Can we really call climate breakdown a crime? Ecosocialist thinkers have correctly argued that the root of the ecological crisis is capitalism itself and its inherent compulsion to expand, extract, and productively consume. This might seem to indicate that “crime” is an inappropriate descriptor, as it usually picks out harms caused by individuals rather than institutionalized social orders. But we should not take the structural character of the problem to mean that everyone is equally responsible by dint of participation in these structures, or that individual actors are blameless functionalist avatars of the system. In the Lorax, the Onceler is likely correct that if he didn’t exploit the truffula trees “someone else would”—yet he is not thereby absolved.

It is important for us to remember that capitalist society is not some fixed metaphysical entity. It’s constituted, in large part, by the actions of the fossil executives, of those they pay to lie for them on cable news and in Congress, and of those they pay to brutalize, arrest, and kill people (often Indigenous people) defending the land. All of them have names and (often multiple) addresses.

“Your Anger Is a Gift”

Anger is a perfectly appropriate and rational response to such an unspeakable wrong. Yet we tend to see anger as something negative, to be avoided. This message is so deeply culturally encoded (from Harry Potter to the liberal fantasy version of Dr. King) that we reflexively reject or disavow our anger. Yoda taught us that anger stems from fear and leads only to the Dark Side, and politically we now associate it with the inchoate rage of Trump’s white America (where Yoda’s schema is at least partly accurate).

But climate anger is actually quite different. It is a defiant fist raised in the face of injustice and inhumanity, stemming not from fear and bigotry, but from solidarity and the conviction that we must defend ourselves and our home against the world-consuming nihilism of capital. The truth is that we should be angry, and setting aside our justified anger is both politically and personally unhelpful. We’re often told to let go of anger for our own sake, but research has found that feelings of climate anger predict “better mental health outcomes, as well as greater engagement in pro-climate activism and personal behaviors” compared to those suffering from eco-anxiety and depression. More importantly, channeled toward appropriately radical action, our anger is key to our prospects for a habitable future. As Audre Lorde argues, “anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification.”

Of course, climate anger is not a panacea. When it is not sufficiently generalized, it can still be deflected or dismissed by the partisans of the status quo. Greta Thunberg, for instance, became a meme for the American Right when she, visibly outraged, asked of those who have pawned our collective future for mansions and parties at Martha’s Vineyard, “How dare you?” Black people and women in particular are accustomed to having their reasonable anger mocked and dismissed as irrational in this way. It’s a tactic that is effective in part because it is so infuriating.

Nonetheless, it’s not our anxiety or grief, or even our love, that will keep ecocide’s beneficiaries and apologists awake at night. We can see in the lavish doomsday bunkers and the militarized police, in the increasingly unhinged propaganda machine and the increasingly punitive penalties for protesting, that they are worried we might soon put down our phones and pick up our pitchforks. They are rightly afraid of the moment—and it must come, surely—when enough people become appropriately angered at the casual pillaging of our collective future to do something about it together. This is not merely wishful thinking. Two-thirds of young people worldwide feel “betrayed by their governments,” and even in the heart of the global North, seventy-five percent of people under the age of thirty-five correctly discern that capitalism is at the root of climate catastrophe. Younger people do not have the luxury of melancholy or fatalism because they are now in a fight for their lives and as such are increasingly unappeased by the usual ideological maneuverings and conciliatory half-measures.

Climate anger can be overwhelming. If it fails to find an outlet, it threatens to poison us. It’s reasonable to be concerned about the personal and planetary consequences of such frustration; it should be clear enough by now that the Democrats and the Labour Party are not going to rescue us, and that we will never get justice from the political or juridical institutions of the existing order. We will have to tear much of it down if we really want to “build back better.” This is a daunting prospect, but the alternative is unacceptable and we should not accept it (whatever the proponents of “radical acceptance” may tell us). Instead, we had better start creating durable and democratic mass political organizations that are up to the task—while we still have a world to win.

As a wise man once said, your anger is a gift. Use it.