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Katzevich ’16: Climate change: End capitalism or end the world

On Sept. 21, almost 400,000 people, from suburban families to college students to hardened eco-warriors, took to the streets of New York to protest the continued destruction of the earth’s precious ecosystems through anthropogenic climate change before a United Nations meeting to discuss next year’s climate summit in Paris. One does not, however, have to be particularly pessimistic to expect the predictable: Just like the Kyoto Protocols and all subsequent U.N. climate summits, the one in Paris will include much talk, many promises and no results of significance.

Perhaps it may be a touch defeatist to criticize what was, after all, the largest climate march in human history — but tough love demands it. Walking obediently along the route provided by the New York Police Department, never coming close to the U.N. building and without a list of demands or prepared speeches, the People’s Climate March appeared as little more than a mildly political parade and will certainly be treated as such by those who hold the power to shape the future of the earth.

One aim of the march was simply to raise awareness of the issue. The other, more significant purpose was to appeal to the political class, lawmakers and politicians to take action on the one issue that, apart from touching every facet of social justice, affects the very survival of not only our species but all life on Earth.

The active inaction of a neutered citizenry, with its inability to critically analyze the true causes of the apocalypse we are collectively sleepwalking into, is deeply troubling. The march’s failure to make the unprecedented strength of its magnitude count raises serious questions about our potential to avert the impending crises prophesied by the increasingly alarmed outcries of climate scientists.

To beg for salvation from those who write our laws is a fool’s errand of the most egregious degree. It is to believe that we can alter the form by stepping on its shadow, to have the tail wag the dog.

As keenly demonstrated by President Obama’s sanctioning and glorification of the fracking industry, politicians, while certainly complicit in the ecocide unfolding before us, are but the handmaidens of the true criminals, courtiers and sanctifiers of those unleashing death and destitution on unimaginable scales.

The real culprit, against whom we must focus the full force of our wrath, energy and ire, is a capitalist system that produces cancerous growth for its own sake, destroying the natural world and creating unimaginable waste in the process.

Capitalism, by its very nature and logic, is incompatible with sustainable life on this planet. Capitalism acts merely to maximize profit at every level, with all other consequences, both good and bad, as unintended side effects. By placing a dollar sign on everything, capitalism allows nothing to go untouched and unexploited. No tree is seen beyond its potential to be paper or planks. No mineral is left unmined. No holy forest is left uncleared to build housing developments. Capitalism leaves nothing sacred.

On the one hand, defenders of this system of natural exploitation contend that the growth it produced has greatly improved human well-being. Certainly, in some senses, they are correct. The combination of capitalism and the scientific revolution has caused rapid technological progress and an unprecedented jump in human life expectancy.

Conversely, it has also produced deprivation on untold levels, as multinational corporations and the governments at their behest systematically rob people of their access to land. Two billion people survive on less than two dollars a day, and one in every eight people suffers from hunger and malnutrition — not from a lack of food, but from the inability to afford it.

Moreover, the costs of capitalist growth are destruction and waste on untold levels. In order to “make more land available for housing and urbanization, timber, large scale cash crops such as soy and palm oil, and cattle ranching,” as a 2013 LiveScience article describes, about 78 percent of the world’s indigenous forests have been cleared, including 90 percent in the continental United States.

This clearing of forests is one of the prime drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, and the destruction of natural habitats has created one of the greatest mass extinctions in the planet’s history. Already over half of all wildlife populations have perished, and countless more are set to join them in the abyss.

Further, capitalism invariably produces enormous amounts of waste. Although we are most familiar with consumer waste — phones, cars and almost everything else disposed of and replaced every few years — it is estimated that for every pound of garbage discarded by households, industries such as mining, manufacturing, agriculture and petrochemicals produce 70 pounds of waste.

This waste is far from harmless, as electronic waste produces toxic chemicals damaging to human health, especially in the developing world, and plastic waste disposed of in the ocean has horrific effects on aquatic wildlife.

While capitalist growth depends upon the destruction of the natural world and the purposeful production of egregious amounts of waste, it is the character of its growth that is most troubling. Capitalist growth is based not on prudent thought or decades-long plans, but rather on the immediate, short-term creation of profit. Capitalism plans by quarter, sometimes by year, but rarely anything beyond that.

On a macro level, this same thoughtlessness is again exemplified, as the logic is to grow GDP, the sum of all national production, without much care as to how. In this sense, capitalism shares the ideology of the cancer cell: growth for the sake of growth.

Thus, as environmentalists, as those who care for life on this planet and respect the sanctity of the natural world, what can we do? The first step is to drop the delusion of the climate march and much of modern environmentalism ­— the belief that we can in any way appeal to political leaders.

Politicians, who regardless of party, are at the behest of corporations, depend upon massive corporate contributions to get elected, and place corporate leaders in key administrative positions of power are in no way the solution to our problems. Our political class is morally and intellectually bankrupt as well as practically impotent, and our pleas to them fall upon deaf ears, only serving as diversions from the malfeasance of the corporate state.

Instead, we must engage in acts of civil disobedience against the banks, energy companies and corporations that wield the true levers of power.

We must defy the authority of the state, the safeguarders and bailiffs of capital, potentially at the risk of our freedom and lives, to put so many wrenches in the wheels and disturbances in the machine that they no longer have the choice to ignore us.

We must occupy, we must strike, we must persevere, we must raise hell.

We must demand a rationally governed society that produces for human needs rather than corporate greed, that holds the natural world as sacrosanct and places its rights above the dictates of production and profit. And, if and when the armed corporate state strikes back with the full capacity of its vengeance, we must leave nothing off the table.

Our lives depend on it. Our children depend on it. Our species depends on it. The earth depends on it.


David Katzevich ’16 believes the earth is too important to be left in the hands of those who do not care for it, much less love it. He can be reached at


A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that over half of the world's wildlife species have already perished. In fact, over half of the world's wildlife populations have already perished. The column also previously misstated the relative size of the ongoing extinction: It is one of the greatest mass extinctions in world history, not the greatest. The Herald regrets the errors.


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