Climate Change

Can we prevent capitalism from destroying the world?

Good friend facing a serious health challenge in coming months found relief in a quote attributed to French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960). It included this:

No matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back. 

Provincial ministers and senior bureaucrats may be highly skilled at submitting expense account claims but they are inept at managing emergency responses. Meanwhile, local first-responders and concerned citizens, including many not directly affected by flooding, risk their lives to help.

The words of Camus struck me as useful for brave men and women damaged by British Columbia’s current climate disaster.

The sentence quoted above was attached to a longer piece that seems not to have been written entirely by the Nobel Prize laureate. That led me to reexplore Camus, a prolific writer. His 1957 speech at the Nobel Banquet has lessons for us sixty-four years later.

Camus spoke in a time when a nuclear holocaust was the greatest fear. Until then, people had regularly faced dangers of warfare but never did they worry that humankind could be erased. Today, there is a certain threat to our way of life and place in the natural world. Unchecked climate change poses a literal threat to humanity’s existence.

Journalists should pay close attention to Camus. They have a responsibility to raise strong warnings of a potential climate-induced collapse of civilization.

…the writer’s role is not free from difficult duties. By definition he cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it… Not all the armies of tyranny with their millions of men will free him from his isolation, even and particularly if he falls into step with them.

…the writer can win the heart of a living community that will justify him, on the one condition that he will accept to the limit of his abilities the two tasks that constitute the greatness of his craft: the service of truth and the service of liberty. Because his task is to unite the greatest possible number of people, his art must not compromise with lies and servitude which, wherever they rule, breed solitude.

Whatever our personal weaknesses may be, the nobility of our craft will always be rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.

…we should understand – without ceasing to fight it – the error of those who in an excess of despair have asserted their right to dishonour and have rushed into the nihilism of the era. But the fact remains that most of us, in my country and in Europe, have refused this nihilism and have engaged upon a quest for legitimacy. They have had to forge for themselves an art of living in times of catastrophe in order to be born a second time and to fight openly against the instinct of death at work in our history.

Categories: Climate Change

8 replies »

  1. I started re-reading a tattered old copy of The Plague in November 2019, then splurged on a Pléïade edition of Camus’ Complete Works. There is no shortage of barbs and quips worthy of contemplation in relation to present circumstances, but you’ll know that disinterested contemplation is in short supply in current discourse. It seems that those tagged to lead us are more interested in how to exploit a perfectly good crisis for short-term political gain, and the irony of Shirley Bond rising in the legislature to criticize the current administration is more than laughable, well-deserved as said criticism may be, leading to the frustration that occasioned Dr. Suzuki’s latest truth-telling tirade, an outburst that encapsulates the frustration of many who perceive the depth of crisis and see more of the same tired nostrums being trotted out as solutions.

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  2. To answer your question try to imagine a world in which capitalism had been tamed, somehow rendered incapable of destroying the world. Are we already in too deep? Have the tendrils of capitalism not become integral to our existence?

    How many can no longer distinguish standard of living with quality of life? What of democracy? The 2014 paper out of Princeton by Gilens (Princeton) and Page (Northwestern) chronicled the transformation of America from democracy to oligarchy. With that on our doorstep how healthy is our own democracy?

    Two years ago I spoke with a researcher at the NGO, the Global Footprint Network. I asked her about the world’s maximum sustainable population and she said they figure it’s shy of three billion. Today we’re closing in on eight billion. The math is grim.

    Yes, capitalism is destroying the world or it’s one of the forces driving that end. Our only hope lies in balancing humanity’s footprint with our planet’s very finite carrying capacity. We either live in harmony with our biosphere or we die in droves. The old conjuring tricks no longer work.

    Are we prepared to revert to a late 19th/early 20th century way of life? Not voluntarily, to be sure, but eventually we may have no choice. The climate breakdown is already shaping us yet overpopulation is a subject not fit for polite conversation and trimming our rampant overconsumption is just fine provided someone else bears the pain.

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  3. Good question, can we prevent capitalism, or the capitalists who aim to capitalize everything for their great investment in putting themselves amongst the rich and powerful on the Earth, from destroying the Earth. You would think that it should be redundant, if you assume that the capitalists have any foresight, I mean, ANY foresight, you have to think that they too can see this end coming.

    Their first response of course will be that enviro whackos are grossly overstating the dangers. A nice simple minded response like that could only come from people who have not got a broad or long view of cause and effect.

    As an example of an end game difficulty that should be being considered, ‘of what value is money if money is all that is left that has value’.

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  4. Capitalism is a somewhat over used word to describe various economic systems, designed to make the wealthy, wealthier. Today, we have Neo-Liberal capitalism, a rather putrid form of economy where, good are made on cheap, using cheap labour overseas for sale in North America/Europe.

    This has all but destroys manufacturing in North America and Europe as the people have been forced to accept Neo Liberalism, with the end result of the loss of traditional middle class jobs.

    Added, by allowing off shore investment (where wealthy people can buy local housing) has driven up the cost of housing to the point, many are tossed onto the street.

    As Neo-Liberalism has combined with American and Canadian Evangelical religion, to become the new religion.

    As the social fabric fails around neo-Liberalism, the new religion has a bastion of support of willfully uniformed people lead by utterly corrupt politicians and has history has shown time after time, it fails badly and in most cases in war and revolution.

    Neo-Liberlaism is the ultimate feudal system and will it destroy the world?

    Take a look folks, it has already started.

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  5. Tomasz Kamusella makes a compelling case here that about a fifth of the world’s population lives in a communist country currently embracing capitalism as the engine that drives its economy, that you can have capitalism without democracy, and that the globe’s democracies are shrinking:

    https://theconversation.com/how-china-combined-authoritarianism-with-capitalism-to-create-a-new-communism-167586

    How do you prevent capitalism from destroying the world when you don’t get a vote?

    Walt Kelly designed a poster to help promote environmental awareness and publicize the first annual observance of Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970. The poster depicted Kelly’s comic strip character Pogo picking up trash and saying, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

    Half a century later we haven’t proved Pogo wrong.

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  6. It’s not like the risk of nuclear war has diminished. If anything, it’s increased since Camus’ time. Especially since there are more “players” now, and there is hardly a vocal and focused peace movement anymore, far too many other distractions.

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