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Capitalising on the Need for Revolution

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

A study recently published in Nature warns that ‘There is a 93% chance that global warming will exceed 4oC by the end of this century.’

Humans of late capitalism

Photo from Humans of Late Capitalism

The rules have changed. It is no longer about awaiting (or instigating) disaster to make a profit. Instead, it is now about accepting disaster as an everyday occurrence and capitalising on the need for revolution.

Hyperabundance has led to system saturation. We are at a critical juncture in human history, where the conventional capitalistic approaches to the economy, the environment, and society have to radically reconfigure themselves to stay above the surface.

While the public is frozen by fear and/or confusion, the capitalist system adjusts and brings new tricks out of its hat, novel solutions, new revolutions:

The Problem: The way we eat is fundamentally unsustainable. WWF reports that 60% of current biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets. Amazon deforestation, ocean dead-zones – and this is only focusing on the environmental arguments.

The Solution: Plant-based meat (Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat) and lab-grown meat, which both use up significantly less water, food, land and greenhouse gas emissions to produce.

The Problem: The way we consume is basically at the heart of everything wrong. We are using too many resources and producing too much waste.

The Solution: Consume less. The clothing brand Patagonia has built its brand around messages of sustainability. Yet a more careful look reveals that “green marketing” (a term often interchangeable with greenwashing) has become a conscious decision that corporations employ to increase revenue while reducing consumer guilt. Simply put, by encouraging consumers to ‘buy less’, they will feel that they can safely buy more and consume more because it’s ‘green’ and, therefore, guilt-free.

Che revolution

“Che Revolution (Military Green)” from The Che Store

The way we imagine the world has been fundamentally altered. From depictions of a carefree, romantic human entity positioned within a bountiful, untouched wilderness, to predictions of human society devolving into a dystopic, barren wasteland (referring to the entirety of science fiction movies ever made here). I have contented with the issue of ‘nature’ imaginaries before, but the idea of accepting that this planet is beyond saving opens the floodgates to Apocalyptic, instinctive responses of vanity.

Responses such as:

Colonising other planets!

Or, if you’re not rich enough to do that, have you entertained the idea of Apocalypse tourism? (Those icebergs and that Great Barrier Reef won’t be there forever, you know.)

And the list goes on. There is not a single problem out there that corporatism hasn’t managed to internalise in its supply chain (even police brutality ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).

The capitalist economy engages with the major concerns pertaining to the current socioecological disaster, by absorbing reactions, mimicking revolutionary gestures, trivialising the voices of resistance, suggesting soft and easy revolutions that normalise disaster and respond to our innate instinct for survival.


Image from Fashion Mention

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in the investor summit on climate risk held in New York in February 2008 excitedly stated:

“You are here today because you recognize climate change as an opportunity, as well as a threat. You understand that the shift to a low-carbon economy opens new revenue streams and creates new markets . . . The shift towards a greener future is still in its infancy and needs nurturing . . . While the world looks to the United Nations to steward the negotiating process, the United Nations looks to you, as leaders in the financial sector, to lead in innovative financing and technological development.”

Following the crash of the global economy in 2007, not only did the system remain unchanged, its architects were assigned with the responsibility of overseeing its expansion. And that is when the concept of ‘climate change as an opportunity’ was solidified into the mainstream.

The radical imaginary does not overthrow the status quo, it feeds it instead. It becomes the logical continuation of an inherently unsustainable system that is constantly borrowing time and space to stay afloat (This notion of the expanding commodity frontiers of capitalism is succinctly explained here).


Taken on the London Underground

The cannibalistic process of capitalistic internalisation of any genuinely revolutionary way of thinking is encapsulated perfectly in the second episode of the first season of Black Mirror (15 Million Merits).

I can recognize how certain technological advances are urgently needed. Alternatives to meat eating and overconsumption are such an example. What such top-down fixes consistently ignore though is the structurally unequal system within which they are being deployed. They aim to change the social reality, without changing social relations. They are still backed by wealthy investors and their success will largely only be realized by their wealthy stakeholders.

rebel 4

As Aaron Bastani notes in a scathing opinion piece: “What matters, for post-capitalists, is whether or not we bend the arc of history to ensure that the dividend of these technologies redounds to the emancipation of all of us – not enhancing the profits of a tiny few.”

And with revolution brewing all around us, from renewable energy to ‘fake’ meat, we need to ensure that the benefits (and potential consequences?) will be distributed equitably across human societies while accounting for historical injustices.

The radical imaginaries of a better, greener and fairer society are not simply based on subjective preconceptions of morality. They are grounded in hard scientific evidence. More equal societies tend to be less damaging to the environment and their citizens live longer, healthier and happier lives. We need to meet this triple-bottom-line of economic, environmental and social sustainability and the voices calling for this are amplifying.

This revolution will be televised (as we will be using social media for grassroots organising), but it will not be trivialised.

About the Author: Chris Vrettos is studying a BSc in Biodiversity and Conservation at University College London and is a co-founder of The Climate Collective.  This post was initially shared on his blog, Socialising the Anthropocene.

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