What every environmentalist needs to know about capitalism

What every environmentalist needs to know about capitalism

The time has come for those concerned about the fate of the Earth to face the facts: not only the dire reality of climate change but also the pressing need for a change in the social system. The inability to reach a global climate agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009 was not just a simple abdication of world leadership, as has often been suggested, but had deeper roots in the inability of the capitalist system to cope with the rising threatens life on the planet. Knowledge of the nature and limits of capitalism, and the means to transcend it, are then vitally important. In the words of Fidel Castro in December 2009: “Until very recently there was discussion about the type of society in which we would live. Today it is debated whether human society will survive ”. [1]

I. The planetary ecological crisis

There is abundant evidence that humans have caused environmental damage for millennia. Problems due to deforestation, soil erosion, and salinization of irrigated soils date back to ancient times. Plato wrote in Critias:

Our land has become, in comparison with what it was then, like the skeleton of a body discarded by disease. The fat and soft parts of the earth are gone all around, and nothing remains but the bare backbone of the region. But in those days, when it was still intact, it had like mountains, high undulations of land; the plains that today are called fields of Feleo, were covered with greasy glebas; On the mountains there were extensive forests, of which there are still visible traces today. Well, among these mountains that can no longer feed more than bees, there are those on which, not long ago, large trees were cut, suitable for erecting the largest buildings, whose coatings still exist. There were also a multitude of tall cultivated trees, and the land provided inexhaustible pasture for the herds. The fertile water of Zeus that fell on her every year, did not run in vain, as at present to go to waste in the sea from the barren land: the earth had water in its entrails, and received from the sky an amount that she had made waterproof ; and she also led and diverted the water that fell from high places through its crevices. In this way, the generous streams of the fountains and rivers could be seen shimmering everywhere. Regarding all these facts, the sanctuaries that still exist today in honor of the ancient sources are a reliable testimony that what we have just told is true. [2]

What is different in our current age is that there are many more of us inhabiting the Earth, that we have technologies that can do much worse damage and do it faster, and that we have an economic system that knows no limits. The damage being done is so widespread that it not only degrades local and regional ecologies, but also affects the global environment.

There are many strong reasons why, along with many others, we are concerned about the ongoing and rapid degradation of the Earth's environment. Global warming, caused by the induced increase in greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, N2O, etc.), is in the process of destabilizing the world climate - with horrendous effects for most species on the planet and humanity. same with more and more security. Each decade is warmer than the last, with 2009 reaching the level of the second warmest year (2005 is first) in 130 years of instrumental global temperature records. [3] Climate change does not occur gradually, linearly, but is non-linear, with all kinds of feedbacks that amplify it and points of no return. There are clear indications of the problems that the future will bring. These include:

- Melting of the Arctic Ocean ice during the summer, which reduces the reflection of sunlight by replacing the white ice with the dark ocean, and therefore, increasing global warming. Satellites show that the Arctic ice remnant during the summer was reduced by 40 percent in 2007 compared to the late 1970s, when precise measurements began. [4]

- The eventual disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, caused by global warming, causes increases in the levels of the oceans. Even a sea level rise of 1-2 meters could be disastrous for hundreds of millions of people inhabiting countries that are at sea level like Bangladesh and Vietnam, and several island states. A rise in sea level at a rate of a few meters per century is not unusual in the paleoclimatic record, and therefore should be considered possible, given current global warming trends. Currently, more than 400 million people live within five meters above sea level, and more than one billion within 25 meters. [5]

- The rapid decline of mountain glaciers worldwide, many of which - if current greenhouse gas emissions continue - could be practically (or totally) disappeared this century. Studies have shown that 90 percent of the world's mountain glaciers are already in clear retreat due to global warming. Himalayan glaciers provide water to countries with billions of inhabitants in Asia during the dry season. Reducing them will cause flooding and exacerbate water shortages. The melting of glaciers in the Andes is contributing to flooding in that region. But the most immediate, current and long-term problem associated with the disappearance of the glaciers - visible today in Bolivia and Peru - is the lack of water. [6]

- Devastating droughts, possibly expanding to 70 percent of the land within the next few decades if the current situation continues; it has already become evident in northern India, northeast Africa, and Australia. [7]

- Higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere can increase the production of some types of crops, but these could be damaged in future years by destabilization that causes dry or very humid climatic conditions. Losses have already been found in rice fields in Southeast Asia, attributed to higher temperatures during the night that cause decreases in the increase in the nocturnal respiration of the plant. This implies a greater loss of what is produced by photosynthesis during the day. [8]

- Rapid changes in the climate of certain regions cause the extinction of species that cannot migrate or adapt, leading to a collapse of the entire ecosystem that depends on them, and the death of more species. (See below for more details on species extinction). [9]

- Related to global warming, ocean acidification as a result of an increase in carbon absorption threatens the collapse of marine ecosystems. Recent evidence suggests that ocean acidification may eventually reduce the ocean's efficiency in absorbing carbon. This means a potential and faster accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and an acceleration of global warming. [10]

While climate change and its consequences, along with the "evil brother" of ocean acidification (also caused by carbon emissions), pose by far the greatest threats to life on Earth, including that of humans, there are other severe environmental problems as well. These include air and water pollution with industrial waste. Some of them (mercury metal, for example) pile up and rise with the smoke and then fall and contaminate soil and water, while others from waste deposits seep into waterways. Many ocean and freshwater fish are contaminated with mercury and numerous organic industrial chemicals. The oceans contain large “islands” of debris - “light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, lollipop sticks and small pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, a widespread area of ​​garbage that doubles in size every decade and is currently estimated to be twice the size of Texas ”. [11]

In the United States, the drinking water that millions of people drink is contaminated with pesticides such as atrazine, as well as nitrates and other contaminants from industrial agriculture. Tropical forests, the areas of greatest terrestrial biodiversity, are rapidly being destroyed. The land is being converted into palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia, with the purpose of exporting the oil as an input for the production of biodiesel. In South America, rainforests are usually converted into extensive pastures and then used for export crops such as soybeans. This deforestation is causing about 25 percent of human-induced CO2 emissions [12]. The degradation of soils by erosion, overgrazing, and the lack of return of organic materials threatens the productivity of large areas of land dedicated to agriculture worldwide.

We are all contaminated with a variety of chemicals. Recent surveys of twenty doctors and nurses tested for sixty-two chemicals in blood and urine - most organic chemicals like ignition retardants and plasticizers - found that each participant had at least 24 individual chemicals in their body, and two participants had a maximum of 39 chemicals […] all of the participants had bisphenol A [used to make rigid plastic polycarbonates used in cooling water bottles, baby bottles, liners of the vast majority of metal food containers - and present in the food contained in those containers, kitchen appliances, etc.], and some forms of phthalate [found in many products like hair fixers, cosmetics, plastic products, and varnishes] PBDE [polybrominated diphenyl ether used as an ignition retardant in computers, furniture, mattresses and medical equipment] and PFCs [perfluorinated components used in nonstick pots, protective coatings ace for carpets, paper, etc.] [13].

Although doctors and nurses are routinely exposed to large amounts of chemicals in relation to ordinary people, we are all exposed to these and other chemicals that are not part of our bodies, and most of which have negative effects on health. . Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States, we have no idea of ​​the composition and potential damage capacity of 20 percent (about 20,000) - their composition falls into the category of "trade secret" and is legally hidden. [14]

Species are disappearing at an accelerating rate as their habitats are destroyed, not only due to global warming but also due to direct human action. A recent study estimated that more than 17,000 species of animals and plants are at risk of extinction. "More than one in five of all known mammals, more than a quarter of reptiles and 70 percent of plants are at risk, according to the study that included more than 2,800 new species compared to 2008. 'Those The results are simply the tip of the iceberg, 'said Craig Hilton-Taylor, who carries the list. He stated that many more species that have yet to be evaluated could be under serious threat ”[15]. As species disappear, ecosystems that depend on a multitude of species to function begin to degrade. One of the many consequences of degraded ecosystems with fewer species appears to be increased transmission of infectious diseases. [16]

It is out of the question that the ecology of the earth - and the very life systems on which humans as well as other species depend - is under sustained and severe attack due to human activities. It is also clear that if we continue on the same path the effects will be devastating. As James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, stated: “Planet Earth, creation, the world in which each civilization developed, the weather patterns and stable coastal strips that we know of, is in imminent danger [… ] the alarming conclusion is that the continued exploitation of fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet but also the very survival of humanity - and time is much less than we think ”. [17] Furthermore, the problem does not start and end with fossil fuels but extends to all human-economic interaction with the environment.

