Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Consumerism, Corporate State, Disaster Capitalism, Eco-Apocalypse, Economic Growth, Environmental Collapse, Extinction of Man, Green Capitalism: the God that Failed, Gross Inequality, Inverted Totalitarianism, Kyle Prindiville, Leon Kuhn, Richard Smith, Slavoj Žižek, The Delusion of Green Capitalism
Two important papers on capitalism by Richard Smith were published in the last few years explaining how capitalism, due to its structural mechanisms, cannot be reformed in any way to make it “sustainable”. In Smith’s papers, Green Capitalism: the God that Failed and Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism, four primary dictates of capitalism illustrate that no matter how herculean the effort to “green the economy”, whether through energy or other areas, the end result of inexorable environmental destruction as well as incredible social inequality are inevitable.
1.) “Grow or die” is a law of survival in the marketplace:
In capitalism most producers… have no choice but to live by the capitalist maxim “grow or die.” First, as Adam Smith noted, the ever-increasing division of labor raises productivity and output, compelling producers to find more markets for this growing output. Secondly, competition compels producers to seek to expand their market share, to better defend their position against competitors. Bigger is safer because, ceteris paribus, bigger producers can take advantage of economies of scale and can use their greater resources to invest in technological development, so can more effectively dominate markets. Marginal competitors tend to be crushed or bought out by larger firms. Thirdly, the modern corporate form of ownership, which separates ownership from operation, adds further irresistible and unrelenting pressures to grow from owner-shareholders. And shareholders are not looking for “stasis”; they are looking to maximize portfolio gains, so they drive their CEOs forward.
“…relentless and irresistible pressures for growth are functions of the day-to-day requirements of capitalist reproduction in a competitive market, incumbent upon all but a few businesses, and that such pressures would prevail in any conceivable capitalism. Further, I contend that, given capitalism, the first result of any serious reduction in economic output (GDP) to get production back down to some reasonably sustainable level, would be to provoke mass unemployment. So here again, there will never be mass public support for de-growth unless it’s coupled with explicit guarantees of employment for redundant workers, which are unacceptable to capital and would require a socialist economy…”
2.) Maximizing profit and saving the environment are inherently in conflict:
“…Corporations can embrace pro-environmental policies but only so long as these boost profits. Saving the world, however, would require that profit-making be systematically subordinated to ecological concerns…”
“Most of the economy is comprised of large corporations owned by investor-shareholders. And shareholders, even those who are environmentally-minded professors investing via their TIAA-CREF accounts, are constantly seeking to maximize returns on investment. So they sensibly look to invest where they can make the highest return. This means that corporate CEOs do not have the freedom to choose to produce as much or little as they like, to make the same profits this year as last year. Instead, they face relentless pressure to maximize profits, to make more profits this year than last year (or even last quarter), therefore to maximize sales, therefore to grow quantitatively…
In the real world, therefore, few corporations can resist the relentless pressure to “grow sales,” “grow the company,” “expand market share”– to grow quantitatively. The corporation that fails to outdo its past performance risks falling share value, stockholder flight, or worse… And if economic pressures weren’t sufficient to shape CEO behavior, CEOs are, moreover, legally obligated to maximize profits — and nothing else…”
3.) Consumerism and overconsumption are built into capitalism:
“…consumerism and overconsumption are not “dispensable” and cannot be exorcised because they’re not just “cultural” or “habitual.” They are built into capitalism and indispensable for the day-to-day reproduction of corporate producers in a competitive market system in which capitalists, workers, consumers and governments alike are all locked into an endless cycle of perpetually increasing consumption to maintain profits, jobs, and tax revenues. We can’t shop our way to sustainability because the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. The global ecological crisis we face cannot be solved by even the largest individual companies. Problems like global warming, deforestation, overfishing, species extinction, the changing ocean chemistry are even beyond the scope of nation states. They require national and international cooperation and global economic planning. This requires collective bottom-up democratic control over the entire world economy. And since a global economic democracy could only thrive in the context of a rough economic equality, this presupposes a global redistribution of wealth as well.”
4.) The masses are dependent on the market:
“Capitalism is a mode of production in which specialized producers (corporations, companies, manufacturers, individual producers) produce some commodity for market but do not possess their own means of subsistence. So in a capitalisteconomy, everyone is first and foremost, dependent upon the market, compelled to sell in order to buy, to buy in order to sell, to re-enter production and carry on.”
