What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism

A couple of months ago when the publishers sent me a review copy I’d requested of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth they enclosed another shorter book in case I might like to review it as well. I thought from the title it was possibly too similar to The Ecological Rift to warrant a further review. And it is similar in its broad thesis. But it’s also short and punchy, and encouraged by Naomi Klein’s recommendation of it as “relentlessly persuasive” and “indispensable” I read it through and decided to give it mention on its own account. The title is What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism. It’s written by Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, and John Bellamy Foster, one of the authors of The Ecological Rift.

Why aren’t we responding rationally to the enormous threat of climate change and other major environmental warnings? Why do we persist in behaviours which are clearly dangerous to the human future and already impinging negatively on the welfare of some populations? Why does reckless disregard mark so much of our economic activity? Magdoff and Foster reply that capitalism, “so much part of our lives that it is invisible, like the air we breathe”, is unable to pursue any course other than relentless growth. Nor in its drive for profit and accumulation is it able to take into account the human and environmental cost of its exploitation of natural resources. The phenomenon of “cheap” coal is one example offered. “There is nothing in the nature of the current system … that will allow it to pull back before it is too late.” They hold out scant hope for the green capitalism that some see developing.

My heart sinks when I read such analyses. Not that I want to quarrel with the perception that the capitalist economy is unsustainable ecologically, slanted heavily in favour of the rich and simply unjust in what it provides for the poor. It’s just that waiting until it is replaced by something else is not feasible in the face of the urgent problems confronting us. It was therefore with some relief that I discovered in the final chapter that the authors recommend struggling here and now, within the existing system, to address urgent environmental problems, while at the same time creating an expectation for bigger changes to follow.

The steps they suggest worth engaging with are not unfamiliar to many of us and are demanding to champion in the current economic setting. They include: the institution of a carbon tax of the kind espoused by James Hansen, with the proceeds returned to the population on an equal per capita basis; blocking the building of new coal plants (without carbon capture and storage, which is not currently feasible) and closing old ones; blocking any development of tar sands or oil/gas shale production; energy efficiency combined with reducing energy use; renewable sources for all energy production; more sustainable agriculture; and much else. There’s plenty to be getting on with. The authors speak of it as working in the interstices of the current system “towards a new social metabolism rooted in egalitarianism, community, and a sustainable relation to the earth”. They call it the ecological revolution and it will depend on forces from the bottom of society.

There’s much thoughtful detail along the way to buttress the central argument of the writers. The gross disparities in income and wealth, of which the book reminds us, are in themselves enough to expose the human failures of capitalism. In the US the richest 400 individuals in 2007 had a net worth equal to that of the bottom 150 million people. One fascinating sidelight for me was the reference to Plato, some 2400 years ago, writing in very specific terms of the erosion of soil from hills around Athens as a result of deforestation. There’s not much doubt about what he would have made of climate change.

Socialism and capitalism are abstract terms. They’re worth examining and debating. But wherever one falls on the political spectrum it’s hard to argue with the blunt concrete conclusion of the book that the important questions are: “What about the people?” and “What about the local, regional and global ecosystems on which we all depend?” – rather than “How much money can I make?”

As my own country New Zealand launches into a frenetic new round of coal, gas and oil exploration, in flat contradiction of all the scientific warnings, I finished the book wondering whether those first two questions have any chance of being listened to by the foolish politicians who are so busy answering the third in glowing terms.

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84 thoughts on “What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism”

  1. Thanks for the review, Bryan!

    Looks interesting / costs less than a magazine / and now wirelessly delivered to my Kindle in less than 15 seconds!

    Now, there’s a capitalist success story that benefits the community and the environment! 😉

  2. Good post,

    I know that “good” science messaging suggests when delivering the message about climate change that we emphasise “what we can do” so as not to turn off the recipients of the message.

    However, I’ve come to very similar conclusions recently after a much needed hiatus from the whole debate and thinking hard on the issue.

    Time to acknowledge we’re struggling to manage our unintentional experiment in planetary engineering and plan accordingly.

    In broad terms I’m thinking about our response and have some tentative suggestions:

    a) Seizing political control at the local level –both at the state government and local government level in order to have control over local resources and planning

    b) Abandoning notions of global agreements and “revolutions” in clean energy. Instead, encourage a focus on the 10-20 kilometres around you in order to survive. It is now about the security of food and water supplies and the maintenance of critical infrastructure necessary to support an advanced technology society

    c) Fostering the individual’s network within local communities in order to build resilience for climate, food and economic shocks

    d) Planning for a less affluent lifestyle in developed countries, as “consumers” will have far less “choice” due to external forces

    e) Acting as custodians of the “best” of our species culture: the scientific method, concepts of equality, democracy, our art and poetry: because they are worth preserving for future generations.

    While I don’t wish to abandon the idea of a post-Kyoto agreement or trying to drive a “green” energy revolution, I think we should be seriously engaged in some scenario planning.

    Using the IPCC models looking at emission and temperature at the upper end we have a framework to start some serious planning.

    From what I see there seems to be a lot of organisations and individuals beginning the process, however it is clear we need a more co-ordinated approach.

