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Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”


Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”

Naomi Klein

This Sunday, the entire New York Times Magazine will be composed of just one article on a single subject: the failure to confront the global climate crisis in the 1980s, a time when the science was settled and the politics seemed to align.


Capitalism kills everyone and everything it touches, except for capitalists and their lackeys. It has NO REDEEMING QUALITIES WHATSOEVER, either theoretically or realistically.


I prefer to consider that it is unregulated, hyper-financialized capitalism that is truly to blame. Two children bartering on the relative exchange rate between Oreos and Fig Newtons is an example of simple capitalism. I am going to let them slide.


Bargaining, in itself, is not capitalism. Humans bargain over everything all the time. I prefer the classical definition of capitalism that Capitalists (holders of wealth and therefore power) determine how and when wealth is used. While regulations can ameliorate certain abuses, in the end, all significant political-economic decisions are made by capitalists or their paid employs in governments.


The point man in that 1980s “swamping” was Ronny Raygun soft selling the small gubmit myth concurrent with creating more debt and deficit than all of his POTUS predecessors COMBINED, as he locked clean energy in a closet while opening the fossil fuel floodgates.

The Democrats continued to enable this swamping to the extent that the Clintons and Obamas quoted Saint Ron and compared themselves to Saint Ron more than they ever mentioned any other predecessor.


This not a definition of Capitalism. Every Society saw peoples bargain over the exchange of a good. Barter economies, Mercantile economies and the like all exchanged goods in such a manner. What Capitalism does is along with putting the means of production into the hands of private individuals , it allows for the exchange of goods to be accomplished via Money. Money is then allowed to accumulate in some few hands and is used to generate PROFIT of the workers labor due to the fact that the money has been Monopolized and the Investor Class or “Capitalist” controls its supply. The system then acts to ensure that Money used on all exchange of goods thus favoring those that Control the most of it.

The Worker in such a system is limited in the amount of Labor he can provide because s/he only has a monopoly over their own labor whereas the Capitalist can acquire ever more Capital. When the Worker goes to get access to Money for a loan to purchase an item the Labor he can provide is secondary to the Money that labor can earn thus the entire system by design favors those with more MONEY or Capital.

Money-centric systems will always but the Money or Capital above all else thus the Natural World is seen merely as a source of it and it will use the Natural world to generate wealth even as they kill it and us. Regulations do not change this anymore than The Geneva conventions on War change the fact that war is about killing.


I knew about the climate disaster since 1964. It terrified me then and colored my entire adult life. It still does. And still, all we do is talk.

Billionaires have capital without imagination. Innovators have imagination without capital.

The young must break free from these failures or we are all doomed…


Communist Russia was also heavily polluted by its conservatives.

Capitalist or communist, conservatives killed our climate.


Communist Russia was actually more State Capitalism. Lenin acknowledged as much. It was not truly Socialist. Lenin felt that by using State Capitalism the USSR could eventually evolve to a truly Socialist system but that never happened as the State Capitalism devolved into Authoritarianism.


Imagination does not require capital so much, but always requires labor to execute. For example producing/consuming less and better does not require additional capital, conservation does not require additional capital, recycling/re-using does not require addition capital. In fact, all of these activities -properly organized - create wealth. But as long as wealth is controlled by capitalists, it will only be used in their interests.


TomJohnson: ‘I prefer to consider that it is unregulated, hyper-financialized capitalism that is truly to blame.’

I would argue that no two people have a concept of capitalism or socialism that dovetails exactly with that of another. The terms have lost all meaning without modifiers such as you propose. Better that we identify those who would game the system (whichever that may be), cheat at the rules, and revel in the uneven playing fields they create.

Global warming is so complex in its etiology, so devastating in its effects, so prolonged in its progression, that a simple name tag for the progenitors will not do. I am, for one, looking forward to the NY Times Magazine article this Sunday, to see for myself.


Rebuilding our society with 100% clean energy will require trillions of global dollars. The return on this human investment is survival. The return on neoliberalism is extinction. The young must win the day or lose everything.


I don’t hold a patent on the word, but barter does not even require capital.

Part of the differences in view here have something to do with what you’re calling capitalism and what you’re calling financialization. But let me try an idea out. See what you think.

It is not possible to have a capitalism that does involve capital yet does not involve finance in some very broad form, though obviously some economies can be meaningfully said to be more financialized or financed than others, and there’s probably a lot to discuss there.

My reasoning is that the value of capital itself bears little relation to the value of the substance of currency. Granted there are some differences: It is harder to inflate a currency of gold or puka shells without finding more. But in all cases, what gets called value remains a function of goods, will to pay, available capital, and faith in the ongoing value of said capital.