To illustrate a case study in how impossible it is for even an “environmentally conscious” corporation to be sustainable, Smith discusses Ray Anderson and his company Interface, Inc.
Saint Ray Anderson and the limits of the possible:
“…CEO Ray Anderson has probably pushed the limits of industrial environmentalism as far as it’s humanly possible to go in an actual factory operating within the framework of capitalism. Ray Anderson is everybody’s favorite eco-capitalist and he and his company Interface Inc. have been applauded by virtually every eco-futurist book written since the 1990s as the eco-capitalist example to emulate. But what Ray Anderson’s case really shows us is the limits of the possible, especially under capitalism. For after almost two decades of sustained effort, the goal of “zero pollutants” is still as unreachable as ever at Interface Inc. It is not in the least to diminish Ray Anderson’s sincerity, his passionate dedication, his efforts or his impressive achievements. But the fact is, according to The Interface Sustainability Report of 2009, Interface has “cut waste sent to landfills by more than half while continuing to increase production,” “reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30%,” “reduced energy intensity by 45%,” while “over 25% of raw materials used in interface carpet are recycled and biobased materials in 2007,” and non-sustainable materials consumed per unit of product have declined from 10.2 lbs/yd2 in 1996 to 8.6 lb/yd2 in 2008. Read that last sentence again. Make no mistake: These are impressive, even heroic industrial-environmental achievements. But if after more than fifteen years of sustained effort, the most environmentally dedicated large company in the United States, if not the entire world, can only manage to cut non-sustainable inputs from 10.2 to 8.6 pounds per square yard of finished product, to inject a mere 25% recycled and biobased feedstock into its production process, so still requiring 75% of new, mostly petroleum-based nonsustainable feedstock in every unit of production, then the inescapable conclusion must be that even the greenest businesses are also on course to “destroy the world.” So if the reality is that, when all is said and done, there is “only so much you can do” in most industries, then the only way to bend the economy in an ecological direction is to sharply limit production, especially of toxic products, which means completely redesigning production and consumption – all of which is certainly doable, but impossible under capitalism.”
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Tim Elmer said:
Are you saying that Capitalism is defined by me acting in my own best interest? Isn’t that what humans do?
We don’t – at least in America – live in a Capitalist Society.
It is a USURIOUS Society. Usury which is used used to artificially expand the growth of a Society and in-debt future generations!~
Do away with Property and income taxes FIRST! Those are weapons of SLAVERY!
I agree with you in many respects – but you are being misled and are barking up the wrong Tree!
Capitalism is what we have (“really existing capitalism” as Chomsky calls it) and what it always degenerates into if left to run its course = a concentration of wealth controlling government and politics as well as media and social discourse.
Kevin Moore said:
Capitalism commenced as writing numbers on pieces of paper and pretending the pieces of paper had value. Charging interest on numbers written on pieces of paper was quite a coup as far as money goes.
Capitalism ‘progressed’ to stealing resources from the commons and enslaving populations to covert those stolen resources into stuff that could be sold for a profit. Commensurate with that came the mass polluting of the global environment.
One of its greatest triumphs was to con the general population of slaves into thinking they were free and had choices while they transferred the bulk of the wealth to the top 1%.
Now writing on pieces of paper has been replaced by creating digits in computer systems out of nothing, stealing resources from distant nations and billions of uninformed slaves who are completely clueless about their own state or anything that actually matters.
Loot + pollute + enslave + misinform (mind control) = modern capitalism,
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And the most tragic thing of all is that a majority of the brainwashed population appears ready to fight to the death to defend such a system or a variation thereof.
This particular post shows just how ingrained an ideology can become, to the point that it locks the human species into a global suicide pact.
Kevin Moore said:
[video] Yes, industrial civilisation is wrecking the planet. However, anyone who talks about ‘90% reduction in emissions by 2050’ and ‘building infrastructure’ (sewage works etc.) in the undeveloped world just doesn’t get it.
Unfortunately, industrial civilisation has already messed up the geophysical and geochemical systems that made the development of industrial civilisation possible. Once positive feedbacks have been triggered it’s just a matter of time before they bring the system down. And all the evidence indicates we have triggered positive feedbacks.
