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Scientists agree: capitalism cannot kick climate change

A new report shared with the UN Secretary-General by an independent team of climate scientists conveys a simple message: capitalism as a worldwide economic system cannot deal with the onset of human-induced climate change.

In many ways, this report is a manifesto for scientists who are feeling the crunch as time runs out to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, as well as scientists who are fed up with the ineffective methodology of “eco-friendly” trends and fashions which seem to define what little response capitalist countries have managed so far.

Zach Clifton, a student in UMBC’s environmental sciences master’s program who also works with the United States Geological Survey, gives a more personal perspective as to this line of thought. The opinions shared here are his own and not reflective of the policies of the USGS or United States government.

“If I had it my way,” he begins, “immediate conversion to some form of eco-communism. I don’t care the exact methodology for this. Just do it.”

Indeed, this report even disparages the idea of “carbon pricing” in the form of an emission tax as not going far enough. This is to say nothing of the paltry measures currently being debated in some communities, such as straw bans—which are, in Clifton’s words, “the dumbest possible…thing.”

Instead of ineffective personal lifestyle changes, structural change is the key to combating climate change. As a 2017 report from the Carbon Majors Database shows, 100 companies have been the source of over 70% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1988. This leads the UN report to surmise that the most effective method of combating carbon emissions is to socialize the greatest international polluters.

These reforms need to be far-reaching and immediate, with a national budget comparable to that of the Department of Defense. This would include an immediate and universally enforced mandate for all companies to transition to totally renewable energy by 2025, an immediate public seizure of the assets of fossil fuel companies through the use of eminent domain and an immediate restructuring of the agricultural industry to cut down on large-scale meatpacking.

This is not without precedent. In the past, the US government has used similar measures to promote the growth of these very industries, taking land from millions of citizens and at least as many among native populations in the process. In many ways, this would just be a reversal of those previous policies — a reversal supported by many environmentalists, including Clifton.

This certainly seems drastic, but it is important to remember what is at stake. Research shows that unless there is an international adoption of these structural changes within two years, it will be all but impossible to keep climate change below 1.5º C. The consequences of this rise would be dire, leading to the deaths of hundreds of millions from famines, wars and natural disasters.

With all of this in mind, it is clearly time to stop arguing over lifestyle choices and start discussing the practical steps needed to replace the international economic structure with one that will address the climate crisis.