Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Why I am not a Capitalist

with 21 comments

Amongst other things, I explained why I am not a Socialist yesterday. Therefore, it seems only fair that I should also explain why I am not a Capitalist either. Actually, since anyone with money invested in a pension scheme is an inadvertent capitalist, it would be more accurate for me to say I have lost my faith in Capitalism. In fact, this and yesterday’s posts would have been better entitled “Why I don’t believe in Socialism” and “Why I don’t believe in Capitalism” respectively.

Whether wise or not, in a recent job application to an environmental NGO, I wrote: “It may have taken me 20-25 years to work out that my concern regarding climate change was the reason for my persistent unease about working for clients whose focus is commercial rather than environmental; but I believe that it is fundamentally important for me to have done so.”

Friends and relatives have recently characterised me as having been foolish; and/or for having poor judgement; for being too honest in job interviews; for being too idealistic and evangelistic in promoting my belief in the value of our environment; and for not placing sufficient value upon the attainment of a (supposedly) decent job. I guess that, having challenged much of the modus operandi of our modern world, I should not have been surprised by the boldness of this criticism (from a well-educated successful person) but I was, nonetheless, disappointed by it. The question still remains as to exactly who is being foolish here? Is it those who appear to be up on deck in the Orchestra – determined to keep on playing while the ship sinks; or those who appear to be locked beneath decks in Steerage – insisting that the ship might not have hit the iceberg if we had been in charge? One thing seems clear – whether you apply it to the fate of the EU or the whole planet – the myth of the unsinkable Titanic seems to be a very apt analogy for humanity’s current predicament. See: From Titanic to Avatar and back again (14 April 2012).

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been trekking round the TV and Radio Studios in the UK recently and, in between fending off questions over his handling of the Iraq War (yet again) – and admitting that he would have much preferred the job of EU President than Middle East Peace Envoy – he made the astonishing claim that Gordon Brown was “always right about economics”. Wherever ‘Blairland’ is, it sounds like an idyllic place where fantasy and fiction are indistinguishable. However, the reason I mention this is not to have a go at Labour’s economic mismanagement of the last decade but because Blair made it clear that he sees a Federalised European superstate – bankrolled by Germany – as the only way that Europe can have influence in our new global village. He even admitted that the purpose of the European Union was no longer to guarantee peace; it was to guarantee power! And for power, I think we should read ‘money’. This is because Blair was never really a Socialist; indeed he still insists in the need for a Third Way. Unfortunately, he is still worshipping at the temple of Growth and – therefore – his Third Way is still a road paved with economic denial of basic physics that can lead to nowhere but the annihilation of humanity (and most if not all life on Earth). It may take 200 years but, unless we recant from the foolishness of Growthmania and the fetishization of Money itself, I am now certain we will eventually make this planet uninhabitable. That is to say, the rapid and accelerating depletion of all its natural resources will cease to be the issue; the crunch point will come – and scientists say it is not now far off – when human activity triggers the failure of the ecosystem services that nature provides (and which make our existence possible).

Given the looming financial and economic catastrophe that collective hypnosis at Rio+20 has just made inevitable, our best option is localism not federalism: Just look at what happens when the British banking system stops processing payments for one night – it causes chaos and takes a week to sort it out. Imagine what will happen when this is repeated across the EU…

We should all be worried by this: self-sufficient communities would appear to be the only plausible means to escape the approaching twin tsunamis of environmental and socio-economic collapse… And remember, it will not happen because anyone wishes it to happen; it will now happen because our leaders chose to ignore the scientists that told them they needed to act to prevent it happening. Imagine what will happen when the failure in our banking systems is replicated in nature itself…

So, to conclude: Yesterday, I implied that I do not believe in Socialism because it is a utopian project. However, as quoted back in April, John Gray has (rightly in my view) described Capitalism as a utopian project also. Therefore, my disillusionment with both should not be surprising. But, if Tony Blair has not found it, what is the Third Way? I believe that nature itself needs a New Deal: The “go forth and multiply” project has failed; so has the “have dominion over the Earth and subdue it” project. What humanity needs to do now is to re-learn how to live in harmony with nature. If we do not, I fear that we will be exterminated because:

“Perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell” – Paul Ehrlich.

Written by Martin Lack

26 June 2012 at 00:02

21 Responses

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  1. I could not agree with you more, Martin. I’ve been thinking a lot about relocalization as the best way to prepare for the coming social and environmental shifts. So far I haven’t acted on these ideas, but I am getting closer all the time. If I were to lose my job (and this is not at all impossible) it would give me the kick in the pants I seem to need to really begin to figure out how to detach myself from the globalized economic and social grid, and join some folks who are working on communitarian self-sufficiency. It’s a very intriguing prospect….

    Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

    26 June 2012 at 17:16

    • Thanks Jennifer. Presumably, given the name of your blog, you are familiar with the Transition Towns/Network movement? Is there one near you? (Ooops. Silly question. Link already on your blog!)

      Martin Lack

      26 June 2012 at 17:48

      • Yes of course, and I have been thinking about trying to get a TT going here in my town, but it’s hard to have the extra energy with everything else I’m doing. Would rather join one already established, but that would entail moving…we shall see…

        Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

        26 June 2012 at 17:51

  2. Although I agree with you in principle, I have to point out that one has to be careful in one’s distinction between capitalism and consumerism. Free market capitalism remains by far the best system under which the human race can get things done and the fact is that the human race needs to get a hell of a lot done in order to build a sustainable future and uplift the billions of poor people still grinding out a living on this planet.

    As I see it, our global problems today originated because consumerism infected capitalism. We do produce a lot of stuff and have make excellent progress in various fields, but the problem is only that we produce and develop useless consumables instead of products that will really contribute to sustainable wellness.

    If the consumer demand was for home energy generation systems, electric vehicles and organic food, our capitalist systems would develop and produce these things in record time and make great strides towards a sustainable future. Unfortunately however, the consumer demand is controlled by our culture of consumerism and the amazing power of capitalism is therefore twisted towards the “dark side” so to speak.

    I believe the only viable answer lies in educating the consumer base and getting them to understand that health, wealth and happiness come from sustainable living. They should also be made aware of the studies finding that our massive over-consumption has brought us no happiness. The more people realize this, the more the consumer demand will shift and the more we will make capitalism work for us instead of against us.


    26 June 2012 at 19:46

    • Dear Schalk, It is indeed good to see you back here (I was beginning to wonder if I had done something to upset you). Thanks for your comments; with which I very much agree. Marxism robbed people of many things (identity, dignity, autonomy, freedom, life, etc.) including any incentive to raise themselves above the level of subsistence farmers. However, what I find scary is this: David Roberts/Grist pointing out that, according to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2011, the opportunity cost of failing to de-carbonise our economies within this decade will be 500 billion USD per year… We simply do not have this kind of money knocking around; nor will we ever find it (unless, of course, we just print it).

      Martin Lack

      26 June 2012 at 20:20

      • Regarding the IEA’s outlook: Another way I’ve seen the numbers explained is that for every dollar we do not spend to control emissions before 2020, we will have to spend $4.30 to compensate for the additional emissions.


        26 June 2012 at 23:58

      • Hehe… Nah, I’ve just been focusing more on nutrition and less on climate change for the past weeks.

        Have you read the original IEA projections? If not, I think you will find it interesting. Here is a nice summary: The amount of money we need to pull this off is truly daunting and is one of the things that really makes me very uncomfortable about the future – funding this will require close to a 10% tax on the billion richest world citizens. And yes, energy is just one of the many sectors that we need to completely revamp…

        Really, we will need a green capitalist system in total overdrive to pull this off.


        27 June 2012 at 06:46

        • Thank you so much for the link to the IEA’s factsheets. I have only skimmed them so far but am most alarmed by their glib acceptance that we are on a trajectory towards 3.5 Celsius temperature rise; and that they appear to accept we will continue to burn all the Earth’s fossil fuels (BATEFF) simply because they are there. Furthermore, given what happened in Rio de Janeiro last week, our politicians appear to have ignored both the IEA’s warnings about financial cost and James Hansen’s warnings that BATEFF is not a survivable option.

          Martin Lack

          27 June 2012 at 07:30

    • I agree totally with your conclusion that capitalism has been corrupted and that we need to find a way to make it work for us instead of against us. We should start by kneecapping corporate power, IMO. Getting more airtime for The Corporation would help.


      27 June 2012 at 12:34

      • True that. Excessive corporate power chasing profit at any cost definitely does not contribute to the sustainable wellness of our society. But the corporations get their power from the consumer base who keep on buying their stuff on the tragically misguided fundamental belief that more consumption will bring happiness – a belief that has been proven false in many studies.

        The moment that the consumer base wakes up and starts building happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable lives for themselves, corporate power will start rapidly declining.


        28 June 2012 at 06:35

        • I can’t agree with you there. The consumer base can’t ‘wake up’ because it has been indoctrinated from birth, as Noam Chomsky illustrates well in the documentary Manufacturing Consent.

