Regardless of political inclinations, worry and action are two different things. Across the U.S., meaningful action in response to this harsh reality is scant.
Research shows clearly that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere–now at an unprecedented 401.33 parts per million–is a direct result of the process of capitalist industrialization that has unfolded since the late 18th century.
Climate change is a direct consequence of the widespread, now globalized, mass production and consumption of goods, and of the material construction of our habitat that has accompanied it. Yet, despite this reality, production and construction–all in service of the growth imperative of capitalism and fueled by our consumer desires–continues unabated.
Therein lies the rub. As people who live in a society of consumers, who are steeped in consumerist ideology, we are socially, culturally, economically, and psychologically invested in this destructive system.
Our everyday life experiences and strategies, our relationships with friends and loved ones, our practices of leisure and amusement, and our personal goals and identities are all organized around practices of consumption.
We measure our self-worth by how much money we make, and by the quantity, quality, and newness of stuff we are able to buy. Most of us, even if we are critically aware of the implications of production, consumption and waste, can’t help but want more.
We are inundated with advertising so sinisterly clever that it now follows us around the internet, badgering us into submission.
We are socialized to consume, and so, when it comes down to it, we don’t really want to respond to climate change. According to the Gallup poll, most of us are willing to acknowledge that it is a problem that must be addressed, but it seems that we expect someone else to do that work. Sure, some of us have made lifestyle adjustments.
I, for instance, gave away my car several years ago, and have traveled almost exclusively by bicycle, public transit, or on my own two feet since then. I buy produce from local sources at farmers markets, cook most meals from scratch, rarely eat meat, air dry my laundry, reuse “disposable” items, and use cloth shopping bags.
Others might cultivate all of their produce, rescue waste into up-cycled uses, buy used goods instead of new, or install solar panels in their homes. But, how many of us are involved in forms of collective action and activism that work consciously toward social change?
Most of us tell ourselves that achieving large-scale, long-term change is the work of the government, or of the capitalists, or of civil society, but it is not our work–no.
If we believed that systemic response to climate change was an equally shared responsibility, was our responsibility, we would be responding to it. We would cast aside mostly symbolic responses, given their marginal impact, of recycling, municipal bans on plastic shopping bags, swapping incandescent for halogen lightbulbs, purchasing “sustainable” and “green” consumer goods, and driving less.
We would recognize that the solution to the perils of global climate change cannot be found within the very system that has caused the problem.
We would recognize that the system of capitalist production and consumption is the problem. We would renounce the values of this system, and foster new values oriented to a post-capitalist and post-consumerist world.