Capitalism and the Environment

Early humans were subject to the blind forces of nature, bound by laws and processes they could not possibly hope to comprehend, but now the situation as been turn on its head. Human interaction is the main driver of environmental change on Earth, biodiversity, long term climate trends, the destruction or preservation of various ecosystems across the planet, all of these are decided by human will. Nature is now subject to the whims of the world market; a decision made by a board of directors of a single company can negate thousands of years of natural processes and create completely different conditions. Evolution itself is increasingly subject to human determination. Yet humankind has not wielded this power in an organized way nor has it dealt responsibly with nature. Quite the opposite. The planet has been raped and pillaged, pushed to the very limit of what it can endure and beyond. Earth is dying; environmental catastrophe looms and the horizon and humanity is hurtling toward the edge of the cliff. It boggles the mind, the sheer insanity of it all. Yet that confusion is only temporary as, when stepping back to look at the world and applying the powerful analytical tools provided by Marxism, one sees that there is a material basis for the mad dash toward destruction- the dead hand of the capitalist world market, which reaches across the globe, grasping eagerly at any chance to make a few more dollars, and strangling the natural world in its relentless quest for profit. The question at issue is simply whether the socialist revolution will triumph or whether humanity will drive itself, and many other species, extinct. This must be clearly recognized on the plain of theory and brought into practice by a militant struggle against the forces of capitalism and an end to the crushing domination of the world market. When red flag flies over every capital society on earth, humanity can proceed to plan the world economy in a democratic fashion, the harmony can be established between human existence and the rest of the natural word.

Of course, many people would be disinclined to put the question in such stark terms. The argument that capitalism can ever become environmentally friendly, or operate along sustainable lines, can only be based on the critical assumption that it green technologies and long-term sustainability can be made profitable in the short term for various elements of the capitalist class. If this were true, then the question would become whether either a green capitalism or a socialist revolution will triumph quickly enough to prevent annihilation. From this perspective all that is required to protect the environment is to wait for technology to advance and for true economic and political power to shift away from established fossil rule interests and methane producing agribusinesses toward greener sectors of the economy and to leverage every instance where it is profitable beneficial for corporations to adopt environmentally friendly practices, such as the changing pesticides regularly to prevent insects from evolving resistance to the chemicals used.  Yet it is inevitably more profitable in the short-term to disregard environmental concerns and pollute away. Even if a green technologies and practices were to become standard, the potential would always be there to utilize other practices to maximize profit even while paying token respect to environmental concerns, as the Volkswagen scandal demonstrated. It is absurd to believe that corporations incentivized by the profit motive to lie, cheat, and steal will ever pay more than token respect to environmental practices or that polluting more than the competition and externalizing environmental cost will ever cease to be profitable. Furthermore, the argument that green practices will necessarily be implemented from a profitability standpoint is generally heavily reliant on heavy government intervention to promote green technology and enforce regulations, something that is highly unlikely since governmental power is based precisely on the corporations it is supposedly regulating. Yet, even if this argument where to be accepted in its entirety it would consist of irresponsible gambling with the future of humanity in hopes of preserving an oppressive and exploitive economic system. After all, the basis of capitalism is the search for profit and corporations will do whatever is necessary to maximize profitability- even if that involves shooting football stadiums worth of people and training rape dogs to torture political dissidents, as Pinochet was bloodthirsty enough to demonstrate.

Capitalism, from an environmental perspective, can be viewed as a collection of trees in a forest with each tree representing an individual corporation. There will be a certain height that each tree should grow to in order to maximize the health of the forest. Yet the growth of the trees is uncoordinated and evolution will tend to select for those trees which grow the highest (assuming the absence of mitigating factors). Thus a competition will arise among various lines of trees throughout the generations to grow ever higher at an ever faster rate without regard to the overall well-being of the forest. That is precisely what capitalism is, the world market selects for those corporations which bring in the most profit and those weighed down by other considerations are ultimately selected out. The world market doesn’t care about human life, which it consumes with relentless abandon, or about the health of the world’s forests. Only the golden idol matters; money decides everything.

In order to thrive the forest needs a gardener, an overall plan that takes the general health of the forest into consideration and gives every aspect of its ecosystem due consideration. The world market needs to be called to order, to be planned and structured along democratic lines. Of course this, by definition, means the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist world order. The establishment of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the negation of the current dictatorship of the bourgeois is the key to resolving the environmental crisis. A compressive, democratically decided, world economic plan is necessary for the salvation of the earth and this can only be achieved by the socialist proletariat in a victorious revolution against the capitalist world order. When the soviet power extends across all the continents, when all peoples are united as one, when the Internationale resounds from very street corner, then and only then will the future of planet Earth be secured.

Studying climate change can only generate the most extreme pessimism about the present capitalist word order, where the enormous power technological development has provided is not under control and serves the interests of a single autocratic master- capital. The unplanned chaos and inherent instability of the world market make the dawning of the Anthropocene seem as a disaster, the beginning of the end for human civilization, rather than the beginning of a new era. Only the most delusional religious mystics, saved from the dustbin where scientific advancement ought to have swept them long ago, can possibly believe that the capitalist system of for-profit chaos can responsibly manage the power to destroy the world or to save it. Yet this scientific and technical power is also a factor in producing a revolutionary optimism, which banishes all the tangled absurdities of the present society to the rubbish bin of history while ushering in the new proletarian world order.

The amazing feats made possible by modern technology and the incredible power it places in humanity’s hands can only serve to inspire dreams of what marvels could be achieved if such power was democratically organized and directed towards specific ends. The lifting of mountains, parting of seas, causing of floods, and reshaping the Earth have ceased to be the exclusive providence of fictional deities and have instead become everyday political questions to be decided by a humanity at last come into itself. The dawning of the Anthropocene, in the fullest sense of the term, means the beginning of an era where humankind can realize its full potential and transition from a species-in-itself to a species-for-itself; where economic, cultural, and natural processes can be brought under the conscious and democratic direction of humanity and freedom, in the true Marxian sense, can at last be made manifest. All that is necessary is the triumph of the socialist revolution which will direct  world-shaping power toward socially useful and environmentally sustainable ends.


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