Look to the Antarctic where global
warming is causing glaciers to move more quickly to the ocean where they break
into icebergs and raise sea levels. The Antarctic has enough ice to raise sea
levels 20 feet worldwide. The current accelerated movement is expected to raise
sea levels by about 2 feet, a “slow motion catastrophe for places like
And look to the
So while the world burns, what do leaders of the capitalist world order do?
The Kyoto Protocol calls for the reduction of six greenhouse gases to 7% below the 1990 level of emissions. The goal is to be achieved by a target date of 2012. The reductions from the Kyoto Protocol are only a fraction (by one estimate, 1/40th) of what is needed to halt global warming. Still, the treaty is praised by corporate media as a first step that provides a framework for making additional reductions in the future.
So while we face one of the gravest crises in human history, members of the ruling class fiddle around with different approaches. Don’t get me wrong. I think that every concrete step toward a sustainable world is good. But they are taking baby steps when what we need is a lot of jogging at a brisk pace.
For me the most interesting
approach is perhaps that of Ford Motor Corporation (an approach also shared by
William Clay Ford Jr. is an environmentalist and one of the more farsighted members of the ruling class. He represents a group of capitalists that know how serious the environmental crisis is and that plan on helping capitalism survive the crisis. (The directors of Swiss Reinsurance, one of the largest insurance companies in the world, are also representative of this group.) The most thoughtful academic proponents of this view are Paul Hawkins, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, in their book Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (published by Little Brown and Company in 1999).
I would argue that there are two problems with this approach. First, while capitalism may survive, a lot of people and entire species will not. Second, this assumes that environmental destruction is an accidental byproduct of capitalism rather than intrinsic to the drive for profits and the periodic crises of overproduction.
While the computer models are not perfectly accurate and many things are still unknown (for instance, will the rate of increase in CO2 stay constant or start to accelerate geometrically? Will the increase in global warming trigger a feedback mechanism that brings about a new ice age?), they clearly indicate that the so-called third world is going to get hit hard. The capitalists may be willing to live with 2 to 3 billion deaths from flooding, droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, and crop failures, but I am not. Many of these deaths will be in the third world; almost all of them will be poor or working class.
Is environmental destruction an accidental byproduct of capitalism? Many mainstream environmentalists would have you think so. Environmental destruction is often depicted as caused by inappropriate technology and moral failings. If only we had better technology, and if only we made moral choices as consumers, we would have a sustainable society. Marxists reject this position and with good reason. The entire history of capitalism shows that the intensification of exploitation, both of labor and the natural world, is intrinsic to the system. Capital is driven by profit, not by human needs. Capitalism must constantly expand; creating artificial needs to overcome its periodic accumulation crises. As an economic system it is insatiable, like a starving vampire continually sucking blood from workers and the natural world.
The kind of environmental destruction we are witnessing on a world scale is caused by capitalism. This environmental destruction will not end until we replace the world capitalist system with a democratic, sustainable socialism.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org