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Greta Thunberg Sees a Great Capitalist Conspiracy Against the Climate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Greta Thunberg became famous for calling on us to “panic” in the face of climate change. Unfortunately, she did not offer much specific advice on how to solve the problem. 


According to Thunberg, the underlying problems are industrialization and capitalism.  "The Industrial Revolution, fueled by slavery and colonization, brought unimaginable wealth to the Global North, and in particular to a small group of people there," she writes in "The Climate Book." 

"That extreme injustice is the foundation our modern societies are built on," she adds. 

But the number of people has increased eightfold from one to eight billion since the beginning of industrialization. Without industrialization, billions of people would have had no chance of survival. It is also not true that capitalism only improved life for a small minority. In 1820, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty around the world was 90 percent; today it is 9 percent.

The book is laced with harsh criticism of capitalism. Running to almost 500 pages, there are only two sentences in which Thunberg admits that other systems also destroy the environment: “Leaving capitalist consumerism and market economics as the dominant stewards of the only known civilization in the universe will most likely seem, in retrospect, to have been a terrible idea. But let us keep in mind that when it comes to sustainability, all previous systems have failed too. Just like all current political ideologies – socialism, liberalism, communism, conservatism, centrism, you name it. They have all failed. But, in fairness, some have certainly failed more than others.” 


She does not reveal which systems have failed more than others – she limits her denunciations to capitalism. And yet, environmental destruction in socialist countries was incomparably worse than in capitalist countries.

Thunberg sees a great capitalist conspiracy against the climate. She blames policymakers who are “still in thrall to Big Oil and Big Finance.” The media have failed, even though she admits that “journalism is starting to take its first baby steps towards covering this crisis.” She would only be satisfied if the media were full of nothing but stories about climate change: “This should of course be dominating every hour of our everyday newsfeed, every political discussion, every business meeting and every inch of our daily lives. But that is not what is happening.” 

Wearily, she notes that many journalists unfortunately did not go into journalism to “uproot a system they believe in.” The fact that the population of a country is constantly bombarded with certain news is something more frequently associated with totalitarian states. 

Thunberg regrets that there are “no laws or restrictions in place that will force anyone to take the necessary steps towards safeguarding our future living conditions on planet Earth.” The world, she writes, is run by “white, privileged, middle-aged, straight cis-men,” and these are “terribly ill suited” for dealing with the crisis. Instead, co-author Sonja Guajajara suggests, we need “indigenous women at the heart of the struggle to guarantee a future for humankind. For in many original communities, it falls to us, indigenous women, to manage and preserve our ecosystems and to preserve our knowledge through memory and custom.” 


Thunberg devotes a quarter of a single page to nuclear power  – summarily rejecting it as a solution. Technologies to extract CO2 from the air are dismissed as “a joke,” while solar geoengineering is dismissed because it meets with “fierce resistance from indigenous peoples.” Electric vehicles, the book states, are not a viable solution because they “may well be an option only for the powerful and wealthy.” 

The state, according to Kevin Andersen, should determine for everyone “the size (and number) of our houses; how often we fly and in which class; how big and how many cars we have and how far we drive them. Even at work, how large is our offices, how many foreign meetings and international conferences do we attend and how frequent are our field trips.” 

Thunberg herself complains that there are “still no laws to keep the oil in the ground.” Kate Raworth thinks the state should phase out “private jets, mega-yachts, fossil-fueled cars, short flights and frequent flyer rewards.” Seth Klein calls for “a new generation of public corporations” to produce the right things at the requisite scale. Moreover, he laments, “Where is the government advertising to boost the level of public ‘climate literacy’?” The Canadian anti-capitalist Naomi Klein wants to increase taxes on the rich and reduce spending on policing and prisons in order to fund the fight against climate change. The French critic of capitalism Thomas Piketty calls for the introduction of “individual carbon rights.” For the sake of social justice, he argues, it should be considered to set “equal individual carbon quotas” by the authorities. 


Ultimately, it all boils down to abolishing capitalism and replacing it with an eco-planned economy.

 Rainer Zitelmann is the author of the book In Defense of Capitalism.  


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