    1. I agree that we’ve got the best chance of actually moving anything at a local level, but as we all know the atmosphere unfortunately won’t confine the heat to those pumping out the CO2 so we’re still all stuck in this together.

      So we have to do both – ‘Think Globally / Act Locally – Think Locally / Act Globally’- and the latter is always likely to be an extremely frustrating – but sadly necessary – evil, with a remarkable capacity to demoralise. Being able to take a break from it and just live well within sane means is good for the soul!

      1. Couldn’t agree more bill – which is why I suggest we take a “scenario planning” approach.

        Based on a range CO2 emissions – both actuall and projected in the models – we have a basic framework to plan within.

        Are we looking at a 2, 4 or 6 degree world?

        Some of at least can be engaged in those very hard questions, even while others actively campaign to see global solutions (treaties, cap and trade systems and technology).

        I think we need to start thinking about the hard things and about the worst case scenarios.

        What does a six degree world look like? How would we respond to that?

        1. How would we respond? I think Coober Pedy may set the pace for those who want to continue living in areas which are more or less unliveable.

          We don’t have to blast our homes out of the rock. But there are plenty of examples of homes, in Adelaide at least, which were built as 2 storeys, but the lower storey is really a half cellar. There is just enough above ground for there to be natural light from windows set high in the walls of the lower rooms.

          Add a green roof , or a shade sail over the north facing section, wide verandahs, and maybe create a central, shaded courtyard and the place might be barely tolerable. You or I might think it dreadful. But those who’ve known nothing different might find it acceptable.

          1. According to a presentation given at Womad Earth Station, 4° gives us folks in Adelaide Kalgoorlie’s climate. Slides were shown of Kalgoorlie’s rather different habitats!

            Adelaide population 1 200 000
            Kalgoorlie population 30 000
            Coober Pedy population 3500

            As I’m 6 m above current sea-level living on a relatively young sand dune I suspect my undergrounding options are somewhat limited! Even though a mate of mine has an underground room in Torrensville which is a very pleasant environment in summer, given the problems we have with the Murray already I don’t think Adelaide can survive such a transition in anything resembling its current form, sadly.

            1. Oh I dunno. Some of those houses in beachside suburbs could be converted – with an extra storey on top and a supply of gondolas we could have our very own version of Venice. Might keep the surrounding humidity above 10%.

              Though those ridiculous seafront hotels with the underground carparks that already flood in not terribly serious high tides will suffer their deserved ignominious fate.

            2. If things go really pear-shaped I figure this place may well be prime waterfront by about 2070! (And underwaterfront some time after.) My heirs can tie their kayaks to our well-elevated front porch and host the ‘Semaphore Submerged’ tour of the former Lefevre Peninsula.

              This may affect property values a little, even with the roof extension, but I figure by that stage of the game that may be the least of anyone’s troubles.

              And, yes, one could always idle away the long, hot afternoons consoling oneself with a little Glenelg and West Lakes luxury-accommodation based Schadenfreude… 😉

  3. Well hooray ! At long last the green/red movement is coming out of the closet and admitting its ideological bias.

    Here’s at least one capitalist who is delighted to see some honesty. It’s been a taunt for years that greens are watermelons – you know the rest – now with the gloves off we can analyse the motives behind green press releases and green propaganda.

    May the most worthy ideology win !

        1. Me too. Now go back to your Monopoly game Benny…

          BTW as I think about it, all Monopoly games I ever played (from my own childhood to that of my children) ended in absurd, unsustainable ends where one player ended with all and the game was over. Monopoly on a limited board with limited real estate, money etc. is an unsustainable game. Obvious really.
          Now what seems to bother me greatly is that we have people (perhaps not unlike yourself?) who can not understand that capitalism running wild on a one-planet civilization has only one ending: That of the monopoly game.
          We are getting close to that at the moment. 1% of the people have amassed most of the money and power while the 99% of the rest of us are getting effectively poorer by the day and most worrying, the grand planetary monopoly game is running out of resources and of places to put our detritus.
          Now you may call me a green socialist by heart and I will wear that label proudly. I have run my own businesses since graduating way back, yet I see no conflict whatsoever with that and acting with a social and inter-generational integrity.
          Benny, if you could actually point to a successful capitalist system that conserves the planet for our descendants and fairly shares the riches we commonly have created then please point me to that country!
          I declare the grand free market capitalist experiment a colossal failure with potentially genocidal outcome for the planet. Do you agree?

  4. …there is hope indeed. But to expect that the planet can be saved and that its inhabitants can live better lives by putting their trust in socialism is a sick joke.

    Ask the millions who have fled from it…

    1. 1991 was 20 years ago, Benny.

      Ever since then some folks haven’t been able to let it go, and cling to the safety blanket of a zero-sum game between the Free World and the Evil Empire, where every gain for one was a loss for the other, and if you were’n’ with us you wer’ agin’ us.

      This Manichean, McCarthyite simple-mindedness chiefly manifests itself in a belief that all criticisms of Capitalism are motivated by a desire to reinstate the old Soviet Union, a highly convenient fiction designed to insulate devotees of the Free Market™ from ever bothering to hear what their critics are actually saying.

