Friday, February 23, 2018

Humanity is NOT doomed to destroy the planet.


In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich published "The Population Bomb". In it he predicted "In the 1970s the world will undergo famines - hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death..." The global population stands at 7.6 billion.
That’s double the 3.8 billion when he wrote his book. However, the cause of this starvation was nothing to do with population numbers. Today, the average person is healthier, wealthier and better fed than in 1968. Infant mortality has declined. Life expectancy has increased. History is littered with experts - and not just leaders of fringe cults - who prophesised the end of the world and got it wrong. The original Cassandra of food shortages and famines was Thomas Malthus, the English economist best known for his theory of population in his 1798 "An Essay on the Principle of Population". Ironically, many parts of the worl do have a population problem. But the problem is not the threat of famine due to too many mouths to feed. It’s that women are having too few children to maintain current population levels.

There is a common saying amongst Marxists...that our choice is “Socialism or Barbarism.” Someone recently added the words “...and that's if we are lucky”

A few have trusted that the current socio-economic system can solve those problems and they place their faith in “green sustainable capitalism.” They think the invisible hand of the market is a helping hand. But others are more sceptical and do not see hope. There are scientists such as James Lovelock, Paul Ehrlich and Guy McPherson who present more pessimistic scenarios for our future based on their analyses of what is happening today and predict that we heading towards an apocalyptic catastrophe and the existential environmental destruction of humanity, even to the end of life on our planet. When they present their arguments, it does seem difficult to refute. We cannot deny that as long as capitalism continues and it is business-as-usual, the growth in populations and the depletion of resources and the exhaustion of soil will lead to increased hunger, mounting poverty, recurring conflicts and wars.

What we have to remember is the important fact that they are not socialists and their understanding of an alternative way of running the world is no more informed than any other person's. They may be experts in their specialised fields but like the majority of people they lack the knowledge of social evolution held by Marxist materialists. Like so many others, their view is blinkered by the “what-is” and not the “what-could-be”.

Also, another question to ask is why has certain predictions for the future kept returning?

A very basic question people should ask themselves, “Does population growth explain food shortages?” and many will instinctively answer “Yes”.

It seems common sense that more people in the world must mean more resource use, therefore fewer resources to go around for everyone. It is a logic that has led to some highly unsavoury arguments and policy decisions. By arguing that population growth is the main cause of mass starvation and environmental ruin, we play into the hands of ruling class who wish to blame the victims. One such consequence is that helping the poor not only hurts them but also threatens to drag the well-fed down to their subsistence level. Under this hypothesis, no sharing is permitted, as it will only generalise starvation to the entire population because there is only so much to go around.

The more sophisticated of the Malthusians talk of the carrying capacity of the planet (see below). The number of humans a local or global environment can support depends not on numbers but on the level of economic development and the social relations of that society. Humans can both grow more food and, given the opportunity, consciously self-limit our reproduction based on rational economic and social considerations. The overpopulation argument obscures the more immediate causes of suffering under capitalism. How many people the Earth can support depends primarily on the level of productivity of the existing population and the social relations within which they are embedded. “Carrying-capacity” is as much socially as it is materially determined from the given level of productive development, not some arbitrary measure of what constitutes “too many” people. Poverty and hunger are the products of social relations, not overpopulation.

Overpopulation has been described as a problem for decades and when the world's population was a billion, three billion and now seven-plus billion. Yet the question is rarely asked, why is it that we are capable of producing a food surplus yet we are still are not feeding everyone adequately. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which  stated clearly that:
There is sufficient capacity in the world to produce enough food to feed everyone adequately; nevertheless, in spite of progress made over the last two decades, 805 million people still suffer from chronic hunger.” There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life. By 2030, with population growth continuing to decline and agricultural output predicted to rise, the UN forecasts enough food will be grown worldwide, despite a global estimated population of 8.3 billion, to give everyone 3050 kilocalories per day. In the United States, enough food is produced for everyone to eat eight full plates of food per day—yet almost 40 million Americans struggle to put food on the table and are classified as “food insecure.”

