The climate question

September 20,2017

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Climate change-driven natural disasters around the world have taken more than half-a-million lives around the world and incurred financial losses worth billions of dollars. However, the policy adopted by governments or proposed by non-state actors in response to these losses vary across the globe.

First of all, there is a policy initiative that completely rejects climate change. Those who have been following Trump’s stance on the Paris Agreement would be well aware of the presence and influence of this conservative, fundamentalist-minded capitalist class around the world.

Before Trump, Sarah Palin was quite infamous for rejecting climate change. The argument presented by such people generally takes a religious angle where they argue that climate change – if true – is natural rather than manmade and if this is how God intends to end the world, so be it. However, it is quite evident that while the belief in God becomes the cover-up story, the underlying motivation for rejecting climate change is the greed for profits.

The second approach accepts that the crisis of climate change is a fact. However, this school of thought fails to look into the root causes of climate change.

In my previous piece, I explained how capitalism and the capitalist elite are directly responsible for climate change. However, the second approach does not recognise capitalism as the problem. Instead, it presents capitalist markets as the only solution. For instance, in response to deforestation, the proponents of this school of thought would argue that if more trees are needed, it would create a market for wood because when profits can be made from selling the wood in the free market, people will automatically plant more trees and that will solve the problem.

The capitalism-influenced notion of sustainability in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has this philosophy at heart. However, the fact that capitalism is the root of climate change problems, there is little that can be achieved by taking it as the only possible solution.

The third approach accepts climate change as a reality and also recognises the fact that capitalism is the root cause of the crisis. However, this approach does not believe in the rejection of capitalism either. Instead, it takes a reformist approach and seeks to amend capitalist theories in a way that they could become environment-friendly. These theorists are influenced by the Keynesian school of thought. Therefore, they believe in a partial interventionist strategy. The Kyoto Protocol (1997) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an example of the interventionist global strategy to control climate change. However, poor implementation and the failure to achieve any substantial results through the Kyoto Protocol and other policies introduced by this school of thought is a reflection of the lapses in this approach.

Finally, another approach to the crisis is the rejection of capitalism. This response has varying strategies under its belt. It understands that as long as capitalist philosophy reigns, climate change is inexorable. This means human life on earth will continue to shorten. The alternatives proposed include de-globalisation, socialism, the happiness philosophy, the rights and capabilities-based approach and a return to a spiritual rather than a materialist approach to life.

Some of these approaches – for instance, socialism – have been tried on a large scale. Some are being applied on a small scale. For example, the small transition towns in the UK are attempting to become self-reliant by doing away with the globalised world, which is seen as the key to preventing large-scale carbon emissions and maintaining the ecology of the environment. However, in some cases, large-scale practical feasibility is doubtful (for example, the transition towns). In other situations, a central focus on sustainability is lacking (for example, the happiness research-influenced policies).

While the crisis of climate change continues to deepen, the dearth of alternatives and the lack of consensus as well as motivation to prioritise the environment also continue to prevail. This has resulted in poor responses to dealing with climate change. The fact that the elite enjoying the fruits of the prevailing structures and the masses suffering from climate change are different people makes it even more unlikely that a practicable and truly sustainable response could surface anytime soon.

The writer is pursuing an MPhil in development studies at Lahore School of Economics and works as a research associate at LUMS.

Email: aqeelmalickgmail.com


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