Industrial civilisation has probably already messed up the geophysical and geochemical systems that make life as we know it possible. 99.9% of the populace are oblivious to it all, it seems.
The Independent article (below) might help get the message out. Too late, of course. The big cuts in emissions and de-consumerisation of society needed to have been commenced in the 1970s, when all the issues were clearly identified.
Nevertheless, keep up the good work Mike. We need sanctuaries of sanity in this world gone mad.
I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five/’. Page 117:
“How -how does the Universe end?”
“We blow it up experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers. A Tralmafadorian test pilot presses a start button and the whole Universe disappears.” So it goes.
“If you know this,” said Billy, isn’t there some way you can prevent it? Can’t you keep the test pilot from pressing the button?”
“He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him, and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.”
What connects this weekend’s glorious summer weather with the record heatwave in Death Valley California, the devastating floods this spring in Germany, the miserably cold March in Britain, unusually warm temperatures in Alaska this winter and many other examples of extreme weather around the world?
The answer according to some scientists is a high-altitude ribbon of fast-moving air in the northern hemisphere called the jet stream which appears to have changed from travelling in a relatively straight direction from west to east to a path that meanders widely between north and south.
A growing body of evidence suggests that something has happened to the jet stream, a river of wind which circumnavigates the globe at an altitude of between 5 and 7 miles and at speeds of up to 200 mph. Over the past few years scientists have noticed that it increasingly becomes “locked” in one position, sometimes for weeks at a time, bringing extreme heat or cold as well as droughts or floods.
This spring was a prime example. Instead of following its usual path to the north of Scotland, the jet stream shifted south for several weeks, bringing the coldest March in 100 years to Britain, as well as devastating rainfall and floods to central Europe and record high temperatures to Finland and western Russia.
Over the past week or so it has shifted north again, flipping to its more usual position over the top of Scotland, allowing a mass of warm air and sunshine to move over most of the British Isles from the Azores further south – bringing joy to Wimbledon’s centre court.
“The key question is what is causing the jet stream to shift in this way?” asked Professor Stephen Belcher, head of the Met Office Hadley Centre last month when he helped to organise a workshop of 26 experts to discuss the recent run of unusual seasons in Europe.
One possible answer lies in what is happening in the Arctic, which has seen temperature increases some two or three times higher than elsewhere in the world, and leading to dramatic and unprecedented loss of sea ice and melting of the massive Greenland ice sheet.
Scientists know that the jet stream is driven by temperature differences between the Arctic and latitudes further south. The smaller this temperature difference, the weaker the jet stream, and the weaker the jet stream the more likely it is to meander as travels around the northern hemisphere, said Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“Certainly it all fits together. We are seeing big fluctuations in the path of the jet stream and where it gets into a meandering the north-south waves tend to stand still in one place, bringing extreme weather because whatever weather you are getting tends to hang around for a long time,” Dr Francis said.
“We see the west to east winds of the jet stream that are weaker and these winds are driven by the temperature differences between higher latitudes to the north and lower latitudes to the south. We know these temperature differences are becoming less marked,” she said.
“The evidence is piling up and at some time the circumstantial evidence will pile up enough to prove the case. The problem is that we don’t yet have enough long-term data from the real world to verify the connection, but the climate models seem to be telling the same story,” she added.
It is not just over Europe where the jet stream is playing up. It has meandered widely this summer over North America, producing a sharp trough of low pressure over central United States and equally sharp ridges of high pressure over the western and eastern states.
The jet stream usually acts as a barrier between the cold mass of air to the north and warm air to the south, which means that the meandering path of the stream is bring colder than usual temperatures to places such as Waco in Texas which saw the coldest July temperature on record, and higher temperatures to places such as Death Valley, which recorded a head-splitting 54C.
What seems to be a feature of a meandering jet stream is that the wider it wanders, the more likely it is to become locked in one position for days or weeks on end. Whatever extremes it brings, they are likely to remain in place for longer than usual.
Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has produced mathematical evidence to support the idea that the jet stream is becoming locked in global “planetary waves” where the high-altitude wind meanders widely from its usual west-east path and becomes locked for long periods in one position.
He and his colleague Vladimir Petoukhov have shown that Arctic warming could be behind many climate extremes seen over the past few years, including the Moscow heatwave of 2010 and the Indus river flood in Pakistan of the same year, as well as the heatwave in the US in 2011.
