The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid

CreditNick Cote for The New York Times

Even casual readers of the news know that the earth is probably going to look very different in 2100, and not in a good way.

recent Times opinion piece included this quotation from the paleoclimatologist Lee Kump: “The rate at which we’re injecting CO2into the atmosphere today, according to our best estimates, is 10 times faster than it was during the End-Permian.”

The End-Permian is a pre-dinosaurs era of mass extinction that killed 90 percent of the life in the ocean and 75 percent of it on land. It is also called the Great Dying. Although those who write about environmental change like to add notes of false personalization around this point — “My children will be x years old when catastrophe y happens” — there is really no good way of acclimating the mind to facts of this magnitude.

However, the cause of the disaster that, by all indications, we are already living through should be clearer. It is not the result of the failure of individuals to adopt the moralizing strictures of “green” consciousness, and it is a sign of just how far we have to go that some still believe reusable shopping bags and composting (perfectly fine in their own right) are ways out of this mess.

It is also not the deceit of specific immoral companies that is to blame: We like to pick out Volkswagen’s diesel scandal, but it is only one of many carmakers that “deliberately exploit lax emissions tests.” Nor does the onus fall on the foundering of Social Democratic reforms and international cooperation: Even before the United States backed out of the Paris Accord, we were well on our way to a 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit temperature rise by 2100, “a temperature that at times in the past has meant no ice at either pole.”

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it’s systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue.

There are many reasons we do not typically talk about climate change in this way. The wealthy are holding fast to theirs. Bought politicians and state violence are on their side. Eco-apartheid is not yet seen as full-on apartheid. Everyday people have plenty to keep up with, and they don’t want to devote their precious time off work to often tedious political meetings. The inertia, it is sad to say, makes enough sense.

Perhaps the most common belief about this problem is that it is caused by widespread ignorance — even outright “stupidity” — and that its solution lies in its opposite, intelligence. This belief is neatly expressed in progressive opposition to Donald Trump and his administration. Trump voters are often criticized for being unintelligent, for voting against their objective interests. Trump himself is regularly portrayed as unintelligent.

The basic idea is that if voters were intelligent, they would vote for an intelligent person who listened to intelligent people and all would be well. It is a staple of the liberal imaginary. Reflected here is the obtuse belief that the populist tide is simply mistaken, that it has gotten something wrong, which has the effect of veiling the real and justified dissatisfaction with the past 40 years of neoliberalism. Also reflected is the common view, which is not confined to one end of the political spectrum, that our biggest problems are essentially technical ones, and that the solution to them lies in the empowerment of intelligent people. The aura around Elon Musk is an extreme example of this kind of thinking.

The problem with the general view that intelligence will save us is that it involves pinning the failures of capitalist society on supposedly dumb people (them), who, so the logic goes, need to be replaced with supposedly smart ones (us). This is a spectacular delusion.

When a company makes a decision that is destructive to the environment, for instance, it is not because there are bad or unintelligent people in charge: Directors typically have a fiduciary responsibility that makes the bottom line their only priority. They serve a function, and if they don’t, others can take their place. If something goes wrong — which is to say, if something endangers profit making — they can serve as convenient scapegoats, but any stupid or dangerous decisions they make result from being personifications of capital.

The claim here is not that unintelligent people do not do unintelligent things, but rather that the overwhelming unintelligence involved in keeping the engines of production roaring when they are making the planet increasingly uninhabitable cannot be pinned on specific people. It is the system as a whole that is at issue, and every time we pick out bumbling morons to lament or fresh-faced geniuses to praise is a missed opportunity to see plainly the necessity of structural change.

Put differently, the hope that we can empower intelligent people to positions where they can design the perfect set of regulations, or that we can rely on scientists to take the carbon out of the atmosphere and engineer sources of renewable energy, serves to cover over the simple fact that the work of saving the planet is political, not technical. We have a much better chance of making it past the 22nd century if environmental regulations are designed by a team of people with no formal education in a democratic socialist society than we do if they are made by a team of the most esteemed scientific luminaries in a capitalist society. The intelligence of the brightest people around is no match for the rampant stupidity of capitalism.

On the defensive for centuries, socialists have become quite adept at responding to objections from people for whom the basic functions of life seem difficult to reproduce without the motive power of capital. There are real issues here, issues that point to the opacity of sociability, as Bini Adamczak’s recent book, “Communism for Kids,” playfully explores. But the burden of justification should not fall on the shoulders of those putting forward an alternative. For anyone who has really thought about the climate crisis, it is capitalism, and not its transcendence, that is in need of justification. And don’t be surprised, or fooled, when its defenders point to the tireless work of intelligent people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 Benjamin Y. Fong is a faculty fellow at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, the author of “Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism,” and an editor at Damage Magazine

BENJAMIN FONG—The problem with the general view that intelligence will save us is that it involves pinning the failures of capitalist society on supposedly dumb people (them), who, so the logic goes, need to be replaced with supposedly smart ones (us). This is a spectacular delusion.