So the issue is something more than the number of mouths we can feed. There must be a fundamental cause other than just mere population numbers. Socialists have held the answer for generations. The need for a rational production and distribution system that would take natural resources, and applying human ingenuity transform the raw materials into useful things and then allocate to people for their well-being. It is a simple enough task. But socialists realise that it requires changing the reason why things are manufactured in the first place and also the methods in how they are manufactured.

Capitalism is committed to the relentless pursuit of capital accumulation and market growth, even if it ravages the planet and threatens human health. Capitalism will destroy the human race. It is absolutely clear that the ruling class will continue to put the drive for profit ahead of everything, even our own future as a species. It is incapable of changing. Even when it recognises the danger it cannot stop doing what it does. If capitalism is not overthrown, humanity is most likely doomed. We need to build a new system, one that will be based on economic sustainability.

But we know that people want convincing. People won't buy a pig-in-a-poke simply because some small obscure socialist group says that the common-sense view of the majority is a false one and that the expert opinion from innumerable and respected sources is the wrong one. We have to prove our case. However, there is ample evidence existing from research and studies to support an optimistic view of peoples and the planet's future – if socialism is established.

But we aren't saying that we sit back for that to happen. We are well aware that communities need to organise and try to mitigate the effects and consequences of the profits system, just as trade unions do. But the Socialist Party leaves this actual resistance to those better qualified and equipped. The Socialist Party rejects the argument that the crises of global warming and climate change is so critical that it stands above politics or that there is no time to build a mass socialist party or that we can’t wait for socialism to replace capitalism. We don't propose waiting for anything — we are campaigning all the time and are trying to drive the struggle forward right now. But the basic point still stands: the capitalist class is leading humanity to absolute disaster and its class position means it cannot and will not do anything else. What is necessary is to organise the forces capable of prising its mad grip from the steering wheel and carrying out a drastic change of course. A truly effective environmental movement needs to connect with the only social force within the capitalist system that can win real change – the working class. Our sole role is to keep pressing for the socialist permanent solution, not a stop-gap temporary one.

The Nuts and Bolts

Our planet does possess limits.   However, the total number of people that can be supported by Earth’s resources cannot be predicted merely by knowing the total amount of matter or surface area on Earth. So indeed those analogies of everybody in the world can stand on the Isle of Wight is irrelevant.  Every time we get into a conversation with someone, and we hear “well, everyone knows the earth is over-populated” we can start by clearing up the misconception by showing it is directly contrary to the facts.

Globally, women today have half as many babies as their mothers did, mostly out of choice. They are doing it for their own good, the good of their families, and, if it helps the planet too, then so much the better. Nothing the Catholic priests say can stop it. Women are doing this because, for the first time in history, they can. Better healthcare and sanitation mean that most babies now live to grow up. It is no longer necessary to have five or six children to ensure the next generation—so they don’t. Lower infant death rates mean families don’t need to have as many children in order to guarantee that some will survive. At the same time improvements in quality of life make it less necessary to have many children working to support their families. Greater access to contraception gives families more control over fertility.

Today the reality is that the world is experiencing falling birth rates and rising life expectancy.

Countries with a fertility rate (FR) below replacement level (2.1 children per woman) now number more than 80 worldwide — and counting. Greece with an FR of 1.34; Italy has an FR of 1.4. The United Kingdom’s overall FR has risen to 1.98 due to Muslim baby-booming, but indigenous Britons’ FR is lower. The same demographic reality is evident in most of Asia, with China (1.7), Japan (1.4), Hong Kong (1.2), Singapore (1.3), and South Korea (1.2) being prime examples. And many developing nations are on the same trajectory, with Uruguay (1.9) and Brazil (1.8), illustrating the point. Then there’s Mexico: While its women bore almost seven children each in the 1960s, the FR rate is declining fast and stands at 2.3 today. Overall, the world’s 1950 to  1955 FR of 4.95 has declined by more than half and now stands at 2.36. Professional demographers tell us this will continue and that perhaps as early as 2050 and no later than 2100, the Earth’s population will begin declining.

