradled it is also being defiled by the fiendish mechanisms of industrial exploitation.
People are struggling to grasp this reality, and to process the psychological damage that it’s causing. Some have been seeking out support groups for climate grief, which in this still relatively stable time usually comes in the form of anxiety. People are wondering: what can I change about my daily routine to help the damage be less severe? Will I be able to say I did all I could to make the outcome better?
We shouldn’t be paining ourselves over these questions, because the crisis we’re facing can’t be blamed on whether ordinary people follow a certain set of green living practices. No amount of changes that we make to our lifestyles can make a sufficient impact on how much the climate is harmed; the mentality behind fighting climate change as individuals comes from the neoliberal logic of letting corporations act without restraint while blaming environmental destruction on the supposed personal failures of average citizens.
This is a cruel thing to make people think, because it tells us that we’re culpable for harming our world because we participate in a system that we didn’t choose to be part of. Functioning in society as it currently exists requires burning carbon. We’re trapped in a machine that’s slowly killing us.
The real guilty actors are the powerful people who’ve forced us all to stay in this machine. And fighting them and the system they represent is the activity that’s helping me deal with my own feelings of climate grief.
For the last four decades-since the government first became aware of the threat of global warming-a cabal of corporate oligarchs and their political and media stooges have been systematically lying about the climate while forcing through continued pursuits of the practices that are killing the planet. The culprits are the leaders of the 100 corporations that have been behind around 70% of the world’s carbon emissions, the officials behind the unparalleled polluting activities of the U.S. military, the natural gas leaders whose facilitation of fracking has exacerbated methane emissions, and the politicians and pundits who’ve enabled these operations.
This crisis isn’t the result of any inherent flaw in human beings. It’s the fault of capitalism and those who’ve advanced its sociopathic aims. Throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, the demagogic anti-environmental politics of right-wing leaders like Rush Limbaugh rendered our political leaders largely unwilling to address or even acknowledge the climate crisis. And even now, as climate change has started to kill thousands of people every year, the guardians of the pro-capitalist orthodoxy are driving the knife deeper into humanity’s future. Self-described “Rush baby” Ben Shapiro promotes lies about the climate under a fake veneer of intellectualism, while self-styled conservative provocateurs like Candace Owens poison our discourse with similar attacks on science and reason.
Behind this ongoing culture of climate change denialism on the American right is a quiet acknowledgement from the Trump government that the crisis is happening; last year, the Trump White House strategically released two climate reports on Black Friday with the hope that fewer people would see them.
But the consensus, both among Democrats and Republicans, is that protecting the corporatocracy is more important than fixing the problem. As the Trump administration has worked to destroy even the most basic environmental protections, the Democratic leadership has declined to support Cortez’ Green New Deal. When confronted by youth climate activists last month about her refusal to support Cortez’ proposal, Senator Dianne Feinstein responded: “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing…I’ve gotten elected. I just ran. I was elected by almost a million-vote plurality, and I know what I’m doing. So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.”
The goal of climate justice, which is now being demanded worldwide through the student climate protests, will require more than voting out politicians like Trump and Feinstein or making capitalism more green. It should involve a top-down transformation of society and a series of criminal prosecutions similar to the Nuremberg trials.
There needs to be a mass uprising against the very foundations of capitalism, one that achieves the transition to a system where most major industries are nationalized, the transformation of the remaining business structures into workplace democracies, and the creation of a worker’s democracy where, as Marx and Engels advocated, the poor and working people take the position of the ruling class.
When this new authority comes to power, it will need to prosecute fossil fuel executives and the politicians who’ve helped them. The current climate lawsuits are not enough, because those behind the climate crisis are guilty of war crimes. As Jacobin’s Kate Aronoff has written: “a push to try fossil-fuel executives for crimes against humanity could channel some much-needed populist rage at the climate’s 1 percent, and render them persona non grata in respectable society — let alone Congress or the UN, where they today enjoy broad access. Making people like Exxon CEO Darren Woods or Shell CEO Ben van Beurden well known and widely reviled would put names and faces to a problem too often discussed in the abstract. The climate fight has clear villains. It’s long past time to name and shame them.”
For decades, people like Limbaugh, Trump, and the executives mentioned have been stomping us under the boot of predatory capitalism while robbing us even of the natural landscapes from our childhoods. They’ve committed a crime against us that’s beyond comprehension. And the appropriate response is to lock up the climate holocaust’s central perpetrators while blowing their capitalist order to a million pieces.
This goal is realizable. Anti-capitalist revolutions have happened before in Russia, China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, and other places. And especially in modern America, with its unsurpassed levels of inequality, an uprising of this kind can be organized. Already the world appears to be entering a new revolutionary period, with protests like the gilets jaunes movement having broken out with exceptional intensity in the last year or so. And if we mobilize around the goal of revolutionary socialism, this unrest among the world’s lower classes will result in the establishment of an entirely new system.
This vision is what I find meaning in fighting towards. The earth can’t be repaired in our lifetimes, but human society can achieve justice if we reorder ourselves in a way that’s opposite to the existing paradigm. As we grieve for what we lost during this era, let’s build a civilization that won’t repeat the mistakes of the one which came before it.