Capitalism and Environment: the other disease

The world is facing a global health crisis, but wasn’t the  planet already sick? 

 While the number of living vertebrates diminished of 60% between between 1970 and 2014, the oil production never stopped increasing (i.e chart below). In August 2018, the global world production passed the 100 billions barrels per day, as the OPEC members in June agreed to increase oil production in order to avoid supply shortage, reducing prices after previous production cuts were judged price-increasing. Indeed, OPEC members are the ones having increased the most, with an average of 32 millions barrels per day. 

Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2019 – % in oil total production (2018) 


Yet, the champion of our contest of oil producer is without hesitation nor doubts, the United States, and precisely the State of Texas and its 10.9 millions barrels per day. And in Europe, continent that hosted the COP21 and its good principles? Well, in our continent, CO2 emissions have increased by 1.8% in 2017 (partly due to extreme heat period and dryness, notably in Southern Europe, forced to prefer coal to hydraulic energy). Worst! Among the 180 signatory states of the Paris Agreement in the COP21 (UN Climate Change Conference) in 2015, only nine presented their plans to reduce their CO2 emissions until 2050. 

 More absurd data? 

 According to a report from Carbon Disclosure Project, only an average of a hundred of companies on the globe would generate 70% of the total gas emissions. 

 Portugal, Australia, United States: high temperatures and violent winds have provoked uncontrollable fires. In Portugal, the number of acres lost in 2017 represents 53 times the average on the 10 previous years. 

 According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the share of coal in the energy production should decline between 2016 and 2022, decreasing of…1%, from 27% to 26%. 

In a joint report by OCDE, UN and World Bank, the states keep financing at 500 billions per year oil, coal and natural gas, all exhaustible resources.  

Since the beginning of our millennial, the poorest 45% of the population generated 7% of the greenhouse gases; while the richest 7% was responsible of 50% of emissions. 2 billions of people, almost a third of the planet’s population, do not have even direct access to electricity. 

Between 1820 and 2010, the entire population has increased by 6.6 times. Over the same period, CO2 emissions have been multiplied by almost 655. Putting the climate change as a result of  huge demographic increase is not fair then, but talking and questioning our choice of society and the state of the planet can help. 


You feel the absurdity, the incoherence between the actions made related to the climate emergency, the disconnection of the elites, the inertia of change? 

And this, partly due to a disease affecting most of the neoliberal industrialized countries, the “Carbon Lock-in Syndrome”, meaning all the investments in the large fossil fuel energy systems, creating an inertia in the ecological transition, impeaching public and private actors to consider and invest in alternative energy technologies and start-up, such as PowerLedger. This Syndrome is actually the disease of our countries, and the key explanation of the “climate policy paradox”. This paradox lies in the existence of two pieces of evidence: one is a scientific one, whose consensus states the existence of climate change and its consequences, considering the latter as a threat to life. The second evidence is the existence and constant creation of alternative solutions and systems tending to sustainability, lowering carbon intensity emission in industries or relying, innovating in energy efficiency and sustainable materials, or applying renewable energy -among others. Then the question in our mind is: why aren’t we massively investing in those, giving up excessively pollution emitting activities and unsustainable sectors? 

Because we are facing this Carbon Lock-In Syndrome. And this is why coal power stations currently in project will generate 200 gigatons of greenhouse gases in the next years. 




As we see on this map from Stanford University, rich, developed, industrialized countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany are among the most polluting ones. Note though that on this map, dating back from 2010, China is not yet the biggest polluter that it is today. In 2017, the largest per capita CO2 producers included the United States and Middle East countries like, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. It would not be such a problem if these same territories where capital lies would experience government incentives towards sustainability in diverse sectors, coping with an out-of-date model of consumption, transportation, energy production today incompatible with the perpetuity of life on Earth, and recognized as such. 

