Sunday, October 17, 2021

Capitalism, the Enemy of Nature and People


Scottish climate change expert Prof Jim Skeaa member of the United Nations climate body the IPCC and the UK government's Committee on Climate Changehas called on world leaders to "step up to the plate" at the COP26 summit in Glasgow at the end of the month. He said the scientists had spoken clearly and time was running out for governments to act.

Many environmentalist writers have pointed to the dangers of endless economic growth and have offered various proposals for a zero-growth or steady-state economy. Is zero growth possible in a capitalist economy? The answer is no. Businesses compete to make a profit. Those who make the most profit can reinvest in capital and with more efficient machinery they out-compete others. Companies have to make a profit to survive. It’s not a case of wicked capitalists but instead a system with a built in growth imperative. In an irrational system, we throw away and buy more and the system works. But the better the system works the worse it is for us and the rest of nature. But capitalism only works if we work harder, consume more and throw more away. Capitalism without growth is capitalism in crisis.

Derek Wall of the Green Party put it well in his book, ‘Getting There: Steps to a Green Society’ when he explained:

“A Green government will be controlled by the economy rather than being in control. On coming to office through coalition or more absolute success, it would be met by an instant collapse of sterling as ’hot money’ and entrepreneurial capital went elsewhere. The exchange rate would fall and industrialists would move their factories to countries with more relaxed environmental controls and workplace regulation. Sources of finance would dry up as unemployment rocketed, slashing the revenue from taxation and pushing up the social security bills. The money for ecological reconstruction—the building of railways, the closing of motorways, the construction of a proper sewage system—would run out.

We need to recognise that humans are part of nature and that nature is not a thing to possess or a mere supplier of resources. The Earth is a living system, it is our home and it is a community of interdependent beings and interconnected parts of one whole system. We humans are just one element of the biosphere. The capitalist system has gotten out of control and like a virus, it's going to kill the body that feeds it.

Only through replacing growth with a steady-state economy can we be sustainable. This, however, does not mean advocating zero-growth worldwide, because that would deny development to a majority of the world’s population in urgent need of material advancement.

Capitalism is going to make life near-impossible for humans as we know it. we need to recapture nature from the market's grasp, nurturing and legitimising more interconnected human-ecological relationships and understandings, along with tried-and-tested forms of local ecosystem stewardship based on them. We need to overthrow capitalism and develop a system that is based on the world community - a real commonwealth of peoples.

 It’s time to build a new decentralised, democratic, horizontal model, where all ecosystems are respected. A truly green economy would put an end to harmful policies which put profit before people and also end our obsession with economic growth and unsustainable consumption and embrace a focus on how everyone’s needs can be truly met in a sustainable manner. It means dismantling the corrupt, top-down power structures that maintain wealth for the few and reinstating decentralised, community-controlled economies. Only through replacing growth with a steady-state economy can we be sustainable. Instead of applying market rules to nature what we need is to forge a new system based on the principles of harmony and balance among all and with all things; common ownership and collective well-being; the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all. The global response needed to confront the crisis we face requires structural changes.

 We must change the capitalist system, not the ecosystem. The time has come to unite the thousands of struggles, the hundreds of campaigns, all the separate movements and organisations combating the many different ways capitalism has stolen our destinies in every region of the planet. Peoples' liberties have been violated, the Earth and its resources destroyed and pillaged while companies continue to commit economic and ecological crimes without constraint. These corporations, driven by their imperative of maximising profit, pit workers against each other in a race to the bottom. Multinationals operate globally, moving from one country to another, applying the same game-plan to generate profit at any cost. It is we, the working class, who bear the costs. Yet resistance is growing throughout the world. Every day, more communities and peoples struggle against these companies. Even so, we have not managed to halt the advance of corporations. When defeated in one place, they adjust their strategies and move to another location.

There is an urgent need for a concerted response. We must unite our experiences and struggles, learn collectively from success and failure, and share our analysis and strategies for putting an end to capitalism. Voting is only one step in taking control of your future. Being politically and socially active is more than voting, however. We invite you to join us in collectively building this process of mobilisation towards a global campaign against the power of the capitalist and coordinate global struggles, combining street protests with education and political action to create a potent movement of solidarity and practical opposition against big business, its apologists and its promoters. The truth and knowing the facts will prevent us from being fooled into believing what’s bad is good.

Socialism is very often described as a steady-state economy, one of zero-growth but in its early days ending growth will not be a realistic option to deal with. Billions of people in the developing world want access to more resources and fully deserve those resources as much as those of us in the rest of us in order to rise out of poverty. Roughly, one billion people alive today on the planet have access to air conditioners and central heating. The other billions do not. Two billion lack access to a toilet. One billion lack access to electricity. The bulk of the growth to come over the next few decades – in energy consumption, in CO2 emissions, in food consumption, in water use – will all come from the developing world. It isn’t about building mansions or driving SUVs. It is growth that reflects the aspirations of billions of people around the world to rise to a level of comfort that nearly everyone in the more developed world – even those we consider poor – enjoy.

future that doesn’t allow billions to rise out of poverty and to at least this modicum of comfort is not a very appealing one. Socialism without this initial growth phase is a world we’re not very likely to enjoy.

The problem isn’t growth, per se. Nor is the problem that our natural resources are too small. While finite, the natural resources the planet supplies are vast and far larger than humanity needs in order to continue to thrive and grow prosperity for centuries to come. The problem, rather, is the type of economic system we have which determines the manner and efficiency with which we use these resources. We could raise food yields faster than demand, and still shrink the amount of land we use to farm to be returned to wilderness, to a managed forest, or some other use.  

With socialism, we innovate better and tap more efficiently and cleanly into an enormous supply of fundamental natural resources the planet provides. Is the world fated to be a dystopian future, where billions of people live in poverty on a wrecked, overcrowded planet? Or an even worse world where climate change has wrecked the planet, crashing human populations to the point of extinction? Or is the future going to be a better place than today, one where all of our problems have been solved, and people live in peace and prosperity?

We can expect a re-direction of the productive forces to be a relatively swift one. From swords to plough-shares and a host of other wasteful commerce ending and the resources being re-diverted. However, we acknowledge things cannot change overnight, particularly if we need to bring CO2 emissions and resource depletion issues into the equation. It may well be a "generational" rate of change to bring equilibration between regions. Bear in mind that - as measured in exclusively quantitative, consumption terms (eg calories intake, range of different shampoos available in your local store, etc) - workers in the rich regions will presumably experience a decrease albeit offset by the massive quality of life improvements, in terms of qualitative aspects such as stress, alienation, work/life balance, nutrition etc. While people in the majority of underdeveloped regions will experience massive qualitative and quantitative improvements in life expectancy/health, education, etc. Even with no net increase in global production, some commentators would hold that just the conversion from production for profit to that of use would almost immediately and relatively effortlessly make a massive difference to workers in all regions, as production is diverted away from the socially useless and towards the socially useful.

We have before us two scenarios. The first is a pessimistic view that capitalism will destroy the world. The other is a more optimistic one, where people will make the decisions and plan and allocate the wealth of the world. Ideas transform relatively quickly but it is a process not a single event.


Anonymous said...

Just for your information, this sentence appears twice in this article:

"This, however, does not mean advocating zero-growth worldwide, because that would deny development to a majority of the world’s population in urgent need of material advancement."

ajohnstone said...

Your eagle eye is very much appreciated. When I copy and paste from other posts, I sometimes do not notice repetition.

I deleted the second reference as redundant.

Again many thanks