“These so-called planetary waves are well known and a normal part of atmospheric flow. However, during several recent weather events these planetary waves almost froze in the tracks for weeks,” Dr Rahmstorf said.
“So instead of bringing cool air after having brought warm air before, the heat just stays, and stays and stays. Two or three days of 30C are no problem, but 20 or more days lead to extreme heat stress,” he said.
Meanwhile, the outlook in Britain is for the current sunny weather to last at least for another week – and possibly longer.
Anyone who talks about ‘90% reduction in emissions by 2050’ and ‘building infrastructure’ (sewage works etc.) in the undeveloped world just doesn’t get it.
Unfortunately, industrial civilisation has already messed up the geophysical and geochemical systems that made the development of industrial civilisation possible. And we have probably already messed up the geophysical and geochemical systems that make life as we know it possible.
Oh he gets it alright. And there are alternative ways to live that would not consign mankind to extinction. The video talks about the alternatives even though “too-late-for-anything” may be the reality.
Our relatively new and greatly enhanced technological ability combined with a dominating limbic brain results in ecosystem metastatic cancer. Imagine a cancer that can eat from the normal flow of glucose energy and also convert stored lipids into glucose energy. The increased energy flow results in unprecedented neoplastic complexity; the cancer can create tools to eat everything, even things which would have had a negative EROEI, with the help of supplemental energy from a massive lipid storehouse.
I left this comment at Economic Undertow and as usual there was little response:
We’re already in a profound dopamine stupor, although alcohol could enhance the effect. All you need to do is believe in the progress of humanity and technology, the eternal salvation of God, that you’re going to win the lottery and move to Hawaii, Vegas or Orlando Disney World and live in eternal bliss. It’s similar to a dopamine drip line, a natural morphine intravenous of belief that obscures the less rewarding reality of your existence. That humans are going to turn things around is another belief that assuages the fact that our families have to spend the next hundred years walking through a minefield from which many will not emerge, and for those that do make it, there awaits a planet wasted by the human cancer of civilization. And we are completely unable to avoid this perilous journey because our brains quickly substitute a “feel good” fantasy whenever we venture too far into the darkness of our reality. We will walk into the darkness surrounded by pink unicorns, omnipotent Gods, visions of unspoiled paradises, the overflowing font of fusion and so on. In truth, as the cancer grows and the biological toxins permeate the tissues of life, the cachexic wasting of the ecosystem will commence and become unstoppable.
Can’t get your 5% return by clear cutting a forest or pumping some more CO2 into the air, well why not leverage up and help inflate the next bubble, a few percentage points move and you’re the big winner. Sell the dopamine dream to the average delusional investor and then bail out with the cash before it pops. Your success will determine whether you get a map for traversing the minefield or a walk across a fantastical field of dopamine dreams. KABOOM!
Our society is “advanced” like an advanced metastasized cancer. No one wants to know the ecosystem has terminal cancer and we’re it. There is not enough conscious control of the limbic brain to retard the metastatic growth. The purpose of human life is not reproduction and “survival”, that’s too prefrontal cortex. The purpose of life is to gain as much dopamine stimulation as possible in the limbic brain, the “pursuit of happiness”, and survival will naturally follow. We will mindlessly stimulate ourselves to death while warnings are summarily dismissed by the limbic core that has historically insured our well-being. Don’t look to the “elites” to find a solution; they are just as much under the thrall of their limbic impulses as society’s lowest common denominators.
I like the idea of society being in a “profound dopamine stupor” looking for the next materialistic fix or “feel good fantasy” conjured up by capitalism.
According to Ed Vulliamy, the Mexican Drug war and the city of Ciudad Juarez are the future of the world.
“Mexico’s drug cartels are actually pioneers of the global economy in their business logic and modus operandi.
…this is not just a war between narco-cartels. Juarez has imploded into a state of criminal anarchy – the cartels, acting like any corporation, have outsourced violence to gangs affiliated or unaffiliated with them, who compete for tenders with corrupt police officers. The army plays its own mercurial role. “Cartel war” does not explain the story my friend, and Juarez journalist, Sandra Rodriguez told me over dinner last month: about two children who killed their parents “because”, they explained to her, “they could”. The culture of impunity, she said, “goes from boys like that right to the top – the whole city is a criminal enterprise”.
