Guest Commentary Opinion

Guest column: Fossil fuel capitalists cause climate change

Embed from Getty Images

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].


  • Capitalists, specifically “fossil fuel” capitalists, cause climate change?
    Hmmm. How many fossil fuel capitalists were around when the earth warmed up 12,000 years ago and ended the last ice age? Ooops, could it be that you are looking for a bogey man and it turns out it’s a bogey woman….named Mother Nature?

      • Well, little man, I do have a doctorate degree. But let’s look at simple logic, shall we?
        The SIMPLE fact is that the last Ice Age did end. What causes ice to melt and recede? Warmth (are you keeping up, Davey?). So a rise in the temperature caused the last ice age to end.
        Now, what caused the temperature of the earth to increase?
        Was it fossil fuels? Nope. There was no way to burn fossil fuels then. Hmmmm….what a conundrum.

        If the earth wasn’t warmed THEN by man, then it must have warmed up naturally.

        Now, I understand this simple and logical step by step process may have been difficult for you to follow. Next time you leave your room when your mommy calls you for dinner, ask her to help you understand.

        • Clearly you have never researched this topic. But then you probably still think cigarettes don’t cause cancer.

          • Wow, is that REALLY the best you can do, Davey? You can’t answer a couple of basic (and I do mean BASIC) questions. I hope to God you’re not a product of my beloved U of H.

            Come on, Davey…..try again. I know you can do it!

            What caused the earth to warm up to end the last ice age?

            • If you don’t know the answers to climate change / global warming you either don’t care or you are playing dumb. The science is 💯 % clear. Enjoy your award.

              • Why are you scared to answer my question? Have you always been a coward or is this something new? Come on, Davey, be a man. Answer the question!

                What caused the earth to warm up to end the last ice age?

                Your blatant refusal to answer shows everyone that you are afraid of the answer. Don’t be afraid. Be strong. Give it a try.

      • But I am quite sure you have a reason as to why the earth warmed up back then AND it being human related. Can’t wait to hear the fairy tale….errr, your story.

  • Serena presents a strong case for indicting profit-driven capitalism as creating consumerism which, in turn, burns more than our fair share of fossil fuels/person. The result: global warming and deadly storms are on the rise.

    While there are other natural causes for global warming, the industrial revolution has been built upon the burning of fossil fuels, and this has gradually increased the CO2 in our atmosphere. Most scientists agree that the “greenhouse effect” is gradually increasing the ambient global temperature. A significant index of this is the progressive shrinking of the polar ice cap.

    What Serena does not say is that our growth in prosperity has been purchased at a great price: strip-mining, cutting down forests, oil spills, over-fishing our oceans, environmental degradation, economic exploitation. What Serena does say is that “oppressive societal structures” are ruining our Earth. What Serena does NOT say is that these same “oppressive societal structures” are also creating a level of prosperity for Americans that has never before been known.

    Our prosperity, however, does not make us feel guilty. Developing countries aspire to attain this same level of prosperity for their own citizens. Maybe the aspiration for prosperity is not so bad. . . .

    A case in point: I am living in Shanghai, China, which, for the last twenty years has had a growth in the GDP (the prosperity index) of over 10% each year. At the moment, 85% in our city of 13 million has indoor plumbing, a flush toilet, and an electric clothes washer. Meanwhile hardly anyone (under 8%) has a clothes dryer and a private car. As a result, people here dry their clothes outdoors in all four seasons. It’s labor intensive work and oftentimes not a pretty sight.

    Do you think that 1.4 billion Chinese should refrain from wanting dryers so as to decrease air pollution from their electrical plants burning fossil fuels? Should the Communists of China slow down their movement toward prosperity so that the Christians of the USA can double their prosperity/blessings without having to pay any attention to global warming? When Jesus returns (or Allah descends to judge the living and the dead), will he save only fervent Christians (Muslims) from environmental degradation or will he extend his mercy to include ten billion of the earth’s suffering inhabitants?

    But now my reflections are beginning to go amuck. What I want to say to Serena and to her critics is “Thank you for alerting us to a real danger.” But it was not communism or capitalism that causes the environmental scourge. Rather, it is our hunger for prosperity! And, it’s not such a bad thing to want to prosper. . . .

    But what about the Limits to Growth (

Leave a Comment