There is an idea currently popular in liberal media that a large portion of the country denies climate change and uses its electoral influence to prevent environmentally friendly politicians from coming to office. This line of thinking is both ignorant and unproductive. By pointing the finger at an imaginary group of uneducated working class people, we both ignore systemic causes of these issues and the real sources of power in this country.
Eight out of 10 Americans believe in human-caused climate change, half believe that radical action is necessary to combat it and four out of 10 describe it as a “crisis.” This majority of America, who believes that combating climate change is necessary, is not affecting our government because it is not elected democratically.
The very notion that climate denial is an important problem implies that majorities in the United States have a consequential effect on policy outcomes. Majorities, such as the majority believing in climate change, are actually silenced because our government is not a democracy, nor a democratic republic. The United States is an oligarchy where a small number of very wealthy people enforce their decisions about the government and economy through violence and coercion.
These wealthy control fossil fuel companies and design public education curriculums. They control the multinational media corporations which inform the populace, and they control a completely backwards and undemocratic political system which above all else prioritizes their wealth in elections. Surprise! The wealthy control everything. These people have every single incentive and ability to limit our belief that climate change is real, to mis-appropriate blame onto the working class and ultimately to prevent us from changing anything.
These wealthy people are not deniers. The largest fossil fuel companies have hidden knowledge about the disastrous effects of climate change for decades.The Trump administration, an important denier in the minds of liberals, has predicted certain extinction in the following century as a result of carbon emissions. Most importantly, billions upon billions of dollars have been spent by the wealthy trying to convince as many people as possible that climate change is fake. ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total alone spent over one billion dollars of shareholder funds in just three years following the Paris Agreement on climate denial propaganda and lobbying. These people, not the poor working class, are those with a monopoly over the resources required to shift away from fossil fuels and save the environment. They deny nothing.
Focusing the blame on those uneducated few who deny climate change further ignores our own failings to address the causes of environmental destruction. We, the majority who demand action on climate change, still collectively allow these flawed and undemocratic political systems to represent us, even with extinction in the headlights. We go to work, vote and complain about Trump in a completely nondisruptive manner which assumes that our existing institutions will somehow deliver us justice and save us from environmental destruction. Spoiler alert: They won’t.
There is an important discussion to be had about whether or not the workers of the world are willing to trade material comforts for environmental justice. But that discussion cannot begin until there is economic and political democracy, free from mass marketing and propaganda in favor of consumerism and against environmentalism.
We cannot make meaningful, democratic electoral decisions. But we can decide not to participate in undemocratic elections. We can decide to voice our dissatisfaction in ways more impactful than complaints and votes. Most importantly, through mass organization we can decide to withhold the labor which the wealthy use to destroy the environment and to maintain their power over us. Extra-systemic direct action offers the only approach to systems designed to control us. To break free from our impending extinction, we must break free from the ideology of the status quo: that we are too ignorant to understand when our own livelihoods are at stake, and that we cannot see beyond compromised political systems.
Harrison Raskin is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.