Capitalism

Chris Smaje, The elephant in the room is capitalism. Maybe., October 9, 2016

I’d been hoping to pay another visit to the Peasant’s Republic of Wessex, but red tape has been holding me up at the border so it’ll have to wait probably for another couple of weeks. Instead, I thought I’d offer a few top-of-the-head thoughts on Felicity Lawrence’s recent article about agricultural pesticide use in The Guardian – or, more specifically, on some of the under-the-line responses it prompted.

Whenever someone writes an online article about virtually any aspect of the environmental challenges facing humanity, you can pretty much guarantee that underneath it somebody is going to write a comment that closely approximates to this: “The real issue here is human over-population. It’s the elephant in the room that trendy green thinkers don’t want to talk about.” In distant second place you’ll usually find a similar comment about meat eating. And, even less commonly, one about the flying or other carbon-intensive sins of said trendy green thinkers.

These comments doubtless emanate respectively from the childless, the vegan, and the foot-powered, and represent the pharisaical human tendency to elevate whatever behaviours we engage in that we feel are especially praiseworthy to a kind of touchstone status by which we can judge others less virtuous than ourselves. Hovering in the background of such thought is the ever present charge of hypocrisy, as in this recent tweet aimed at George Monbiot’s opposition to fossil fuel extraction: “Hey @GeorgeMonbiot – You PERSONALLY give up all items made or sustained by fossil fuels first, then we’ll talk.”

David Fleming nails this way of thinking especially well when he writes,

“Though my lifestyle may be regrettable, that does not mean that my arguments are wrong; on the contrary, it could mean that I am acutely aware of values that are better than the ones I achieve myself. If I lived an impeccable life, I could be lost in admiration for myself as an ethical ideal; failings may keep me modest and raise my sights”1

But, more importantly, all the obsessive finger-pointing about individual behaviours neglects the systemic logic which provides their ground. This was Marx’s insight in his critique of the utopian socialists – capitalism isn’t an especially nasty system because capitalists are especially nasty people. Therefore, building some nice factories with pleasant managers won’t solve the problem. The problem is that individual people ultimately have little choice but to respond to the behavioural drivers dictated by the logic of the (capitalist) system – and these drivers, investing a million innocent little decisions, have nasty consequences.

That brings me to my main point: when it comes to pesticide use in farming – actually, when it comes to a lot of things – if we want to talk about ‘the elephant in the room’, it isn’t human population. It’s capitalism.

Brad Hornick, Ricochet, October 4, 2016

The fresh new face Canada showed the world at the Paris COP21 climate meetings held out hope for many Canadian climate activists that a national course change was in the works.

Paul Street, How to Stop Capitalism’s Deadly War With Nature, September 14, 2016
So far, 2016 is the hottest year on record. So was 2015. So was 2014.(John McColgan / U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Richard Valdmanis and Grant Smith, Reuters, September 6, 2016

U.S. companies that have expressed the most fervent public support for President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda are also funding its biggest enemies - the scores of U.S. lawmakers who are climate change skeptics and oppose regulation to combat it, according to a Reuters review of public records.

David Roberts, Vox, August 22, 2016

Bill McKibben — author, activist, mensch, and, though he would hate me saying so, the closest thing the climate movement has to a spokesperson — has a bracing new piece in the New Republic called "A World at War." His thesis is simple: Climate change is tantamount to a global war, being waged on us by physics.

 

"World War III is well and truly underway," he writes. "And we are losing."

Michael Gasser, Santa Cruz Ecological Justice, August 22, 2016

In a new article in the New Republic, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, probably the world’s most influential climate activist, argues that World War III has begun and that the enemy is climate change.

Sunny Freeman, The Toronto Star, July 18, 2016

Fear of a “Minsky moment” — a sudden collapse in asset values that could set economies ablaze — keeps Bank of England governor Mark Carney up at night.

But the focus of that fear, at a Toronto talk on Friday, was climate change, not the economic elephant in the room, Brexit.

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, July 13, 2016

Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.

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