It Has a Name

Around the world today, a single economic model or system has effectively eclipsed every other. This model is based upon use of capital, in any of several forms, to create more capital, in the form of profit. The model has a mantra, productivity and efficiency, whereby more and more profit is to be made, preferably with fewer and fewer hours of labor input. According to the model, anything that interferes with productivity or efficiency is an “externality” and may be ignored, no matter how harmful such an externality may be. The model depends on exploitation of the “natural resources” of the planet. These natural resources comprise any and all of the substances or entities of the earth, all of which are limited in quantity, and not replaceable. The economic system devised around these concepts does not incur any penalty or cost for depletion of those substances. Rather, in various ways, those who exploit this system or model for personal gain are often explicitly rewarded for using up or making otherwise unavailable, rather than husbanding, these resources. That such a system is not sustainable should be obvious to all, yet to the contrary, apologists for this system aver that it is the only workable way of conducting human affairs. True to the laws of thermodynamics, as the resources are used up, never to be available again, the waste products of this exploitation are discharged as pollutants that degrade the environment to such an extent that the stability of climate has been irreversibly altered, with yet unknown consequences.

As it happens, humankind, and the rest of the planet along with it, has simultaneously arrived at three separate but intimately related events of unprecedented scope. Looked at soberly, the very survival of Homo sapiens lies in the balance. First, even though world population is increasing, and demand for “resources,” especially fossil fuels, is increasing as well, the absolute supply of the “resources” has reached a point where the rate of extraction and exploitation cannot be further increased, and has in fact reached a point of inevitable decline. As Richard Heinberg says: “Peak Everything.” Simultaneously, the ecological results of this resource exploitation have arrived at a point where global climate is altering in major ways, with potentially disastrous results for the continued welfare of residents of the planet. More insidious is the decision by capitalism to deliberately alter the biological constitution of the planet. The sphere of life, the precious, oh so thin planetary skin on which all life depends for survival is being deliberately altered with consequences we cannot possibly foresee.

The effects of these activities are simply appalling. With what authority do humans so blithely and with no regard for anything but a delirious sense of privilege, the sense that we are somehow ordained by a higher power, do what we do?

The intersection of these three phenomena cannot be ignored. In truth, it is not an intersection, as the three phenomena are really different aspects of the same thing, viz. the ascendancy of an economic model dependent on exploitation and unlimited growth. For example, there are many instances of both peaking of resource availability and virtually irreversible climate change, and their interlocking nature. Most well known are the Peak Oil phenomenon and imminent global warming. A million examples could be given of how these two interact, but how about this as an example? As we pass the Peak Oil mark , both producers and consumers of energy vehicles cast about for a way to continue expending energy at an eternally accelerating rate. One obvious possibility is coal. So let’s assume coal use rises dramatically . Even though for the time being coal is “plentiful,” it is much dirtier than petroleum, and large increases in burning of coal will, among other things, virtually none of them pleasant, accelerate the production of waste gases that are right now bringing about an increase in the mean temperature of Earth’s atmosphere. That’s right. Peak Oil will most likely result in an increase of so-called greenhouse gases, even as the total rate of burning of petroleum based fuels declines. There is a fourth phenomenon, sort of a corollary of the first three, that as we slide toward this global Armageddon, life becomes ever more insecure, and ever more unpleasant. No one knows what will happen in the coming years, but the possibilities are certainly present for resource wars (we have actually already had at least two), massive displacement of people, especially in coastal areas, disease, and starvation, to say nothing of general world financial collapse. Who knows? Perhaps world financial collapse is closer than we think.

The ascendant system or model has several frustrating and unfortunate side effects. It tends inexorably to create monopolies or oligopolies. It also creates an ever-expanding difference of income and assets of the wealthy over the less “successful.” Agents of this model arguably produce the most concentrated wealth in the world, principally accruing to themselves. Apologists for the system argue that it produces the most good for the most people, but evidence is to the contrary.

So this model or system depletes those irreplaceable assets essential for its own ability to continue to function and for the ability of the inhabitants of the planet to obtain those basics: food and shelter. The system degrades the environment of the planet irreversibly with what must perforce be disastrous results with inevitable substantial loss of life and habitat. The system concentrates what benefits it does produce in the hands of a few, and impoverishes the many.

Yet this system is touted as the best possible. For the good of the planet and for the good of mankind, this system must be altered or abolished to reclaim the only world we have, and to make it livable for the foreseeable future.

The system or model that is producing this situation has a name. The name is fraught with heavy baggage of both good and ill will stemming from historical factors, mostly emanating from the struggles between this model and competing models in the past. This makes it difficult to discuss that model dispassionately, or even to employ its name without engendering conflict and ideological positioning. Yet the system must categorically be altered to save what will be left of civilization and avoid the worst chaos and suffering. True, much of what we presently term civilization is not really worth saving, but one might venture a guess that at least some of it is, and it is certainly worthwhile to minimize suffering of all kinds.

The name of this economic system or model is capitalism. It has several handmaidens, including neo-colonialism, economic imperialism, and yes, slavery in several forms, including enslavement of children. It must be removed and replaced with a system that will work without destroying the very things on which that new system depends for its existence. We must put aside our ideological, quasi-religious faith in capitalism and look at the situation without denial or anger, but with an abiding sense that “Another World is Possible.” If you, dear reader, are one of the ideologues or high priests of latter day finance capitalism, I ask you to suspend your disbelief, at least for the moment, and if after reading my thoughts you remain unconvinced, by all means go back to contempt and vituperation. But “Another World is Possible.”

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>