Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Age of Capitalocene

An interesting article by Paul Street on the environment that challenges the idea that we should describe this geological epoch as the Anthropocene – that human activities have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature.  Susan George has introduced the term “geocide,” meaning “the collective action of a single species among millions of other species which is changing planet Earth to the point that it can become unrecognisable and unfit for life.”  It’s a hard to imagine a more terrible crime. Geocide is bigger than genocide.

Paul Street, however, asks is the culprit really Homo sapiens as a whole? 

He explains the analysis of the environmental historian and political economist Jason Moore who reminded Sasha Lilley during radio interview in 2015: “It was not humanity as a whole that created … large-scale industry and the massive textile factories of Manchester in the 19th century or Detroit in the last century or Shenzhen today. It was capital.” It is only during a relatively small slice of human history—roughly the last 500 years, give or take a century or so—that humanity has been socially and institutionally wired from the top down to wreck livable ecology. 

A compelling case has been made by Moore and other left environmentalists that it is more historically appropriate to understand humanity’s earth-altering assault on livable ecology as “the Capitalocene.” Capitalism has ruled the world since 1600 or thereabouts (by academic calculations), and only during this relatively brief period of history has human social organization developed the capacity and compulsion to transform earth systems. “Geocide” is a capitalist crime, not a transgression of humanity over its long and mostly non-capitalist history.

The argument leads to the conclusion that “Calls for capital to pay the ‘true costs’ of resource use ... are to be welcomed, because such calls directly contradict capital’s fundamental logic. To call for capital to pay its own way is to call for the abolition of capitalism.”