The problem is that the most responsible countries in terms of pollution and waste emissions are also the less willing to act upon the problem, as it involves and challenges their consumption, production, urban organization and societal model. Simultaneously, this inertia is causing huge economic damages to developing and vulnerable countries. In an article of National Geographic in April 2019 by Alejandra Borunda Inequality is decreasing between countries—but climate change is slowing progress, the author states: “Inequality between countries has decreased over the past few decades. But between 1961 and 2010, the country-to-country gap would have narrowed more if not for climate change, says new research (…) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The difference between the richest and poorest countries in the world is some 25 percent wider than it would be in a world without global warming”. You can observe on the following map the countries which register the most damages due to global warming consequences. 



Fortunately, the most vulnerable countries, threatened by natural disasters and the global consequences of climate change, aware of the reluctance of industrialized countries to act up, have already taken initiatives. 

Bangladesh is one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, and according to United Nations “Climate change and variability have already had an impact on the lives and livelihoods of people living in coastal areas and in arid and semi-arid regions of Bangladesh. Floods, tropical cyclones, storm surges and droughts are becoming more frequent and will be more severe in the coming years and decades”. Yet, in 2009, the first fund to fight climate change was created on the national territory, completely nurtured by governmental subsidies, reaching in total, between the start and the year 2015, 400 millions of US dollars. In comparison, the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) funded by the European Union and supporting the implementation of a strategy plan divided in six areas (food security, social protection and health; comprehensive disaster management; building resilient infrastructures; increasing the knowledge base; mitigation and low-carbon development; capacity building and institutional strengthening) only gathered 200 millions of US dollars.

This initiative from Bangladesh was then copied by other countries such as Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.

And in the developed countries, are there some initiatives to fight inertia? 

How to forget to speak about the Friday for Future rising up all across the world? There are thousands of initiatives, alongside these strikes, that would deserve to be brought up in this speech. Their default feature is the lack of involvement from the State, most often. 

And even when we try to wake up nations by the legal way, there are not so far many legal precedents in environmental issues. Wouldn’t questioning the legal responsibility of our states towards Earth be a good thing? 

For private companies instead, some cases made date and show that even giants can fall: Sierra Club v. Morton is one of the most important environmental cases in U.S. history. This case concerns a Disney ski resort planned to be built in the  Mineral King Valley, inside a National Forest of sequoia. The project was opposed in court law stating that it interfered with the preservation of the national park and its nature, composed by forest area and local wildlife. After appeals from both sides of the trial, the Supreme Court contested that the Disney Sierra Club did not have legitimacy nor right to sue, only having an interest in the problem. A very important Act did pass in the middle of the trial: the National Environmental Policy Act. The latter required Disney to write the environmental impact statement the resort would have on the area. After reviewing the severe environmental impact of their plans, Disney backed out. 

Law is indeed a key point to make effective changes in a transnational or  national scale. In France, for example, it is common to seeing proposed “green energy” by our energy provider. But the legislation still does not forced the latter to produce nor buy sustainable energy to sell it. Using the Greenpeace comparative tool “EcoloWatt”, we can spot these incoherences within companies using Greenwashing marketing strategies without actually dealing with sustainable energies. The fact allowing them to exuberantly advertise their false climate involvement is the following: the law only requires energy providers to possess a “guarantee of origin”, which testifies that a quantity of equivalent energy has been produced elsewhere, in a sustainable way. A permit which requires 2% of the price of production of energy. 


In 2002, the scientist Paul Crutzen introduced the term “Anthropocene” in the Nature journal: the era of Humans. In these last century of intense technological progresses, humanity has become the principal factor of change for the planet, making the Earth enter in a new geological period. The multiple reasons why Crutzen coined the term constitute as many arguments that must figure in this article; what to say about extensive farming, sentient beings condition of living, plastic waste management, greed-driven economies, water, sand, all resources threat by over-consumption and money appeal;  mobility, biodiversity extinction? 

Let’s explore them in the next episodes. 

Grab the Kairos, design the future. 

Clémence MAQUET

Leave a Reply

Recommended Posts

%d bloggers like this: