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Illustration by Alyazia Alremeithi

Capitalism vs. Climate Change

Our economic model is waging war against nature, and sustainability movements will be inadequate if corporations and governments continue to prioritize profit over the earth.

Nov 17, 2018

Climate change. You’ve all heard about it before. You’ve seen the documentaries, the shocking statistics and the stories of global doom. Yet somehow, you’re reluctant to change your habits. It is said that when people hear the same thing over and over again, they tend to ignore it. The significance of our individual impact on the environment has long been debated. Can our individual choices really make a significant impact on the environment? Apparently not.
According to a new [report] (, by the Carbon Disclosure Project, only 100 companies are the source of more than 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1988, major fossil fuel producers like Shell, BP and Chevron have been extracting fossil fuels at rates catastrophic to the earth’s atmosphere. In addition to the current risk factors, most of these companies are in possession of large oil reserves, which, if burned, would escalate the climate crisis even further. This fixation on short-term profit impedes all efforts to reduce the global emissions rate and render individual actions useless.
These findings place an equal responsibility on both the public and private sector to deliver fundamental change. Governments can play a big role by enacting policies – such as taxing the fossil fuel industry and cutting their subsidies – that encourage clean energy and set standards for energy production that work at keeping emission levels at check.
In addition to the impact of the public sector, private companies and corporations have to rise to meet the challenge of climate change. Although the effects of climate change have been known for years, industries continue to invest billions of U.S. dollars yearly in fossil fuels. Such actions reaffirm that their only concern is to maximize profits for shareholders. In the 1980s, for instance, the [researchers at Exxon] ( informed the management that climate change was a real concern, but the company spent the next 27 years funding climate change deniers.
Our economic model is waging war against nature. Clean energy industries are [beaten down] ( and taxed immensely to create competitive environments. Sustainability movements will not be able to keep up against the damage if corporations continue prioritizing profit over the earth. We live in a world where neoliberalist ideologies foster hyper-individualism, which is exactly the opposite of the interdependence we need to survive. Hyper-individualism means that people act in a manner that supersedes the common good. This hyper-individualism comes from a consumer mindset that is a result of capitalism itself. To combat this, we need an attitude of cooperation to ensure that the effects of climate change can be halted before it's too late.
In Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, she emphasizes that the battle against climate change is a battle against the whole system. Klein believes that "global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient, and barrier-free that ‘earth-human systems’ are becoming dangerously unstable in response." This is not meant to absolve individuals of all the blame, but to recognize that the bigger part of the blame falls on the corporations and governments that fuel destruction.
This issue falls into a broader culture of environmental movements that adopt very Western-centric approaches in their campaigns. In a global context, the discourse surrounding environmentalism has always been restricted to a specific audience. Class plays a major role in being environmentally conscious. For many around the world, being environmentally friendly is not always practical and financially attainable. Not everyone can afford the luxury of environmentally friendly commodities. In other parts of the world, people’s lives are dependent on certain forms of income that are detrimental to the environment, such as coal mining, and don’t have the choice to do something else.
Making environmentalism more accessible and more effective starts by directing our criticism toward the sectors responsible for the majority of the destruction. On an individual level, it is imperative that we support companies that are more sustainable and recognize the role of capitalism in damaging the environment. It is not sufficient to claim that individual choices are not significant enough, nor to constrain the issue to just limiting consumption.
Haneen Fathy is a staff writer. Email him at
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