Capitalism is incompatible with a safe climate. Our current economic system depends on capital’s continuous and exponential expansion – without it there is no profit. And as capital grows so must we give up more of ourselves and our planet to serve this insatiable system.
Every year we are called to work longer, harder and for less. Every year we are called to let these demands eat up more of our services and take over more of our community spaces.
And so it goes with the planet. Every year we extract more from the earth and belch pollution back out into our world. As capital grows, the wellbeing of people and our home, the planet diminish.
Right now, we face an urgent choice. We need to choose between a safe climate or capitalism.
But this is not an easy choice.
We are living in an economy that resembles the bus in the 1994 Keanu Reeves classic Speed – it feels like we’re trapped in a system that demands we drive faster and faster so some disgruntled old guy can get his money.
Each of us faces the desperate dilemma of Sandra Bullock, the hostage: we are the hostages. If you comply maybe, just maybe, you will be okay even if you know that bus is going to blow.
We have been held hostage since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Prior to then, we were told we needed to transfer power and control to the wielders of capital in order to guarantee our shared prosperity. Post the crash and the associated bailouts of the financial institutions, the message from these economic gatekeepers is much more direct – strip them of their privileges and they’ll blow up the bus.
Of course, they frame it differently in the language of “market confidence” and “debt repayments”. The Greek situation, however, educates us all as to the ruthless politics behind the pseudo-scientific rhetoric.
Before our very eyes in the last few months a whole population was subjected to a process of collective punishment. The Greek people were strangled as their short-term supply of currency was cut-off. We saw the images of desperate people queuing for ATMs fast running out of cash and pensioners crying in anguish.
The Greek people sought to renegotiate the terms of their own captivity, and European capital punished them for assuming a degree of agency. They wounded one hostage to teach the rest of us a lesson.
From Greece we learn that negotiations alone will not lead to capital’s accommodation to people and planet. To end this hostage situation and escape from the bus, we’ll have to decide to do it ourselves. Together, though, we can do it for we have strength in solidarity.
Globally, more and more of us are questioning capital’s reign. Workers are struggling to build cooperative enterprises, communities are reclaiming control of their electricity assets to fund renewable energy and voters around the world are questioning the policy assumptions of the political establishment. These are but a few of the many inspiring flash points around the world.
This year we have an opportunity to link these movements into a larger network. In late November, the representatives of countries and corporations will come together in Paris to negotiate a mutually accepted cost towards mitigating climate change. When these representatives came together at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2009 we had faith they might act to ensure a safe climate for all of us.
This time is different. This time we have no such faith. This time we will act regardless of what they do. This time we have no time.
The appetite for change is unquestionable; Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is not only a global best-seller, but has also provoked many different sorts of people into action to transform our economy and environment.
During the last weekend in November, we will hit the streets in every major city around the globe to send a message to Paris – we are already making the just transition to a fair and sustainable economy. It is up to the representatives in Paris to prove their commitment to a safe climate or it is they and their institutions which will fade into irrelevance.
In other words, they can now choose to get on our bus or get left behind.
When it comes to ensuring a safe climate, we’ve all been hostage to an economic system that at times shapes us to act as hypocrites. The last weekend in November, however, is a convergence in time where we can all make a meaningful choice for a safe climate. Each of us can pledge to turnout in November and encourage our family, friends and work mates to join us.
When the peoples of the world pour out onto the streets, it will not be as a plea to Paris to act for us.
It will be a signal to them of the ground shifting beneath their feet.
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