(Hope-Johnstone, R./Restore Lake Pedder. Date unknown. Lake Pedder, Tasmania, prior to 1972. Lake Pedder was considered the jewel in the crown of Tasmania’s South-West Wilderness, but was drowned under 15 metres of water in 1972 in a hydro-electric scheme to meet Tasmanian dreams of economic growth and industrialisation. A classic example of capitalism’s conversion of living, natural capital, to inanimate, material, human capital. https://lakepedder.org/ . See also Section 1.8.3).

Capitalism: Problems for the Environment

Section
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
Page
9.3

In 9.2 we looked at some of the key planks of capitalism and the benefits they have brought, at least to part of, humanity. Now we turn to the problems they pose, particularly environmental problems, and because of their scale and ubiquity, this is perhaps best done via a table.

 

The table reveals what a strange, paradoxical world-religion capitalism is: on the one hand it is vast and expansionary, in its endless quest and restlessness for ‘growth’; on the other hand, it is small and mean, forever reducing the world and human condition to the material, the here and now, the individual. It is an aggressive, proselytising religion also, extinguishing other understandings of the world, other entities, via its hold on power structures and relentless promotion, denying even as it consumes ‘the other’. It is breathtakingly self-absorbed and narcissistic: there is nothing but the human self and its wants and everything else – the future, other places, Nature, other people must be subjugated to this.

Why human beings at the start of the 21st century are so much in its thrall is hard to understand, particularly as it so explicitly limits the human condition. Perhaps it is its enormous, shiny, self-referential power? Or is it its ‘hind-brain’ appeal and simplicity of ‘more’, more material goods, more comfort, and less fear? Is it its appeal to rampant egotism about the primacy, indeed, the exquisite cleverness, of the human? Whatever it is, its near-global adoption and unrestrained voraciousness is disastrous for Nature and, ultimately, for all of us on earth.

Richard Heinberg summarises this predicament in his article ‘Capitalism, The Doomsday Machine’, presented in Section 1.1.8. It is a clear and sober description of capitalism at work and its inevitable trajectory. I reproduce the webpage here and urge you to read the article.

 

(Hope-Johnstone, R./Restore Lake Pedder. Date unknown. Lake Pedder, Tasmania, prior to 1972. Lake Pedder was considered the jewel in the crown of Tasmania’s South-West Wilderness, but was drowned under 15 metres of water in 1972 in a hydro-electric scheme to meet Tasmanian dreams of economic growth and industrialisation. A classic example of capitalism’s conversion of living, natural capital, to inanimate, material, human capital. https://lakepedder.org/ . See also Section 1.8.3).

 

From webpage 1.1.8  Capitalism, the Doomsday Machine1

Richard Heinberg 2021

In a typically thoughtful and incisive piece, Richard Heinberg tackles the global belief system – capitalism – and finds that “the machine is still on its path to world annihilation”. He then neatly summarises four major responses to the looming crash and finishes by suggesting that the way forward is a combination of all four, wrapped within a resilience framework: “redesign, preserve, build alternatives, subvert, and brace for impact”.

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2021-02-25/capitalism-the-doomsday-machine-or-how-to-repurpose-growth-capital/

(Leunig’s cartoon, The Age 8/2/1995, would seem to sum up the workings of Richard Heinberg’s ‘Doomsday Machine’).

1Heinberg, R. 2021. Capitalism, the Doomsday Machine. Resilience.org. February 25th.

 

Heinberg describes capitalism as a giant growth machine, a ‘Doomsday Machine’, that will consume “nearly all of Earth’s resources and natural habitats”:

“Industrial capitalism resembles this latter kind of doomsday machine. If left to continue its ‘countdown’ to the bitter end, it will consume nearly all of Earth’s resources and natural habitat, while filling waste sinks to overflowing. That is an outcome no one would wish for. But we have all become dependent on the machine for our livelihoods, and stopping it in its tracks will result in economic collapse, throwing billions of people into a state of misery and famine. So, everybody wants the economy to grow—and thus for the machine to continue toward its inevitable destruction. But the longer growth continues, the bigger the eventual collapse. Our entire society is the machine, and we are cogs in its gears.”

He goes on to conclude:

“The networked economy has become a kind of a superorganism with a collective metabolism and an inherent imperative toward expansion at all cost. That means collapse will also be global—indeed a kind of doomsday after which the continuation of the human experiment may be very difficult. There will likely be survivors—human and non-human—but they may be few and miserable, and unable to mount a meaningful ecological or social recovery, perhaps for many centuries, if ever.”

Explore Other Economic System

9.1 Introduction

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 200 years, so too is this section – ‘Economy’ – real...

9.2 Capitalism: Benefits and Beneficiaries

“Capitalism can be defined as the deliberate and systematic societal encouragement of the accumulation of growth capital through the use of money and debt, the enforcement of private ownership rights (especially of land and natural resources), and...

9.3 Capitalism: Problems for the Environment

In 9.2 we looked at some of the key planks of capitalism and the benefits they have brought, at least to part of, humanity. Now we turn to the problems they pose, particularly environmental problems, and because of their scale and ubiquity, this i...

9.4 Responses: 1. Re-design the Capitalist System

Just as with the previous section, ‘Energy’, there are basically two responses to the problems identified: 1. Re-design/improve the existing system to account for these problems, or 2. Build a whole new system; here we look at the first approach. ...

9.5 Fatal Flaws

Despite the almost heroic efforts of Pearce and others to improve the capitalist system, to make it properly account for the environment, and to separate its destructive ways from its standard operation, there remains an irredeemable futility at t...

9.6 Build Alternatives I

Heinberg points out in his book ‘Power’1 (see Section 8.8) that critics of the current system are good at pointing out faults, but weak at mapping transitions, let alone constructing alternatives; this is certainly so for alternative ec...

9.7 Build Alternatives II

As well as Varoufakis, there are others – individuals and organisations – who refuse to be crushed and bullied by capitalism and are prepared, nay impelled, to think beyond the current straight-jacket. As so often in T10, Higgs1 serv...

9.8 Directing Money to the Environment I

We have already aired arguments as to whether the environment can be, or should be, better accounted for within the modern capitalist economy, but one thing not up for debate is that it is currently almost entirely outside this economy. As such, i...

9.9 Directing Money to the Environment II

While webpage 9.8 addressed indirect funding to the environment via pension funds or similar, 9.9 will examine direct application of whatever discretionary funds one may have available. At first glance this seems relatively straightforward, but...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...