I have always thought it odd when people say we need to “save the Earth”. The physical substance of the Earth will be here for billions of years after we’re all dead, no matter how we die. It’s humanity that’s under threat.
We are in a race against time to save humanity (and many other species) from catastrophic climate change. The lives of billions of people are on the line if we don’t take serious action to reduce the impact humanity is having on the environment.
The change that needs to happen to all of human civilisation is profound. Radical politics and new economic models are needed to save humanity. Individual changes - such as recycling and cycling to work - are making a difference, but alone they’re not enough. To save humanity, we need a world without companies profiting from environmental destruction.
Swift and radical change
This cannot be done under capitalism. The destruction of the natural environment is just too profitable. Capitalism lacks feedback mechanisms that will prevent it from wiping out the human race. The incentives for profitability are all short term. There is no mechanism to forgo short-term profits to allow for capitalism to continue in the long run. Once capitalism has wiped out all the humans, the cockroaches won’t be starting businesses.
Incremental changes to human society will not be fast enough to save us from climate destruction. This will require swift and radical change. There are only 12 years to make the necessary changes to avoid more than two degrees of global warming. The changes that need to happen in such a short space of time are radical.
We live in a world where politicians are beholden to oil companies and other big businesses. Oil companies especially make huge amounts of money from destroying the environment. It’s hard to see a future where humanity and oil companies can both survive. We need to leave billions of pounds worth of oil in the ground to save the human race. Oil companies will have become extinct.
The power of the state
The state created capitalism in the early modern period and the power of the state will be needed to undo capitalism to save the environment. The state is the means for collective action that can stop the damage that capitalism is doing. However, the purposes of the project ahead must not be to transfer all the powers of private companies to the state. Currently, the state is too unaccountable for the safety of many of its citizens. Transferring much more power to the state could be very dangerous.
The powers held by private companies and the state needs to be transferred to people. It is ordinary people and their communities that have the knowledge to preserve our future. Government is seen by many people as something too distant, too abstract, to make a positive difference to their lives. These distant powers need to be brought closer to home so that people can see that the power of the government can improve their lives.
Once people can see the state making a positive difference in their community and they can see these powers at work, they will be inspired to make the changes necessary to save us all from environmental destruction. If people hold the power at a local level they can use it to prevent climate change
A positive solution
We need to move beyond capitalism. Capitalism is a threat to the future of the human race as it greedily consumes resources and destroys the environment. If capitalism is not stopped it will lead to the deaths of billions of people. The state can a positive solution to the problems of capitalism, but it needs to be reformed first.
We need radical new politics and economics to save the environment and rise to the challenge that humanity faces. However, we must not replace an out of control capitalism, reliant on overly powerful private companies, with an out of control state that is overly powerful itself.