Ecological Catastrophe, Capitalist Excess or Ongoing Colonialism - How should we understand the crisis?

IERI Working paper WP2019-003
Sameer Dossani

Many social and natural scientists would agree with the conclusion that humanity is at a point of self-inflicted crisis. Of special significance is how we frame the crisis and, relatedly, what we understand to be its root cause. Framing is an act of diagnosis which suggests possible remedies. This paper argues that the current framings of the crisis – though accurate – are insufficient. The ecological framing of the crisis tends to generate false solutions such as carbon markets or geoengineering. It also tends to confuse the symptoms of the crisis – climate change being an obvious example – with the cause. The social framing of the crisis better diagnoses the root cause, but it also has limitations. An understanding of capitalism in crisis has been used by different groups – reformists and revolutionaries – for more than a century without sustained success. At the current political juncture, nearly every state – including self-proclaimed socialist states – has neoliberal tendencies, meaning that governments tend to side with capitalist elites. It is therefore difficult to imagine the anti-capitalist framing being successful. A more effective and complete framing would be to understand the current crisis to be one of colonialism. At its core, colonialism is a project of commodification and competition; therefore undoing the ongoing damage caused by colonial systems would entail developing and nurturing institutions designed to enhance human cooperation and stewardship of the commons.

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