The “greying” that has plagued Japan and Europe will envelop the planet. The world population is getting much older: by 2050 the number of people over the age of 65 will triple from 531 million to 1.5 billion. In fact, perhaps the real issue of the world population is not those being born, it is those not dying. There is a growing life expectancy gap where the affluent may expect to live to 120 or more while the poor won't see 60. In most developed countries actual fertility is lower than desired. We should allow immigration from overpopulated countries to keep the ratio of working age to elderly dependents constant. Unfortunately, most immigration policies severely limit the migration of unskilled people.

If better survival rates for babies and longer lives for the elderly contribute to “over-population”, what are the eugenic social engineers like Ehrlich's policy going to be infanticide and euthanasia? Let people die of epidemics and war?

The exception to the drop in population rate trend at the moment appears to be Africa, a continent with a rich potential. Ethiopia is among nine African countries whose rate of population growth is declining. Others are Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda.
Ethiopia has seen a massive cut in its fertility rate, from an average of seven children per woman in the 1990s to 4.6 currently. Experts say reducing poverty rates also leads to a decline in fertility.

"It's not the population growth that is the problem - it's the extreme poverty that is the underlying reason," says Hans Rosling, professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. "If you continue to have extreme poverty areas where women give birth to six children and the population doubles in one generation, then you'll have problems." A case in point is Niger, the country with the highest fertility rate in the world - 7.6. It is also one of the poorest

Hunger is not an inescapable destiny and it can be eliminated. This requires first and foremost the democratic participation by the people. Africa is often said to be overpopulated. But it is quite easy to debunk this myth. The continent is a spacious and rich land-mass that can support its population well into the foreseeable future. 

Africa’s population is currently 1 billion covering a vast landmass of 11,668,599 sq miles. Ethiopia’s landmass is 471,775 sq miles, five times the size of Britain’s 94,226 sq miles. Yet Britain’s population of 62 million is three-quarters that of Ethiopia’s at 83 million. As for Somalia, it is 2.6 times the size of Britain but has a population of only 9 million. Sudan and South Sudan provide an even more fascinating comparison. Whilst both countries are 10 times the size of Britain, they support a population of 45 million – about 70 per cent the size of Britain. In fact the Sudans have a landmass equal to that of India which is populated by 1.22 billion people i.e. more than the population of all of Africa! Britain is one-tenth the size of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has a landmass of 905,562 sq miles. In other words, the DRC is about ten times the size of Britain but with a population of 71 million, just nine million more than the population of the latter. Uganda’s landmass at 91,135 sq miles is comparable to Britain’s, yet with a population of only 33 million. Similarly, Ghana’s landmass of 92,099 sq miles makes it approximately equal to the size of Britain. Ghana is however populated by only 25 million people, far less than one-half Britain’s population. Angola and South Africa are about 4-5 times the size of Britain but with one-fifth and four-fifths respectively of the latter’s population.

On the question of resource, its availability or lack of it, and therefore its ability or inability to support the African population - another component of Africa’s ‘over-population’ fallacy -  well over 50 per cent of Uganda’s arable land, some of the richest in Africa, remains uncultivated. Were Uganda to expand its current food production significantly, not only would it be completely self-sufficient, but it would be able to feed all the countries contiguous to its territory without difficulty. Just about a quarter of the potential arable land of Africa is being cultivated presently. Even here, an increasingly high proportion of the cultivated area is assigned to so-called cash-crops (cocoa, coffee, tea, groundnut, sisal, cut flowers, etc.) for export. As for the remaining 75 per cent of Africa’s uncultivated land, this represents 66 per cent of the entire world’s potential. This vast acreage of rich farmlands with capacity to optimally support the food needs of generations of African peoples indefinitely. In addition, the famous fish industry in Senegal, Angola, C
ôte d’Ivoire and Ghana for instance, Botswana’s rich cattle farms, West Africa’s yam and plantain belts extending from southern Cameroon to the Casamance province of Senegal, the continent’s rich rice production fields, etc. The current economic situation demonstrates that if the acreage devoted to cultivation is expanded and expressly targeted to address Africa’s own internal consumption needs rather than land use directed to the calamitous waste of cash-crop production for export there need be no food shortages. It is an inexcusable tragedy that any African child, woman, or man could go without food in the light of the staggering endowment of resources in Africa. Africa constitutes a spacious, rich and arable landmass that can support its population, which is still one of the world’s least densely populated and distributed, into the indefinite future. 