  APPENDIX 1  
Intro by Patrice Greanville
The response: The Times’ admission, which I am willing to bet will be subsequently gradually diluted by its own staff, has prompted an avalanche of denunciations and furious counterattacks, the apologists for capitalism literally coming out of the woodwork. Here’s a sampler. Bear in mind that the more sophisticated the argument, the more insidious and dangerous it is, like the one that kicks off the ball below, by S. Chapman, a disinformer working for the rightwing Chicago Tribune. This is the approach that has been used most successfully to defend capitalism against its long record of attacks on nature and people. Briefly put it posits that (a) indicting the whole system is wrong because not all capitalists are threats to the environment; (b) that it’s the consumers who are guilty because they do not require the market to deliver a cleaner economy, this embracing the old canard “that consumer is king”; and (c) that capitalism is so malleable, marvelous, versatile and ready to obey the commands of the people that if you want it to change its ways of producing, it will. Note, too, that Chapman, for good measure, begins his counterattack by wrapping capitalism in the flag: capitalism is the “American economic system…” an old fraudulent trope I have been denouncing for several decades. See for example: THE AMERICAN BRAINWASH: Guess what, Ma, capitalism is not Americanness!
—PG

The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid
Read some responses below. Click red button.

 

 

Capitalism is not the culprit in climate change but can be the cure

For some of the people in New York this week demanding action on global warming, the menace is not just carbon dioxide. The real Tyrannosaurus rex is the American economic system. On Monday, the day after the huge march through Manhattan, a few hundred protesters showed up in the financial district for “Flood Wall Street.” Their slogan: “Stop Capitalism. End the Climate Crisis.”

One of them lamented to ThinkProgress that “not many people are willing to say that the root problem of climate change is capitalism.” Another told The Daily Beast she was there “because I’m a Mashpee Wampanoag native to this country, and as far as I’m concerned, Wall Street greed has been killing me and my ancestors for 400 years.”

It’s not exactly clear how Wall Street greed was killing Native Americans in the 17th century, since the New York Stock Exchange didn’t come into being until 1817. But leave that aside. What was obvious from the Monday protest is that the radical elements of the movement against climate change have some serious misconceptions about economics and the environment.

 

It’s true there are corporations that profit from goods and services that contribute to global warming, from Exxon Mobil to General Motors to Duke Energy. But blaming capitalists for excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is like blaming grocery stores for obesity. In each case, the business is taking its cue from what consumers want.

Capitalists have no stake in pumping out greenhouse gases double time. If consumers prefer products that are easy on the Earth, businesspeople will trample each other to provide them. When the federal government cracked down on air and water pollution in the 1970s, companies found ways to survive — and even to profit from cleaning up the environment. If Washington takes sensible steps to curb carbon dioxide output, the same thing will happen.

It’s not as though socialism is a proven way to restore the Garden of Eden. The profit motive was anathema in Eastern Europe under communism. But the region became a giant chemical waste dump.

“As Eastern Europe struggles toward democracy, it must also grapple with a ravaged environment,” reported The New York Times in 1990. “Corrosive soot has fouled water and soil, and in blackened industrial cities the air is laced with heavy metals and chemicals.”

Some land was so polluted as to be useless for growing crops. Kids in one part of Poland had five times more lead in their blood than kids on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

In China, communism was equally destructive. American University scholar Judith Shapiro wrote a book called “Mao’s War Against Nature.” (1)

The idea that capitalist businesses can’t function without belching poison is one the Flood Wall Street folks share with many corporate executives and Republican politicians. When the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a 30 percent cut in emissions from coal-fired power plants, critics insisted it would kill jobs and cripple growth.

Alarmists said the same thing when Congress passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act decades ago. In fact, companies quickly adapted to the new rules — a tribute to the innovative capacity of a free-market system.

Since 1980, carbon monoxide pollution in America has been cut by 83 percent, lead by 91 percent and sulfur dioxide by 78 percent. But total economic output per person, adjusted for inflation, has risen by 77 percent. We’ve gotten greener and healthier as we’ve gotten richer.

