Marx was fond of quoting the 17th-century writer William Petty’s remark that labour is the father and nature the mother of wealth. Marx’s materialist conception of history makes the way humans are organised to meet their material needs the basis of any society.
Humans meet their material needs by transforming parts of the rest of nature into things that are useful to them; this in fact is what production is. So the basis of any society is its mode of production which, again, is the same thing as its relationship to the rest of nature.
Humans survive by interfering in the rest of nature to change it for their own benefit. That humans have to interfere in nature is a fact of human existence. How humans interfere in nature, on the other hand, depends on the kind of society they live in.
Humans are both a part and a product of nature and humans have a unique significance in nature since they are the only life-form capable of reflective thought and so of conscious intervention to change the environment. It is absurd to regard human intervention in nature as some outside disturbing force since humans are precisely that part of nature that has evolved that consciously intervenes in the rest of nature; it is our nature to do so.
True, that at the present time, the form human intervention in the rest of nature takes is upsetting natural balances and cycles, but the point is that humans, unlike other life-forms, are capable of changing their behaviour.
In this sense the human species is the brain and voice of nature i.e. nature become self-conscious. But to fulfil this role humans must change the social system which mediates their intervention in nature. A change from capitalism to a community where each contributes to the whole to the best of his or her ability and takes from the common fund to produce what he or she needs.
Competitive pressures to minimise costs and maximise sales, profit-seeking and blind economic growth, with all their destructive effects on the rest of nature, are built-in to capitalism. These make capitalism inherently environmentally unfriendly. Attempts to “green” capitalism, to make it “ecological”, are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth. The only framework within which humans can regulate their relationship with the rest of nature in an ecologically acceptable way has to be a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, freed from the tyranny of the economic laws that operate wherever there is production for sale on a market.
Humans are capable of integrating themselves into a stable ecosystem and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this from being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, all the more so, that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and whatever) but, for the capitalists, these are a “cost” which penalises them.
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