by Colton Krial & Leah Triber
During the first month of 2014, Oxfam released a report on the state of global inequality. The fact that quickly came to define the report spoke of the unprecedented level of wealth that a small group of individuals accumulated through what capitalists would have us think of as “hard work” and the “entrepreneurial spirit of competitiveness and risk taking.” The fact was that 85 individuals owned as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people on Earth.1 Unfortunately, these demoralizing statistics did not lessen over the ensuing year. The most recent report published by Oxfam concluded that by 2016, the top one percent would possess half the wealth in the world.2
If we are concerned with climate change, we must be concerned with such breathtaking inequality. We must understand this crippling inequality as a part of climate change, not something divorced from it. In short, we should not create a barrier between scientific and social approaches if we are to understand the world. When we do, conclusions such as the one reached by the most recent Assessment Report published by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which claimed that climate change is anthropogenic,3 not only distort the reality of the situation, but such a knowledge barrier leads us closer towards our own destruction. We must awaken to the reality that 90 corporations have been responsible for a full two-thirds of the carbon emissions generated since the onset of industrialism, and that concepts such as modernity and progress are the ideologies creating such abject poverty for most of the human population.3 Climate change is not simply caused by humans; rather, it is capitalism’s newest crisis.
To think that we can roll back climate change, much less devise a plan to combat it, without critiquing the system that bore it is not just absurd, it is deadly. Whether we are scientists or social scientists, the question we must be concerned with is how to live with the planet and all of the species that inhabit its ecosystems—but that is just it: capitalism does not live with anything; it exploits everything. Over this past summer, we conducted research on how capitalism is exploiting our ability to partake in a political discourse. Our research focused on how capitalism, through its construction of social space, disincentivizes and at times outright forbids informed political discourse from taking place. This public conversation, in conjunction with the work of scientists, is desperately needed if we wish to save the future of our planet. Below is an excerpt of our research, describing how capitalism’s construction of social space both physically and phenomenologically exploits our public being:
August 2, 2014: March for Refugees in the Lehigh Valley
This march shed great insight into the relationship between space and political action for us. As we, Beyond Capitalism, and members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), made our way up downtown Bethlehem’s Main Street, we were met with stares of both curiosity and confusion. Of course, both responses were desired, since we wanted to capture people’s attention. We planned the march in Bethlehem’s most compact and populated business section for a reason: to subvert the activities of those bodies that are orientated towards spaces of consumerism. In other words, our goal was to disorient those normative lines of desire generated by capitalism, by marching a political message right through them. Despite this disruption, it felt like we were marching in a void, because while the bystanders were curious and confused as to what our message was, or perhaps disagreed with our message, there was no place to serve as a discussion space. This meant that despite the fact that our initial goal of disorientating the consumer body was met, there was no place to then gather these differing orientations of the world and let them be be exposed to the “other” body, the non-neoliberal body. One can potentially see the non-neoliberal body, but there is no space to hear the arguments or stories or the background of the non-neoliberal body.4
The common thread uniting all of the problems we face today is the need for an informed citizenry to discuss and understand these problems, whether the issue is climate change, wealth inequality, or anything else. Without these spaces of social interaction, we cannot expect critical discourse to flourish in a productive manner. If we want to engage reality, we must take the conversation to the streets where inequality lives.
by Colton Krial & Leah Triber
Colton and Leah are students at Moravian College.
- Wearden, Graeme. “Oxfam: 85 Richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world”. The Guardian, 20 January, 2015.
- “Richest 1% will own more than all the rest by 2016”. OXFAM International, 19 January, 2015.
- “Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report” (AR5), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2015.
- Colton Krial and Leah Triber, “The Politics of Place and the Freeing of Political Discussion”. 2015.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)