The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has reached unprecedented levels, with a global concentration of 400 parts per million. CO2 concentrations haven’t been this high in at least 800,000 years, and scientists agree that human activities such as fossil fuel combustion and land use practices are largely to blame. In my lifetime, CO2 levels have risen by more the 20 percent, an increase that is causing significant changes in our Earth’s systems that will continue to be felt for centuries to come.
This fact should serve as a wakeup call to every conscious human being on the planet, especially those in the developed world because our activities are primarily to blame. Unfortunately, it hasn’t. That’s partly because climate deniers such as the Koch Brothers, who have pumped more than $67 million into climate-denial front groups, have successfully caused massive public confusion.
The biggest obstacle we face, however, as outlined in a new e-book “Capitalism and Climate Change: The Science and Politics of Global Warming,” by Dr. David Klein and humorously illustrated by Stephanie McMillan, is not mitigating the impacts of climate change, it is eliminating the cause, which they say is Capitalism.
Dr. Klein earned a Ph.D. at Cornell University in Applied Mathematics, and has been teaching and researching topics related to climate science for many years as a Professor at California State University, Northridge. I recently met with Dr. Klein to discuss his new e-book, which begins with a basic introduction to climate science, including the relationship between climate and weather and how carbon dioxide impacts the Earth’s systems. For example, in the book he discusses topics such as how the extraction and burning of fossil fuels contributes to the greenhouse gas effect and ocean acidification, making these conceptually difficult topics easy to understand.
Next, he presents the grim math of climate change. The world is, at this point, supposedly committed to taking measures that would raise the temperature of our atmosphere by no more than 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit). This commitment was enshrined in the Copenhagen Accord, which President Obama helped negotiate in 2009. In his book, Dr. Klein says that, “in the coming decades a net increase in global temperature of at least 1°C to 2°C is virtually impossible to avoid.” If he is right, if global temperatures increase by 1.6°C it is “expected that 9–31% of species will face extinction,” disappearing forever. And this is optimistic, requiring historically unprecedented changes in our economy. According to scientific studies cited by Dr. Klein, with current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, we are on track for 4°C to 6°C of warming by 2100, an increase that would threaten the very survival of our species.
Thankfully, all hope is not lost. Dr. Klein carefully explains some of the many methodologies and technologies for energy production, land use, transportation, and industrial manufacturing that could profoundly decrease our impact on the planet. Even better, he says, “the technology needed to carry out the global transformation already exists.” So, what’s preventing us from developing a healthy, life-supportive planet?
Dr. Klein explains that in second part of the book, tracing the problems we face to a much deeper, structural problem with our economy, which is built on the promise of endless growth. He argues that Capitalism is “waging a war against nature. This war includes exploding mountain tops for the cheapest possible extraction of coal. It includes expanding dead zones in the ocean, poisoning, flooding, and burying vast swaths of the biosphere for the extraction of fossil fuels and minerals. The ever-increasing efficiency in waging this war serves to lower costs, increase consumption, and accelerate global warming and devastation of the planet.”
Dr. Klein goes on to describe how capitalism works, and attempts to convince the readers how endless growth, which he argues is unavoidable under capitalism, is simply incompatible with the radical reductions in emissions necessary to create harmony and balance in our planetary system. Capitalism’s “requirement to expand is, in the long run, incompatible with the finite limits of the planet,” he says. From the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, to deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices, this new e-book explains how and why the impacts of climate change will persist—and likely get worse—if the current economic model does not change.
In her foreword to the book, political cartoonist Stephanie McMillan highlights an action plan, suggesting that we need to build “a broad mass movement to weaken and slow down capitalism’s destructiveness.” Elaborating on this, the latter part of the book is dedicated to describing the steps that are necessary for change. But if you are looking for a solution—after capitalism, what’s next—prepare to be disappointed.
“It is impossible to predict the future,” Klein says. A new society “will be the result of sequential transformations that unfold based on the way we organize ourselves and respond to the conditions we face.” Klein, however, does discuss some of the extensive economic changes and ecological constraints to which any post-capitalist society must adhere for survival.
As McMillan writes in the foreword with passionate fervor, “This is not a moment for passive resignation or paralysis of grief, but for summoning all our courage and determination for the difficult fight ahead.” While convincing and well documented, the book left me with many difficult to answer questions. Something I am certain of, however, is that it is time to stand up and create a sustainable and just future for ourselves and all of the planet’s inhabitants.
You can download the “pay what you choose” e-book, “Capitalism and Climate Change: The Science and Politics of Global Warming” at: http://gum.co/climatechange