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We Need to Talk About Capitalism and Climate Change
July 10, 2019
Climate change has finally risen to the top of the national news agenda. This is long overdue; but it also sharpens the focus on an awkward question: is a Capitalist society conducive to the long-term health of our planet?
This is bold territory for a media agency to venture into, granted. After all, do we ourselves not rely on the capitalist economic system? What about the thousands of other businesses – including our clients – that depend on the free-market ideology that has dominated every aspect of British life for nearly 300 years?
Cause for alarm… and hope
Capitalism is so deeply engrained that it’s difficult to imagine how we could ever replace it. Socialism has long been touted as an alternative, but ultimately, the upheaval a shift of this magnitude would create makes it a near impossibility – few have the appetite to relinquish private ownership and kickstart a full-blown revolution. Instead, what we need is a reconsideration of our priorities.
Fundamentally, the problem is that Capitalism in its current guise ranks short-term, often volatile growth over long-term stability. It’s a beast that needs constant feeding. We exploit the earth’s limited natural resources to produce plastic, metal, and paper. We burn fossil fuels to generate the energy that powers our way of life. We drive other species to the brink of extinction for food, fashion and more space. We turn our fellow humans into commodities – their labour often valued at less than the equivalent of £1 a day.
And worse is to come if we don’t act. Most scientists agree that we have just 12 years until warming reaches the tipping point of 1.5C. The evidence warns us that here’s no coming back from that, but thankfully, recent events give us hope. The Extinction Rebellion demonstrations and school strikes of the past few weeks have created a justifiable sense of urgency. The younger generation is showing us the way: the onus is now on governments, businesses and society to work together. It can be done.
Inspiration is out there
Strides are already being made. The travel industry is pushing sustainable tourism in response to growing consumer demand. Supermarkets are filling entire aisles with zero-plastic packaging and providing compostable carrier bags. Indeed, companies spanning all sectors are coming up with ways to minimise their footprint.
Unilever, for example, has committed to ensuring all of its brands’ agricultural materials will be sourced sustainably by 2020, while it’s also stated that it will eliminate single-use-plastics by 2025 wherever possible. Ikea, too, has invested over €1.5 billion in renewable energy products, and wants to purchase 100% renewables by 2020. Nestle, which has drawn fierce criticism for its use of palm oils in the past – has vowed tackle deforestation, even employing satellite technology to ensure no trees are uprooted along the company’s supply chain.
SMEs are also leading the charge, with Blue Patch one example. The company offers an online marketplace where environmentally friendly brands can sell their British-made products to consumers. Several of our clients are taking important steps for the environment, too. For instance, Premier Foods has pledged to make 100% of its plastic reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Project Solar is also taking the fight to fossil fuels, whilst Norwegian Cruise Line runs a Sail & Sustain programme.
For businesses that are struggling to see how they can make a difference, several initiatives – including carbon neutral schemes, one of which we are committing to – can provide support.
Confronting climate change together
This is only the start, of course: air travel, clogged-up roads, water wastage and intensive meat production all offer considerable cause for concern. Yet, we can’t wait for government inaction and the obsession with growth at all costs to end: pressure needs to come from below, with individuals, movements and brands of all sizes having a big part to play.
Consumers should be diligent about where they spend their money, boycotting companies that do not take their responsibilities as protectors of the planet seriously. Concurrently, the business world needs to harness one of Capitalism’s great strengths – its capacity to fuel innovation – in developing new technologies that will reduce the impact of production and drive down prices. Staff could also have more representation in the boardroom – shareholders need to be held to account.
On a governmental level, a green tax would de-incentivise the exploitation of our natural resources and labour; It would also make companies think twice before pumping noxious fumes – or building more products that do the pumping – into the atmosphere.
Greater regulation is also needed; as indeed is more investment in renewable energy, tree planting and green technologies such as carbon capture. The resumption of government subsidies could help industries get there; the investment paid back in the form of reduced strain on public services like the NHS (pollution-related health issues are rising significantly) and the creation of jobs in a new, greener Capitalist economy.
Furthermore, businesses that pull out all the stops to protect our fragile planet should be recognised and rewarded. We know it can be a challenge sourcing materials and labour sustainably: often, it’s much cheaper not to. However, with research showing that consumers are increasingly placing sustainability at the top of their purchasing considerations, why shouldn’t brands that make the effort be given the exposure they deserve in the form of, say, a Green Badge (as part of a fuller traffic light ranking system), or remunerated with tax reliefs?
We’re extremely fortunate to share our planet with a wonderful array of fauna, flora and natural wonders that take the breath away. So, let’s safeguard its future and tackle climate change now. It’s our duty.