One of the latest and most important developments in ecological science is the concept of "planetary boundaries," of which nine critical limits / thresholds have been established for the earth system related to: (1) climate change; (2) acidification of the oceans; (3) ozone depletion of the stratosphere; (4) the limit of biogeochemical circulation (the nitrogen cycle and the phosphorus cycles); (5) global freshwater utilization; (6) change in land use; (7) loss of biodiversity; (8) atmospheric loading with aerosols; and (9) chemical contamination. Each of these is considered essential to maintaining the relatively benign climate and environmental conditions that have existed for the last 20,000 years (the Holocene era). The sustainable limits in three of these systems - climate change, biodiversity, and human interference in the nitrogen cycle - would have already been crossed. [18]

II. Common interests: transcending the current operation

We fully agree with many environmentalists who have concluded that continuing things “as they are” constitutes a path to global disaster. Many people have determined that, in order to limit the ecological footprint of human beings on Earth, we need an economy - particularly in rich countries - that does not grow, and thus is able to stop and possibly reduce the increase in emissions pollutants, as well as favor the conservation of non-renewable resources, and a more rational use of those that are renewable. Some environmentalists are concerned that if world production continues to expand and everyone in developing countries seeks to catch up with the standard of living of rich capitalist states, not only will pollution continue to increase beyond what the land can absorb, but we will also deplete the world's limited non-renewable resources.

Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows, and William Behrens, published in 1972 and updated in 2004 as Limits to Growth: 30-Year Update, is an example of concern about this issue. [19] It is clear that there are biospheric limits, and that the planet cannot support the around 7 billion inhabitants (much less, of course, than the 9 billion projected for mid-century) under what is known as the standard of living. of the western “middle class”. The Worldwatch Institute recently estimated that a world utilizing its per capita biocapacity at the level of the United States today could only support 1.4 billion inhabitants. [20] The main problem is old and lies not with those who do not have enough for a decent standard of living, but with those for whom there is not enough. As Epicurus maintained: “nothing is enough for those who have enough is little”. [21] A global social system organized on the basis of "enough is little" is destined to eventually destroy everything around it, including itself.

Many people are aware of the need for social justice in solving this problem, especially as the vast majority of the homeless, living in dangerously precarious conditions, have been particularly hard hit by disasters and environmental degradation, and they are looming as the next victims if current trends are allowed to continue.It is clear that approximately half of humanity - more than three billion people, living in extreme poverty and subsisting on less than 2.5 dollars a day - need to have access to the basic elements for human life, such as decent housing. , a safe source of food, clean water, and medical care. We could not agree more with those concerns. [22]

Some environmentalists feel that most of these problems can be solved through some adjustments to our economic system, introducing greater energy efficiency and replacing fossil fuels with “green” energy - or using technologies that alleviate the problems (such as carbon sequestration from power plants and their injection deep into the earth). There is a movement towards “green” practices that is used as a marketing tool, or to keep up with other companies that claim to use such practices. However, within the environmental movement, there are those who are clear that mere technical adjustments in the current productive system will not be enough to solve the dramatic and potentially catastrophic problems that we face.

Curtis White begins his 2009 Orion article, entitled “The Brutal Heart: Capitalism and Nature's Crisis” by saying, “There is a fundamental question that environmentalists don't ask themselves enough, let alone answer it: why Is the destruction of the natural world happening? ”[23]. It is impossible to find real and lasting solutions until we answer this seemingly simple question satisfactorily.

Our opinion is that most of the critical environmental problems we have are caused, or magnified, by the operation of our economic system. Even issues related to population growth and technology can be better appreciated in terms of their relationship to the socio-economic organization of society. Environmental problems are not the result of human ignorance or innate greed. They don't show up because the entrepreneurs who run large corporations are morally deficient. Instead, we must look at the fundamental pattern of operation of the economic (and political / social) system to find answers. It is precisely the fact that ecological destruction is embedded in the internal and logical nature of our current production system that makes solving the problem so difficult.

Furthermore, we contend that the proposed "solutions" for environmental devastation, which would allow the current production and distribution system to remain intact, are not real solutions. In fact, these kinds of “solutions” will make things worse by giving the false impression that problems are on the way to being overcome when the reality is quite different. The pressing environmental problems facing the world and its inhabitants will not be effectively solved until we institute another form of human interaction with nature - by modifying the way we make decisions about how much and how we produce. Our most necessary and rational goals require that we take into account fundamental human needs, and that we create just and sustainable conditions for present and future generations (which also implies concern for the preservation of other species).

III. Characteristics of capitalism in conflict with the environment

The economic system that dominates almost every corner of the planet is capitalism, which, for most humans, is as "invisible" as the air they breathe. We are, in fact, vastly alien to the world system, just as fish are alien to the water in which they swim. It is the ethics of capitalism, its perspectives, and way of thinking that we assimilate and that we acculturate to when we grow up. Unconsciously, we learn that greed, exploitation of workers, and competition (between people, businesses and countries) are not only acceptable but in fact good for society because they help our economy to function "efficiently".

Let's consider some key aspects of capitalism's conflict with environmental sustainability:

A. Capitalism is a system that must continually expand

A capitalism without growth is an oxymoron: when growth ceases, the system enters a state of crisis particularly suffered by the unemployed. The basic guiding force of capitalism and its entire reason for being is the achievement of profits and wealth through the process of accumulation (savings and investments). It does not recognize limits to its own self-expansion - nor to the economy as a whole; nor in the profits desired by the rich; nor in the increase in consumption that is induced to generate higher profits or corporations. The environment exists, not as a place with inherent limits within which human beings must live alongside other species, but as a kingdom to be exploited in a process of increasing economic expansion.

In fact, businesses, according to the internal logic of capital, which is reinforced by competition, must or "grow or die" - like the system itself. There is little that can be done to increase profits when growth is slow or nil. Under such circumstances, there is little reason to invest in new capacity, thereby closing off the possibility of obtaining new profits from new investments. In a stagnant economy, workers can be squeezed for higher profits. Measures such as downsizing and requiring those who remain to “do more with less”, the transfer of pension and health insurance costs to workers, and automation that reduces the number of workers needed can only go as far as to a certain point without further destabilizing the system. If a corporation is large enough it can, like Wal-Mart, force suppliers, fearful of losing business, to cut their prices. But these means are not enough to satisfy what is, in fact, an insatiable quest for higher profits, with which corporations are continually compelled to fight their competitors (often including their purchase) to increase market shares and income by sales.

It is true that the system may continue to move forward, to some extent, as a result of financial speculation leveraged by rising debt, even amid a slow-growing trend in the underlying economy. But this means, as we have seen time and again, the growth of financial bubbles that inevitably burst. [24] Under capitalism there is no alternative to an indefinite expansion of the "real economy" (eg production), regardless of real human needs, consumption, or the environment.

