Benjamin Y. Fong holds a doctorate in religion from Columbia and today teaches at Arizona State University. He is a serious thinker but also, to his credit, a forthright one. This week Fong has written a hard-hitting op-ed in the New York Times bearing the title "The Climate Crisis? It's Capitalism, Stupid." He takes as given that we are living through an epochal climate "disaster" that cannot be averted via "reusable shopping bags and composting," nor by reforming this or that economic sector, nor by succumbing to the seductions of corporate visionaries like Elon Musk, nor by extending neoliberalism another 40 years, nor even by rallying governments to act collaboratively in the spirit of the Paris accord. "It should be stated plainly," Fong concludes. "It's capitalism that is at fault. As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it's systemic change or bust."
Fong has done us all a great favour. People everywhere, but particularly in the industrialized West, need to hear his message, for it sets out in the starkest of terms—terms that have until now been mainly the preserve of climate skeptics like Rupert Darwall—what is really at stake in the climate debate. They need to understand, as Fong puts it, that "the work of saving the planet is political, not technical." More than anything—before they take even their first halting breath in a political conversation from which they have to date been mostly excluded—citizens need to understand the psychology of those, like Fong, who presume to know the one true path.
It is authoritarian.