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OPINION: Capitalism needs to be overcome if we are to combat the climate crisis



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The sun sets in front of green leaves Sept. 16 near Sample Gates. A climate strike will take place Friday on campus. IU professors, research fellows, faculty and students will gather Friday at the Geology building to discuss climate change. Joy Burton Buy Photos

This Friday, students and community activists are organizing a strike in order to protest global inaction on change. The protest will be one of over 2,500 such events across 150 countries with millions of participants. Climate activist Greta Thunberg is the leading voice of Fridays for the Future, a global movement of student activists striking from school every Friday in support of climate action.

This Friday’s major actions come three days before the United Nations global summit on climate change. At the conference, nations will discuss their plans for aggressive action to address the emergency. 

When we demonstrate in favor of climate action, what are we asking for? What are the forces keeping climate action from happening? Look around you. It’s capitalism.

When economic power is concentrated in the hands of out-of-touch elites, the public good takes a back seat to profits. Multinational corporations and the politicians in their pockets run a system built to keep the rich satisfied. Rather than advocating for much-needed systemic change, elites have opted for small-minded half measures to limit structural change to our economy. 

Republicans are so devoted to climate destruction that observers such as Noam Chomsky describe them as “the most dangerous organization in human history.” The Democratic establishment is led by spineless moderates and self-titled pragmatists who propose small tweaks like a carbon tax; as if a business model designed exclusively around extracting fossil fuels deserves to be preserved a little longer.

The entire industry needs to be shut down. Period. That means the global economy will need a complete reorientation. All of this means drastically changing the economic order away from concentrated power and toward greater democracy.

None of it is possible without some sort of grassroots political revolution aimed at forcing politicians and corporations to answer to the public. After all, why should we accept when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi scoffs at the green new deal while she and her associates have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel companies?

Why should we accept a world where Google is investing millions in a new division designed to court the fossil fuel industry? Why should we accept when Amazon’s board refuses to even consider the company's effect on climate change? Why should we accept the fact that Chase Bank, one of the largest banks in the world, proudly invests tens of millions into Canadian tar sands?

These barriers to addressing the climate crisis are clearly systemic and bigger than just the fossil fuel industry. However, we accept them because it is business as usual. Capital is invested where it can make money — the social consequences be damned.

We worship a system that puts decision making in the hands of a wealthy few in order to enrich themselves. The rest of us are either marginalized into participating in political spectacles or disheartened into nihilistic apathy. The climate scientists understand that this state of affairs is untenable. Our politics can no longer be horse races driven by arcane and privileged notions of electability.

The public can no longer leave this fight to a technocratic elite who is devoted to private power. A political revolution must give the public agency over the world it lives in.

There is only one thing capable of forcing giant multinational corporations to answer to the public good: the federal government. We must take our government back from those who would condemn the world to death so they can have a few decades of high shareholder value.

Candidates who are not in favor of bold new policies to combat climate change should not be taken at all seriously. Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal is a necessary step in the right direction. Americans need to take control over energy production rather than allowing the criminals in the extraction industry to continue. Anything less than that is a joke. 

There is no moderate, market-based or centrist solution to this crisis. The world will be full of millions of climate refugees, droughts and resource wars as the global  “have-nots” sink into oblivion followed shortly by the “haves” who sat in complicit silence.

The Pelosis and the fossil fuel executives of the world hear this and ignore it in favor of business as usual. So when we demonstrate, we are rejecting the legitimacy of the reign of elites and corporations. We are dismissing the doubts of the pundits who cower within the Washington establishment consensus. The fight for a new green world is a radical fight, and if we choose to deny that fact, we choose catastrophe.

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