One might still consider that a zero-growth capitalist economy is theoretically possible, yet still manages to meet basic human needs. Suppose that all those profits that corporations make (after replacing obsolete equipment or facilities) are either spent by capitalists for their own consumption or given to workers as wages and benefits, and consumed. Capitalists and workers would spend this money, buying the goods and services produced, and the economy could remain in a constant state, a level of non-growth (what Marx called "simple reproduction" and has sometimes been called "steady state"). . Since there would be no investment in new productive capacities, there would be no economic growth and accumulation, and there would be no profits either.

There is, however, a small problem with this "no-growth capitalist utopia": it violates the basic force of movement of capitalism. What capital fights for and constitutes the purpose of its existence is expansion itself. Why would capitalists, who in every fiber of their being believe they have a personal right to the profits of business, and who are on their way to accumulating wealth, simply spend the economic surplus at their disposal on their own consumption or (very much less) would they hand it over to workers to spend on their own - rather than seeking to expand their wealth? If no profit is made, how could economic crises be avoided under capitalism? On the contrary, it is clear that the owners of capital will, as long as these property relations continue in force, everything that their power allows them to maximize the profits they accumulate. An economy in a steady state, or constant, as a stable solution can only be conceived if it is separated from the social relations of capital.

Capitalism is a system that constantly generates a reserve army of the unemployed; significantly, full employment is a rarity that only occurs at very high growth rates (which, correspondingly, are dangerous for ecological sustainability). Taking the example of the United States, let's look at what happens to the official number of "unemployed" when the economy grows at different rates over a period of about sixty years.

As a background, let us note that America's population is growing at just under 1 percent each year, as is the net number of new entrants to the economically active population. In current measurements of unemployment in the US, for a person to be considered officially unemployed, they must have looked for work within the last four weeks and cannot be doing part-time jobs. People without work, who have not looked for work in the last four weeks (but who have looked within the last year), either because they believe that there are no jobs available, or because they think that they are not qualified for those available, are classified as “discouraged ”And are not counted as officially unemployed. Other “marginally attached workers”, who have not looked for work recently, not because they were “discouraged” but for other reasons, such as lack of affordable childcare, are also excluded from the official unemployment count. Furthermore, those working part time but wanting to work full time are not officially considered unemployed. The unemployment rate for the more comprehensive definition of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also includes the categories we developed above (for example, discouraged workers, marginally attached workers, part-time workers wanting full-time jobs) is practically double the official rate unemployment rates in the US In the following analysis we focus solely on official unemployment data.

Changes in unemployment with different rates of growth of the economy (1949-2008)

So what do we see in the relationship between economic growth and unemployment in the last six decades?

1. During the eleven years of very slow growth, less than 1.1 percent per year, unemployment increased in each of those years.

2. In 70 percent (9 of 13) of the years in which GDP grew between 1.2 and 3 percent, unemployment also grew.

3. During the twenty-three years that the US economy grew considerably fast (3.1 to 5 percent each year), unemployment also grew in three years and the reduction in unemployment was very meager for most of the rest.

4. In only thirteen of the years in which GDP grew at more than 5 percent per year, unemployment did not grow.

Despite the fact that this table is based on calendar years and does not follow economic cycles, which of course do not correspond in the least to the calendar, it is clear that, if the GDP growth rate is not substantially higher than that of the population growth, the population loses jobs. If slow growth or its absence is a problem for business owners trying to increase their profits, it is a disaster for the working class.

What this tells us is that the capitalist system is a very rudimentary instrument in terms of providing jobs in relation to growth - if growth were justified by job creation. It would take a growth rate of about 4 percent or more, quite a long way from the average growth rate, for unemployment problems to be solved in today's American capitalism. Worse is the fact that, since the 1940s, such growth rates have hardly been achieved in the US economy, except in times of war.

B. Expansion leads to investments abroad in search of secure sources of raw materials, cheap labor, and new markets

When companies expand, they saturate, or almost, the local market and seek new markets abroad to sell their goods. Furthermore, they and their governments (working in corporate interests) help ensure access to and control over key natural resources such as oil and a variety of minerals. We are in the midst of a “land grab” process, as private capital and government sovereign wealth funds strive to gain control of vast portions of land around the world to produce food and input crops. for biofuels in their own markets. It is estimated that around 30 million hectares of land (practically two-thirds of the arable land in Europe), the majority in Africa, have recently been acquired or are in the process of being acquired by rich countries and international corporations. [25]

The global confiscation of land (even by “legal” means) can be considered part of the history of imperialism. The history of centuries of expansion and plunder by Europe is well documented. The US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan follow the same general historical pattern, and are clearly related to US attempts to gain control of major sources of oil and gas. [26]

Today multinational (or transnational) corporations scour the world for resources and opportunities wherever they can find them, exploiting cheap labor in poor countries and reinforcing, rather than reducing, imperialist divisions. The result is a much more rapacious global exploitation of nature and greater differences in wealth and power. Such corporations have loyalty only to their own balance sheets.

C. A system that, by its very nature, must grow and expand will eventually collide with the finiteness of natural resources

The irreversible depletion of natural resources will leave future generations unable to access them. Natural resources are used in the production process - oil, gas, coal (fuel), water (in industry and agriculture), trees (wood and paper), a variety of mineral deposits (such as iron ore, copper and bauxite), etc. Some resources, such as forests and fish banks, are finite, but can be renewed through natural processes if a planned system is used that is flexible enough to change when conditions require it. The future use of other resources - oil and gas, minerals, aquifers in some desert or dry area (prehistorically deposited water) - are forever limited to the provisions that currently exist. The water, air, and soil of the biosphere can continue to function well for the planet's living creatures only if pollution does not exceed their limited capacity to assimilate and mitigate harmful effects.

Business owners and managers generally consider the short term of their operations - most look at the next three or five years, or, rarely, up to ten years. This is the way they must work due to unpredictable business conditions (business cycle periods, competition from other corporations, prices of necessary inputs, etc.) and the demands of speculators seeking returns in the short term. They then act in ways that are totally outside the natural limits of their activities - as if there were an unlimited supply of resources to be exploited. Even if the reality of limitation penetrates their consciousness, it only increases the speed of exploitation of a given resource, which is extracted as quickly as possible, allowing the mobility of capital to new areas of exploitation. When each individual capital pursues profit-making and capital accumulation, the set of decisions that are made damage society as a whole.

The time before non-renewable resource pools are depleted depends on the size of the pool and its extraction rate. While the disappearance of certain resources may be hundreds of years away (assuming that the growth rate of extraction remains the same), the limits for some important ones - oil and certain minerals - are not very far. For example, predictions about peak oil vary among energy analysts - taking the conservative estimates of the companies themselves, at the rate at which oil is currently being used, known reserves will be depleted within the next fifty years. The peak oil prospect is projected in numerous corporate, government and scientific reports. The question today is not whether peak oil will come soon, but how soon. [27]

Even if utilization does not grow, the known deposits of phosphorus - a fundamental element of fertilizers - that can be exploited based on current technology will be exhausted in this century. [28]

Faced with the limitation of natural resources, there is no rational way to establish an order of priorities under the modern capitalist system, in which the allocation of basic products is the responsibility of the market. When extraction begins to decline, as is projected with oil in the near future, price increases will put even more pressure on what had been, until recently, the boast of world capitalism: the supposedly prosperous "middle class." workers in core countries.

The well-documented decline of many oceanic fish species, almost to the point of extinction, is an example of how renewable resources can be depleted. It is in the individual short-term interests of fishing boat owners - some of whom operate on an integrated scale, fishing, processing and freezing fish - to maximize the catch. Consequently, the fish are preyed upon. Nobody protects the common interests. In a system generally governed by private interest and accumulation, the state is frequently unable to do so. This is usually called the tragedy of the commons. But it should be called the tragedy of the private exploitation of the commons.

