Capitalism, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Corporate State, Corporatocracy, Ecological Overshoot, Economic Collapse, Economic Growth, Environmental Collapse, Financial Elite, Gil Smart, Gross Inequality, Inverted Totalitarianism, Leonardo Boff, Neoliberal Capitalism, Peak Debt, Peak Oil, Peak Water, Poverty, Social Unrest, The Elite 1%
A recurrent theme in the reality based community is the continued assertion that infinite growth cannot happen on a finite planet. This simple statement seems to be quite self-evident to those announcing it, yet the powers that be cannot seem to be able to wrap their head around it. We live in a society awash with advertisements that seek to sell you something at some price. Capitalism commodifies everything and its ethos of mandatorily attaching some arbitrary, imagined worth to all things has permeated every aspect of our lives, our ethics, and our value system. We are a society that projects a cost/price analysis on everything, including relationships with fellow humans. According to ‘Save the Children’ charity chief executive, Justin Forsyth, half a billion children over the next 15 years will suffer long-term mental and physical harm due to stunted growth by malnutrition. Surely if we valued the future life of our grandchildren more than profit, then we would not allow such a thing to happen. If our own children’s future is not valued enough to save them from our greed and shortsightedness, then why would the environment be treated any differently, despite its importance to the survival of every living thing on the planet. The scientist James Lovelock once said that Green is the color of mold and corruption. If we cannot separate the needs of capitalism from the needs of our planet, then every last bit of resources and life-sustaining gift from the earth will be chopped up into tradable, sellable units and thrown into the gaping jaws of the free market. Philosopher Leonardo Boff notes:
The fundamental defect in the UN’s document for Rio+20 is the total absence of a new vision or new cosmology that would create the hope of the «future that we want», the motto of the great gathering. As such, it belies a promising future.
To those who drafted it, the future depends on the economy. There is little value in the adjectives they attach to it: sustainable or green. The green economy in particular constitutes a great assault on the last bastion of nature: transforming into merchandise and putting a price on everything that is common, natural, vital and indispensable to life, such water, the soil, fertility, jungles, genes, etcetera. That which pertains to life is sacred and must not be passed to the sphere of business. Instead, it becomes part of the market place, under the categorical imperative: take all you want, make business with everything, especially with nature and with her goods and services.
This is the supreme egocentrism and arrogance of the human being, or, as it is also called, anthropocentrism. Human beings see the Earth as a warehouse of resources only for them, without realizing that we are not the only ones who inhabit the Earth, nor do we own her; we do not feel that we are part of nature, but outside and above her, as her «lords and masters». We forget, however, that there exists a whole visible community of life (5% of the biosphere) and quadrillions of quadrillions of invisible microorganisms (95%) that guarantee the vitality and fecundity of the Earth. They all belong to the Earth/condominium and have the right to live and coexist with us. Without interdependent relationships with them, we could not even exist. The Rio+20 document does not take any of this into account. We can then safely say that with that document there is no salvation. It opens a path towards the abyss…
This straitjacket of capitalism will not release its grip on civilization until the needs of this ever-consuming, ever-growing, ever-alienating economic system kills its host. Gil Smart gives insight into this dead-end thinking taking us all over the cliff in his short writing called Faith of our fantasies:
…we face a coming era of constrained resources. Fiscal resources; energy; environmental resources. Continual growth, the type we have conditioned to believe as natural and inevitable, is neither.
I read Megan McArdle’s stuff in the Atlantic, where recently she opined about Europe’s changing demographics (i.e. fewer births, more oldsters) and how this makes robust growth more difficult. She got a letter in return from someone questioning the premise – saying that perpetual growth isn’t possible. This was her response:
Whether or not continuous economic growth is possible, or desirable, the fact remains that modern economies are predicated on the assumption that it will happen. Both individuals and governments have planned for a future in which incomes steadily rise, allowing people to enjoy lengthy retirements, advanced health care, independent living, and of course, repayment of the massive debts that almost everyone has accumulated over the past few decades.
If that growth doesn’t materialize, the shock will be enormous. Generational battles over things like pensions have occurred in the context of rising incomes; they will become bitter indeed if young and old are fighting over a shrinking economic pie. The most brutal shock will of course be over debt. If incomes fall, debt will become an ever larger burden. But if countries default, they will merely shift the shock to someone else — too often, to pensioners at home or abroad.
However laudable Europe’s demographic decline may be from an environmental point of view, it will be an economic disaster for many who expected a stable, prosperous future.
Get it? This is the idea on which we’ve staked our future. And if the idea’s wrong?
Well. I guess that means you’re up shite creek, then.
If we plow blindly down this path, infused with the faith that what we want is what will actually happen – we’re doomed. But not charging down this path requires a fundamental restructuring of the way we think – not bloody likely in this society. Or maybe any society.
Well, Mr. Smart, along with a restructuring of our way of thinking will also be required a restructuring of society. And the elite who sit atop our current social hierarchy of capitalism, benefiting the most from its exploitation and theft, will not let go of the power they hold until it’s ripped from their cold, dead hands, whether by an angry mob or the wrath of an abused and ravaged Mother Earth.