      In its most extreme manifestations all criticism that implies any possibility that the beloved system might need to change becomes Soci@list (and the fact I have to put in the ‘at’ symbol in order not to be automatically censored by WordPress says something about how far this idiocy has spread). Academies of Science, Nobel Prize winners, ecologists, biologists, statisticians, NASA, NOAA, NIWA, CSIRO, the BoM, the Met Office, the lot. All critics of the One True System are either fifth-columnist cadre, or their unwitting dupes.

      (Sometimes simple projection kicks in, and they’re all just manipulating data – they have to be, as the O.T.System is flawless – in order to make oodles of money!)

      This thinking is, in short, puerile beyond belief. I feel genuinely sorry for anyone whose worldview is so suffocating, particularly where they’ve been around long enough that they really ought to have learned something by now.

      Incidentally, the last book I downloaded to my Kindle prior to the one above was The Wealth of Nations. Cast your simplistic metric over that.

    2. Benny you’ve completely missed the point, as Bill as articulated so well below.

      It also highlights one of the chief tactics of the deniers campaigns: equating science with socialism. Its the same dirty tactics of labeling your opponents Nazis etc.

      Is a false equivalency:

      http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx

      Equating A with B does not make A the same thing as B.

      I work in the private sector in management. I have no issue with markets. But one would be a fool to call them “perfect”.

      How’s that whole Wall Street/GFC/recession thing working out?

      How’d all that stripping away of regulations in the late 90s and early 2000’s work out?

      What most of us are saying is there needs to be some regulatory frameworks etc.

      Would you like a industrial plant built next to your home without any regulations regarding clean air, pollution or the dumping of waste?

  5. Gosh, Benny, does it always have to be about you?
    Consider this – the atmosphere is neither socialist or capitalist, and neither are the facts of physics.

    If you don’t like that, then take it up with the Big Bang, because that’s where they come from.

    1. Well the big bang is a good case in point, and Hadron may well help to explain the theoretical physics behind it. In other words, the science is not yet settled. What is settled is the fact that hysterical panic over “global warming” has subsided, an international consensus over climate change is perhaps a decade or more away, and dire predictions of gloom and devastation have not impressed the public or the policymakers. As other commentators have observed, it may be time for a new approach.

      1. A new approach? Give it about 18-36 months.

        We’re having a couple of La Nina years in a row just now. As the world turns, there will be an el Nino … reasonably soon. Maybe 2 in a row. One of them will likely be bigger than the other.

        As the last year, a La Nina, gave us hotter temperatures than that of the monster el Nino of 1998, the next even moderate el Nino might give some people cause to pause.

      2. bennydale, your posts are notable for a lack of reference to the science underpinning global warming and climate change. Your objection to the discussions here seems to be totally from an ideological point-of-view. If you were stuck in a burning house would you question a would-be rescuer as to their political affiliations before you allowed them to carry you to safety? To put it simply, bennydale, to question the reality of what the science is telling us based on your perceptions of the political bent of the messengers (eg, see you reference to UN diktat above) is foolish, immoral and selfish.
        (Why immoral? Because millions of people are in danger if we do nothing about rising carbon dioxide levels. And attemtping to justify doing nothing because of your perceptions of the motives of those who advocate action is selfish)

  6. Benny, science is never “settled”, as its a process, like growing older and (one hopes) wiser.

    Science has no explanation for gravity at the quantum level, but everybody takes care not to fall, as we know that gravity not only exists, but has consequences that can hurt or kill us.

    Do you have an insurance policy of any kind, Benny? If so, why? As you can’t know the future until it happens, its not “settled” that you’ll ever need it!

    Finally, if you saw your children or grandchildren playing on a busy road, would you do anything? Its not “settled” they’ll be hurt, just very likely – as is the case with global warming.

  7. Yes, Benney go jump off a cliff because gravity isn’t settled. I mean c’mon, is gravity simply the bending of space-time by mass, or a weird quantum phenomenon mediated by a carrier particle the graviton? Which conveniently like the Higgs Boson has not been detected either.

    It can’t be both. That means uncertainty and we all know that in denier-speak uncertainty=no possible harm. So go on Benney, practice what you preach.

      1. Benney, step off a very high cliff. Surely it can’t hurt if gravity isn’t settled science? And if you survive, spurn the ambulance staff that arrive too, because medical science isn’t settled science either.

  8. And hey, lighten up all you alarmed and unhappy people !

    Ebeneezer Scrooge did : “‘He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk – that any thing – could give him so much happiness.’”

    1. Being told to lighten up by such a sad little man!

      Scrooge had learned something, Benny . Perhaps you’ll get visited by the 3rd Ghost and see where your stubborn selfishness is dragging us…

  9. If this sock-puppet who repeats ad nauseam every tired and discredited “argument” his predecessors have used for years, I’ll eat something relatively indigestible. Part of their strategy, of course, is to bore us all into insensibility. It will not work.

  10. “Part of their strategy, of course, is to bore us all into insensibility. It will not work.”

