The mentality encouraged by capitalism is to strive for profits at the expense of long-term consequences. The warnings raised by the environmentalists and scientists are muffled by the demands of economic exploitation. We all think it’s bad for ecosystems to be decimated, for wildlife to become extinct and for the planet’s lungs to be chipped away. In socialism, with democratic control of resources and production solely for need people would be able to do something about it. Capitalist businesses need to keep costs low in order to maximise their profits, and so the costs of alternative sources of energy plus their threat to existing energy interests makes them less attractive, for the capitalists at least. Of course, protecting the environment isn’t our only consideration. The needs of people have to be met. But in socialism, it would be more straightforward to balance the needs of people with conserving the environment than it is in capitalism. Once the profit motive no longer operates, different sources of power can be judged not on their financial cost and the likelihood of a profitable return. Instead, they can be judged on their real merits; the pollutants they release, whether the fuel is plentiful or not, and whether its extraction damages the environment. In socialism, people would have more control over their lives and this will include the vital work of energy production. This would be reflected in the community, and there might be trends towards communities having more autonomy, in some respects. And so in some places, power production might become more localised. A town might have its own wind generators, for example, and it could still be connected to a “national” grid to transfer power in if there was a local shortage or out when there was a surplus.
The inequalities which capitalism creates everywhere have been brought vividly to life. Any news bulletin shows us images of starving children in Africa, and obese children in America. More and more people in developed countries are suffering from obesity, while globally, one in five of the population suffers from serious hunger. But even in developing countries, enough food is being produced. However, the food which is being produced in developing countries doesn’t always go to feed the people living there. Instead, it is being exported. Most of the world’s capital is to be found in North America, Europe and Japan, so that’s where the food goes. Food and other commodities follow capital like seagulls follow a fishing-boat. After a socialist revolution, capital would become obsolete. So, the reason behind the problems with food distribution would no longer operate. Instead, the problem would become a short-term, practical one. Workers in Africa would probably be reluctant to continue exporting the vast majority of their produce. Instead, they might want it to be distributed more locally, to areas which might still be at risk of shortages.
But this wouldn’t necessarily cause shortages for people in the areas which are now called the developed countries. Many of them would have a background of working for organisations which would have no place in socialism: banks, insurance companies, loan companies. These people would need to find new ways to spend their time. And food production is both an essential and fulfilling occupation.
Business parks and office blocks could be bulldozed to make way for plantations and food factories. People in Europe and North America could start to produce more food for themselves, and the areas of the southern hemisphere which currently produce food for export could keep more of their produce for themselves. Globally, food production might became more localised, while still allowing for products to be exported if they couldn’t be grown elsewhere. In socialism there would no longer be any need for a community to import wheat from thousands of miles away when it can be grown nearby.
In capitalism, natural resources such as land, as well as means of production are used for the production of commodities which are sold on for profit to the consumer through the markets. This means that the potential of resources to be used for enjoyment and the satisfaction of needs is subordinate to the profit interests of their owners. If the production of something is profitable, then it continues, and if it is unprofitable, it stops. The profitability of a product is linked to the cost of its being produced, and the extent to which it can be sold. In order to maximise profits, companies produce as cheaply as possible. This means that corners are cut and the methods and techniques used are those which bring in short-term gains rather than long-term sustainability. Labour and resources in developing countries are exploited to the hilt because they are cheaper. This is why children in Cambodia and Indonesia are stitching shirts like slaves, and why cheap forest land in South America and Africa is being decimated. In order for production to be of minimum cost to the company, it often ends up as being of maximum cost to the environment, and humanity. This doesn’t mean that all cost-saving techniques are necessarily more harmful than the techniques they replace, but simply that their effect on people or the environment isn’t the main consideration in adopting them. And if a company adopts a method of production which is environmentally safe, for example, but expensive in terms of labour or materials, it will become uncompetitive. A rival organisation producing a similar product cheaper will have the advantage, no matter what the ecological or human cost.
Eventually, capitalist organisations have to take notice of the state of the environment, but it is usually a case of too little, too late. They only take notice once the damage has been done - once a resource has become scarce, once a reserve of needed water has become polluted. And if the environmental cost doesn’t raise production costs, then it is often ignored.
After a socialist revolution, when common ownership of resources and production processes replaces private ownership, when the profit motive has become irrelevant, the factors to consider in production will change. When it comes to our use of natural resources, we could consider how much of the resource would be needed, whether it is scarce or abundant, whether that resource replaces itself over time or is in fixed supply, whether its extraction upsets the ecosystem, whether its production or use releases pollutants, whether the resulting product is durable or not, whether or not it is bio-degradable. All these are considerations in capitalist production, but now they are subordinate to the need to minimise financial costs and maximise profits.
When land, resources and factories are owned communally and controlled democratically, there will be no them-and-us. There will no longer be a privileged elite who own the means of production, so there will be no-one to sell our time and energy to, no-one who would live off our labour and pay us peanuts in return. And if and when this change in ownership happens, the existence of money will become an anachronism. There will no longer be any need to buy goods from someone else or sell them to someone else, because you would have as much of a claim of ownership on them as they would. This would mean that we could just take what we need from the distribution centres. While the means of production are owned by a minority, the motivation for production is to make a profit for that minority. Satisfying the needs and wants of humanity and protecting the environment is incidental to this, so no wonder many people are left without enough food and other goods, and no wonder resources are scarce or polluted.