Despite the ravages of a history of foreign conquest and colonialism and the tyranny of genocidal local regimes, Africa remains one of the world’s most wealthy and potentially one of the world’s wealthiest continents. The world is only too aware of the array of strategic minerals such as cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, industrial diamonds, iron ore, manganese, phosphates, titanium, uranium, and of course petroleum oil found in virtually all regions across the continent.

Africa can utilise its immense resources and along with the rest of the world, abandon the system of nation-states. We require no reminders that the primary existence of these states is to disable resourceful people of power. The state is an instrument of capital interests is providing cheap and disposable labour, land, and legal privileges to land-grabbers. It is clear that the factors which have contributed to determining the very poor quality of life of Africa’s population presently possess is to do with the non-use, partial-use, or the misuse of the continent’s resources year in, year out thanks to foreign capitalists and the native overseers - the national government and its indigenous domestic capitalists.

When we look at the world around us we cannot fail to notice the extent to which nature is being ravaged in the name of short-term economic gain. It is all too clear that the prevailing economic system of capitalist competition is quite incapable of seriously taking into account the long-term considerations of a healthy planet. On a global basis, the alteration in the natural balance is taking place on a massive and unprecedented scale. One of the gravest criticisms that can be leveled against the capitalist system is that the application of the profit motive has been disastrous to the land. Throughout virtually the entire world, the land is not used to produce the crop best adapted to it on a permanent basis but to produce as much cash as possible, as cheaply as possible, and as quickly as possible - the same system exalted by the industrial manufacturer. Almost everywhere, the land is being impoverished; its fertility flushed down the world's rivers or blown away by its winds or simply buried under an expanding carpet of concrete. A socialist world would obviously want to halt and reverse the long-term decline in soil fertility by improving the humus content of the soil. Not only would this make for the more efficient absorption of chemical fertilisers but would help contain further topsoil loss as a result of erosion. Whilst this would involve more labour intensive work which would require a larger agricultural workforce it should be borne in mind that one of the greatest productive advantages of socialism over capitalism is that it would release a tremendous amount of labour for socially productive work.
Based on existing technological capabilities, the 9 to 12 billion humans now forecasted for this century – when human populations are expected to peak- can be sustained using existing resources, the idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history, and most likely the future. We transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves. This is what we do and have always done. Our planet’s human-carrying capacity emerges from the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than from any environmental limits. There is no environmental reason for people to go hungry now or in the future. There is no need to use any more land to sustain humanity — increasing land productivity using existing technologies can boost global supplies and even leave more land for nature — a goal that is both more popular and more possible than ever. The only limits to creating a planet that future generations will be proud of are our imaginations and our social system. Societal collapses due to populations reaching “environmental limits” are not the norm. Existing technologies could sustain current and anticipated human populations while increasingly sparing land for nature. Human well-being and improved stewardship of the biosphere are limited primarily by the type of social system and its technologies, not by population or environment.

The amount of so-called ‘arable land’ on the planet is according to Wikipedia about 14 million km2. If we only use this amount of arable land, we would have about 20 times the land we need to feed all of us on the planet. If we include permanent pastures, which amount to about 33 million km2 and is used for livestock, and grow vegetables there instead, we end up with more than 60-100 times of what we actually need. That is if we only eat veggies. But of course, we don’t need all that land so there would be plenty of room for some grass-fed beef or chicken with happy free-ranging animals that can be managed holistically.

There is no overpopulation on planet earth. Actually, there is plenty of food in the world. We can easily provide in abundance for everyone here, and even double, triple or quadruple that if we really like. All we need to do that is to create a resource based economy, making sure food and resources are created where people need them and empower people to create their own lives wherever they live. To be overpopulated, a nation must have insufficient food, resources, and living space. Indian economist Raj Krishna estimates that India alone is capable of increasing crop yields to the point of providing the entire world’s food supply. Lack of food is not the problem but rather the need for more efficient distribution. Quite frankly overpopulation is a myth. It is a dangerous idea that is demonstrably wrong. In developed countries, it is actually population decline that presents social and economic challenges. In some underdeveloped nations the population is indeed growing extremely rapidly, however, the situation is ameliorated by humanist efforts such as education (particularly for women), access to contraceptives, and general economic and social empowerment of the population. Overpopulation isn't a problem, but even if it was, the solution would be to give people, particularly women, choices about their own destiny.