    It worked for Benney, Benney don’t give a stuff about anyone but him(?)self. Actually take your pick of the definitions, they’re all equally valid in Benney’s case.

  11. Benny, Science settles a great many of its claims. You would not sit in front of your computer enjoying the Internet if it didn’t. On the matter of AGW a lot of the science is very robust. Otherwise we would not have an IPCC process and would not have the solid understanding that we are changing our climate rapidly on geological standards. You simply are wrong telling yourself that the foudations of climte science are unsettled. You have been suckert in by your denier peers. Thats all.

  12. Using the “lets blame capitalism” line is pathetic.

    Humans strive for greater wealth and security because they’re human, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years under almost all the political and economic systems devised, if capitalism can claim to have been more efficient in delivering prosperity to more people, it’s only guilty of delivering what people want.

    Capitalism – the market economy – is to economics what the scientific method is to knowledge, and democracy is to politics, it’s a system that allows competition between elements within the system, with the best solution, the one that fits best, being adopted.

    1. capitalism works as long as there are no limits to ressurces and sinks for the systems detrious. As soon as society is faced with running into these limits capitalism in its historic incarnation must fail.
      When the issues are global and the solutions are planful cooperation and individual restraint then the current competitional model is flawed.
      The proponents of liberal capitalism fight the idea of AGW and resource depletion because they have no answer to these issues once they accept their reality within their ideology. Accepting these two issues necessitates a new deal and this is why the capitalist cadres fight the idea of peak ressources and AGW to the teeth in their blogs, and bugger the science, truth and compassion for future generations and the health of the ecosystem….

      1. Good grief, where to start?

        “capitalism works as long as there are no limits to ressurces and sinks for the systems detrious.”

        Assuming “ressurces” means “resources” and” detrious” means “detritus”, capitalism doesn’t require unlimited resources, it does, like any other system possible, have to abide by the second law of thermodynamics, so like everyother system possible capitalist societies consume resources and produce wastes.

        “As soon as society is faced with running into these limits capitalism in its historic incarnation must fail.”

        Like any other system if there’s insufficient energy to maintain the system it’ll close down, capitalism has the advantage of being able to run on less resources than other systems because it’s more efficient than other systems. If you doubt that, think about the free market in a village in Lofa County Liberia, as long as the thugs seeking power leave it alone the market is the best mechanism for feeding the most people. when the thugs move in the control the market – a first step in gaining the power that’s the addiction of autocrats – people start going hungry.

        “When the issues are global and the solutions are planful cooperation and individual restraint then the current competitional model is flawed.”

        That’s a bit confusing, I think you’re probably referring to the main problem of Open Range, if a resource or asset has no proprietor, anyone that can use that resource is better off to exploit it for their own short term gain rather than for its long term sustainability. That’s not a capitalism vs socialism issue, it’s one of governance, in the case of the atmosphere it’s a question of ownership of a natural monopoly. personally I think a cooperative of the resources users is the better solution, which is what we have in governments legislating for water standards. Capitalism is not a synonimous term for anachy, capitalism does not mean “without government”.

        “The proponents of liberal capitalism fight the idea of AGW and resource depletion because they have no answer to these issues once they accept their reality within their ideology.”

        Measures to address AGW are perceived as a threat to the current power structure, for this reason the leadership of the current social system fight to maintain the status quo,arguing that the threat of AGW is exaggerated, those who want to reverse the current order, putting themselves in the leadership role, see AGW as an opportunity to advance their own ideological beliefs and are motivated to exaggerate the threat posed by AGW.

        These traits are based in instincts older than Man, they’re instincts displayed by all social animals with the instinct to fight for status within their social group.

        If we were living in a socialist utopia our socialist masters would argue that AGW was not great threat, and the free marketers at the bottom of the social heap would be arguing that there needed to be a new social order to address the impending AGW catastrophe.

        “Accepting these two issues necessitates a new deal and this is why the capitalist cadres fight the idea of peak ressources and AGW to the teeth in their blogs, and bugger the science, truth and compassion for future generations and the health of the ecosystem….”

        I used to be a fan of Gareth’s blog, it used to address the science of AGW, rather that just being a political hack blog like WTFWT, these days I struggle to tell the two blogs apart.

        1. Andrew W – “I used to be a fan of Gareth’s blog, it used to address the science of AGW, rather that just being a political hack blog like WTFWT, these days I struggle to tell the two blogs apart.”

          If you can’t tell the difference between this blog and WUWT you clearly don’t understand the science at all. The difference is not exactly subtle.

          In the economic model that the fervent capitalists are so fond of, when confronted with a problem that is going to become more expensive over time, the accepted practice is to deal with it before it becomes too expensive. It’s a bit of a financial no-brainer, except for some reason when it involves global warming. Why is that? Can you explain that?

        2. I used to be a fan of Gareth’s blog, it used to address the science of AGW, rather that just being a political hack blog like WTFWT, these days I struggle to tell the two blogs apart.

          Harrumph. Andrew, please note this discussion was sparked by a book review, not HT’s editorial policy. And if you think we’re ignoring the science, you are completely (and utterly) wrong.