The situation would be very different if the resource were managed by the communities that have an interest in its continuity instead of the large corporations. Corporations are subjects with the sole objective of maximizing profits in the short term - after which they mobilize, leaving devastation behind. Although there are no natural limits to human ambition, there are limits, as we are learning daily, to many resources, including "renewables," such as the productivity of the seas. (The predation of fish off the coast of Somalia due to overfishing by large companies is believed to be one of the causes of the increase in piracy that plagues international shipping in the area. Interestingly, the neighboring Kenyan fishing industry is currently rebounding due to pirates also keeping large flotillas out of the area).

The exploitation of renewable resources before they can be renewed is understood as "overexploitation" of the resource. This is happening not only with large fisheries, but also with groundwater reservoirs (for example, the Oglala Aquifer in the United States, large areas of northwestern India, northern China, and numerous regions in North Africa. and the Middle East), tropical forests and even soils.

Duke University ecologist John Terborgh described a recent trip he made to a small African country where foreign economic exploitation is combined with ruthless resource predation.

Everywhere I went, foreign business interests were exploiting resources after signing contracts with the autocratic government. Prodigious logs, four to five feet in diameter, were emerging from the tropical forest, oil and gas were being exported from the coastal region, fishing rights had been sold to foreign interests, and exploration for oil and minerals was in progress. going indoors. Resource exploitation in North America during the five centuries after discovery followed a typical sequence - fish, hides, game, timber, cultivation of virgin soils - but due to the vastly expanded scale of today's economy and the availability of a myriad of sophisticated technologies, the exploitation of all resources in poor countries now occurs at the same time. In a few years, the resources of this African country and those of others like it will be totally exhausted. And what will happen then? The people there are currently enjoying an illusion of prosperity, but it is only an illusion, so they are not preparing for anything else. And neither do we. [29]

D. A system geared towards exponential growth in pursuit of profit will inevitably transcend the limits of the planet

The Earth system can be seen as consisting of a critical number of biogeochemical processes that, for hundreds of millions of years, have served to reproduce life. In the last 12 thousand years the world climate has taken on a relatively benign form associated with the geological era known as the Holocene, during which civilization emerged and developed. Now, however, the socioeconomic system of capitalism has grown to a scale that transcends fundamental planetary boundaries - the cycle of carbon, nitrogen, soil, forests, oceans. More and more photosynthetic products (associated with the soil), up to 40 percent, are explained by human production. All ecosystems on Earth are in visible decline. With the increasing scale of the world economy, the fissures generated to the earth's metabolism by human behavior are becoming increasingly severe and multifaceted. But the demand for greater economic growth and greater accumulation, even in the richest countries, is inscribed in the capitalist system. As a result, the world economy is in a massive bubble.

There is nothing in the nature of the current system, moreover, that allows us to stop before it is too late. To do that, other forces are required from the bottom of society.

E. Capitalism is not only an economic system - it creates a political, judicial and social system to sustain the system of wealth and accumulation.

Under capitalism, people are at the service of the economy and are conceived of as needing to consume more and more to keep the economy running. The massive and, in the words of Joseph Schumpeter, "elaborate psychotechnics of advertising" is absolutely necessary to keep people buying. [30] Morally, the system is based on the proposition that each, following his own interest (greed), will promote the general interest and growth. Adam Smith explained it this way: "It is not because of the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, the baker that we wait for our dinner, but because of the care they give to their own interests" [31]. In other words, individual greed (or pursuit of wealth) drives the system and human needs are satisfied as a mere by-product. The economist Duncan Foley has called this proposition and the economic and social irrationalities it generates "the Adam fallacy." [32]

The attitudes and good customs necessary for the proper functioning of such a system, as well as those necessary for progress in society - greed, individualism, competitiveness, exploitation of third parties, consumerism (the need to buy more and more things, not related to needs and even happiness) - are instilled in people from school, the media and the workplace. The title of Benjamin Barber's book - Consumed: how markets corrupt children, infantilize adults, and swallow up all citizens - is highly suggestive.

The notion of responsibility towards others and towards the community, which is the foundation stone of ethics, corrodes under such a system. In the words of Gordon Gekko - a fictional character from the Oliver Stone film Wall Street - "greed is good." Today, in the face of enormous public outrage, with finance capital making huge dividends from government assistance, capitalists have once again preached from the pulpit selfishness as the foundation of society. On November 4, 2009, Barclay Chief Executive John Varley declared from a lectern in Trafalgar Square, London, that "profit is not satanic." Weeks ago, on October 20, Goldman Sachs international advisor Brian Griffiths declared after the congregation at St. Paul's Cathedral in London that “Jesus' command to love others as ourselves is an acknowledgment of the selfishness. ”[33]

Rich people come to believe that they deserve their wealth because of hard work (their own or that of their ancestors) and possibly luck. The fact that their wealth and prosperity was built from the social work of countless other people is downplayed. They see the poor - and the poor often agree - as carriers of some defect, such as laziness or lack of education. The structural obstacles that prevent most people from significantly improving their living conditions are also minimized. This view of each individual as a separate economic entity concerned primarily with their own (and family) well-being, hides our humanity and common needs. People are not inherently selfish but are encouraged to act that way due to the pressures and characteristics of the system. After all, if each person doesn't take care of himself in a system where "man is man's wolf," who will?

The traits fostered by capitalism are commonly viewed as innate properties of "human nature," so organizing society around goals that go beyond profit is unthinkable. But humans are clearly capable of a wide range of capabilities, from great cruelty to great sacrifice for a cause, from caring for others, to true altruism. The "killer instinct" that is supposedly inherent in us from our evolutionary ancestry - with the "evidence" of chimpanzees killing the babies of others - is being questioned taking as reference the peaceful characteristics of other hominids such as gorillas and bonobos (so closely related humans such as chimpanzees). [34] Studies of human infants have also shown that while selfishness is a human trait, so are cooperation, empathy, altruism, and kindness. [35] Beyond the traits that we have inherited from our hominid ancestors, research on pre-capitalist societies indicates that they encouraged and expressed very different patterns from those of capitalist societies. As Karl Polanyi summed it up: “The astonishing discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that the economy of man is, as a rule, embedded in his social relations. He does not act for the purpose of safeguarding his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts to safeguard his social prestige, his social rights, his social assets ”[36]. In his 1937 article on "Human Nature" for the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, John Dewey concluded - in terms that have been verified by all subsequent Social Science - that:

The present controversies between those who affirm the essential fixity of human nature and those who believe in a greater range of modification center mainly around the future of war and the future of a competitive economic system motivated by private profit. It is justifiable to say without dogmatism that both anthropology and history support those who wish to modify these institutions. It is demonstrable that many of the obstacles to change that have been attributed to human nature are in fact due to the inertia of institutions and the voluntary desire of the powerful classes to maintain the existing status. [37]

Capitalism is unique among social systems for its active, extreme promotion of individual interest or "possessive individualism". [38] The reality is that non-capitalist human societies have thrived over a long period - more than 99 percent of the time since the emergence of anatomically modern humans - promoting other traits such as sharing and group responsibility. There is no reason to doubt that this could happen again. [39]

The incestuous connection that exists today between business interests, politics, and the law is reasonably apparent to most observers. [40] This includes blatant bribery, or more subtle ways of buying, friendship, and influence through campaign contributions and lobbying. In addition, a culture has developed among political leaders based on the precept that what is good for the capitalist business is good for the country. Hence, political leaders increasingly see themselves as political entrepreneurs, or counterparts to economic entrepreneurs, and regularly convince themselves that what they do for corporations to obtain the funds that will help them get re-elected it is actually in the public interest. Within the legal system, the interests of the capitalists and their businesses receive almost all the benefits.

Given the power exercised by business interests over the economy, the state, and the media, it is extremely difficult to carry out the fundamental changes they oppose. And therefore it makes it almost impossible to have an energy policy, health system, agriculture and food system, industrial policy, exchange policy, education, etc. make it sound ecologically sound.