We should reject anti-humanism of the Deep Greens. The Socialist Party celebrates humankind. The social and economic fabric of a place determines how populations will grow. The future has the possibility to be a place where more people live healthier, longer, and more meaningful lives than ever before. However, leaving half the world behind poor and unable to participate is a disaster for everyone. The idea that growing human numbers will destroy the planet is nonsense. But over-consumption will. As Gandhi said, "The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed but he was not calling for equal shares, elsewhere Gandhi explains, "The elephant needs a thousand times more food than the ant, but that is no indication of inequality. So the real meaning of economic equality was: 'To each according to his need'. That was the definition of Marx.”

Solving World Hunger is not rocket science. We have the tools, and the technology to put an end to hunger. There is enough food to go around. So what needs to change? Discussions of world hunger almost invariably assume that food production is and will continue to be commodity production, whilst simultaneously assuming that food is produced for use. But whatever climate change has to throw at us, there is always a gap between what is possible and what is possible in capitalism. All other things held equal, declining crop yields and loss of arable land can be expected to increase world hunger. But all other things need not be held equal. The social relations through which our natural resources are organised are not themselves laws of nature: they are subject to change. Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive if they do.

Capitalism can't be reformed to subordinate profit to human survival, what alternative is there but to move to a globally coordinated economy? Problems like climate change require the visible hand of conscious planning. Capitalist leaders can't help themselves, have no choice but to systematically make wrong, irrational and ultimately suicidal decisions about the economy and the environment. The fact that ecological problems don't respect national or institutional borders is often used as an excuse for inaction, leading to the chronic breakdown of global climate negotiations. But that interdependence should be an impetus to reinvigorate the workers' movements, a reminder that sustainability will come only through global solidarity. So then, what other choice do we have than to consider a true socialist alternative?   What we need is socialism that points not to the primacy of ecology, but to the integration of natural and social, organic and industrial, ecological and technological; that recognises human transformations of the natural world without simply asserting domination over it. We're not talking about preserving an idealised picture of pristine, untouched nature. We're talking about the world we choose to make, and the world we'll have to live in. Workers don't need to go green to save the planet - they need to go red. Rachel Carson was clear that the primary blame for the destruction of the natural world lay with the Gods of profit and production as the world lived in an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at any cost is seldom challenged. Capitalism is a system predicated on continual expansion with an ever-increasing throughput of energy and resources.  For those corporations promoting their green credentials that do act to reduce their energy or resource use, the purpose is not to decrease their impact on the environment, however much money they spend touting their ecological awareness. Rather, the objective is to lower production costs so as to maximise profit in order to reinvest in the expansion of production to corner market share, thereby negating the original reduction. Contrary to all claims of capitalist efficiency, the amount of senseless waste and pollution under capitalism is enormous. This includes not only the toxic by-products of the production process that are routinely dumped into the surrounding environment, but also the production and distribution of useless products, the creation of mounting piles of garbage as a result of planned obsolescence and single-use products, the preponderance of inefficient transportation systems based on cars rather than effective public transportation, and, of course, all the wasted labour and materials spent on the military.

It should be clear from all of the above that it isn't population growth that is causing food scarcity or is primarily responsible for the many accelerating global environmental crises. Even if population growth were to end today, worsening rates of starvation, the growth of slums, and ecosystem collapse would continue more or less unabated. Food production continues to outstrip population growth, and therefore cannot be considered the cause of hunger. There are very serious planetary problems of soil erosion, overfishing, deforestation, and waste disposal, to name only a few, which are putting pressure on the sustainability of food production over the long haul. However, these are all inextricably bound to questions of power and a system run in the interest of a small minority where profit continually outweighs issues of hunger, waste, energy use, or environmental destruction. Concentrating on population confuses symptoms with causes while simultaneously validating apologists for the system. Population growth arguments fit in with the ideological needs of the system rather than challenging them and is the primary reason that they receive so much publicity. It is completely acceptable to capitalism to place the blame for hunger and ecological crises on the number of people rather than on capitalism.