          1. After a quick look through the first 50, and latest 50 posts on your blog, I’ll have to stick with what I’ve said, the only refinement that I think needs to be added is that not only is there less science, but also that the opinions expressed in posts have become steadily more explicitly pro-left and anti-right over the years. A factor that has probably contributed to this is the enthusiasm the newer authors have to promote their own political views.

            But it’s your blog, I’m not telling you what you should have on it, I’m just indicating why I don’t find it worth reading anymore.

            1. Andrew W – decoded:

              “Your commenters disagreed with me. I don’t like you Gareth, and your blog sucks. So there!

              Oh, and those hundreds of posts about peer-reviewed science. They’re political. Coz’ I said so.”

            2. The last 50 posts have spanned an NZ election, so it’s hardly surprising that politics and political party policies have featured strongly. But that coverage has remained, for the most part, rooted in the scientific reality. If HT has any defined position other than those of its individual authors, it is that party policies should judged on how well they are informed by our best understanding of climate science. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide whether ACT or the Greens have the more realistic climate policies and whether pointing out the difference means being “anti-Right”.

              Science coverage here depends, in the main, on how much time I have to devote to the blog (because I prefer not to simply republish press releases) – and that’s been more limited over the last six months while the next project is being finished. But HT is and will remain a blog that is rooted in the mainstream of climate science, which is something no-one could ever claim for µWatts.

        3. andrew “…when the thugs move in the control the market – a first step in gaining the power that’s the addiction of autocrats – people start going hungry. ”

          I think you’ll find that many people see the distortions of democracy introduced by financial shenanigans on top of the international power wielded by corporations beyond the reach of normal governments equates to “thugs” in the marketplace. And ‘people start going hungry’ as a result.

          And I must take issue with “like every other system possible capitalist societies consume resources and produce wastes.”

          Waste is something that only happens in nature when something is out of balance, like a population explosion or the aftermath of a landslide. And it’s a temporary state. Scavengers, fungi, bacteria eventually move in, in large enough numbers, to restore the constant cycling that is normal for a system in balance.

          1. “I think you’ll find that many people see the distortions of democracy introduced by financial shenanigans on top of the international power wielded by corporations beyond the reach of normal governments equates to “thugs” in the marketplace. And ‘people start going hungry’ as a result.”

            I can think of many examples of the actions of politicians deliberately killing hundreds of thousands or millions of people, politicians who often suffered no penalty for those deaths. I can think of a few instances of the careless actions of business people unintentionally causing injury or death to people, usually a few to dozens of people, in a few instances to thousands (Bhopal). In those instances the company and individuals responsible were held responsible.

            I can’t think of any cases of ‘people start going hungry’ as a result capitalism, maybe you could give examples? I can think of many cases in which hungry people became less hungry as a result of capitalism.

            All natural systems produce waste in the form of heat, all human systems produce a wider range of waste products, if you want to compare apples with apples you need to compare human systems with other human systems, and if you think the technology we have in the modern world is worth having, you need to compare the level of waste from human capitalist systems with the level of waste from similarly wealthy human non-capitalist systems to determine which is more efficient at producing more wealth with less waste.

            1. “… few instances of the careless actions of business people unintentionally causing injury or death to people, usually a few to dozens of people, in a few instances to thousands (Bhopal). In those instances the company and individuals responsible were held responsible.”

              So you don’t count the harm inherent in the actual business model of the asbestos or tobacco industries? The health risks of these products and processes were known for literally decades before some companies were ‘held to account’ in some countries. They still operate freely in many places – you’re not seriously arguing that a tobacco manufacturer anywhere in the world doesn’t know these facts. The same goes for the asbestos miners and sellers.

              The ‘waste’ otherwise known as ‘unavoidable’ by products of lead smelting and useage, or the hundreds of thousands maimed and killed by lung diseases in mining industries – coal comes to mind here. The poisoned soils and waters near, and not so near, mining operations that deliver bankruptcy, illness and death to people unconnected to the operation. Tell me what you think the fracking operators really think about the risks and consequences of their operations. Or are they telling themselves that nothing could possibly, ever, go wrong with their processes.

              All of these consequences are well-known to operators of such businesses – to the extent that they spend a lot of time, money and effort getting legislators to ensure they *don’t* get held to account for the damage they know their operations will cause.

  13. “Humans strive for greater wealth and security because they’re human”

    Hmmm, I suspect it’s more likely that humans are just driven to consume because it is an innate urge brought about by evolution. We observe the same thing in all ecosystems. Controls are normally imposed by the availability of resources (typically food).

    Humans seem to be no more reasoned and logical than bacteria. We are flourishing simply because we have yet to exhaust our resources. That will not last much longer. Capitalism aka consumption is a guarantee of long-term failure.

    The technology fairy will not save us because, like Santa, she does not exist.

    1. Well, I agree entirely with your first paragraph, but then you ruin it all by contradicting yourself with: “Capitalism aka consumption is a guarantee of long-term failure.”

      Then you out o yourself with this tripe: “The technology fairy will not save us because, like Santa, she does not exist.”

      What? There’s been thousands of years of technological progress and there’s no “technology fairy”? Who knew??

