Breaking Barriers in climate change

Lauren Sluss, News Contributor

Riding bikes, changing lightbulbs, and recycling products appears to be the common remedy prescribed for combatting the effects of climate change. But these well-intentioned actions may not be enough. Yesterday, assistant professor of environmental philosophy Barbara Muraca delved deeper into the root causes and solutions of climate change.

Hosted by the Allied Students for Another Politics, Muraca’s seminar entitled ‘The Burden of Climate Change and Economic Growth’ discussed the harsh reality of the effects of climate change, its root causes and solutions for a brighter future.

“Climate change is dramatically affecting people living in areas with strong typhoons or large storms. Eventually it will affect us here, in more catastrophic weather conditions,” Muraca said. “In rich countries, we still have the possibility of countering that, but most of the time this countering is parasitic—it exacerbates the consequences of climate change. It makes our lives better, but at the cost of making the lives of people in poorer countries worse.”

Muraca and other environmentalists have developed the theory that the core cause of climate change is not a result of individual action, but of societal structures. Allied Students for Another Politics Lead Officer Clark Stevenson explained the drastic environmental results of one structure in particular–capitalism.

“There’s this idea that capitalism doesn’t have growth boundaries, and this sense of unlimited profit and expansion,” Stevenson said. “When you start imposing on different landscapes with the intention of profit and expansion, then you start intervening with ecological systems—you start imposing upon the atmospheric climate.”

The concept of capitalism as a direct driver of climate change is neither new nor radical, but is still often brushed over, according to former Allied Students for Another Politics member Kali Doten.

“People aren’t really talking about capitalism being a major driver in our climate change problems,” said . “If we are going to start tackling the large infrastructure of these issues, then the effects of capitalism need to be addressed.”

According to Muraca’s research, the results that capitalism has on climate change are often unspoken, yet common knowledge, possibly due to the gravity of the situation. However, Muraca provides individuals and societies with a radical, yet plausible solution–degrowth.

The term degrowth stems mainly from Europe. Entrepreneurs of degrowth use a metaphor to explain it, comparing an elephant as economic growth.

“Degrowth is not just about getting the elephant to become smaller. That will not be enough. It’s about turning the elephant into a snail, radically transforming society’s basic institutions,” Muraca explained during her seminar. “The only way to limit the effects of climate change is to not just limit economic growth, but completely change how economic growth takes place.”   

This elephant metaphor is not only a new lense through which to examine the effects of climate change, but also provides a tangible solution.

“There is an amazing wave of desperation. People are so desperate about climate change that instead of doing something, they choose to ignore the problem,” Muraca said. “Degrowth gives people a real solution through bringing together antagonistic and prefigurative movements, projects, and social experiments.”

Muraca has been developing the theory of degrowth for around seven years. Her work has led her to become one of the leading experts on the topic.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important Barbara Muraca is within the degrowth conversation. She is within the group that helped define what degrowth is.” Stevenson said. “She is internationally known, and in Germany she is sensationalized.”

    Although degrowth requires dramatic global-wide action, the change can begin on local levels as well, as Muraca explained.

“We have to rethink cities,” Muraca said. “Cities are parasitic, energy produced actually limits the quality of life because of the environmental impacts. We need to rethink the production of food, energy, resources and recycling of waste.”

    According to Doten, radical transformation of cities and societal structures, although plausible, is often over-looked due to the gravity of situation. College students in particular, however, are in a perfect place to start working toward greater change.

“Small individual actions are helpful, that might not be enough,” Doten said. “Universities historically have been a great hub for movements and activism, and getting people power to show the leadership in communities that big changes need to happen. It’s really important for people in universities to use that resource, to get together and demand these changes.”

Students who are interested in combatting systems of oppression, including environmental issues, are encouraged to attend Allied Students for Another Politics meetings held every other Friday at 4 p.m. in Snell Hall room 231.

“In a global context, you can’t just enclose yourself off from something that is happening to the entire world just because the consequences of global climate stability may not be as obvious or overt,” Stevenson said. “That doesn’t mean that Corvallis is exempt from contributing to global climate change.”