Is Capitalism to Blame for Climate Change?

Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez on a visit to Cuba. Photo via Reuters

When Bolivian President Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela took the stage at COP15, there was little doubt the pair were going to have some strong words for the international assembly--and they certainly didn't fail to bring them. But beyond the wild-eyed, rambunctious delivery of such sentiments as "rich nations are selfish," or they promote a "culture of death," was something far more interesting to ponder: "(Climate change) is not a cause but an effect: the effect of the capitalist way of life." While a knee-jerk scoff may be unavoidable to some, a reasoned assessment of this statement may conclude it to be truer than you'd think.The two South American leaders compared the economic disputes between rich nations, and what they see as an unjust burden imposed the poorer countries, to the historic exploitation of indigenous people world-wide by the West, according to a report in O Estado.

Morales:

In the past century our black and indigenous ancestors were treated as slaves, and their rights were not recognized. In a similar way, now our Mother Earth is being treated as a lifeless object, as if she had no rights. We have to abolish the slavery of Mother Earth. It is unacceptable for her to be the slave of capitalist countries. If we don't end this, we can forget about life

As the discussions of funding for poorer nations are heating up, Chávez highlights the disparities between wealth and financial responsibility when it comes to climate change:

I would like to remind you that the 500 million richest people in the world, that is, seven percent of the world's population, are responsible for 50 percent of polluting emissions, while the poorest 50 percent are only responsible for seven percent of emissions

While the content of the speeches made by Morales and Chávez may not have come as a surprise to most in the audience, the imagery the leaders used to articulate their point was of particular interest--especially considering the social implications of their elections. Hugo Chávez is of native Venezuelan decent and Evo Morales is Bolivia's first fully indigenous head of state in the 470 years since the Spanish Conquest.

The history of politics in Latin-America has been wrought with western involvement and Morales and Chávez have based their careers on their willingness to be confrontational against Western interests--seen often as pushing a corporate agenda to seize resources from the native peoples. This exploitation on the part of capitalistic interests has not ceased, Morales argues, but has expanded into the global problem of climate change as a result:

It is unacceptable that the atmosphere should belong to only a few countries for their development, and that these countries with their irrational industrialization should have filled it up with their greenhouse gas emissions. To pay back this debt, they must reduce and absorb those gases so that the atmosphere is distributed equitably.

The radical sentiments of Morales and Chávez shouldn't be shocking to those accustomed to their usually controversial stances in the past, but the allusion they draw to a historic capitalistic tendency to exploit resource rich nations is certainly of note--since too often, social injustice and economic imbalance is only viewed in hindsight. So, whether capitalism is to blame for clime change or not--and it very well may be--the real question is whether we'll take a lesson from history and not risk victimizing the most helpless of all--every future generation.

More on Wealth and Climate Change
Guilty! Rich Nations Slammed At Climate Change Court
China, India to Rich Nations: $200 Billion to Fight Climate Change
China Says US & Rich Nations Sabotaging Climate Treaty

Tags: Amazonia | Bolivia | Global Climate Change

Best of TreeHugger