IV. Characteristics of capitalism in conflict with social justice

The characteristics of capitalism discussed above - the need for growth; pushing people to buy more and more; expansion abroad; the use of resources regardless of future generations; excess beyond planetary boundaries; and the predominant role exercised by the economic system over the moral, legal, political and cultural forms of society - are probably the characteristics of capitalism that are most damaging to the environment. But there are other characteristics of the system that greatly impact social justice. It is important to take a closer look at those social contradictions embedded in the system.

A. With the natural functioning of the system, a great disparity arises between wealth and income

There is a logical connection between the successes and failures of capitalism. The poverty and misery of a good part of the world's population is not an accident, an involuntary by-product of the system, which can be eliminated with minor adjustments here or there. The fabulous accumulation of wealth - as a direct consequence of the way capitalism functions nationally and internationally - has simultaneously and persistently produced hunger, malnutrition, health problems, lack of water, sanitation services, and widespread misery for a large portion of the inhabitants of the planet. The rich few turn to the mythology that great disparities are actually necessary. For example, as Brian Griffiths, the Goldman Sachs International advisor, cited above, argued: "We must tolerate inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all." [41] What is good for the rich too - according to themselves - is coincidentally good for society as a whole, despite the fact that many remain in a perpetual state of poverty.

Most people need to work to earn wages that will allow them to earn what is necessary for life. But, due to the way the system works, there are a large number of people precariously connected to work, occupying the “last rungs of the ladder”.They are hired during growth seasons and fired as growth slows or because their work is no longer required for other reasons - Marx referred to this group as an "industrial reserve army." [42] Given a boom-and-bust system, and in which profits are the top priority, having a group of subjects in the reserve army is not merely convenient; it is absolutely essential for the dynamics of the system. It serves, above all, to keep wages low. The system, without significant government intervention (through high income taxes and substantially progressive income taxes), produces enormous income and wealth inequality, passed from generation to generation. The production of great wealth and, at the same time, enormous poverty, within and between countries is not a coincidence - wealth and poverty are actually two sides of the same coin.

In 2007, 1 percent of the United States population controlled 33.8 percent of the nation's wealth, while 50 percent of the population owned 2.5 percent. In fact, the 400 richest individuals totaled $ 1.54 trillion in 2007 - approaching the last 150 million people (which totaled $ 1.6 trillion). On a global scale, the wealth of the world's 793 billionaires is currently more than $ 3 trillion - equivalent to about 5 percent of total world income ($ 60.3 trillion in 2008). Just 9 million people in the world (about one-tenth of 1 percent of the world's population) designated as “high-net-worth individuals” currently possess a wealth of $ 35 trillion - equivalent to more than 50 percent of world income. [43] As wealth becomes increasingly concentrated, the rich gain more political power, and they will do their best to keep as much money as they can - at the expense of those in the lower strata. Most of the productive forces in society, such as factories, machinery, raw materials, and the land, are controlled by a relatively small percentage of the population. And, of course, most people see nothing wrong with this supposed natural order of things.

B. Goods and services are rationed according to ability to pay

The poor do not have access to decent homes or adequate food rations because they do not have “effective” demand - although they certainly have biological demands. All goods are merchandise. People without sufficient effective demand (money) are not entitled in the capitalist system to any particular type of commodity - be it a luxury item like a diamond bracelet or a huge mansion, or it is vital necessities like a healthy environment , safe sources of food, or quality medical care. Access to all merchandise is determined, not by desire or need, but by the availability of money or credit to purchase them. In this way, a system that, by its simple operation produces inequity and keeps workers' wages depressed, ensures that many (in some societies, the majority) will not have access to the satisfaction of basic needs or what we could consider a life worthy.

It should be noted that in the periods when trade unions and political parties were strong, some of the capitalist countries of Europe instituted a network of social security programs, such as a universal health care system, more benevolent than the United States. This occurred as a result of the struggle of the people who demanded that the government provide what the market does not - egalitarian satisfaction of some basic needs.

C. Capitalism is a system marked by recurring economic recessions

In the ordinary business cycle, factories and all industries produce more and more during a boom phase - assuming it will never end and not wanting to waste the opportunity - causing overproduction and overcapacity, leading to a recession. In other words, the system is prone to crises, during which the poor and those close to being considered poor suffer the brunt. Recessions occur with some regularity, while depressions are much less frequent. Right now, we are in a deep recession or mini-depression (with 10 percent official unemployment), and many think that we have escaped a large-scale depression by sheer luck. With this in mind, since the mid-1850s there have been thirty-two recessions or depressions in the United States (not including the current one) - with an average contraction duration since 1945 of about ten months and an average expansion between contractions with a average duration of six years. [44] Ironically, from an ecological point of view, major recessions - despite causing severe damage to many people - are actually a benefit, as lower production generates less pollution of the atmosphere, water and land.

V. Proposals for the ecological reform of capitalism

There are people who fully understand the ecological and social problems that capitalism causes, but they believe that it should be reformed. According to Benjamin Barber: “The struggle for the soul of capitalism is […] a struggle between the economic body of the nation and its civic soul: a struggle to put capitalism in its rightful place, where it serves our nature and needs instead of manipulating and manufacturing whims and wants. Saving capitalism means harmonizing it with the spirit –with prudence, pluralism and “the public thing” […] that defines our civic soul. A revolution of the spirit ”. [45] William Greider has written a book called The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy. And there are books by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins that try to sell the potential of "green capitalism" and "natural capitalism." [46] Here, we are told that we can get rich, we can continue to grow our economy and increase consumption endlessly - and save the planet at the same time! How good can it be? There is a small problem - a system that has a single goal, profit maximization, has no soul, can never have a soul, can never be green, and, by its very nature, must manipulate and manufacture whims and shortcomings.

There are a significant number of “out of the box” environmental thinkers and activists. They are genuinely good and well-meaning people concerned with the health of the planet, and most are also concerned with issues of social justice. However, there is a problem that they cannot get around - the capitalist economic system. Even the growing number of individuals who criticize the system and its "market failures" frequently end up with "solutions" that point to a tightly controlled "human" and non-corporate capitalism, rather than abandoning the limits of capitalism. They are unable to think of, let alone promote, an economic system with different objectives and decision-making processes - one that places the emphasis on human and environmental needs, as opposed to profit.

Corporations are going out of their way to present themselves as "green." Now you can buy and wear your Gucci clothing with a clear conscience because the company is helping to protect the rainforests by using less paper. [47] Newsweek contends that corporate giants such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Intel and IBM are in the top five green companies of 2009 due to the use of “renewable” sources of energy, for reporting greenhouse gas emissions. (or decrease them), and implement formal environmental policies. [48] You can travel wherever you want, guilt-free, just by purchasing carbon “offsets” that supposedly cancel out the environmental effects of your trip.

Let's look at some of the devices proposed to deal with ecological mess without disturbing capitalism.

A. Better technologies that are more energy efficient and use fewer inputs

Some proposals to improve energy efficiency - such as those suggesting how to recycle old houses so that they require less energy to heat in winter - are simply common sense. The efficiency of machinery, including household appliances and automobiles, has been increasing continuously, and is a normal part of the system. Despite how much can be achieved in this area, an increase in efficiency usually leads to lower costs and higher utilization (and frequently an increase in size, as in automobiles), so the energy consumed is actually older. The misguided incentive for "green" biofuels has been enormously damaging to the environment. Not only has it put food and car fuels in direct competition, at the expense of the former, but it has also at times reduced overall energy efficiency. [49]

B. Nuclear energy

Some scientists concerned with climate change, including James Lovelock and James Hansen, see nuclear energy as an alternative energy, and as a partial technological answer to the use of fossil fuels; one that is preferable to the increasing use of coal. However, even though nuclear power technology has improved somewhat, with third-generation nuclear plants, and with the possibility (not yet reality) of fourth-generation nuclear power plants, the dangers are still enormous - given the duration for hundreds or thousands of years of radioactive waste, the social management of complex systems, and the high level of risk involved. Furthermore, the construction of nuclear plants takes about ten years and they are extremely expensive. There are all kinds of reasons, then (and a big one is future generations), to be extremely cautious about nuclear power as some kind of solution. Going in that direction would be practically equivalent to taking a Faustian offer. [50]

C. Large-scale infrastructure solutions

A vast number of projects have been proposed either to dump CO2 out of the atmosphere or to increase the sun's reflection back into space, off Earth. These include: Carbon sequestration projects such as capturing CO2 from power plants and injecting it deep into the Earth, and fertilizing the oceans with iron to stimulate the growth of carbon absorbing algae; and improved systems for reflecting sunlight such as the deployment of large white islands in the oceans, the creation of large satellites that reflect sunlight, and the contamination of the stratosphere with particles that reflect light.