Today’s corporations, subjected to meaningful limits on carbon output, would soon find low-cost ways to comply. That’s why a lot of impeccably conservative economists have endorsed a carbon tax — including Greg Mankiw, who was President George W. Bush‘s chief economic adviser, and the late Nobel laureate Gary Becker, who said it “would be appropriate in light of the real threat from global warming.”

The problem today is not that capitalism can’t function without ruining the environment but that the public isn’t demanding serious action against global warming. A recent Gallup poll found most Americans think the planet is baking — but they rank the issue 14th in importance on a list of 15 concerns.

Back in 1990, a Polish teenager, asked about environmental degradation in his country, told The New York Times, “I don’t know the way, but we have to get over the I-don’t-care disease.”

Capitalism can’t cure that malady. But if and when we overcome it, capitalism can reverse its effects.

Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at chicagotribune.com/chapman.

schapman@tribune.com

Twitter @SteveChapman13

(1) Just another notorious case of historical decontextualisation, implemented by the inevitable pro-capitalist academic to invest this propaganda line with some respectability as peddled later by the corporate mass media. China—long before the notion of environmental damage had taken hold anywhere, was embarked on a quest for survival against an implacable capitalist world that was trying to suffocate it economically and destroy it, literally, via political and even possibly military means, including nuclear assault. Under such circumstances, Mao and his people concentrated on “rapid development”, adapting what they could of existing patterns of industrialism, which nowhere at the time had any moral or ecological component. This was in China, as had been before in Russia, a case of “forced march industrialisation” to become self-sufficient in all areas, and capable of deterring an all-out Western aggression. That being the case, the only model they had was that common in the West, and in Russia, both of which they saw as successful in allowing for quick and powerful modern production meeting those goals. Communism has no inherent incentive to exploit the natural world, and whatever excesses man commits, can be more quickly realised and rectified, as the rapid turnabout in China in the last decade testifies.  —PG.

Environmentalist Attack Against Capitalism in NYT
by Wesley J Smith | The Corner | National Review |
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/453929/environmentalist-attack-against-capitalism-nytThe New York Times rarely publishes a guest op/ed piece with which its hard left-wing editors have a significant disagreement. Which makes a frontal attack on capitalism as the primary cause of environmental degradation and the global warming, by Benjamin Y. Fong, a notable development. From, “The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid:The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault. As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it’s systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue.
So, those who have charged that “green is the new red,” have it right. Which is odd, because the dirtiest economies have tended to be communist ones, such as the old Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. I mean, when there is no democratic accountability or rule of law, the government can do what it wants. Those facts notwithstanding, Fong is explicitly pro communist (here we go again as if the mere mention of communism automatically criminalises the person without any need for substantiation of charges stated or imputed):
On the defensive for centuries, socialists have become quite adept at responding to objections from people for whom the basic functions of life seem difficult to reproduce without the motive power of capital. There are real issues here, issues that point to the opacity of sociability, as Bini Adamczak’s recent book, “Communism for Kids,” playfully explores. But the burden of justification should not fall on the shoulders of those putting forward an alternative. For anyone who has really thought about the climate crisis, it is capitalism, and not its transcendence, that is in need of justification.

Socialism as an ideology is only about two hundred years old, but never mind. Environmentalism is becoming both anti-human–as I have written elsewhere–and pro-authoritarian economic control. Reader take warning.


Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/453929/environmentalist-attack-against-capitalism-nyt

Note: Wesley J Smith, a natural for National Review, one of the Bill Buckley founded and most rabid reactionary publications, is also an unapologetic human supremacist, author, among other things, of the vile tract The War on Humans, attacking animal rights people. His bio page on NR reads:

Lawyer and award winning author, Wesley J. Smith, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He is also a consultant to the Patients Rights Council. In May 2004, because of his work in bioethics, Smith was named one of the nation’s premier expert thinkers in bioengineering by the National Journal. In 2008, the Human Life Foundation named him a Great Defender of Life for his work against assisted suicide and euthanasia. Smith left the full-time practice of law in 1985 to pursue a career in writing and public advocacy. He is the author or co-author of thirteen books. His Human Exceptionalism blog, hosted by National Review, is one of the premier blogs dealing with human life and dignity. Smith’s latest book is The War on Humans (Discovery Institute Press, 2014) in which he investigates the views of anti-human activists who want to grant legal rights to animals, plants, and “Mother Earth,” and who want to reduce the human population by up to 90 percent. His previous book was A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement, a searing critique of the ideology and tactics of the animal liberation movement and a rousing defense of the unique importance of human exceptionalism. Read his full bio HERE and make up your own mind about this author.


 


 


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