Capitalism and the Environment

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The Great Debate

Extinction is the product of a global attack on the commons: the great trove of air, water, plants, and collectively created cultural forms such as language that have been traditionally regarded as the inheritance of humanity as a whole. Nature, the wonderfully abundant and diverse wild life of the world, is essentially a free pool of goods and labor that capital can draw on. As critics such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued, aggressive policies of trade liberalization in recent decades have been predicated on privatizing the commons -- transforming ideas, information, species of plants and animals, and even DNA into private property. Suddenly, things like seeds, once freely traded by peasant farmers the world over, have become scarce commodities, and are even being bred by agribusiness corporations to be sterile after one generation, a product farmers in the global South have aptly nicknamed "suicide seeds." The destruction of global biodiversity needs to be framed, in other words, as a great, and perhaps ultimate, attack on the planet's common wealth. Indeed, extinction needs to be seen, along with climate change, as the leading edge of contemporary capitalism's contradictions.
Capital must expand at an ever-increasing rate or go into crisis, generating declining asset values for the owners of stocks and property, as well as factory closures, mass unemployment, and political unrest. As capitalism expands, however, it commodifies more and more of the planet, stripping the world of its diversity and fecundity -- think about those suicide seeds. If capital's inherent tendency to create what Vandana Shiva calls "monocultures of the mind" once generated many local environmental crises, this insatiable maw is now consuming entire ecosystems, thereby threatening the planetary environment as a whole. There are at present no effective institutions to deal with the "cancerous degradation" of the global environment that David Harvey argues is brought about by capital's need for continuous exponential growth. And yet capital of course depends on continuous commodification of this environment to sustain its growth. The catastrophic rate of extinction today and the broader decline of biodiversity thus represent a direct threat to the reproduction of capital. Indeed, there is no clearer example of the tendency of capital accumulation to destroy its own conditions of reproduction than the sixth extinction. As the rate of speciation -- the evolution of new species -- drops further and further behind the rate of extinction, the specter of capital's depletion and even annihilation of the biological foundation on which it depends becomes increasingly apparent.
-- Introduction of Extinction: A Radical History by Ashley Dawson

Commons-concepts permanent culture now.png

More on Extinction by Ashley Dawson / Via Interview w/
  • Capitalism is predicated on endless expansion. It is a socio-economic system that must grow indefinitely or cease to exist. And it has to grow at a compound rate, leading it to commodify and consume ever-greater portions of the planet at an accelerating velocity. Since we only have one planet, there is clearly a fundamental contradiction between our economic system and the environment upon which it, and all of humanity, ultimately depends. But since capitalism grows in a spatially uneven manner, some people can live obscenely affluent, insulated lives while other people face stark ecological catastrophe. But at some point capitalism will take the entire planet past a point of ecological destruction from which there will be no return, at least on any time scale that is meaningful for human beings.
  • Current rates of extinction suggest that we are approaching that point. Looked at in historical perspective, species often go extinct, but, at the same time, new species are also constantly evolving in a process called speciation. At the moment, however, the rate of extinction far exceeds the rate of speciation. Studies suggest that over the last fifty years a shockingly high 40 percent of the world’s flora and fauna have become extinct. And this extinction rate is accelerating.


Excerpt from 'This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate' by Naomi Klein

  • These various projections [on climate change and disruption] are the equivalent of every alarm in your house going off simultaneously. And then every alarm on your street going off as well, one by one by one. They mean, quite simply, that climate change has become an existential crisis for the human species. The only historical precedent for a crisis of this depth and scale was the Cold War fear that we were heading toward nuclear holocaust, which would have made much of the planet uninhabitable. But that was (and remains) a threat; a slim possibility, should geopolitics spiral out of control. The vast majority of nuclear scientists never told us that we were almost certainly going to put our civilization in peril if we kept going about our daily lives as usual, doing exactly what we were already doing, which is what the climate scientists have been telling us for years.

Excerpt from 'This Changes Everything' Introduction

From the Publisher / Simon & Schuster:

The most important book yet from the author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.

In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option.

In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn't just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. Its an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism.

Klein argues that the changes to our relationship with nature and one another that are required to respond to the climate crisis humanely should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a kind of gift—a catalyst to transform broken economic and cultural priorities and to heal long-festering historical wounds. And she documents the inspiring movements that have already begun this process: communities that are not just refusing to be sites of further fossil fuel extraction but are building the next, regeneration-based economies right now.

Can we pull off these changes in time? Nothing is certain. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.

More on Global Economics/Globalization-Neoliberalism and 'The Sixth Extinction'

More on Externalities, Global Costs to the Environment

A Case Study: A Global Corporation and Climate Change, Causes and Costs

July 2016 - Attorneys General Exxon investigation faces investigation by US House Science Com't

June 2016 - Exxon Is Fighting for its Right to Deny Climate Change

“There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s
Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Meltsdown over Exxon with Bizarre Accusation: Like Cromwell Did Catholics?
>U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, leading voice on climate change, locked in bitter brawl with Wall Street Journal editorial page over his proposal to sue fossil fuel companies for fraud
NY's State Attorney and Calif's AG Go After ExxonMobilExxon BkrdExxon, the Road Not TakenFBI Probe, More AGs Support Investigation of ExxonMobil

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Oil Change International ... "Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels"
Markets Are Spooked ... Oil Slide Continues
While Renewable Energy expands globally with a wide range of investments in energy alternatives to fossil fuels, ExxonMobil predicts "long-term energy demand growth", increased oil/gas profits and "gains in energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy and lower carbon fuels such as natural gas likely will help lower by half the “carbon intensity of the global economy.”

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Globally-averaged temps thru 2015 via NASA Goddard.gif


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