No one knows, of course, what detrimental effects could result from such inventions. For example, increased carbon uptake by the oceans could increase acidification, while dumping sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to block sunlight could reduce photosynthesis.

Numerous low-tech alternatives have also been proposed to capture carbon such as increased reforestation and the manipulation of ecological soils to increase their organic matter (which is mainly composed of carbon). Most of these should be done anyway (organic materials help improve the soil in many ways). Some could help reduce the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Although reforestation, which captures carbon from the atmosphere, is sometimes understood as generating negative emissions. But low-tech solutions cannot solve the problem of a sprawling system - especially considering that trees planted now can be cut down later, and that carbon stored as organic matter in soils can later be converted to CO2 if practices are modified.

D. Marketing systems

The system's favorite economic device is carbon markets instrumented to limit emissions. These involve setting a cap on the permitted level of gas emissions and then distributing permits (either by quota or by auction) that allow industries to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Corporations that have more permits than they need can sell them to other firms that require additional fees to pollute. These schemes invariably include "offsets" that act like medieval indulgences, allowing corporations to continue polluting as long as they buy divine grace helping to reduce pollution elsewhere - say, in the third world.

In theory, carbon markets are supposed to stimulate technological innovation to increase efficiency. In practice, they have not caused a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in those areas where they have been introduced, such as Europe. The main result of these exchanges has been huge revenues for some corporations and individuals, and the creation of a sub-prime carbon market. [51] There are no significant controls on the effectiveness of the “compensators”, nor on the prohibitions to change the conditions that will eventually result in a release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

SAW. What can be done now?

In the absence of a systemic change, of course there are certain things that have been done and even more can be done in the future to lessen the negative effects of capitalism on the environment and people. There is no particular reason why the United States cannot have, as in other advanced capitalist countries, a better social security system, including universal access to healthcare. To control the most serious environmental problems, governments can make laws and enforce regulations. The same happens for the environment or for the construction of social housing. A carbon tax as James Hansen has proposed - where 100 percent of dividends return to the public, spurring conservation while putting the burden on those with large carbon footprints and wealthier wealth - could be implemented. New carbon thermoelectric plants (without capture) could be banned while existing ones closed. [52] At a global level, it could promote the contraction and convergence of carbon emissions, moving towards uniform world per capita indices, with much deeper cuts in rich countries with larger carbon footprints. [53] The problem is the great opposition to these measures by very powerful forces. Therefore, these types of reforms are implemented, hopefully, limited, with a marginal existence as long as they do not affect the basic process of accumulation of the system.

What's more, the problem with all of these approaches is that they allow the economy to continue on the disastrous path it is currently taking. We can continue to consume as much as we want (or whatever our income and wealth allow us), depleting resources, driving greater distances in our more energy efficient cars, consuming all kinds of products made by “green” corporations, and so on. All we have to do is support new “green” technologies (some of which, like those that convert agricultural products into fuels, are not green!) And be “applied” by separating garbage that can be composted or reused. somehow. In this way we can continue to live much the same as we have been doing - in an economy of growth and perpetual income.

The severity of climate change due to human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has led to notions where it is only necessary to reduce the carbon footprint (which is already a problem in itself). However, the reality is that there are numerous interrelated and growing ecological problems due to a system dependent on the infinite expansion of capital accumulation. What needs to be reduced is not only the carbon footprint, but also the ecological footprint, this means reducing or slowing down economic expansion worldwide, especially in rich countries. At the same time, the economies of many poor countries must expand. The new principles that we could promote are, then, those of sustainable human development. This means enough for everyone and no more.Human development would not be hampered, and could be greatly enhanced for the benefit of all, if the emphasis was placed on it, and not on unsustainable economic development.

VII. Another economic system is not only possible - It is essential

The preceding analysis, if correct, points to the fact that the resolution of the ecological crisis cannot occur within the logic of the current system. There is no hope of success in the various suggestions. The world capitalist system is unsustainable in: (1) its quest for endless accumulation of capital tending towards production that must continually expand in order to make a profit; (2) its agricultural and food system that pollutes the environment and yet does not guarantee universal quantitative and qualitative access to food; (3) its rampant destruction of the environment; (4) its continued reproduction and increase of wealth stratification within and between countries; and (5) its search for the technological "silver bullet" to evade the growing social and ecological problems emerging from its own operations.

The transition to a green economy - which we believe should also be socialist - will be an arduous process that will not happen overnight. This is not a matter of "storming the Winter Palace." Rather, it is a dynamic, multifaceted struggle for a new cultural pact and a new productive system. The fight is ultimately against the capital system. However, it has to begin by opposing the logic of capital, striving in the here and now to create, in the interstices of the system, a new social metabolism rooted in egalitarianism, community and a sustainable relationship with the land. The bases for the creation of sustainable human development must arise from within the system dominated by capital, without being part of it, as the same bourgeoisie did from the "pores" of feudal society. [54] Eventually, these initiatives can become powerful enough to form the revolutionary foundations of a new movement and a new society.

These struggles in the interstices of capitalist society are taking place all over the world, and they are too numerous and complex to be fully developed here. The indigenous peoples today, with new vigor thanks to the continuous revolutionary struggle in Bolivia, reintroduce a new ethic and responsibility towards the land. La Via Campesina, a global peasant organization, promotes new forms of organic farming, such as the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) in Brazil, as in Cuba and Venezuela. Recently, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez emphasized the social and environmental reasons why it was necessary to free oneself from an economy based on oil income, with Venezuela being a major oil exporter. [55] The climate justice movement is demanding egalitarian and anti-capitalist solutions to the climate crisis. Everywhere radical, essentially anti-capitalist strategies are emerging, based on other ethics and forms of organization rather than profit motivation; ecovillages; the new urban environment promoted in Curitiba, Brazil, and elsewhere; experiments in permaculture, community agriculture, industrial and agricultural cooperatives in Venezuela, etc. The World Social Forum has given voice to many of these aspirations. As noted American environmentalist James Gustave Speth has said: "The international movement for change - which refers to itself as 'the irresistible rise of global anti-capitalism' - is stronger than many can imagine and will continue to gather momentum." [56]

Opposition to the logic of capitalism - with the goal of displacing the system as a whole - will grow imposingly because there is no other alternative, if the earth as we know it and humanity itself are to survive. Here, the goals of ecology and socialism will necessarily meet. It will be increasingly clear that the distribution of land, health, housing, etc. they would have to be based on the satisfaction of human needs rather than market forces. This, of course, is easier said than done. But it does mean that economic decision-making has to be done at local, regional and multi-regional levels through democratic processes. We have to face questions: (1) How can we meet the basic needs of food, water, shelter, clothing, health, and give the same educational and cultural opportunities to everyone? (2) How much of the economic output would have to be consumed and how much invested? And (3) How should the investments be directed? In the process, people have to find the best ways to carry out these activities in positive interaction with nature - to improve the ecosystem. New forms of democracy will be necessary, emphasizing our mutual responsibility, both within communities and with those around the world. Achieving this desire, of course, requires social planning at all levels: local, regional, national and international - which can only be fruitful if it is of and by, and not only apparently for the people. [57]

A democratic, reasonably egalitarian economic system capable of putting limits on consumption will undoubtedly mean that people will live with a lower level of consumption than is sometimes called, in rich countries, the “class” lifestyle. media ”(which was never universalized even in these societies). A simpler lifestyle, despite being “poorer” materially, can be more culturally and socially rich by reconnecting people with each other and with nature, and by having to work fewer hours to provide essential things for life. lifetime. A lot of jobs in rich capitalist countries are unproductive and can be eliminated, indicating that the working day can be shortened in a more rationally organized economy. The slogan sometimes seen on bumpers, "Live simply so others can simply live," makes little sense in a capitalist society. Living a simple life, as Helen and Scott Nearing did, showing that it may be rewarding and interesting, does not help the poor in the present circumstances. [58] However, the slogan will have real significance in a society under social (rather than private) control that attempts to meet the basic needs of all people.

