[Marxism] Climate Justice must be Supplemented by Responsible Consumption

ehrbar at marx.economics.utah.edu ehrbar at marx.economics.utah.edu
Sat Jun 7 22:33:18 MDT 2014


Lately I have been discussing climate change a lot with religious
people.  Most religious commentaries on the climate are based on the
unquestioned assumption that humans affect the climate as individuals,
that individuals make the wrong choices and need some kind of spiritual
awakening.

I don't think this is the right way to look at it.  What wrecks the
climate is not individuals but society.  Changes of individual
behaviours will only then do the trick if we strategically seek out
those individual changes which unhinge entire social structures.

Let me explain better.  What paralyzes modern capitalist societies in
front of the clearly perceived climate danger is the fact that we are a
class society.  Class warfare has degenerated into a protracted
trench warfare with no clear winners of losers.  The capitalists are
unable to push the cost of climate mitigation on the workers, and the
workers are unable to force the capitalists to pay for climate
mitigation out of their profits.  Since both sides refuse to pay for it,
climate mitigation is not happening.

If the working class and the female gender and the oppressed nations and
minorities could quickly win the class/race/discrimination war and in
conjunction with this tackle the climate issue, this would be wonderful,
and this is a strategy which should be pursued.  But we cannot rely on
this climate justice strategy as our only strategy.  The power of the
capitalists and other oppressors is too entrenched, it cannot be removed
quickly enough.

Therefore I submit that the climate justice strategy must be
supplemented by what I call the responsible consumption strategy.  80%
of environmental damage is done by 20% of the world's population, by all
those living comfortable middle class lives.  If this demographic
voluntarily reduces their consumption, sheds off the excess of stuff and
seeks happiness in more free time and better social relations and more
natural beauty and respect for nature, then they can make a difference
for the climate right now.  This demand side movement can give us more
time to work on the supply side, renewable energy, electrified mass
transportation, and dwellings which produce more energy than they
consume.

This strategy of responsible consumption is an attempt to escape from
the class war deadlock by a gambit, by the sacrifice of a pawn.  If
those living prosperous lives, both workers and capitalists, voluntarily
reduce consumption, they show their willingness to do climate mitigation
even if they cannot shift the cost of it on others but must pay for it
themselves.  This is an obvious and moral individual action to take for
those who can afford it, since our overconsumption is clearly changing
the planet into an inhospitable environment for future generations.
This is so compelling that it has the potential to become a powerful
cultural movement undermining the culture of promotion of exploitation
versus avoidance of exploitation.  In addition, it also has strategic
implications for the social order.  It makes it easier to force the
capitalists to do climate mitigation because they no longer have the
market for their reckless climate-unaware fossil-fuel based growth.

Hans G Ehrbar




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