January 10, 2012
Capitalism is in crisis is a recurrent theme as the cycle of unsustainable booms and inevitable crashes means that countries teeter, protests rage, unemployed multiply and inequality increases. The crisis of legitimacy in capitalism deepens.
Naomi Klein in Capitalism vs. the Climate in The Nation says that climate change highlights an important characteristic of capitalism. This is:
The fact that the earth’s atmosphere cannot safely absorb the amount of carbon we are pumping into it is a symptom of a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract. But it is not just the atmosphere that we have exploited beyond its capacity to recover—we are doing the same to the oceans, to freshwater, to topsoil and to biodiversity. The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.
Climate change tells us that many of our culture’s most cherished ideas are no longer viable. These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress, unaccustomed to having our ambitions confined by natural boundaries. Capitalism's drive to master nature in its quest for perpetual growth overwhelms the natural systems on which life depends.
Klein argues that it is not opposition to the scientific facts of climate change that drives denialists but rather opposition to the real-world implications of those facts. There is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.
In the past the right has systematically used crises—real and trumped up—to push through a ideological agenda designed not to solve the problems that created the crises but rather to enrich elites. Finding new ways to privatize the commons and to profit from disaster is the logic of capitalism.