The Global Caste System and the Climate Crisis

Anyone who reads much about current affairs is likely aware of the most recent report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). I have criticized the IPCC reports in the past, mostly because they have consistently underestimated the heating of the planet and the ecological and climate consequences of man-made disruption of the climate. (One might say human-made or anthropogenic climate change, but the most culpable are almost always wealthy old white men.)

However, this latest report is different. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had already declared, “The State of the planet is broken.”  In several other recent speeches, the Secretary-General had made very strong statements trying to warn of the urgent necessity of taking extreme climate action now. The final part of the Sixth Assessment Report— the AR6 synthesis report—emphasizes the international inequality inherent in the disproportionate climate impacts on the most vulnerable communities, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The previous equivocating IPCC reports had dodged that urgency by factoring in illusory future carbon capture technologies when calculating requirements for achieving “net zero” carbon emissions. Besides, even if it worked, carbon capture treats the symptom of climate chaos, not the cause. Back in August 2021, the Secretary-General had warned that “Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 report is a code red for humanity.” The flurry of concern that followed in some parts of the press died down quickly.  

On the closing of the 27th Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Egypt, the Secretary-General spoke to the delegates via video link. He said that the conference has taken an important step towards climate justice. “I welcome the decision to establish a loss and damage fund and to operationalize it in the coming period. He added: “Clearly this will not be enough, but it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust.” One must remember that the “broken trust” resulted not just from recent inaction but also from hundreds of years of international exploitation and oppression.

What’s Caste Have to Do With It?

Everything. Vague signals of support fade in memory without action. The COP meetings have produced high-sounding talk for decades and produced nearly nothing in the way of climate action or response to global inequities. Everyone knew that the bulk of carbon pollution was produced by the nations of the Global North and that most of the early vulnerabilities are falling upon the Global South. So, the northern nations made gestures to help the non-industrialized nations of the Global South to adapt to climate chaos and to develop in non-carbon-polluting ways.

But they were little more than gestures; hardly any actual financing followed. The historical pattern of relations of domination of formerly colonial nations by their exploiters continues in today’s international relations. Clearly, some nations dominate others in a political-economic hierarchy not so different in structure from master and slave, or high and low caste. The usual suspects are the same, but the methods have moved from conquistador to economic hitmen and financial domination by Davos Man.

Most folks think of a caste system in terms of the cultural practice of social isolation of lower castes from the higher castes of Indian society. Interestingly, the impacts of climate chaos distribute disproportionately to the lowest castes in India’s caste system in the same way as they do internationally. I would suggest that the relationships between the dominant political-economic forces in the world today and the peoples of the Global South operate very much like a caste system.

However, it is more a matter of political and economic domination and exploitation than cultural isolation, although some of that is involved too. The nations of the Global South have existed as a low caste among, or I should say, below the industrial nations that developed due to their plunder of the resources and forced labor of the Global South ever since the age of ‘discovery’ and colonization. That plunder continues in modern forms.

Climate and Caste

We all know that the origins of the climate emergency lie in the Global North. The vast majority of carbon emitted into the atmosphere came from the nations that were able to industrialize because of their plunder of not only gold and silver but also raw materials and slave labor of the other nations of the world. Today’s international political economy of domination and exploitation enables that plunder to continue.

This relationship has not changed, despite the disingenuous philanthrocapitalism of Bill Gates, his billionaire buddies, and other corporate interests whose behavior is just as self-serving as their capital accumulation would suggest. Vandana Shiva has written eloquently about the damage to multiple ecosystems and human populations that has resulted from not only the so-called ‘green revolution,’ but the destructive impacts of the one percent (or, 0.01%) self-serving policies on all living systems of the Earth.

In India and elsewhere, corporate crop-seed engineering and marketing produced forced growth of increasingly nutritionally depleted monoculture crops and enslaved farmers in a caste-like relationship of dependency on Monsanto and other corporate interests, while depleting naturally nutritious local seed stocks.

The looming failure of global industrial agriculture will affect the cultures and people in nations that once had thriving largely organically raised crops of native source. Native farmers have become almost completely dependent on the terminal agricultural technosphere that has already destroyed most of the fertile soils of the world. Now, rapidly accelerating climate chaos adds a new level of instability and unpredictability that will certainly lead to ever more widespread crop failures, mass starvation, and food resource wars.

All over the world, the nations that comprise what we used to call “the third world” continue to experience a caste-like existence in relation to the fully industrialized nations of the Global North. The plunder of disaster capitalism continues treating these victims as fully exploitable subordinates in the ‘world order.’

Growing numbers of people living in the industrialized nations live under conditions like the subordinated people of the Global South, because of the growing extreme inequality. They teeter between subsistence and malnutrition consuming empty calories of industrialized ‘food products’ while facing deteriorating life conditions and constrained by the increasingly rigid boundaries of the political economy. What we now need most now is a Gandhian liberation of the entire world’s people from the caste system of the so-called neoliberal political economy of industrial-consumerism that rules just like the colonial masters of the past did. Otherwise, no hope for mitigating climate chaos will survive.

3 thoughts on “The Global Caste System and the Climate Crisis

  1. Part of the ‘problem’ is that the ‘green revolution’ made it possible to feed more people. Like the agricultural revolution before, going back might be impossible without population reduction.


    1. Unfortunately (due to the way it will probably happen) it now seems inevitable that the global population will decline in the next couple of decades, mostly due to widespread crop failures, even if industrial agriculture continues to produce significantly (although I expect that it too will experience significant production losses. Much of the suffering by malnutrition and starvation will acrue to those who have done the least to cause the problem and who will have no other alternative than to emigrated, often with low success, confronted with increasing resistance from nations that still have enough food. The best and only major solution is to cut carbon emissions rapidly, which is contemplated only in the abstract by most policy people.


      1. There is one big factor that can change the picture here, meat and dairy consumption. I suppose most land is now tilled to feed the animals we eat. Reducing it would free up land for producing food for humans.


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