Photographs of the Amazon rainforest on fire have made it hard to think about anything else.
There’s a sense of existential horror in watching the trees burn, knowing that this particular stretch of green keeps us all breathing day in and day out as the world heats, and that the Brazilian president, the gleefully violent Jair Bolsonaro, wants to continue to destroy the rainforest in the name of profit.
No matter how little meat we eat, the relentless drive for profit is going to keep the forests burning. Capitalism doesn’t care if we try to opt out.
What Jasper Bernes called the “awful temporality” of the climate crisis means that we are grieving things we haven’t yet lost, watching futures slip away while the sun shines on a lovely summer, having to go on with life because we are too far away to physically stop the crisis with our bodies.
The world is ending, and we are at Target. We are trying to make little changes, to stop eating meat or taking airplanes or using plastic straws or recycle more or any number of things that, in the aggregate, would indeed help but on an individual level feel pitifully inadequate. Or begging the Democratic National Committee to pretend to care enough to stage a debate on climate change, as if there’s anything left to be debated anymore.
Because no matter how little meat we eat, the relentless drive for profit is going to keep the forests burning. Capitalism doesn’t care if we try to opt out. Commentators for centuries have noted that the Earth and its inhabitants are ground to shreds in the process of accumulation, that, in Marx’s words, “capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”
It is a process that cares not one bit for the fast-approaching, yet still eventual end of the world as long as there’s a little more to be gathered today. It doesn’t matter that, as many people gleefully noted when David Koch died last week, individual capitalists can’t take their wealth with them. Governments may declare climate emergency as the activists want, and then approve new pipelines. The emergency is never enough to admit the scale of what needs to be done.
This is not to be fatalist and say that we cannot fight back. The relentless gaze of the world on those photos of the Amazon has led to outcry, too-small attempts at backtracking, tiny drips of funding from the G7, plans build apace toward a climate strike. DNC or no, candidates keep putting out proposals for dealing with the crisis.
But it is important to remember where the crisis begins, and who will be fighting to ensure it continues. It has been stated many times but bears repeating that the struggle for a livable planet has been led by indigenous people, from the Amazon to the tar sands to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Because while capitalism sees us all as potential sacrifices, certain people are marked for the slaughter first.