Today we are living in a crucial period of human history. It’s a time of crisis. Global environmental changes caused by human economic activity are occurring at an astonishing geological speed. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes in its October 2018 report that we have no more than 12 years to transform the global economy away from fossil fuels if we wish to avert irreversible climate breakdown. Time is running out. Yet the world is not doing enough and fast enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases if we are to go by the United Nation’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 and COP 25. Why? There’s a growing realization that it has to do with the fixated pursuit of profits and economic growth.
In this time of crisis of global proportions, when there is a growing tension between the dynamics of our economic system and the ecological system, it has become imperative for us to deepen our understanding of how goods and services are being produced and used. This issue has become fundamentally important to our continued well-being—individually and collectively. A deeper illumination of what is happening and why will prepare us to systematically address the question of what can be done to keep the planet livable for humans and other species.
Our world is not a consumerist society but a producerist one. The global economy is a system of production which is characterized by its ruthless drive for the expansion of monetary wealth
One diagnosis on offer locates the source of the problem in consumerism. The masses of consumers are the people to blame, we are told. Their excessive consumption patterns and the resultant waste streams are responsible for accelerating ecological destruction. In particular, the mass consumption of things that use energy is putting our planet in danger. This type of thinking is readily acceptable because of the widespread notion that we are living in a consumerist society.
But despite its appeal, the consumerist diagnosis is unsatisfactory. This purported explanation loses its grip when confronted with the fact that corporations and state institutions generate far more waste and pollution than household consumers. One may insist that it is consumerism that is driving the demand for energy. Yet even if we accept the underlying assumption that it is the consumers, with their ever-growing demands, who regulate the economic activities of the producers, it is not the consumers who dictate to the corporations that the energy needed to produce and use the products must come from fossil fuels. The fact is consumerism in itself is not the cause of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Consumerism is contributing to climate change in a system of production tied to fossil fuels. So why is our economy so reliant on fossil fuels?
An alternative explanation may better answer this question. Our world is not a consumerist society but a producerist one. The global economy is a system of production which is characterized by its ruthless drive for the expansion of monetary wealth and technological innovation. Here the production of goods and services—material wealth—is carried out for the sake of gaining and increasing monetary wealth as an end in itself. That is, production is organized not to produce what the community actually wants or needs but to produce maximum profits for the business enterprises.
And it is the continual tension between the production of material wealth and monetary wealth that drives our producerist society to constantly innovate, to boost its productivity, and to produce more and more goods in less and less time no matter what the social and ecological cost.
Time is running short and shaming the consumers—the victims—is not helping. Our only hope is in resistance and struggle from below
The producerist society is so addicted to fossil fuels because they enable the profiteers to overcome the boundaries of space and time. With fossil fuels, production can be carried out in any part of the globe for consumers to use and at any time that is most favorable for profit maximization—whereas the flows of energy from renewable sources (e.g., wind and sun) are tied to a particular place and time.
If we are to prevent the worldwide disaster that producerism is leading us into, we need, first of all, to wake up to the threat facing us. Only then will we be able to come up, collectively, with a response proportional to its severity. Although the movement to change consumption habits is welcome, green consumerism cannot stop climate change. To realistically reduce carbon emissions we need to make our economy stop depending on fossil fuels. And to do that we need to go beyond the business as usual of producerism.
Ordinary people will have to organize and put pressure on corporations and governments to compel them to act against the anonymous dictates of “the market” or “the economy” and swiftly transform our energy infrastructure—regardless of whether or not it is conducive to economic growth and profits. Beyond that we need to transform and break free from the existing global system of spiraling production so that we can build a new humane society in harmony with the ecological system.
Time is running short and shaming the consumers—the victims—is not helping. Our only hope is in resistance and struggle from below.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.