Who is to blame for climate change: consumerism or capitalism?


Adam Booth argues that although individual solutions are important, they are the ruling class’ way to  shift the blame from its environmentally destructive eco system.

Many people around the world have been disappointed by inactive, pro-business and governments who have turned inwards, and we looking towards individual or local solutions to what is a global problem. This type of environmentalism lays the blame for climate change with individual lifestyles. It is a view reinforced by the ruling class and the mainstream media. For example, Al Gore concludes his documentary film, ‘An Inconvenient truth’, by saying” each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we us, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands, we just have to have the determination to make it happen.”

Who is to blame?

The campaign to pin the blame for environmental problems onto ordinary working people neglects the fact that the majority of ecological damage is due to causes that the majority currently have no control over.

At the end of ‘An inconvenient truth’, Al Gore gives carbon gives a list of ‘choices’ that people can make to reduce their carbon emissions. Estimates however shows that even if every person in the United States of America carried out these suggestions, carbon emissions from the US would fall by only 22% compared to the 75%-80% that people agree is needed.

It is important that we cut back on unnecessary waste or energy usage where possible. Recycling and and a consciousness about environmental issues should be promoted. However, we must have a sense of proportion. Figures by the Department of Economic and Climate Change show that less than 10% of waste sent to landfill sites come from households; the rest is due to large-scale industries and processes such as similar for water usage. Flights, mostly freight, contribute less than 3% of global carbon emissions. Individual efforts cannot curb the energy consumption of industry.

Life styles

Some lay the blame on consumerism. This is defined as excessive purchase of less or unneeded commodities. For most people though, the idea of ‘consumerism’ is just a pipe dream; low paid workers, pensioners, debt ridden students and unemployed people most their money just meeting the bare necessities such as rent, heating, water, electricity and food.

A large portion of consumption is by business and industry as capital goods. What we purchase as the final product is actually the result of several stages of production, each of which consumers vast amount of resources and energy, and each of which we have no control over.


The anti-industrialism approach blames economic development and growth for climate damage. This ideology overlooks the fact that environmental damage is not caused by industrialisation or growth, but by the way in which production is organised and controlled.

Much of this ideology also lays the blame on population levels. It suggests that the most populous nations are by virtue of their size, the greatest polluters. This view has been proven to be wrong. Large, populous nations have managed to improve agricultural techniques in order to sustain and improve nutritional levels.

Shifting the blame

Arguments that lay the blame for climate change on individuals ultimately are a part of the ruling class attempt to shift the blame and cost of addressing climate change away from itself and its environmentally destructive economic system, known as capitalism. Capitalism solutions to climate change, such as carbon trading, are not able to combat the environmental problems facing humanity. Individual actions can play a part in helping to bring about change, but they must not be used to distract attention from the important task of bringing about a complete political and economic transformation of society.

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