A central concept of capitalism is the idea that there isn’t enough to go around. There isn’t enough food, there aren’t enough jobs, there isn’t enough houses, or schools or hospitals.   “There isn’t enough…” really means “It isn’t profitable…” The problem is capitalism.

The motivation for big business to produce food is profit, not to provide for people. Despite the enormous advances in technology and knowledge, this system cannot provide the most basic necessities for the world’s population. It is not a question of there being too many people or not enough food available. Food production and distribution is not planned but is at the behest of the anarchy of the market, controlled by a handful of multi-national companies. Capitalism is unable to feed the world. The future under capitalism – one of increasing damage to the environment and austerity – will mean this terrible situation gets worse. Socialism is the only solution to stopping and reversing climate change. The world's population is larger than ever before - but so is world food production. Billions of people regularly struggle to get enough to eat but the problem isn't a lack of produce or a rising population. It is a system driven by profit. Despite all the pessimism of mainstream environmentalists, the problem we really face is that we have allowed a system to develop where there is hunger amidst plenty. What we need is to take control of the food system. This will enable us to deal with the wasteful system. Socialists look forward to a world of plenty built on the greatest gift of nature, that of human labour. Real change will only come when the power of those running the system for the purpose of profit is challenged.

Advances in nutrition and agricultural science could allow us to produce abundant, healthy, safe, and tasty food for everyone. Humanity could produce an enormous variety of foods, both to guarantee food security against pests, disease, and climate change through agricultural diversity, but also to keep meals interesting. The infrastructure exists to develop a vast network of public restaurants serving affordable, delicious and interesting food. Home cooking and eating could be transformed into relaxing social activities, not the compulsory drudgery it is for billions today. In short, the knowledge, technology, and collective potential to completely transform the way the world eats exist now. What doesn’t exist is a social structure that allows for a rational and balanced approach to food production, distribution, preparation, and consumption. But virtually all the proposals out there are limited to tinkering with the existing system or appealing to the goodwill and reason of the rich and powerful. This is the real utopian option. In a system driven by commodity production and money, what matters to the capitalists is not food quality or human health, but maximising profits. The solution to this is not to be found in blaming individuals for their “individual choices,” or in changing this or that aspect of the status quo. The solution can only come from abolishing the dysfunctional system of capitalism itself.

Former FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva has confirmed one truth, “We have the knowledge, expertise, and resources needed to overcome all forms of malnutrition.”

The scientific community reflects the community at large in that they also find it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. They fly hither and thither across the world addressing congresses about their deep concern for the planet's future. So what do many of the scientists propose? Campaign against the whole profit system and for a society in which there would be no profit-seeking businesses controlling production because productive resources would have become the common heritage of all and be used to directly provide for peopleneeds? No, not at all. They accept the profit system and merely lobby against its excesses. They claim an ability to influence change.

How might socialism approach the problem of maintaining the world
's eco-systems?

  Firstly, in socialist society, free of the constraints of the marketplace, it would, of course, be entirely feasible to allocate resources in such a way as to ensure their most productive use. Underpinning this freedom would be the unity of common purpose, a unity forged in the basic structure of a society in which all had free and equal access to the wealth that society produced.

Secondly, socialist society would obviously want to halt and reverse the long-term decline in soil fertility by improving the humus content of the soil. Not only would this make for the more efficient absorption of chemical fertilisers but would help contain further topsoil loss as a result of erosion. Whilst this would involve more labour intensive work which would require a larger agricultural workforce it should be borne in mind that one of the greatest productive advantages of socialism over capitalism is that it would release a tremendous amount of labour for socially productive work. At least half of the workforce today are engaged in activities that, although vital to the operation of a modern capitalist economy would have no purpose in a society where production was directly and solely geared to the satisfaction of human needs.

