Who could not note and calculate that digging up natural resources, cutting down resources, sucking up the soil’s richness, polluting the waters and the air, creating things, hawking them with hype and hokum, using and exhausting and then dumping them—couldn’t go on forever without the exhaustion of resources and the fouling of every remote hollow wherever with the waste? Only someone so absorbed with creating things from resources for profit, someone using the things created in style and comfort and someone flushing and forgetting the wastes, that’s who. That someone is all of us. And that someone or his heirs are destined to reap the catastrophe of such mindless capitalism and consumerism, sooner or later. And since later is here, then the reaping is now and has been.
Joel Kovel has noted and calculated and written a book with a title that gives a clue as to his conclusion: “The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?” The title says it all. This capitalist nation must cease its frenetic conversion of its resources into consumer goods without concern for the profligate expenditure of its natural capital, without concern for the production of junque with which malls are stuffed and which the puerile push to get, without concern that the system allows—nay provides—that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer—or it will lead inevitably to doom, to the interment of itself in its own waste and to the consignment of whatever posterity it has to a wasteland fit only for mice and cockroaches. Or to the immolation of itself in an Armageddon between the haves and the have-nots of the world.
Stan Cox in an article in “The Populist Progressive” writes: “Redefining Progress reports that in 2000 human consumption and waste production had reached their highest point ever, exceeding by 15% the planet’s biological capacity to produce and absorb.” That is, man in 2000 produced, consumed and discharged waste at a rate that is unsustainable and if continued means death to the Earth. In a competitive world who is going to be first to forego profits to spare the environment?
Kovel, professor of social studies at Bard College, when asked why capitalism is at the core of current ecological crises, he replied, “The basics rules of capitalism are private ownership and competition. In such an economy, a firm must continually expand its market share and/or increase its rate of profit. Otherwise, it will go extinct. In the eco-socialist view, the global capitalist system and all of its parts, from Halliburton to your local sporting-goods store, depend at their core on an unsustainable perpetual-motion machine: economic growth.” One doesn’t have to be an economist to discern that unbridled capitalism is unsustainable and ruinous in the long run and that the long run is here. Yet every politician seeking office promises jobs and more jobs and more growth.
Kovel’s response to those who believe that the answer is ecologically enlightened capitalists is that such capitalists would be as powerless as the more traditional of their breed to control the system’s destructiveness, no matter what incentives they’re given. “Every year,” he points out, “larger quantities of wealth roam the planet in search of profitable investments.” One need only to look at the labels on clothing to ascertain that capital roams the planet in search of cheap labor. And when it finds cheaper labor west or east of where it is, it migrates to more profitable lands to the detriment of the village, town or city it leaves. Profit must create more profit, and profit must use and exploit resources and labor by a corporate entity that has neither conscience nor compassion.
Global warming is a problem if not a crises. But money alone cannot reduce carbon dioxide gases, only values other than money can be effective. In America production of the automobile, road and bridge construction, tourism, shipping of goods, and the suburban-commuter lifestyle is such a money maker and a profit producer that energy-efficient mass transit is to capitalists an unacceptable, if not a horrendous, alternative “because it could never generate as much wealth for the capitalist class as does the automobile.” Profit, not common sense or the common good or ecological sanity, is capitalists’ Holy Grail and Golden Calf.
The chasm between rich and poor, between the wealthy nations and the poor nations, is an obstacle to environmental reform: “Capitalism always produces, poverty, alienation, and unemployment as it produces wealth. And if you don’t regulate the distribution of wealth, you have an increasing chaotic system.” Restraining capitalism requires a stable world order and a stable world order requires an equitable distribution of wealth. But capitalism concentrates wealth into the hands of those who already have it, thus creating a less stable world and more degradation of nature. .
Global capitalism is not the end of history as has been predicted, that is, the final economic way. Eventually, man will realize that capitalism is its own worst enemy because it is the worst enemy of nature and that humankind is as much a part of nature and as wholly dependent upon a healthy biosphere for life and hope as is every other species. Will the realization come in time to avoid disaster? Will people of their own initiative take steps to dismantle the rule of capital before it runs its course and reduces nature to a sick and ruined state?
This administration [George W. Bush] is not only moronic with regard to international relations and war and peace but is clueless with respect to ecology. Thus its foreign policy is a disaster and its environmental policies exhibit gross ignorance and a cynical prostitution of nature to capitalist interests. Nature, the source of all and the mother of everything, bears the burdens and suffers the excesses of capitalism, its nemesis. There will inevitably be days of reckoning.