Perhaps the Communal Councils of Venezuela - where local inhabitants receive resources and decide priorities for social investment in their communities - are an example of planning at the local level to satisfy human needs. This is the way in which necessities as important as schools, clinics, roads, electricity and water networks can be satisfied. In a truly transformed society, communal councils can interact with efforts made at the regional and multiregional level. And the use of society's surplus, once people's basic needs are satisfied, must be based on their own decisions. [59]

The very purpose of the new sustainable system, which is the necessary result of these innumerable struggles (necessary in terms of survival and realization of human potentiality), must be the satisfaction of basic material and non-material needs of all people, while protecting the global environment and local and regional ecosystems. The environment is not something “external” to the human economy as our present ideology dictates; it constitutes the essential vital basis for all living creatures. The cure for the "metabolic breakdown" between the economy and the environment involves new ways of living, producing, growing, transporting, etc. [60] Such a society must be sustainable; and sustainability requires substantive equality rooted in an egalitarian mode of production and consumption.

Specifically, people should live closer to their workplaces, in green and energy efficient as well as comfortable homes, and in communities designed for public engagement, with enough spaces, such as parks and community centers, to gather and have opportunities for entertainment. Better means of mass transportation within and between cities are needed to reduce the use of cars and trucks. Rail is significantly more energy efficient than freight transport (413 miles per gallon for gasoline per ton versus 155 miles for trucks) and causes fewer fatal accidents while emitting fewer greenhouse gases. A train can carry the load of 280 to 500 trucks. In turn, it is estimated that a single railway line can carry the same number of people as many motorway lanes. [61] Industrial production should be based on "cradle to cradle" ecological principles, where products and buildings are designed for low energy consumption, using as much light and natural heating / cooling as possible, simple construction as well as ease of use. reuse and ensuring that the manufacturing process produces little or no waste. [62]

Agriculture based on ecological principles, carried out by peasant families or cooperatives, reconnecting with the land on which they grow their own food, has proven to be not only as or more productive than large-scale production, but also has a minor negative impact on local ecologies. In fact, mosaics created by small farms interspersed with native vegetation are necessary to protect endangered species. [63]

A better existence has to be achieved for slum dwellers, about one sixth of humanity. First and foremost, a system that requires a “slum planet,” as Mike Davis has put it, has to be replaced by a system that has room for food, water, housing, and employment for all. [64] For many, this may imply - with a provision of land, housing and other adequate supports - a return to peasant life.

Smaller cities will be needed, with inhabitants living close to the places where their food is produced and where the industry is dispersed, and on a smaller scale.

Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, has captured the essence of the situation in his comments on the shift towards a system that promotes the "living well" rather than the "living better" of capitalism. As he said at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009: “Living better is exploiting human beings. It is depleting natural resources. It is selfishness and individualism. So, in those promises of capitalism there is neither solidarity nor complementarity. There is no reciprocity. That is why we are trying to think of other ways of living and living well, not living better. Living better is always at the expense of another. Living better is at the cost of destroying the environment ”. [65]

Previous experiences of transition to non-capitalist systems, especially in Soviet-type societies, indicate that this will not be easy and that what is needed are new conceptions of what constitutes socialism, clearly distinguishing them from those early, frustrated attempts. The revolutions of the 20th century were typically built in relatively poor and underdeveloped countries, which were rapidly isolated and continually threatened from the outside. Such post-revolutionary societies became heavily bureaucratized, with a minority in command of the state and ruling over the rest of society. They ended up reproducing many of the hierarchical relations of production that characterize capitalism. Workers continued to be proletarianized, while production was expanded for the sake of production itself. Real social improvements existed too often with extreme forms of social repression. [66]

Today we must strive to build a genuine socialist system; one where the bureaucracy is brought under control, and the power over production and politics truly resides with the people. Just as the new challenges we face are changing in our time, so are the possibilities for the development of freedom and sustainability.

When the Rev. Jeremiah Wright spoke at the Monthly Review's sixtieth anniversary meeting in September 2009, he continually repeated the question "What about the people?" If there is still hope to significantly improve the living conditions of the vast majority of the world's inhabitants - many of whom are hopelessly living in the worst conditions of existence - and at the same time preserve the Earth as a habitable planet, we need a system constantly ask, "What about people?" instead of "How much money can I earn?" This is necessary, not only for humans, but for all other species that share the planet with us and whose destinies are intimately linked to ours.

Fred magdoff Y John bellamy foster - Monthly Review | Volume 61, number 10 | 2010 March

Translation to Spanish: Southern Petroleum Observatory - Original English version in Monthly Review

Fred magdoff is Professor Emeritus of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont, and Adjunct Professor of Agriculture and Soil Science at Cornell University. He is the author of Soils for Better Crop Construction (With Harold van Es, 3rd Edition, 2009), and The ABCs of the Economic Crisis (With Michael Yates, Monthly Review Press, 2009).

John bellamy foster is editor of Monthly Review and professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. His most recent book is The Ecological Revolution (Monthly Review Press, 2009


[1] Fidel Castro Ruz: The truth of what happened at the Summit, December 20, 2009.

[2] Translator's note: in order to maintain the fidelity of the passage, we have taken Plato's translation: Critias or Atlantis. 1975. Buenos Aires: Aguilar. Translation from the Greek, prologue and notes by Francisco De P. Samaranch.

[3] James Hansen, Reto Ruedy, Makiko Sato, and Ken Lo, "If It’s That Warm, How Come It’s So Damned Cold?"

[4] Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), 164.

[5] Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, 82-85; Richard S. J. Tol, et al., "Adaptation to Five Meters of Sea Level Rise," Journal of Risk Research, no. 5 (July 2006), 469.

[6] World Glacier Monitoring Service / United Nations Environment Program, Global Glacier Change: Facts and Figures (2008),; Baiqing Xu, et al., "Black Soot and the Survival of Tibetan Glaciers," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, December 8, 2009,; Carolyn Kormann, “Retreat of Andean Glaciers Foretells Water Woes,” Environment 360,; David Biello, “Climate Change is Ridding the World’s Tropical Mountain Ranges of Ice,” Scientific American Observations, December 15, 2009,; Union of Concerned Scientists, “Contrarians Attack IPCC Over Glacial Findings, But Glaciers are Still Melting,” January 19, 2010,

[7] Agence France Presse (AFP), “UN Warns of 70 Percent Desertification by 2025,” October 4, 2005.

[8] Shaobing Peng, et al., “Rice Yields Decline with Higher Night Temperature from Global Warming,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101 no. 27 (2005), 9971-75.

[9] James Hansen, "Strategies to Address Global Warming" (July 13, 2009), http //; Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, 145-47.

[10] "Arctic Seas Turn to Acid, Putting Vital Food Chain at Risk," Guardian, October 4, 2009; The Earth Institute, Columbia University, “Ocean’s Uptake of Manmade Carbon May be Slowing,” November 18, 2009,; "Seas Grow Less Effective at Absorbing Emissions," New York Times, November 19, 2009; S. Khatiwal, F. Primeau, and T. Hall, “Reconstruction of the History of Anthropogenic CO2 Concentrations in the Ocean,” Nature 462, no. 9 (November 2009), 346-50.

[11] Lindsey Hoshaw, "Afloat in the Ocean, Expanding Islands of Trash," New York Times, November 10, 2009.

[12] United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization,

[13] Bobbi Chase Wilding, Kathy Curtis, Kirsten Welker-Hood. 2009.Hazardous Chemicals in Health Care: A Snapshot of Chemicals in Doctors and Nurses, Physicians for Social Responsibility,

[14] Lyndsey Layton, “Use of potentially harmful chemicals kept secret under law,” Washington Post, January 4, 2010.

[15] Frank Jordans, "17,000 Species Threatened by Extinction," Associated Press, November 3, 2009.

[16] Monitra Pongsiri, et al., "Biodiversity Loss Affects Global Disease Ecology," Bioscience 59, no. 11 (2009), 945-54.

[17] James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, ix.

[18] Johan Rockström, et al., "A Safe Operating Space for Humanity," Nature, 461 (September 24, 2009), 472-75.

[19] Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens. The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind (New York: Universe Books, 1972); Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis L. Meadows, The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004).

[20] Erik Assadourian, “The Rise and Fall of Consumer Cultures,” in Worldwatch Institute, State of the World, 2010 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010), 6.

[21] Epicurus, "The Vatican Collection," The Epicurus Reader (Indianapolis: Haskett, 1994), 39.

[22] “Poverty Facts and Statistics, Global Issues,

[23] Curtis White, "Barbaric Heart: Capitalism and the Crisis of Nature," Orion (May-June 2009),

[24] For treatments of the role of speculation and debt in the U.S. economy, see John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, “The Great Financial Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009) and Fred Magdoff and Michael Yates, The ABCs of the Economic Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009).

[25] “Fears for the World’s Poor Countries as the Rich Grab Land to Grow Food,” Guardian, July 3, 2009; "The Food Rush: Rising Demand in China and West Sparks African Land Grab," Guardian, July 3, 2009.

[26] For a brief discussion of European expansion, see Harry Magdoff and Fred Magdoff, “Approaching Socialism,” Monthly Review 57, no. 3 (July-August 2005), 19-61. On the relation of oil and gas to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, see Michael T. Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

[27] British Petroleum, BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2009,; John Bellamy Foster, The Ecological Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), 85-105.

[28] David A. Vaccari, "Phosphorus Famine: A Looming Crisis," Scientific American, June 2009: 54-59.

[29] John Terborgh, "The World is in Overshoot," New York Review of Books 56, no. 19 (December 3, 2009), 45-57.

[30] Joseph A. Schumpeter, Business Cycles (New York: McGraw Hill, 1939), vol. 1, 73.

[31] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, (New York: Modern Library, 1937), 14.

[32] Duncan K. Foley, Adam’s Fallacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).

[33] “Profit‘ Is Not Satanic, ’Barclays Says, after Goldman Invokes Jesus,”, November 4, 2009.

[34] Frans de Waal. "Our Kinder, Gentler Ancestors," Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2009.

[35] J. Kiley Hamlin, Karen Wynn, and Paul Bloom, "Social Evaluation by Preverbal Infants," Nature 50, no. 2 (November 22, 2007), 557-59; Nicholas Wade. “We May be Born with an Urge to Help,” New York Times, December 1, 2009. Some recent research in this regard is usefully summarized in Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization (New York: Penguin, 2009), 128-34.

[36] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon, 1944), 46.

[37] John Dewey, Selections from the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York: Macmillan, 197), 536.

[38] See C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).

[39] For a fuller discussion of these issues see Magdoff and Magdoff, “Approaching Socialism,” 19-23.

[40] For a discussion of the power of finance in the U.S. political system, see Simon Johnson, “The Quiet Coup,” Atlantic Monthly, May 2009.

[41] Julia Werdigier, "British Bankers Defend Their Pay and Bonuses," New York Times, November 7, 2009.

[42] For a contemporary view of the reserve army, see Fred Magdoff and Harry Magdoff, “Disposable Workers,” Monthly Review 55, no. 11 (April 2005), 18-35.

[43] Matthew Miller and Duncan Greenberg, ed., "The Richest People In America" ​​(2009), Forbes,; Arthur B. Kennickell, "Ponds and Streams: Wealth and Income in the U.S., 1989 to 2007," Federal Reserve Board Working Paper 2009-13, 2009, 55, 63; "World GDP,", accessed January 16, 2010; "World’s Billionaires,", March 8, 2007; Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, World Wealth Report, 2009,, introduction.

[44] “How Many Recessions Have Occurred in the U.S. Economy? " Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco, January 2008,; National Bureau of Economic Research, Business Cycle Expansions and "Contractions, January 17, 2010,"

[45] Benjamin Barber, "A Revolution in Spirit," The Nation, February 9, 2009,

[46] Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1999). For a detailed critique of the ideology of “natural capitalism,” see F.E. Trainer, “Natural Capitalism Cannot Overcome Resource Limits,”

[47] “Gucci Joins Other Fashion Players in Committing to Protect Rainforests,” Financial Times, November 5, 2009.

[48] ​​Daniel McGinn, "The Greenest Big Companies in America," Newsweek, September 21, 2009.

[49] Fred Magdoff, "The Political Economy and Ecology of Biofuels," Monthly Review 60, no. 3 (July-August 2008), 34-50.

[50] James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia (New York: Perseus, 2006), 87-105, Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, 198-204. On the continuing dangers of nuclear power, even in its latest incarnations, see Robert D. Furber, James C. Warf, and Sheldon C. Plotkin, “The Future of Nuclear Power,” Monthly Review 59, no. 9 (February 2008), 38-48.

[51] Friends of the Earth, "Subprime Carbon?" (March 2009),, and A Dangerous Obsession (November 2009),; James Hansen, “Worshiping the Temple of Doom” (May 5, 2009),; Larry Lohman, “Climate Crisis: Social Science Crisis,” forthcoming in M. Voss, ed., Kimawandel (Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag),

[52] See Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, 172-77, 193-94, 208-22.

[53] See Aubrey Meyer, Contraction and Convergence (Devon: Schumacher Society, 2000; Tom Athansiou and Paul Baer, ​​Dead Heat (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.

[54] See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1975), vol. 6, 327; Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (London: Penguin, 1981), 447-48.

[55] See “Chávez Stresses the Importance of Getting Rid of the Oil Rentier Model in Venezuela,” MRzine, (January 11, 2010).

[56] See James Gustave Speth, The Bridge at the Edge of the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 195.

[57] See On planning, see Magdoff and Magdoff, “Approaching Socialism,” 36-61.

[58] See Helen and Scott Nearing, Living the Good Life (New York: Schocken, 1970). Scott Nearing was for many years a columnist "World Events" for Monthly Review.

[59] See Iain Bruce, The Real Venezuela (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 139-75.

[60] On the metabolic rift, see Foster, The Ecological Revolution, 161-200.

[61] C. James Kruse, et al., “A Modal Comparison of Domestic Freight Transportation Effects on the General Public, Center for Ports and Waterways,” Texas Transportation Institute, 2007;; Mechanical Database site, Rail vs. Truck Industry, last seen;, January 17, 2010.

[62] William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle (New York: North Point Press. 2002).

[63] See Miguel A. Altieri, “Agroecology, Small Farms, and Food Sovereignty,” Monthly Review 61, no. 3 (July-August 2009), 102-13.

[64] Mike Davis, Planet of the Slums (London; Verso, 2007).

[65] Interview with Evo Morales by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, December 17, 2009,

[66] See Paul M. Sweezy, Post-Revolutionary Society (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980).

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