George Monbiot nails why trolls are hell bent on vilifying people like Greta Thunberg

George Monbiot and Greta Thunberg
Tracy Keeling

Greta Thunberg joined climate strikers in Bristol on 28 February. The trolls came out in force on Twitter to complain about the ideas and actions of the well-known climate activist.

Recently, meanwhile, a debate forum called Intelligence Squared released a video of George Monbiot. In it, the Guardian journalist and environmentalist explained just how incompatible the capitalist system is with a healthy and sustainable planet.

People shouldn’t see these two events in a vacuum. Because Monbiot’s insight makes sense of why many alleged adults rush to social media, en masse, with their virtual pitchforks upon hearing about a concerned 17-year-old.

Pitchforks at the ready

As a number of people noticed, Thunberg trended on Twitter ahead of the Bristol event. But the interest in the activist wasn’t all positive:

Not all ‘boomers‘ complained about Thunberg, however:

Before the Bristol event took place, meanwhile, Avon and Somerset Police warned parents that safety measures would be inadequate there due to the level of attendance. The force said there was “potential for trips, slips, falls and crushing”. And there’s nothing like parents thinking their kids might get crushed at an event to dampen enthusiasm and attendance.

A systemic problem

In the debate video, Monbiot argued that a widespread, entrenched system has caused the climate crisis. It’s a system that most of the trolls – and the police – have lived within their whole lives. So perhaps the vilification of Thunberg and the climate movement isn’t surprising. Because it represents a challenge to what many have long believed is the only way of life.

The system Monbiot took aim at is capitalism. He explained this as:

an economic system… where the means of production are privately owned for the purpose of generating profits and accumulating wealth… the general commodification of land, labour, and money.

He also defined what he means by “climate collapse”:

 Climate collapse is what happens somewhere north of 1.5C of global heating above pre-industrial levels.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a climate report in 2018 that concluded global warming must be kept to 1.5°C at the most, around half a degree hotter than right now, if we are to limit the most severe effects of climate breakdown.

The increasing levels of greenhouses gases like CO2 in our atmosphere push up the temperature of the planet. We’ve now seen a dramatic increase in CO2 levels for eight years running. As a result, the average temperature increase in 2019 reached 1.1°C. That warming leads to ever more extreme weather events – such as the Australian fires – which, in turn, pushes CO2 levels and global heating up further. Such weather events also degrade the ecosystems we rely on to limit the climate havoc humans reek.

Fundamentally incompatible

Monbiot argued that this downward spiral towards climate collapse is inevitable under a capitalist system. Because, he says, capitalism has “three essential and intrinsic features” that drive us in that catastrophic direction.

The first is growth, without which “capitalism is deemed to fail”. Monbiot asserted that:

perpetual growth… on a finite planet leads inexorably to environmental disaster.

He noted that countries may take steps to limit their environmental damage, but argued that:

trying to cut your impacts, while your economy is growing, while resource consumption is growing, means running down the rising escalator

Second, Monbiot highlighted another “central feature of capitalism” which dictates that:

the money in your bank account equates to your right to own [or consume] natural wealth.

Monbiot said this feature ensures “those with the money take the lion’s share, depriving other people”. As such, growth is built again into the system, to generate the further wealth needed to sustain those without money.

Finally, the journalist raised the “promise” of capitalism that “everyone can aspire to private luxury”. Monbiot said:

There’s simply not enough environmental space for everybody to aspire to private luxury. …

The richest 1% in the world use 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%. Is everyone supposed to use the same amount?

Put down the gun

Monbiot concluded that these three critical features of capitalism make the system a “gun pointed at the living world”. He called for us to replace it with one of “private sufficiency” and “public luxury”, saying “there’s enough for everyone as long as we share it”.

His argument is compelling. Especially as we watch in horror as the natural world collapses amid flames and floods. But the idea that sharing should replace personal wealth as a measure of success may not instantly resonate with everyone, particularly in the northern hemisphere. A number of companies, especially larger ones, will also balk at the notion that growth is a bad thing. Because, in both cases, the current capitalist system has conditioned them to believe the opposite is the natural order of things.

Perhaps that too explains why Thunberg, as the most visible figure in the youth climate movement, faces such indignation. She is, like Monbiot suggests, calling for them to put down a gun they’ve been holding onto their whole lives.

Ultimately, though, even if the hearts and minds of civilians change, there can be little progress towards a better climate future until the people who wield power stop forcing capitalism upon us via global and national policy.

Featured image via Intelligence Squared/YouTube and the Evening Standard/YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. So he vilifies people who criticises his human shield.

      If the climate is collapsing why has the planet greened?

      Are the books he sells on Amazon a capitalist venture???

      How many trees were cut down to make them and how much CO2 is generated
      transporting them to the reader?

      Without capitalism Greta would have no CO2 belching trains to transport her thousands of miles.

      How much CO2 does a Greta rally produce? A fair bit I’d say.

      How much CO2 does someone who could afford to go to Oxford produce?

      One of his book is “No Man’s Land: An Investigative Journey Through Kenya and Tanzania”, how much CO2 did the white saviour pump out on that trip.

      If George wanted to save the planet he would be at home like me “trolling” people like him.

      Until George practises the third world low CO2 lifestyle he preaches he is nothing more than a book flogging hypocrite.

      He is a capitalist and his product is alarmism and scare mongering.

      I fail to see the connection between saving the planet and capitalism, does he think communism would work better?

      I guess it would lead to the economic collapse he wants so we can hand the planet back to rhinos and dung beetles.

      Would George care to list the countries he has travelled to in his life time and the CO2 produced in doing so, then we can attack him rather than his human shield Greta. So far I can see he has been to Africa, Brazil and Indonesia and no doubt many more.

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