We Didn’t Start The Fire

Heatwaves are great right? Nathan Thanki is here to explain why recent heatwaves are a warning sign that, unless we scrap Capitalism, we’re fucked – and it is not even our fault.

The recent wildfire situation in Sweden reached a point where the Swedish Air Force resorted to dropping laser-guided bombs into burning forests in an attempt to put out the blaze. Out of context this seems like an unbelievable sentence. But adding context only intensifies the sense of mania.

The world is on fire.


As well as the unbelievable truth of fires in Lapland there are major fires burning out of control across California, where 40,000 people have been displaced. Close to 90 people died in recent fires near Athens, where cuts to emergency services (a.k.a. “austerity”) unsurprisingly hindered rescue efforts.  It took over 200 firefighters to hold back a grass fire in East London, and, even closer to home, 60 firefighters were needed to battle a blaze in Newcastle, Co. Down.

All-time heat records have been broken across the world in the past month, including Ouargla, Algeria (51.3℃), Cordoba, Spain (46.9℃), Los Angeles (43.8℃), Yerevan, Armenia (42℃), Kumagaya, Japan (41.1℃), Tbilisi, Georgia (40.5℃), Montreal (36.6℃), Shannon (32℃), Glasgow (31.9℃), and even here in Belfast (29.5℃).

1976 was a heatwave. 2018 is a changing climate system

This might all seem exceptional. It is not.

Back in 2015 it was reported that 14 of the 15 hottest years on record had occurred after the year 2000. Now the four hottest years on record are, in order, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2014, soon to be replaced by 2018. This April was the 400th warmer-than-normal month in a row. In. A. Row.

In spite of a media which seems incapable of making the connection between extreme weather events and climate change, it is increasingly common to hear that we are in a new human-induced geological era, the “anthropocene. What this implies is that the planet is shifting to a “new normal, albeit one of extreme catastrophe and chaos.

We’re so far from normal that nothing makes sense anymore. Antibiotic resistance is increasing due to climate change, the global ocean circulation system is collapsing, and the seasons themselves are going skew-whiff. California’s “fire season” now basically covers the whole year. This is the new weird.


Changes are happening far faster than predicted. Antarctic sea ice loss has tripled in the past 5 years – something scientists thought would not happen for another few decades. What these changes portend for people is hard to fathom. A conservative estimate is that some 143 million people will soon be displaced by climate change, joining the millions who already have been.

In the midst of this planetary emergency we’re told two things that seem contradictory. One is that we have no agency and are all doomed. This is a sentiment so useless that all I will say in response to it is fuck your apocalypse.

The other is that we are the only ones that have agency. That is to say that everything comes down to what we do as individuals, and more precisely individual consumers. To which I say, for the only time in my life quoting Billy Joel: we didn’t start the fire.

In fact, just 90 companies are responsible for ⅔ of all climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions. Ever. Some of them knew since the 70s that their business was changing the climate and spent millions of dollars to spread misinformation and obscure the truth.

The massive gulf in terms of responsibility for causing the problem and capacity to deal with it exists not only between these 90 corporations and the rest of us, but also between countries and within them. 10% of the world’s population are responsible for 50% of global emissions. While you and I are told to “do our bit for the environment”, if that top 10% were to live as an average European global emissions would be reduced by 30% in a year.

The system is to blame, not us. Capitalism would set the world on fire and then blame us for dying. The logic underpinning the system which lets people burn in Grenfell, which lets people drown in the Mediterranean is the same logic which accelerates ecosystem collapse. It is a logic that considers some lives inherently less important than others.

No, we didn’t start the fire. But we’re going to have to put it out. If we don’t then we’ll all burn. Climate change is fanning the flames of every existing injustice, and sparking new injustices of its own. But ordinary people around the world are dousing the blaze, resisting the causes even as they struggle to cope with the impacts. We know it is a choice between (eco)socialism or barbarism, climate justice or death. Which is why we say: system change, not climate change.


You can read more about climate change impacts and the movements for change at www.worldat1c.org. If you are a part of an organisation you can join the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice.