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Arundhati Roy: Capitalism Is a “Form of Religion” Stopping Solutions to Climate Change & Inequality

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As 1 million species face extinction due to human activity and the globe faces a growing climate crisis, we speak with world-renowned author Arundhati Roy about the threat capitalism poses to the future of life on Earth. Roy says that those most responsible for creating the climate crisis “will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Arundhati, I’d like to now turn to another issue, which you also raised in your lecture last night, and that is climate change. Another award-winning Indian writer, Amitav Ghosh, has written about climate change in his most recent book, titled The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. Ghosh discusses two key publications on climate change that were written in 2015: the Encyclical on Environment and Climate Change by Pope Francis and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Ghosh points out several differences in the two texts, writing that the Encyclical doesn’t hesitate to, quote, “criticize the prevalent paradigms of our era; most of all it is fiercely critical of the idea of infinite or unlimited growth.” He goes on to say, quote, “In the text of the Paris Agreement, by contrast, there is not the slightest acknowledgment that something has gone wrong with our dominant paradigms; … The current paradigm of perpetual growth is enshrined at the core of the text” of the Paris Agreement, Ghosh writes.

Now, during your lecture last night, you said that those most responsible for creating the problem, the problem of climate change, quote, “will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose.” So, could you elaborate on that?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, you know, the thing is, for me, it’s really, for so many years—for so many years, people, let’s say, in India, have been fighting this very idea of progress, of infinite growth, of this form of development, which has resulted now in what we call jobless growth, what everybody knows to be the case. You have nine individuals who own the same amount of wealth as the bottom 500 million. This is what infinite growth has led to: infinite growth for some people, you know?

So, I remember years ago I wrote an essay which ended by saying, “Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?” Because I think that’s ultimately the question. Can you look at the mountain and not just calculate its mineral worth? Can you understand that a mountain has much more than just the value of the minerals in it? And there is—it’s a civilizational issue, right? That for people who have lived there, have known that mountain, they know that it sustains not just the people. It’s not just a question of who’s getting displaced. But how does, for example, that bauxite mountain, which stores water and waters the plains all around it, which grows the food, which sustains a whole population—but it’s meant for a corporation that’s given the mining contract. It’s just, “How much does that bauxite cost? Can we store it and trade it on the futures market?” You know?

So, this is this idea that you will never question your idea of progress. You will never question the comfort of the Global North. And by the Global North now, and the elite South and the downtrodden North, you know? It’s like what I said, you know, that the elite of the world have all seceded into outer space, and they have a country up there, and they look down and say, “What’s our water doing in their rivers, and what’s our timber doing in their forests?”

So, there is a psychotic refusal to understand that the survival of the species is connected to the survival of the planet, you know? Because this sort of progress is a kind of church now. It’s not amenable to reason. So, it’s very difficult to know how any conversation of any—any real conversation can happen, which is why I said yesterday that the only real conversation that’s happening is a conversation in which the language around climate change is being militarized, because the U.N.—you know, underneath every conflict, which appears to be a conflict between a tribe and a tribe, or a country and a country, is increasingly climate change, is increasingly the shrinking of resources and people collecting together to claim them, and therefore the growth of this kind of nationalistic or identity or tribal politics.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you make a connection between the issue of climate change and the issue of the growing inequality in the world? I mean, certainly, it’s massive in the United States. And in India, the growing inequality has increased enormously. You have this Oxfam report that just came out revealing billionaire fortunes in India increased by 35% last year as the poorest remain in debt. But that connection, that link of capitalism, between the two?

ARUNDHATI ROY: The connection is just capitalism, isn’t it? That, I mean, is pretty clear now, that any sort of attempt—I’ll give you a very good example. Like a month or two ago, the Supreme Court of India, based on a case that a wildlife NGO had filed, said that 2 million indigenous people should be evicted from their forest homes with immediate effect. Why? Because that forest needs to be preserved as a sanctuary. But when, for the last 25 years, people were fighting against projects which were decimating millions of hectares and acres of forest, nobody cared. And it was the same people that were being displaced. Then it was for progress; now it is for conservation. But it’s always the same people who have to pay the price, you know?

And when you’re talking about evicting 2 million of the poorest people, stripping them of everything they ever had, there’s little outrage. When the Congress party announced that it’s going to have a scheme in which 20% of the poorest people will get a living wage, everyone just exploded, like, “How can you think of doing this?” because it strikes at the core of unregulated capitalism. Any sense of talk of equality or justice seems to just have the same effect that blasphemy has in religious societies, you know? That is what capitalism has become—a form of religion that will brook no questioning.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break again, but when we come back, we’d like you to share a part of your lecture last night with us, that you gave at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. Arundhati Roy, the great writer, who has written two novels and many books of essays—her most recent, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness; The God of Small Things, before that; and soon, her book My Seditious Heart will be out. Stay with us.

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Arundhati Roy: A U.S. Attack on Iran Would Be “Biggest Mistake It Has Ever Made”

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