Thursday, October 07, 2010


Climate Change Social Change is an Australian-based "eco-socialist" blog that expresses some of the same ideas of the WSM case, this blog entry in particular.

The September 5 earthquake that hit the city of Christchurch, New Zealand caused vast damage and up to half the buildings in the region may need repairing. A comment a local resident made to reporters half jokingly said the good news was that the rebuilding effort would help pull New Zealand out of recession.

Without realising, he pointed to a key feature of the present economic system. Capitalism thrives on crisis and destruction. Half of Christchurch is wrecked, but that translates into more jobs, more economic activity and, most of all, more growth.The point is that capitalist growth does not have to serve any social need or useful purpose. Capital must expand. Profits must rise. That’s all that matters.

And if the growth machine falters, it’s thrown into crisis — a recession. Capitalism’s growth drive is what makes it so radically unsustainable. To survive, it needs ever-higher resource use. It needs an obedient workforce, on the lowest wages it can get away with. And it needs those same workers to be high consumers. It has to convince us to buy more and more stuff. A healthy, expanding capitalist system is unhealthy for people and the planet.

The growth economy is also a waste economy: it has to treat the Earth as a giant trash can. Just one example: a study by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation estimated there was about six times more plastic waste, by mass, in the Pacific Ocean than zooplankton. A floating rubbish heap, roughly twice the size of Texas, spans an area of the north Pacific.

It’s not that most people don’t care. They do. Concern about these issues has probably never been higher. But corporate interests exploit and distort this concern. They try to convince us we can consume our way to a sustainable world. Sustainability is repackaged and sold back to us as merchandise. Being “green” is a good marketing strategy.

Green capitalism allows industry to give the impression it is changing, even as it continues with business as usual. At the same time, a relentless cultural message has been hammered home, telling us high individual consumption is the real problem. So we are left with two ideas, which sum up the philosophy of green capitalism. Bad consumer choices are supposed to be the source of the crisis, while good consumer choices are said to be the path to salvation.

The idea that consumers cause environmental problems obscures the fact that production is dominated by huge corporations. They are the ones pushing unsustainable growth. Collectively, they spend billions on advertising to create new consumer “needs”. They are the vested interests standing in the way of real sustainable change. The free market won’t allow us to buy the things we really need. We need solar thermal power stations and wind farms. We need a redesign of our entire food system. But the system will not deliver these things in the short time we have left. And capitalism doesn’t allow most of the world’s people to fulfil their basic needs at all. It excludes them. It leaves 1 billion people without enough food simply because it’s not profitable to have them eat.

SOYMB can only say, well put.

Another "eco-socialist" blog echoes the above. Climate and Capitalism is an online journal. The idea that consumers control corporate behaviour is ideology, not fact. Immensely wealthy corporations decide what to produce and how to produce it. They spend billions to promote specific products and to protect their power. They allow us to choose – but only among the narrow range of options that they believe will be profitable.

In the Gulf, BP did what every capitalist corporation does – it kept costs down to keep profits up. Its irresponsible actions were bound to cause a disaster eventually – but if the company had lucked out this time, if the explosion hadn’t happened, BP’s executives and shareholders would have been rewarded for producing offshore oil more cheaply than more cautious competitors. That’s the way capitalism works. The immediate cause of this particular disaster was BP’s greed for short-term profits. The long-term cause, of this and many other disasters, is an irrational grow-or-die economic system that is totally dependent on oil, on “the stuff without which nothing else happens.” A system in which private profit always takes precedence over the environment and human lives. The journalists, pale greens and others who blame individual consumers are trivializing the problem and distracting attention from the social roots of environmental destruction. No matter how sincere they may be, they are making it harder to achieve real solutions.

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