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There Is No Stopping Climate Change Unless We Can Mobilize Against Plutocracy

Neoliberalism is not the root of the problem: it is the ideology used to justify a global grab of power, public assets and natural resources by an unrestrained elite.

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The 1000-year legacy of current carbon emissions is long enough to smash anything resembling human civilisation into splinters( 13). Complex societies have sometimes survived the rise and fall of empires, plagues, wars and famines. They won’t survive six degrees of climate change, sustained for a millennium(14). In return for 150 years of explosive consumption, much of which does nothing to advance human welfare, we are atomising the natural world and the human systems that depend on it.

The climate summit (or foothill) in Doha and the sound and fury of the British government’s new measures probe the current limits of political action. Go further and you break your covenant with power, a covenant both disguised and validated by the neoliberal creed.

Neoliberalism is not the root of the problem: it is the ideology used, often retrospectively, to justify a global grab of power, public assets and natural resources by an unrestrained elite. But the problem cannot be addressed until the doctrine is challenged by effective political alternatives.

In other words, the struggle against climate change – and all the crises which now beset both human beings and the natural world – cannot be won without a wider political fight: a democratic mobilisation against plutocracy. I believe this should start with an effort to reform campaign finance: the means by which corporations and the very rich buy policies and politicians. Some of us will be launching a petition in the UK in the next few weeks, and I hope you will sign it.

But this is scarcely a beginning. We must start to articulate a new politics: one that sees intervention as legitimate, that contains a higher purpose than corporate emancipation disguised as market freedom, that puts the survival of people and the living world above the survival of a few favoured industries. In other words, a politics that belongs to us, not just the super-rich.


1. See Colin Crouch, 2011. The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism. Polity Press, Cambridge.

2. Naomi Klein, 2007. The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism. Allen Lane, London.

3. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html

4. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, November 2012. Turn Down the Heat: why a 4C warmer World Must be Avoided. Report for the World Bank. http://climatechange.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/Turn_Down_the_heat_Why_a_4_degree_centrigrade_warmer_world_must_be_avoided.pdf

5. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/11/09/364895/iea-global-warming-delaying-action-is-a-false-economy/

6. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, November 2012. Too late for two degrees? Low carbon economy index 2012.  http://www.pwc.co.uk/sustainability-climate-change/publications/low-carbon-economy-index-overview.jhtml

7. http://www.monbiot.com/2011/07/19/an-underground-national-park/

8. http://www.barackobama.com/energy-info/


10. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0100/130100.pdf

11. Nicholas Stern, 2006. The Economics of Climate Change.

12. http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/11/consultation/electricity-demand-reduction/7075-electricity-demand-reduction-consultation-on-optio.pdf

13. Susan Solomon, Gian-Kasper Plattner, Reto Knutti, and Pierre Friedlingstein, 10th February 2009. Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions. PNAS, vol. 106, no. 6, pp1704–1709. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812721106. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/28/0812721106.full.pdf+html

14. I’m speaking loosely here, as Solomon et al propose that not 100% but around 40% of the CO2 produced this century will remain in the atmosphere until at least the year 3000. On the other hand, unrestrained emissions and global warming will not stop of their own accord in 2100: temperatures could rise well beyond 6C in the following century: without sharp mitigation now, we’re setting up 1,000 years of utter chaos.

George Monbiot is the author Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. Read more of his writings at Monbiot.com. This article originally appeared in the Guardian.
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