Can We Stop Climate Change Without Dismantling Capitalism?

The Cross of the Moment

By Jacob Freydont-Attie (2015)

Film Review

Can climate change be addressed without dismantling capitalism? The current track record of world leaders suggests not – especially with the election of the world’s most prominent climate denier to the US presidency.

The Cross of the Moment is a documentary exploring the climate change dilemma and various options for limiting global warming and mitigating the effects of catastrophic climate change. It’s produced in a panel discussion format, with the filmmaker posing specific questions to prominent astrophysicists, climate scientists, political economists and climate activists (including Bill McKibben, Gary Snyder, Derrick Jensen, Peter D. Ward, Jill Stein, Bill Patzert, and Guy McPherson). I’m not normally a big fan of talking heads, but the optimism conveyed by this film – in stark contrast to the usual alarmist arguments – definitely held my attention.

I was especially impressed with Bill McKibbon’s elegant explanation of why changing light bulbs and other market-based behavioral changes aren’t going to end global warming. The climate activist lays out an elegant argument why systemic structural changes is needed to wean humanity off of fossil fuels and why fossil fuel companies aren’t going to allow this without a major global movement to counter their power and greed.

The other panelists present a range of views on the specific structural/systemic changes that are necessary to prevent climate changes from wiping out our ability to produce food. Most seem to agree that fossil fuels could be totally phased out – and replaced by renewable energy – by 2050. They estimate this could be done for a total capital cost of $15 trillion (which according to the IMF is less than we currently spend annually to subsidize the fossil fuel industry*).

The film offers a number of viewpoints on how to bring this about. One economist favors a carbon tax; another would totally ban wasteful industries such as packaging (the third largest global industry after energy and food) and junk mail (which produces 51 millions tons CO2 annually in the US alone). Two activists express the view that the political corruption exerted by the fossil fuel industry couldn’t be overcome without dismantling capitalism altogether.

* According to the IMF, fossil fuel companies benefit from $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies.


4 thoughts on “Can We Stop Climate Change Without Dismantling Capitalism?

  1. I don’t think we can. And the corporations are not going to allow that to happen and neither are those of us who refuse to reign capitalism in. We refuse to stop driving because we have got to go nowhere fast. We consume, consume and consume because the television and the internet says, “Go out and buy this or, you can shop from the comfort of your recliner and your purchases will arrive at your doorstep!” Capitalism makes us soft. If we had continued to adhere to how simply the Indians and indigenous tribes to rainforests lived, we would not be where we are today, but we constantly sought ways to make things easier and now look where we are. Remember the post about the Amish and how they are basically cancer free while the rest of America is knee deep in cancer diagnoses. Simpler is healthier for us and the planet but we have been programmed to want technology and that comes with a hefty price to be paid for it; our health and that of the planet we live on.


  2. I tend to agree, Shelby – that the important thing to focus on right now is dismantling capitalism before it destroys the planet. I’m not sure which comes first though – the ill health from toxins and killing off our immunity (by destroying our intestinal bacteria) – or the addiction to modern technology. It’s my impression that most addictions are based in ill health, including addiction to cars, smartphones, tablets and similar technology.


  3. As I see it the most fatal flaw, among many, is that the world financial system requires growth in order to monetize increased population and profits. GDP growth is everyone’s indicator of policy success. But we have already grown much much too far too fast, and the planet cannot sustain this. The next Nobel Prize should go to the economist and central bank Guru who figure out how to monetize LESS. There is no solution without making LESS the goal, instead of MORE. Japan, for instance, should be rewarded for a declining population, but in reality it is a crisis for the Japnese econmy and standard of living. Less means not just only one car, or no cars. Less risks the collapse of the whole economy. If you try to imagine and design a world birthrate adjustment that would eventually reduce the planetary human population by half, for example, it is very difficult to figure out how to keep anything basic to humans functioning at all. Of course humans would have and use far far less than now. That’s a given. But the likely resulting economic collapse could bring almost everything to a grinding halt.


  4. Excellent analysis, Kurt. I personally favor the school of thought that ending our growth obsession is only possible if we end our debt based monetary system by banning private banks from creating money and restoring this function to government. The only way to pay the pyramiding debt created by our debt-based monetary system is through continuous economic growth. They make this argument in Money as Debt – a great film if you haven’t seen it yet:


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