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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Guest Commentary

Guest column: Fossil fuel capitalists cause climate change

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We must address the two elephants in the room: Climate change is worsening, and capitalism is the driving force behind global warming and destruction of our species and planet.

Due to Hurricane Maria, much of the island of Puerto Rico is without power and water, and the storm’s death toll is rising. Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan’s severe flooding killed more than 1,000 people last summer month, and homes and vital infrastructure decimated.

Barbuda, Antigua and Dominica Islands had to be completely evacuated, leaving inhabitants homeless. Death tolls in Sierra Leone are over 1,000 after an Aug. 14 mudslide and flooding. And as we all well know, in Houston, at least 75 people died in the flooding, and hundreds of thousands were left in need of aid.

Like most of you, I am not a climate scientist. I am not going to pretend that I am well-versed in the scientific evidence and research of climate change. Just a quick Google search illustrates our world’s doomsday trajectory if we continue to consume and produce the way we do. NASA’s website details how more than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that our planet’s warming is a consequence of human activity.

But which humans are we really talking about? A 2014 Concordia University study found the United States is the leader in greenhouse gas emissions and contributions to global warming.

The same study found how the top seven contributing countries account for 63 percent of global warming.

The Worldwatch Institute found that if people all over the world consumed the same amount per person as people in the United States, then our world could roughly support just 1.4 billion people.

What can we do? Certainly, reducing individual consumption levels is a start: Use public transportation, eat locally grown food and take short showers or bathe instead.

But here is the reality: These small, individual consumption modifications do not address root causes and are just not enough.

The fossil fuel industry has contributed 71 percent of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report. It becomes even harder to trace the various stakeholders of these companies that include a tangled web of elected officials worldwide.

We clearly need to switch our primary resource reliance from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but we must not be naïve. These major entities are not going to let this happen until they themselves are drowning.  

For the sake of public image, and some genuine compassion for the risks posed to life, these companies may occasionally forsake a little profit. Of course, the understanding of future threats to their beaucoup incomes are a much bigger incentive for these companies to change. But again, a little here and there is not enough, because the damage worsens every day that we don’t make major shifts.

The structural force behind key polluters, like the fossil fuel industry, is our globalized socioeconomic system. This system values profits and national and corporate security over the people and this planet’s security. We are talking about the international system of capitalism, and all that comes along with culture, ideology and philosophy.

Even though capitalism is the powerhouse guiding our lives, it is hardly spoken of. And there is a reason why this capitalist elephant in the room gets left unaddressed. This same reason is why people will get aggressive when its name is uttered in a negative image.

Capitalism is a profit-seeking machine — no more, no less. We have been such good hosts to this economic system that we have helped set up an array of smaller systems that promote its existence. This includes a culture that values capitalism and profiteering as an integral aspect of our identities, rather than the sustainability of our planet and all its species.

I sincerely believe that together we can change these oppressive societal structures.

We first must study what capitalism is and study the U.S. economic exploitation of the global south, i.e. the Third World, using the multitude of courageous thinkers and community leaders as our guide.

A great starting point is with Berta Cáceres, a woman murdered for her environmental justice, indigenous’ rights and anti-capitalist activism. We can also look in the Narmada Bachao Andolan anti-dam and anti-capitalist movement in India.

We need to learn from courageous leaders like Cáceres. We need to be brave and follow their footsteps.

Guest columnist Serena Ahmed is a social work graduate student. She can be reached at [email protected].

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