To protect against climate change we need to replace a society based on accumulation for profit with one based on production for need writes Elaine Graham-Leigh
Climate change will make extreme weather like this winter’s rain more common. Even if we were able to slash greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we would have to find ways of living with what has already been emitted. We therefore have two tasks. To stop further climate change, and to fight for ways of dealing with the effects of the changed climate we already have in a way which doesn’t simply condemn those who can’t buy their way out.
The flooding along the Thames provided an opportunity for some ‘we’re all in this together’ imagery, as a number of news outlets ran pictures of floods near Windsor Castle. This might lead to the conclusion that now that some wealthy people have learnt first-hand that climate change is real, government action will result. But that isn’t how capitalism works.
A key attribute of capitalism is the mobility of capital itself. Unlike under any other mode of production, the power and wealth of the global elite under capitalism isn’t linked to possession of any particular piece of good-quality land. Capitalist elites don’t have to care about the environmental destruction they cause; they can extract all the profit they can and invest in another sector, somewhere else.
There is no natural disaster which could stop the City from working. If the City were covered by a freak flood, it might inconvenience the employees of the City companies, but the companies themselves would implement their disaster recovery plans and keep going.
This is why issues of climate change always come down in the end to questions of class. It is ultimately not in capitalism’s interest to defray any profits to deal with climate change, so we can’t rely on the capitalist class and their political representatives to take action. Every battle we fight about flooding – against cuts to flood defence funding, against public sector cuts, for a decent insurance cover for everyone at risk of flooding – is a battle against the logic of capitalism that says that caring about the planet gets in the way of profits.
Elaine has been an environmental campaigner for more than a decade, focusing on issues of climate change and social justice. She speaks and writes widely on green issues and is a member of Counterfire. Her book, A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change, will be published in April 2015 by Zero Books.
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