Thirdly, and most importantly, as a society freed from the profit motive and competitive pressures "to produce as much cash as possible, as cheaply as possible, and as quickly as possible", socialism will be able to adopt agricultural methods which achieve a working compromise with nature (for, as explained, all agriculture unavoidably upsets the pre
existing ecosystem to a greater or lesser extent) respecting the long-term considerations which ecological science teaches are vitally important.

Fourthly, socialism would have no difficulty in developing and applying existing technology. Conservation production would mean employing methods that avoid using up and destroying natural resources. For example, standardised machinery could be designed with the minimum number of wearing parts which, with simple maintenance, could be easily replaced and the materials re-cycled and used again. For parts of machinery not subject to wear, durable materials which do not deteriorate could be used. If for some reason such machinery became redundant, the materials involved could be recycled and used again. The principle of conservation production could establish the practice that once materials became socially available after extraction and processing, they would be available for permanent use in one form or another. Thus socialism would bring into use means of production, permanent installations, structures and goods which would last for a long time, and even when redundant could be re-cycled for other uses. With its shoddy goods, built-in obsolescence, and the pressure of the market to constantly renew its capacity for sales, capitalism is incapable of applying this production principle.

  If environmental destruction are to be minimised then human behaviour must change, in such a way that what humans take from nature, the amount and the pace at which we do so, as well as the way we use these substances and dispose of them after use, should be done in such a way as to leave the rest of nature in a position to go on supplying and re-absorbing them. We call for a change of social system. We plead guilty to being human-centred for we do have a human-centred approach: we want a socialist society primarily because it will be good for human beings. It will also be good for the biosphere but, then, what is good for the biosphere is also good for humans.

We have indeed spoken of socialism in terms of abundance and our green critics claim that human wants are "infinite" interprets this as meaning that socialism will be a society of ever-increasing personal consumption, of people coming to consume more and more food, to take more and more holidays, and to acquire more and more material goods. If humans wants were "infinite" then this would be the result of a society based on free access and geared to meeting human needs, but human wants are socially-determined and limited. Humans can only consume so much food, for instance, and only seek to accumulate more and more material goods in a society of economic insecurity like capitalism. In a society, such as socialism would be, where people could be sure that what they required to satisfy their needs would always be available then we would soon settle down to only taking what we needed and no more. This is all we meant by talking of socialism as a "society of abundance": that enough food, clothing and other material goods can be produced to allow every man, woman, and child in society to satisfy their likely material needs. It was not a reference to some orgy of consumption, but simply to the fact that it is technically possible to produce more than enough to satisfy everyone's material needs, thanks, we might add, to technology and mass production.

Meeting everybody's likely material needs will indeed involve in many cases an increase in what people consume. This will certainly be the case for the millions and millions of people in the so-called Developing World who are suffering from horrendous problems of starvation, disease and housing. So, yes, Socialism will involve increases in personal consumption for three-quarters or more of the world's population. Impossible, say many Green environmentalists, this would exceed the Earth's carrying capacity and make environmental destruction even worse. Not necessarily so, we reply. They confuse consumption per head with what individuals actually consume. To arrive at a figure for consumption per head, what the statisticians do is to take total electricity or whatever and then divide it by the total population. But this doesn't give a figure for what people consume as, in addition to personal it includes what industry, the government, and the military consume. It a grossly misleading to equate consumption per head with personal consumption since it ignores the fact that consumption per head can be reduced without reducing personal consumption and that this is, in fact, compatible with an increase in personal consumption. This in effect is what Socialists propose: to eliminate the waste of capitalism, not just of arms and armies but of all the overhead costs involved in buying and selling. It has been estimated that, at the very least, half of the workforce is engaged in such socially-useless, non-productive activity. In a socialist society all this waste will be eliminated, so drastically reducing consumption per head. This will allow room for the personal consumption of those who need it to be increased to a decent level. Diverting resources to do this 
and ensuring that every human on the planet does have a decent standard of living will be the primary, initial aim of socialism will put up consumption per head again, but to nowhere near the level now obtaining under capitalism.

