Capitalism is proving every day that it can offer the world’s workers nothing but endless horrors. Under the profit system, which operates through the blind anarchy of the market, the futures of millions of workers is gambled away as if at the roulette table. The environmental condition of the planet is becoming more and more critical. Besides discussing the interaction between classes, socialists look at the interaction between capitalism and nature. Capitalism is a social organisation that systematically destroys nature. It is a system driven not by need, and particularly not by the need to preserve the natural sources of its bounty, but rather by profit. Profit-making requires efficiency only within the individual business, but the competition inherent in profit-making requires that all businesses maximize profits continually, and particularly over the short term, or go bust. Capitalism prevents the world’s peoples from acting in accord with our need to preserve nature for ourselves and for future generations. Capitalists and their corporations appropriate nature for their own class needs, in effect stealing it from the rest of us, enforcing their control over us and over the Earth through their control of state power. They strip-mine and destroy entire mountains, they overfishing of the oceans in the competitive drive for profits, they clear-cut forests, they drain wetlands, and they dump toxic waste into soil, rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere. The overall destruction of lives and the environment accelerates everywhere. In its single-minded drive for profit, world capitalism is fast exhausting the earth’s resources, and what is left is fast being ruined by pollution. Protecting resources is vital for humanity but simply not profitable in the short term for capitalism, and short term is the only level on which capital can possibly function. A lapse in profitability means the closure of businesses. The capitalists are incapable of seriously addressing the problem as seen by their pitifully ineffective gestures at addressing global warming. Climate change is not some future disaster, but a real effect today of burning fossil fuels. The frequency of violent hurricanes continues to increase. Heat waves are now occurring of a magnitude never before seen in certain places. Droughts are increasing. Along with droughts are more floods. We also face a rise in sea level resulting from the melting ice-caps and the changes in ocean currents and circulation. Entire island nations in the Pacific are threatened and the millions who live in the coastal cities. We have dying coral reefs, disappearing forests, and thawing permafrost. Another likely effect of global warming is the spread of tropical diseases to new geographical locations and the introduction of new diseases to populations of people or animals that have not seen them before and have not developed immunities can have disastrous effects (Ebola, Zika).
Capitalism has had a profound impact on the planet. It turns out that it is not just denialists who we must fear but also those scientists who do not recognize the significance of the culpability of the social system we live under. And those politicians who acknowledge the threat of climate change are guilty of tokenism in their policy approaches that cannot endanger the operation the economic system’s fundamental raison d’etre - capital accumulation and expansion. Grow or die is the law of capitalism. Capitalism is a planless system in which each capitalist corporation acts without regard to cooperation but instead competes with other corporations in order to stay alive and in business. In order to stay alive, each must grow and thus must try to expand its profits without limit, so that further investment can maintain its share of the market. If market share shrinks enough the corporation is doomed. And when corporations go under, they don’t simply vanish from the face of the earth. Rather their assets are acquired for ten cents, or so, on the dollar by surviving corporations that thereby become much bigger in terms of real estate and equipment. Thus large corporations end up much bigger corporations. The members of the capitalist class are similar to any suicide-bomber – in the destruction of the planet they will take down themselves as well as every innocent victim. They are incapable of actions to save themselves or to save the earth from consequences of global warming, no matter how many summits are held and the only remedial response will be to those problems that cuts into their profits by making it more expensive to extract resources or to manufacture products. Capitalist corporations, in order to survive competition, resist having a long-range outlook for their return on investment. So do the stockholders, or they will put their money into other corporations that do bring in quick returns. The corporations must make back their initial investment in plant and equipment quickly so that their future profits show up on their stock-market and higher dividends. Concern for the environment, on the other hand, is a long-term process that requires giving up the concept of profit in favour of satisfying human needs. Capitalism does not operate to satisfy human needs.
Capitalist competition also calls for the creation of new market demands, a continual stream of new products that have little to no use value to the consumer. After all, how many different brands of tooth-paste can we actually need? Capitalism creates wants rather than satisfying needs.Through massive manipulative advertising, products like iPhones, plasma TVs, fashion clothes, or giant SUVs appear on our shopping list, useless or harmful products produced for our increased consumption and damaging to the planet at both ends of the process – raw material input and waste disposal output. Capitalism is the opposite of an ecologically self-sufficient system.
The capitalist class holds state power, and actions that interfere with profits are forbidden by the government, regardless of who is elected. Therefore since a world free of greenhouse gases, with sustainable clean energy sources would interfere with the profits of the vast majority of capitalists, we cannot look to capitalism to solve the problems. Capitalism, after all, is the cause of all these problems, and not because it hasn’t been pointed out or has never occurred to the ruling class. Growth is not simply some sort of “fetish” among capitalists over which the capitalists have control and could be convinced to give up. Capitalists only have control over their own corporations, and competition drives each to maximize profits and grow, in order to survive. The growth of all is an unintended consequence of the growth of each. So, while it may also be a fetish, there is nothing that capitalism can do about it. Competition, profit maximization, and wage slavery drive economic life under capitalism. Only replacing it with communism will meet our needs around the world and permit us to stop global warming. Certainly, some new green industries such as solar power may very well become very profitable. The problem is the trillions of dollars, euros and pounds worth of existing plants, buildings, houses, mines, and vehicles. A system that runs on exchange value or money will not willingly destroy its own massive investments in these forms of physical capital. Thus only a system in which use value, rather than exchange value, is the basis of society can even contemplate removing carbon emitting physical capital from its productive base. But a system that the working class controls for its own collective needs (socialism), rather than a system that a relatively small class controls for its own individual profit (capitalism) can in fact act in this way. The capitalists’ refusal to destroy their own profit-producing capital holds even when that profit is destructive of much of the rest of the world - the suicide bomber syndrome once again. When environmentalists call for government legislation and regulation they are merely subscribing to the myth that the state stands above society and mediates among the various classes. It is a misunderstanding of political power and the nature of the state to expect the state to intervene to save the environment. The media and politicians add insult to injury by blaming us for the irresponsibility in our consumerist lifestyle and tells us to make our own personal individualist savings, and, of course, they insist that the poor are having too many children. They assert that the Earth’s carrying capacity has been exceeded. The problem is not too many people, but rather capitalism’s enforced poverty. It is the capitalists, in their imperative drive to sell commodities in order to realize profits, who completely determine the consumption practices. As long as capitalism exists, with its expansionist tendencies our advance toward the proverbial cliff’s edge will continue unabated.
The real environmental solution will not come from buying long-life light bulbs or “eco-friendly” laundry detergent. Instead, it will require taking on the capitalist corporations that have devastated the water, soil and air in search of profit. Doing so challenges for the mainstream business-friendly environmental movement. Socialism alone is capable restoring a sustainable relationship between humanity and the rest of nature. Climate change and other ecological perils loom larger than ever, and we must learn all we can from the struggles of the past if we intend to have a future. In socialism people will rationally plan the production of the things we really need, and they will coordinate cooperative planning in a socialist society without the interference of the profit motive.