Build A Livable World Or Sacrifice It For Profit

Capitalism is not capable of saving us from the abyss that awaits.

“We have a choice,” said the UN Chief António Guterres regarding the looming climate catastrophe: “Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.” He is correct for emphasizing this choice we’ve never had to face before and linking our fate to whether tens of millions of us will choose to act decisively, and soon.

Science backs his assessment. The April 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned that the planet is “firmly on track toward an unlivable world” unless CO2 emissions peak by 2025 and rapidly fall thereafter. In May, scientists warned that there is now a 50% chance that in one of the next five years the 1.5 degree Celsius global heating limit above the pre-industrial average will be broken (up from 20% probability in 2020 and 0% in 2015). The 1.5°C warming limit is crucial if we are to avoid dangerous climate breakdown. Guterres, sounding like a climate justice activist, accused political leaders of “lying” and said the report “is a litany of broken climate promises” and “a file of shame.”

Already, glimpses of a frightening future are upon us. In parts of India this summer, people were rescuing “exhausted and dehydrated birds” falling from the sky due to intensive heatwaves with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius. If the nightmarish scenes of birds falling from the sky won’t focus our minds, nothing will. The worsening heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms in various regions of the world have even surprised climate scientists with their predictive models and make clear that no one is safe. On July 19, the temperate UK made history reaching a desert-like temperature of 104.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 40.2 degrees Celsius. The day before, France posted a sweltering record of 108.68 degrees Fahrenheit. Out-of-control wildfires in France and Spain have devastated forests, sent tens of thousands fleeing, and already killed nearly 2,000 people. Blazes have swept wide areas of western US. Italy is baking, putting crops in danger. By late July, Southern China expects temperatures exceeding 107 degrees Fahrenheit. After decades of ignoring science and activism, the deadly consequences of runaway climate change are catching our attention with climate emergency going mainstream.

However, the emerging climate urgency must not limit itself to a program of slow transition from fossil to renewable sources of energy and provision of limited resources to the most vulnerable countries of the global south to better cope with the worsening impact of climate change. As crucial as the energy and resource-centered solutions are in mitigating climate change, they don’t address the systemic root of the planetary ecological crisis. A leaked August 2021 IPCC report makes clear that we need “transformational changes” in “energy systems, transport, industry, land use and agriculture,” in addition to “altering urban space and built environments, shifting away from a meat-based diet, and providing better human services with less expenditure of energy,” “building of new, more sustainable cities,” pursuing pathways based on “low-energy demand scenarios” and “nature-based solutions,” “prioritiz[ing] equity,” “accelerat[ing] system transitions consistent with sustainable development,” and creating “new social norms.” Fundamental changes such as these will surely meet strong opposition from powers that be as they collide with the nature of capitalist society.

Our task is surely not to save ‘civilization as we know it’ when that is what is leading us to ecological ruination. Beyond the necessary mitigation measures like ending fossil fuel subsidies and investing in renewables and the like, our collective resistance must aim for replacing capitalism with an equitable society capable of regulating its relations with nature rationally and with care. This cannot begin unless the veil of mystifications is lifted from capitalism itself. During the Cold War period (1945-1990), the ideology of anti-communism effectively prevented any rational public discussion of capitalism and its nemesis socialism. And what followed the collapse of the USSR was a form of liberal capitalist triumphalism that proclaimed the “end of history” while heralding an era of neoliberal (savage) capitalist universalism.

Consequently, the dominant discourse continues to use language to naturalize the system. It positively associates capitalism with freedom by referring to it as a system of “free market” or “free enterprise.” It calls both a manufactured bomb and a table a “good” regardless of the uses for which they are meant. It uses the word “growth” to describe a larger GDP this year than last, no matter what is growing, which finite resources are depleted, and how much pollutants are generated in the process. Apparently, there is no bad growth or GDP in economics, unlike in a biological system where cancerous cell growth kills the organism.

It ought to be a truism that ‘sustainable capitalist development’ is an oxymoron. Global capitalism cannot meet basic human needs without compromising the earth’s ability to support life, diminishing the future generations’ ability to meet their needs, and exploiting working classes the world over. It is the system’s normal operation, not its dysfunction, that puts it on a collision course with the Earth. It is driven by a process of capital accumulation without end in a finite world. If unchallenged, a cold calculus of short-term profit seeking prevails over all other considerations every time and everywhere. A tiny group of transnational corporate and financial oligarchs make all critical investment decisions that affect the lives of millions of people without their input. The system’s DNA propels it in this destructive manner.

Fortunately, a group of climate scientists calling themselves Scientist Rebellion (SR), linked to Extinction Rebellion, is now committed to civil disobedience and a strong anti-capitalist critique. On April 6th, 2022, more than 1000 SR scientists in 26 countries risked arrest by participating in civil disobedience. “We’re going to lose everything,” said Peter Kalmus, a NASA scientist who was arrested after chaining himself to a JPMorgan Chase building in Los Angeles to protest the bank’s financing of fossil fuels. And “we’re not exaggerating,” he said. In a July 15 tweet he wrote: “I wish everyone on Earth knew how genuinely ‘off the charts’ key planetary trends are right now, and how abnormal and critical it is. Things like atmospheric CO2 fraction, heat extremes on land and ocean, biodiversity loss and extinction rates. All alarms should be going off.” He added in a July 19 tweet: “Can’t you all see? The real villain was capitalism all along.”

SR has denounced what it calls “the death cult of conservative economics” and urged that “we must abandon economic growth, which is the basis of capitalism.” It has called for a “serious nonviolent resistance” in order “to apply unbearable pressure on this genocidal system—to take it down before it takes us all down with it.” “The greatest crime ever has already been carried out,” it proclaimed, and “the perpetrators are still at liberty, but the victims are starting to pile up.” ‘The greatest crime ever’ being the “plunder [of] the Earth until it is but fire and ash.”

In short, capitalism is a giant, rapacious, profit-making machine that exploits the planet and working people at ever growing rates and is not capable of planning its way out of the existential quandary it has led to. It is up to us to step up in defense of our beautiful planet and struggle to create a society that meets the basic needs of all people, subjects major investment decisions to participatory democratic practices, eliminates wasteful and superfluous production for profit, stops polluting the environment instead of trying to devise technological ways of removing toxins once there, puts an end to systematic exploitation of labor and nature, aims to end as much of human-caused suffering as possible, and nourishes human flourishing on the basis of solidarity, empathy, equity, and autonomy.

But will we fight for this future like the fate of life on Earth depends on it?

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FARAMARZ FARBOD, a native of Iran, teaches politics at Moravian University. He is the founder of the Beyond Capitalism working group of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities-Lehigh Valley, PA (USA) and the editor of its publication Left Turn. He can be reached at


FARAMARZ FARBOD, a native of Iran, teaches politics at Moravian University. He is the founder of the Beyond Capitalism working group of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities-Lehigh Valley, PA (USA) and the editor of its publication Left Turn. He can be reached at

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