Not by coincidence, Juarez is also a model for the capitalist economy. Recruits for the drug war come from the vast, sprawling maquiladora – bonded assembly plants where, for rock-bottom wages, workers make the goods that fill America’s supermarket shelves or become America’s automobiles, imported duty-free. Now, the corporations can do it cheaper in Asia, casually shedding their Mexican workers, and Juarez has become a teeming recruitment pool for the cartels and killers. It is a city that follows religiously the philosophy of a free market.
“It’s a city based on markets and on trash,” says Julián Cardona, a photographer who has chronicled the implosion. “Killing and drug addiction are activities in the economy, and the economy is based on what happens when you treat people like trash.” Very much, then, a war for the 21st century. Cardona told me how many times he had been asked for his view on the Javier Sicilia peace march: “I replied: ‘How can you march against the market?'”
Mexico’s war does not only belong to the postpolitical, postmoral world. It belongs to the world of belligerent hyper-materialism, in which the only ideology left – which the leaders of “legitimate” politics, business and banking preach by example – is greed. A very brave man called Mario Trevino lives in the city of Reynosa, which is in the grip of the Gulf cartel. He said of the killers and cartels: “They are revolting people who do what they do because they cannot be seen to wear the same label T-shirt as they wore last year, they must wear another brand, and more expensive.” It can’t be that banal, I objected, but he pleaded with me not to underestimate these considerations. The thing that really makes Mexico’s war a different war, and of our time, is that it is about, in the end, nothing.
It certainly belongs to the cacophony of the era of digital communication. The killers post their atrocities on YouTube with relish, commanding a vast viewing public; they are busy across thickets of internet hot-sites and the narco-blogosphere. Journalists find it hard that while even people as crazy as Osama bin Laden will talk to the media – they feel they have a message to get across – the narco-cartels have no interest in talking at all. They control the message, they are democratic the postmodern way.
People often ask: why the savagery of Mexico’s war? It is infamous for such inventive perversions as sewing one victim’s flayed face to a soccer ball or hanging decapitated corpses from bridges by the ankles; and innovative torture, such as dipping people into vats of acid so that their limbs evaporate while doctors keep the victim conscious.
I answer tentatively that I think there is a correlation between thecauselessness of Mexico’s war and the savagery. The cruelty is in and of the nihilism, the greed for violence reflects the greed for brands, and becomes a brand in itself.
People also ask: what can be done? There is endless debate over military tactics, US aid to Mexico, the war on drugs, and whether narcotics should be decriminalised. I answer: these are largely of tangential importance; what can the authorities do? Simple: Go After the Money. But they won’t.
Narco-cartels are not pastiches of global corporations, nor are they errant bastards of the global economy – they are pioneers of it. They point, in their business logic and modus operandi, to how the legal economy will arrange itself next. The Mexican cartels epitomised the North American free trade agreement long before it was dreamed up, and they thrive upon it.
Mexico’s carnage is that of the age of effective global government by multinational banks – banks that, according to Antonio Maria Costa, the former head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, have been for years kept afloat by laundering drug and criminal profits. Cartel bosses and street gangbangers cannot go around in trucks full of cash. They have to bank it – and politicians could throttle this river of money, as they have with actions against terrorist funding. But they choose not to, for obvious reasons: the good burgers of capitalism and their political quislings depend on this money, while bleating about the evils of drugs cooked in the ghetto and snorted up the noses of the rich.
So Mexico’s war is how the future will look, because it belongs not in the 19th century with wars of empire, or the 20th with wars of ideology, race and religion – but utterly in a present to which the global economy is committed, and to a zeitgeist of frenzied materialism we adamantly refuse to temper: it is the inevitable war of capitalism gone mad. Twelve years ago Cardona and the writer Charles Bowden curated a book called Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future. They could not have known how prescient their title was. In a recent book, Murder City, Bowden puts it another way: “Juarez is not a breakdown of the social order. Juarez is the new order.“
We’re all digging our own graves and it feels good. It will end when we’re six feet down. That’s when we’ll be exhausted, there’s no way out and Mother Nature will fill in the holes.
Those cartel members sell pure dopamine and feel no need to embellish their products with Madison Ave. juju or technological adjuvents. The fear they proffer is gratuitous and perhaps pleasureful to their misshapen minds. Their capitalism is brutal and direct, something that can be admired by those capitalists whose products are less potent but still designed to be addictive.
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