      As I said, the scientific method, democracy and capitalism are the best systems we have for gaining knowledge, political balance and wealth creation because of the balance created by the competition that exists within these systems, we are where we are as a result of employing all three together. So you may as well blame the scientific method, or the democratic process, and argue for the wisdom of religion, or the rule of tyranny, because replacing either of those would also send us back to the dark ages.

      1. “wealth creation…” I guess Andrew here your mask came undone. Define Wealth!
        Plus: why would competition in the current system generate any benefits other then those for the winner of that competition? Survival of our species is not about wealth generation and competiton between businesses. They have currently no mechanism to value this in the “market”.

        1. “wealth creation…” I guess Andrew here your mask came undone. Define Wealth!

          Obviously there are several definitions of “wealth”, I was referring to material wealth, but hey, if you want to define it in terms of happiness, or education levels, or life expectancy, or child welfare or dental hygiene, be my guest.

          “Plus: why would competition in the current system generate any benefits other then those for the winner of that competition?”

          Are you serious? Really? The main beneficiaries of a competitive market aren’t the most successful vendors, it’s the customers!

          “Survival of our species is not about wealth generation and competiton between businesses.”

          Survival of the species is not at stake unless we’re talking about a catastrophe that would wipe out virtually all higher animals. You continue try to blame AGW on capitalism, when in fact all nations on this planet, no matter what their economic system, contribute to GHG emissions.

          I’m no fan of states or businesses externalising costs, but because of that little thing called evolution, humans are happy to load costs onto others if they can get away with it, and again, that’s got nothing to do with economic systems.

          1. Andrew: “I’m no fan of states or businesses externalising costs, but because of that little thing called evolution, humans are happy to load costs onto others if they can get away with it, and again, that’s got nothing to do with economic systems”.
            So you are saying because of our evolutionary history its OK and understandable that we externalize costs (such as the destruction of our ecosystems) as long we create material wealth for the lucky few on the top?
            Wired and wicket logic indeed…
            Try to put your self into the position of an average citizen of the USA. Their real incomes have stagnated or dropped, they are barley squeaking past the bills each month, home mortgage under water, no health insurance and they are forced to buy lowest quality cheap products at Walmart made in China while working two jobs flipping burgers perhaps at minimum wages with manufacturing jobs all gone to China where slave labor rates and non-existent environmental regulations produce stuff without adding value to anybodies life but the owners of the factories and the sellers in the USA.
            Meanwhile greedy fisheries have cleaned out the oceans and Killer Genetics has made it impossible for farmers to keep seeds for the next season so that Monsanto can clip the ticket on each and every bite we take for the foreseeable future…
            Happy Capitalist Christmas Andrew and perhaps the mechanisms of rationalizing away human happiness to maximize wealth extraction from the masses to the lucky few on the top will spare your job for a while to come until your value too is reduced to that of dependent consumer number 265266754 who’s happiness is defined by the size of the plastic heap under the xmas tree….

            1. Thomas, please make an effort to think for yourself rather than just tamely following your instinct to divide the world in to goodies and baddies.

              “So you are saying because of our evolutionary history its OK and understandable that we externalize costs (such as the destruction of our ecosystems) as long we create material wealth for the lucky few on the top?”

              That’s what we have democratic government for, to prevent actions of any group or individual that would be detrimental to society as a whole, it’s the power of the voters that stops excesses by both too powerful corporations on the one hand, and deranged green loonies on the other.

            2. Andrew W“That’s what we have democratic government for, to prevent actions of any group or individual that would be detrimental to society as a whole, it’s the power of the voters that stops excesses by both too powerful corporations on the one hand, and deranged green loonies on the other”

              Hmmm……are you implying that powerful corporations aren’t deranged loonies? They’re the ones hell-bent on destroying a habitable planet.

            3. Sorry Andrew.

              The corporate world has at the moment no mechanism by which they are forced to factor the destructive effects of their doings into their bottom line. All corporations care for is the maximization of shareholders profit. And the reason for the lack of constraint is that their relentless lobbying and propaganda has suckered governments and the people – like yourself – into believing that collecting financial wealth today is more important than the sustainability of the genus homo sapience and the ecosystem on which our survival (in numbers) depends. The reason we have no biting AGW legislation or have failed to put an end to the ecocide of the Amazon, the pacific rain forests or the ocean fish stocks is precisely the attitude of people like yourself and the propaganda that you grew up with that allowed all this to happen.

              The current phase of the capitalist experiment and its exponential growth Ponzi scheme has been just a very brief blip on the timeline of humanities history. Yet this blip, which has served a few thousands of us the view out of the window of a private jet plane for a generation at best has now put the survival of the entire species and much of the ecosystem in doubt, has created the largest social inequalities we ever had on this planet and it is now poised to come crashing down as it would seem.

              I guess Andrew, its you actually who seems unable to see the bigger picture or to think for yourself.

            4. Thomas, with your every comment all you do is demonstrate your deep ideological loathing of capitalism and the free market, and your eagerness to paint me in the colours that suite your beliefs of people who disagree with you.