One dimension of that is faith. The receivers of money trust or gamble that currency or credit will retain its value so as to allow them to purchase. The ultimate, primary value is never the money itself, which is a sign in the semiotic sense, much like a word or an icon. Capital relates to currency a bit like ideas relate to media, like printed books or digital presentations: the medium is important and relates to how one manages the idea, but it is also important that it is not the idea itself.

The value is financed then, in very much the way that a loan is, because the receipt of the money and the faith in the money allows the seller to defer the actual payoff, which ultimately has to be something of primary value, goods or services.

All this fol de rol matters because the faith in the currency acts in some ways much like other sorts of finance that we are more prone to address as financialization–paper money rather than gold-based currency, digital money rather than paper money, credit rather than digital money or paper money, or unbacked credit, or articles of direct fraud like counterfeit bills or bad checks.

It matters, I’d say, because I do not see how one separates capital, capitalism, and capitalization from what I think that you are calling financialization: the separation of a semiotic token of value from primary value. Doing so allows and encourages people to do things that we do not value and do not regard as beneficial for money.

This can be called bribery, but it is usually called working for a wage. It is also sometimes called working to get a profit.

It’s obviously not a system that we are apt to drop any time soon, but it might be good to closely understand the devil with whom we are bartering.


Naomi kliein always makes valid points but human nature, in the form of hyperbolic discounting, does indeed play a part in making people decide they can forestall action on climate change:



“Solving out climate crisis is not a question of politics, it’s a question of our survival.”

Climate change: ‘Hothouse Earth’ risks even if CO2 emissions slashed


It is true true that in the 1980s “the basic science of climate change was understood and accepted” however, there was no agreement that continued emissions of greenhouse gases would result in severe global warming. The man reason for this was it was unclear whether positive or negative feedbacks (e.g., possibly clouds, increased plant growth) would be stronger. An important book in the 1980s by Stephen Schneider, one of the leading climate scientists, recognized this and urged people to take actions that they should take anyway even if there was no global warming. There are many such actions. There was no reason in the 1980s to take all out action but there was reason to begin action to be on the safe side as long as there were additional benefits. As it turned out the positive feedbacks are much stronger than the negative feedbacks although questions about both remain. However, it was realized by the early 1990s that strong action was needed and international climate meetings were begun. I think the problems really began when the Kyoto agreement was too weak and the carbon offsets involved did not work well and the US refused to join because the developing countries were not involved. You could say things got off on the wrong foot and never were straightened out.


Naomi is correct, as usual, that it is corporate pathological action and unaccountability to society and the environment as a whole that is the problem. It started well before Ronny and Maggie. There was never a reason to be petroleum dependent. Petroleum is simply plant matter. H. Ford, George Washington Carver and others since have shown that from fuel to plastics everything made from petroleum can be made from living, not ancient plants.
Corporations have no soul so feel no guilt and when they commit crimes their charters should be pulled. They are after all creatures of the state.
Of all the corporate crimes the one that causes the greatest damage is industrial agriculture. The soil can hold 2-3 times the carbon as the air and above ground plants together. Before the invasion of the plow the Great Plains supported 100 million large grazing animals and countless small grazing animals, their predators and scavengers including humans. The carbon rich and moisture laden top soil was 6 ft deep and the fish full rivers ran clear and the aquifers were full to over flowing. Now what do we have?

The quickest way to reverse global warming is to regenerate the grasslands and forests. It has happened before. The CCC in 9 years planted 3 billion trees.
The disappearance of much of the agriculture in the West after Columbus led to the Little Ice Age where grasslands and forests took over the abandoned gardens and fields.

Temps dropped 1C world wide. Humans could do that purposely now. The knowledge is there.


Actually after reading it, my take was that corrupt politics had ruined the chance to do something back then. I have followed climate change since it was 1st announced back in the 60s and the politics have always been the reason why we didn’t do anything.
And it is still the reason why it is not the #1 issue to be solved.
There is far too much money to be made by what is in the ground yet. There is an estimated 20 trillion worth of known oil and about the same unfound yet. Natural gas is about the same amount. Coal is estimated to be 100-200 trillion worth in the ground.
The deniers would have people think that the scientists invented climate change for the money, yet deny that the amount of money that can still be made off of denying and thus extracting what is still in the ground is the real reason. When you are talking maybe 300 trillion $ of carbon to be extracted at huge profits for those who do it, there is the reason why climate change must be denied and fought against.
So of course it is politics with that kind of money to be made. These people are not going to let that kind of money sit in the ground and let the profits slip away. And the politicians they bribe are only going to care about the money today, not what happens in the future.


Actually that is a barter system. And from what I understand, it is different from capitalism