Vulture Culture: Capitalism’s Role in The Climate Crisis

The climate crisis is often portrayed as a paradigm-shifting phenomenon, and yet the solutions we have been convinced to champion so far have largely adhered to the dominant unsustainable and capitalist culture that created the crisis in the first place.

The climate crisis is arguably the most urgent problem of our times, and yet little is being done to sufficiently combat its onset. Corporations and states have fed the public the view that in order to solve the climate crisis we need innovative technology and creative market-based solutions, and have hence successfully rid themselves of their responsibility for the crisis itself. These solutions move the blame away from its rightful place – the capitalist culture – and instead attempt to imagine an impossible world where capitalism and the environment work peacefully together.  These solutions serve only to reify capitalism as the dominant culture and deprive others, such as indigenous groups, of their more sustainable cultures.

These solutions move the blame away from its rightful place- the capitalist culture.

The dominant culture inherent in capitalism – perpetual growth and acquisition of material wealth and the desire for domination – arguably has roots in Judeo-Christian beliefs. In these religions, it was believed that God created the world and all its plants and animals – as well as Eve – for Adam, justifying an anthropocentric view of the world and thus the assumption that all was made for man’s dominion. Humans then have not only the ability but more, the God-given right, to control nature and anything defined as inferior to humans. Even more worryingly, groups that were closely associated with nature – such as women, colonised people and indigenous people – were then able to be justified as inferior to those revealing Adam – white men – and hence their exploitation and subjugation was made legitimate.

These beliefs inherent in the dominant religions at the time began to manifest themselves in other aspects of culture. Philosophers such as Descartes asserted that nature and humans were separate and cemented the separation in rationality. He believed that humans were the only rational beings and thus that nature and non-humans had no rational capacity and therefore must be controlled by humans. By doing so, the ideas of superiority, domination and exploitation joined with Western interpretations of Christianity to create a culture of dominion and degradation. The groundwork was laid for the development of the most exploitative regime to date – capitalism.

Capitalism is incompatible with the concept of sustainability and meaningful consumption.

Capitalism is incompatible with the concept of sustainability and meaningful consumption. It prohibits the articulation of solutions to the climate crisis in any manner that is outside of its money-oriented culture. The current solutions posited by corporations and states are a perfect example of this. Namely, cap-and-trade solutions work within the logic of capitalism to attempt to decrease CO2 emissions. These are mechanisms by which polluters are permitted limited amounts of CO2 emissions, but can buy more credits to permit more emissions of CO2 from others who have remaining credits.

Cap-and-trade policies were put in place in California and generated large amounts of controversy, as big companies who are responsible for most CO2 emissions are able to continue to emit large amounts of CO2 and thrive, whilst smaller companies and communities who can’t pay for extra credits are barred from conventional progress and burdened with the task of overhauling their operations whilst still trying to stay afloat. Market-based approaches like this automatically favour those already privileged in society as they don’t ask much of them to change, but then systematically target those already suffering at the hands of the climate crisis.

Hence, cap and trade mechanisms attempt to fit climate crisis solutions into the current culture of capitalism. These solutions thus work to preserve and prioritise the maintenance and reification of capitalism as the dominant cultural system in favour of the preserving the environment. They refuse to even contemplate a solution that requires a deviation from capitalist logic and are thus essentially short-term solutions to a significantly longer-term problem, one that has plagued our society since its origins.

cap and trade mechanisms attempt to fit climate crisis solutions into the current culture of capitalism.

By reifying capitalism as the dominant culture, these short-term market-based approaches also deprive other groups of their more sustainable cultures. Indigenous cultures, for example, are hard to maintain in the face of the capitalist culture which squanders all of their forests and land and severs the traditional spiritual connection to the land that many value. Exemplifying this is the Yurok tribe in California, who have grown traditionally dependent on salmon from the Klamath river. With the State’s lack of regulation, the river was over-allocated to irrigation systems for agricultural uses such as the Klamath Reclamation Project in Oregon, and constructed with dams, which all worked to severely diminish the water quality. This resulted in the largest fish kill in US history in 2002, with an estimated 60,000-80,000 salmon corpses left floating on the surface of the river and its banks. To amplify the problem, unregulated commercial logging destroyed traditional Yurok villages and sacred sites, ensuring that capitalism reigned supreme over any other more sustainable culture.

It thus becomes clear that capitalism is wholly incompatible with a natural and social environment characterised by equality and sustainability. Its entrenchment in our culture is incompatible with genuine, long-term solutions to the climate crisis. We need an overhaul of this exploitative cultural logic, with a move to an alternative which prizes nature as it is and not merely for the potential monetary gain we can bleed from it.

Art by Nadja Vitorovic

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