              If GHG emissions at the current level pose a threat of dramatic and deleterious changes in climate – and they certainly do – governments need to get together and curb emissions.

              Obviously many of those who would be adversely affected by the effects of such changes will oppose them, but that doesn’t make them baddies in any objective sense, any more than opposing benefit cuts make beneficiaries baddies – it’s just self interest – human/animal instinct to promote ones own survival. As I’ve said above, it doesn’t matter if it’s capitalists or communists (or, for that matter, nudists) who’re adversely affected people will oppose changes they see as adversely affecting them, that doesn’t make them baddies.

              “Wired and wicket logic indeed…”
              ? Maybe you mean “wild and wicked”?

              “…with manufacturing jobs all gone to China where slave labor rates and non-existent environmental regulations produce stuff without adding value to anybodies life but the owners of the factories and the sellers in the USA.”

              Oh goodie! Evil capitalists AND evil communists, when will Thomas stop digging?

              “Meanwhile greedy fisheries have cleaned out the oceans..”
              Yep! those greedy “fisheries”, catching fish so that people have something to eat, better they starve eh Thomas? Not to mention those greedy farmers trying to maximize production on a planet that used to support a fraction of the people it now does, what we really need is a good catastrophe to reduce the global population so that there will be less GHG emissions, aye Thomas?

            5. Sorry Andrew, you don’t get it don’t you.
              The planet does not support the current business model and the rate of extraction of fish from the ocean to feed the hungry today is completely unsustainable. We already consume way more year after year than the planet can sustainably produce. The result will be a coming collapse of the sort we have never witnessed before. All because people have rated their needs to consume and grow exponentially above the need of the species to survive.
              The systems are entirely out of kilter and we are living on borrowed time at the moment by consuming the home that was supposed to sustain us. All to the praise of the lord of mammon, the great free market capitalist system.

            6. “Sorry Andrew, you don’t get it don’t you.”etc

              As a result of population growth over the last few centuries we may well be heading for difficult times. Is your solution to take away the efficient market system and replace it with state monopolies? You think that this will make things better? It’s been tried many times, it never works.

              I’ll bet you’re also a fan of protectionism, stifle trade on ideological grounds, even if it kills people.

          2. “The main beneficiaries of a competitive market aren’t the most successful vendors, it’s the customers!”

            Tell that to all the ‘customers’ of privatised water companies all over the world. Being a ‘beneficiary’ apparently means paying more for water supplied backed up by neglected infrastructure. And the same thing goes for most of those other ‘natural monopolies’ or ‘essential services’ or whatever they are categorised as in your area – power, communications, roads. public transport.

            It’s absolutely true that when I go to the Central Market here I can compare mangoes and broccoli offered at many stands and make my own decision on quality and price. Most of us can’t do this for many of the really, really important things that affect our daily lives profoundly. Sewage pipes and processing anyone?

            Markets are absolutely fine. In their place. And that place should have boundaries placed on it. In some cases that boundary should be barbed wire fences and armed guards restricting the freedom of action of many actors in some markets.

            1. Adelady – I think what Andrew W means is that now we have dug a hole for ourselves through overconsumption and ever increasing growth, we can still use that same shovel. We just have to dig upwards. Or something like that.

            2. Andrew: “The main beneficiaries of a competitive market aren’t the most successful vendors, it’s the customers!”

              adelady:”Tell that to all the ‘customers’ of privatised water companies all over the world.”

              Friedrich Schiller: “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

              If water companies are monopolies, (which is likely given that reticulated systems are usually natural monopolies) you don’t have a competitive market place.

              “It’s absolutely true that when I go to the Central Market here I can compare mangoes and broccoli offered at many stands and make my own decision on quality and price. Most of us can’t do this for many of the really, really important things that affect our daily lives profoundly.”

              I know how you feel, in this mad country, I can’t shop around for accident insurance; a government corporation has a legislated monopoly. I have to pay taxes to finance a state health industry, I do have the option of going private, but that doesn’t allow me to reduce my contribution to the state system, the same goes for education for my kids, pay twice or go with the inferior state system.

              “In some cases that boundary should be barbed wire fences and armed guards restricting the freedom of action of many actors in some markets.”

              I can only hope that that statement makes some of those reading it who’re otherwise sympathetic to your views cringe.

            3. Andrew, if you loath ACC and Farmac and the rest of the NZ health system for being a bit to much socialistic in your sick mind then please emigrate to the USA, the hotbed of capitalism, where you can enjoy the highest healthcare cost, the most unaffordable and cruel insurance schemes which dump you out of insurance when you loose your job and back into the wilderness where you can tend to your acquired “existing conditions” (acquired while you paid your old employers insurance scheme) from the money you don’t have.
              Capitalism ala USA generated the most cruel and most inefficient and expensive healthcare system in the world where lawyers are the real beneficiaries together with the liability insurance companies for health care professionals and hospitals. A country so deluded by the same nonsense you hold so dear that the people themselves rant against a sensible reform of their health system drummed up by Republican tricksters who make them believe in the “great values” of their sick system.
              Go on then Andrew and move out to the land where dish washers dream of becoming millionaires and where families can’t afford to treat their sick children….
              If you really think the NZ health care system is bad, you must be much more deluded than I imagined.

