It's Capitalism Or A Habitable Planet, You Can't Have Both
Date: Friday, February 03 2006
Published on Thursday, February 2, 2006 by the Guardian / UK
It's Capitalism Or A Habitable Planet - You Can't Have Both
Our economic system is unsustainable by its very nature. The only response to climate chaos and peak oil is major social change
by Robert Newman
There is no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change. A cap on this and a quota on the other won't do it. Tinker at the edges as we may, we cannot sustain earth's life-support systems within the present economic system.
Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet. And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives, and as long as it continues to be so it will automatically undo (with its invisible hand) every single green initiative anybody cares to come up with.
Much discussion of energy, with never a word about power, leads to the fallacy of a low-impact, green capitalism somehow put at the service of environmentalism. In reality, power concentrates around wealth. Private ownership of trade and industry means that the decisive political force in the world is private power. The corporation will outflank every puny law and regulation that seeks to constrain its profitability. It therefore stands in the way of the functioning democracy needed to tackle climate change. Only by breaking up corporate power and bringing it under social control will we be able to overcome the global environmental crisis.
On these pages we have been called on to admire capital's ability to take robust action while governments dither. All hail Wal-Mart for imposing a 20% reduction in its own carbon emissions. But the point is that supermarkets are over. We cannot have such long supply lines between us and our food. Not any more. The very model of the supermarket is unsustainable, what with the packaging, food miles and destruction of British farming. Small, independent suppliers, processors and retailers or community-owned shops selling locally produced food provide a social glue and reduce carbon emissions. The same is true of food co-ops such as Manchester's bulk-distribution scheme serving former "food deserts".
All hail BP and Shell for having got beyond petroleum to become non-profit eco-networks supplying green energy. But fail to cheer the Fortune 500 corporations that will save us all and ecologists are denounced as anti-business. Many career environmentalists fear that an anti-capitalist position is what's alienating the mainstream from their irresistible arguments. But is it not more likely that people are stunned into inaction by the bizarre discrepancy between how extreme the crisis described and how insipid the solutions proposed? Go on a march to the House of Commons. Write a letter to your MP. And what system does your MP hold with? Name one that isn't pro-capitalist. Oh, all right then, smartarse. But name five.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on February 3, 2006]