          Moreover, corporate power derives from legalistic jiggery-pokery applied over the last few decades, progressively giving them more of a say in the way that ‘civilised’ society is run (a case that The Corporation makes well). The latest example is the US Supreme Court decision in 2010 to allow corporations to spend as much money as they want telling voters who to vote for.


          28 June 2012 at 20:25

        • This is a very interesting philosophical difference that we seem to have. I completely agree that the environment created by big governments and big business exerts a great deal of control over the behavior of the consumer base, and this lies at the heart of our massive global environmental, economic, social and health problems. We seem to disagree, however, on the best way to break out of this death trap.

          The majority view is that we need politicians to start pushing environmentally friendly policies and big business to start relinquishing the control they have over society. We campaign hard and make impressive documentaries, but I think that real world experience over the past two decades or so has shown that this approach is simply not working.

          Personally, I think the primary reason for this is that we are essentially asking our politicians and big business leaders to commit career suicide – something that people simply don’t do willingly. Because it requires certain short term sacrifices, making environmentally friendly policy shifts gets politicians in trouble with the electorate (especially in the current economic environment). Politicians doing this will risk their careers even if as much as 40% of the electorate fully understands the necessity of such a move. Similarly, making environmentally and socially conscious decisions at the expense of profits gets big business leaders into trouble with shareholders.

          It is hard to estimate the percentage of people in the world that would be willing to forego a little consumption/profit to ensure a sustainable future, but I think this is probably still significantly less than 10%. Now this 10% can campaign and complain all they want, but in a democracy, nothing meaningful will happen (as is graphically being illustrated on the AGW front) before they increase their numbers to 40-50%.

          For these reasons, I choose to pursue a different path: personal lifestyle change. Even though the concerned 10% is virtually completely powerless to effect real political change, they can make a big impact on the world by changing their consumption patterns. If 10% of people choose to willingly decrease their carbon and ecological footprints (which is very easy), look after their health (which is very easy), act financially responsibly (which is very easy) and start talking to their friends about the reasons they are now in perfect health, financially secure and happy to be part of the solution rather than the problem (which is very easy), the positive effect on our world can be enormous.

          Even though this route is also littered with challenges, I honestly think it has a much greater chance of success than our repeated failed attempts to affect government policy and change big business. But the fundamental reason I advocate this goes even deeper: the fact that we desperately need to take back our personal liberty and our responsibility for shaping our own lives. Our degree of dependence and attachment to big government and big business is extremely worrying. I can go on about this for hours, but the crux of the matter is that retaking personal responsibility by choosing to exert your own will to build for yourself a happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable life is an essential exercise in retaking personal liberty and absolutely vital to the sustainable wellness of our society.


          29 June 2012 at 07:18

  3. […] two days, I have explained why I am not a Socialist (despite dabbling with it in the past); and why I have lost my faith in Capitalism (despite being unavoidably enmeshed in it to this day)… So, what is the answer? Is there a […]

  4. The question still remains as to exactly who is being foolish here? Is it those who appear to be up on deck in the Orchestra – determined to keep on playing while the ship sinks; or those who appear to be locked beneath decks in Steerage – insisting that the ship might not have hit the iceberg if we had been in charge?


    27 June 2012 at 12:27

  5. Both of your pieces are well-written, Martin. Thank you for highlighting them to me.

    I think I’m also somewhere in the “middle” of the two worldviews you discussed. I am not a rabid socialist nor am I a rabid capitalist. There are aspects to both systems that I think could be employed for the betterment of many people and that simultaneously aren’t self-contradictory.

    Building on that statement, I think there is a balance between localism and federalism. Especially in the context of climate change, there is the ability of local peoples to build resilience based on their specific know-how and changing conditions. That said, locals cannot put together the same resources in the same manner as a larger government. Thus, the federalist approach can also build resilience to climate change. I see elements of both as being available and critical to the development of that resilience. Among other considerations, it is when advocates of either push us toward only one solution that conditions become unbalanced and resilience is challenged.


    28 June 2012 at 19:26

    • Thank you. Hopefully you will have seen (if you looked at the comments too), that the first of these two posts should really have been entitled “Why I am not a Marxist”, because there is, very clearly, a great deal of overlap between socialism and green politics (e.g. the similar aims of seeking social justice and environmental justice). I believe that, like you, I am somewhere in the middle; and I believe that environmental politics will only succeed if it can galvanise support within both traditional camps… I hope you have also read the post that follows this one – Nature is not your enemy… – as it proposes how this solution may be achieved.

      Martin Lack

      28 June 2012 at 22:15

  6. […] Always a utopian project, global laissez-faire has run aground on its own contradictions. […]

  7. […] Why I am not [just] a capitalist (26 June 2012). […]

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