After clearing up the mess inherited from capitalism, then both consumption and production can be expected to level off and something approaching a "steady-state economy" reached. In a society geared to meeting human needs, once those needs are being met there is no need to go on producing more. Population levels will stabilise too. This is a reasonable assumption and is already beginning to happen, even under capitalism, in the developed parts of the world. Population growth is a feature of the poorer parts of the world, suggesting a link between it and poverty and the insecurity that goes with it (the more children you have the more chance there is of someone to care for you in your old age). If you reject socialism all that is left is to envisage either compulsory sterilisation programmes, the revival of eugenics or letting starvation, disease takes their course. Socialists emphatically reject such an anti-human approach. If that's what an "Earth-centred ethics" teaches then we want nothing to do with it. We'll stick to our human-centred approach, which embraces the view that the balanced functioning of the biosphere is something that humans should try to achieve since, as part of the biosphere, it is in our interest that it should function properly. There is, in fact, no antagonism between the interest of humanity and the interest of the biosphere.

If the climate change crisis is to be solved, this system must go. Capitalism has long been a world system and created the potential for abundance so there is no need for further globalisation.

The Myth of Carrying Capacity

Many believe that we are undermining the very life support systems that sustain us. Like bacteria in a petri dish, our exploding numbers are reaching the limits of a finite planet, with dire consequences. Disaster looms as humans exceed the earth’s natural carrying capacity. Clearly, this could not be sustainable. Many have learned the classic mathematics of population growth — that populations must have their limits and must ultimately reach a balance with their environments, it’s physics, after all, there is only one earth! "Carrying capacity" refers to the number of individuals who can be supported in a given area, within natural resource limits, and without degrading the natural, social, cultural, and economic environment for present and future generations. The carrying capacity for any given area is not fixed. Carrying capacity is not a fixed number. Estimates put Earth's carrying capacity at anywhere between 2 billion and even 40 billion people. It varies with a wide range of factors, most of them fitting under the umbrella of "lifestyle." If humans were still in the hunter-gatherer mode, Earth would have reached its capacity at about 100 million people. With humans producing food and living in high-rise buildings, that number increases significantly

A good way to understand the flexibility of Earth's carrying capacity is to look at the difference between the projected capacities of 2 billion and 40 billion. Essentially, we're working with the same level of resources with both of those numbers. So how can the estimates swing so widely? Because people in different parts of the world are consuming different amounts of those resources. Basically, if everyone on Earth lived like a middle-class American, consuming roughly 3.3 times the subsistence level of food and about 250 times the subsistence level of clean water, the Earth could only support about 2 billion people. On the other hand, if everyone on the planet consumed only what he or she needed, 40 billion would be a feasible number. As it is, the people living in developed countries are consuming so much that the other approximate 75 percent of the population is left with barely what they need to get by. Ultimately, the idea is this: If everyone on Earth can manage to do more with less, we'll be back on track to Earth's indefinite carrying capacity.

The conditions that sustain humanity are not natural and never have been. Since prehistory, human populations have used technologies and engineered ecosystems to sustain populations well beyond the capabilities of unaltered “natural” ecosystems. We transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves. This is what we do and have always done. Our planet’s human-carrying capacity emerges from the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than from any environmental limits. The idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history. Charles Maurice and Charles W. Smithson at Texas A&M University studied the history of natural resources over 10,000 years. They found that temporary scarcities in natural resources are the norm. They also found that same temporary scarcity always led to an improved substitute. The Greeks' transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age 3,000 years ago was forced by a shortage of tin. The rise of coal followed timber shortages in 16th-century Britain. The shortage of whale oil in 1850 led directly to the first oil well in 1859.

The lesson?

Human ingenuity has always been successful in overcoming crises that once seemed inevitable.


Trevor Goodger-Hill said...

Is this an official (approved) statement of the SPGB; i.e., the World Socialist Movement? Is there an author or authors?

ajohnstone said...

This was a blog post adapted from numerous sources.

It is not an official statement/position of the Party for the messages on the blog are not "peer-reviewed" for approval by such committees as the Publications or Socialist Standard editors or the EC. Neither are other Blog Committee members consulted prior to the posts.

Overall, the bloggers do present the Party's case and in the case of over-population, the Party has criticised those who say the planet suffers from an overpopulation problem and what is required is drastic action to reduce the numbers of people. The Party has always disputed this.

It is not humanity that is the cause of the environmental threat but capitalism.