            4. “I can only hope that that statement makes some of those reading it who’re otherwise sympathetic to your views cringe.”

              And I can only hope that people reading such a comment might notice the concept of ‘fence’ being used as a metaphor. (Regardless of any adornments or additions like fancy wrought iron or barbed wire on top.)

              For the metaphorically challenged, I’ll spell it out. All commercial activity needs to be controlled or restricted in some way by society at large – from health standards in sandwich shops to engineering specifications for roads and bridges to registration requirements for medical practitioners.

              Within this general consideration there are some business activities that need super-tight regulation, in many cases this means banning in all but very restricted circumstances. Which is why we don’t have abattoirs or smelters or tanneries or explosives manufacturers in ordinary suburban streets. And some activities have implications for whole economies, like banking. Australia at least has banking under reasonable control. (The rest of the world could do worse than take ours as a model until they come up with something better.)

              Is that better?

            5. Andrew: I have founded and operated companies internationally and here in NZ, so I am not at all against the ability for people to run their own businesses and be entrepreneurs.
              What I am against is to allow total freedom to corporations to run the show the way they do at the moment with complete disregard to their social and environmental obligations.
              The vast majority of the real power in the world is wielded by corporations with only one agenda: raise shareholders wealth. In that pursuit they corrupt the democratic process and have turned the human enterprise into a giant Ponzi scheme.
              Unless we reign in the “libertarian capitalist agenda” we will loose our ability to act with solidarity and foresight towards a sustainable living arrangement for humanity.

  14. Andrew W –“What? There’s been thousands of years of technological progress and there’s no “technology fairy”? Who knew??”

    This might be hard for you to accept, but those thousands of years of technological progress were the result of human ingenuity, not the ‘technology fairy.’ Sorry to have to break that news to you.

    The ‘technology fairy’ is the vain hope that some novel innovation, or discovery, will be made, and ride to our rescue at the very last moment. Just like a Hollywood movie cliche. In other words it’s akin to belief in magic, the tooth fairy, Santa etc.

    For instance, consider if you were to contract some terrible new disease, one completely unknown to science. Would it be logical to conclude that a cure will be discovered before your number is up? Or is that just wishful thinking?

    So you may as well blame the scientific method

    Again this seems to be another point on which you are extremely confused. The science is very clear we are already in dangerous territory and need to be taking steps to phase out fossil fuels. That nothing is being done is a result of political inaction, it has nothing to do with the scientific method.

    Seems you are prepared to follow the path of bacteria – consume until all resources are exhausted and collapse becomes inevitable.

  15. Well back again, and very pleased to see some robust debate. Green/red thinking is going to take a lot of selling, particularly when it comes to economic theory. Hell ! even global warming / climate change has gone down like cold spew – what can the left manage with economics ?

    An example of utopia anyone ? to help clarify the debate ?

    1. Aw, I was looking for something interesting to talk about and all I found was a cliché rhetorical question as a setup for a weak straw–man argument. Please, more effort required next time.

      1. Glad to hear it. A bit disappointed here – only 4.4mm so far despite forecast of more. Could have done with a good drop – things are browning off after the warm Christmas. Will need to step up irrigation soon.

        1. Yup, good to hear John. Don’t think the region could have coped with the early weather projections I saw. Bucketing down here in the far north at the moment though.

          1. The forecast dumping for the Coromandel hasn’t eventuated – at least not in Thames. Nice gentle rain mostly during the day. I’m just back from the South Wairarapa where they have had the most phenomenal growing season. Hay paddocks like I’ve never seen – so thick and dense, bale after bale.
            The seasons are certainly changing. Our tree tulip has decided it is spring again and is producing a second flowering.

    1. And remarkably, he says something sensible in his last Herald column!

      The point about the destructive impact of large inequality in incomes in a society is germane. But the Market Faithful will believe that The Market will solve all such problems, and we daren’t interfere in The Market.

      If you miss Garth, he’s continuing to write in his regional papers…

  16. What this ‘transitional’ approach fails to deal with is the fact that the less developed nations of the world are asking for funds to help pay for the impacts of climate change. If the Developed nations don’t maintain a healthy economic surplus then they won’t be able to fund this. Kind of a Catch 22 situation really.

  17. The Catch 22 is quite different: If the Developed nations carry on having a per capita footprint way in excess of the Developing nations then their economies will suffer under rising fossil fuel prices and the inevitable backlash from the rest of the world. If however we – the Developed nations – rapidly evolve sustainability technology and non-fossil energy production then we will stand a chance to save our high tech civilization into the future plus we limit damage to the ecosystem and enable the Developing nations to have a chance. As it stands the economies of the Developed nations are toast at the moment anyway, and that is entirely the fault of the cornucopian economics that has driven our systems for well to long. We suffer already economically because we have not made the right choices decades ago!
    This idea that there is a contradiction between moving on to sustainable energy technologies without use of fossil fuels and the ability of our economies to do well going forward is one of the worst mantras preached by the deniers and of cause the fossil fuel industries. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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