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Capitalism can’t solve global warming or any other environmental problem for that matter


Charlie,

I fear that the capitalist social organizing paradigm offers few, if any solutions for climate change and global warming. Capitalism-particularly corporate neocapitalism–purports to solve the problem with consumption. We trust that somehow we can buy our way out of this situation. But the greenest solution is the least profitable and, perhaps, offers no profit, economic expansion, on increased opportunities. 

That is, simply, do your part and buy nothing. If you must buy, buy for need (food, clothing, shelter) not to sate desire.

Capitalism cannot solve global warming, in part, because growth underlies present economic systems and societies, to the point where actual competition has little to do with quality of life or individual need. Since price and quantity are measures of value and profit is the incentive, the economic and social system constantly creates scarcity–either imagined (as I need new technology to compete) or real (ethanol and cattle feed uses up excess supply of corn and then chews into the principal, i.e. corn for food, so we figure out how to grow more, create demand for new products, such as corn syrup, and then have to grow more).
Under the present capitalist paradigm, global warming simply offers new opportunities for consumption–from the building of levees to the sale of air conditioners. At the same time, calls to conserve and recycle tend not to reduce overall economic activity but to free up money in individual and institutional (corporate) pockets to be used for further consumption.
The solution can only lie in the development a society in which those things that are real and lasting–art, human relationships, contact with nature, enjoyment of home–substitute for internal vacancies. That is, human relationships do not demand gifts, monetary favors, or consumptive activities. A home does not demand having a television, new furniture, or luxury appointments. Contact with nature does not demand cyclocross bikes, skydiving, or the latest in high-tech backpacking gear. Replacing these consumptive expressions of internal scarcities means valuing human creativity, altering and adjusting the value of wild nature, and the redefining the meanings of home and community.
This is diffult work, of course, because someone will always see profit in deviating from the construction of a self-aware society. Look, for instance, at the race to the bottom Kansas has started in the Midwest by doing away with social programs, tax shifting, and changing tax responsibilityfrom those who benefit most to those who benefit least from systems of production and profit. This has everything to do with consumption. A million people seeking solutions to infrastructure building, mental and indigent health care, and education on the open market is a whole lot less efficient and more profitable for business than having one payer who can negotiate prices and increase efficiencies in the use of public dollars. It’s not new, but it increases the speed trends toward relieving the wealthy of paying for their privilege. Missouri is already toying with following suit, as is Nebraska and Iowa.
A significant issue remains with consumption as expression of social status. As Thorsten Veblen pointed out in his 1901 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, in a consumptive society, economic and social elites set standards and other classes attempt to emulate them. Here, consumption of cheap and freely available items and entertainments that resemble those upper classes consume becomes important. Walmart and discount retailers depend on selling items that are excess, unneeded, and provide for “comfort.”
Besides the anti- or stable consumption alternative, another solution is the consumptive model with fewer people. But since depopulation presents significant problems in a growth model, this will likely not be an alternative until it becomes a Malthusian necessity.
Which is the present option: Continue blithely down the road of inaction until even capitalist and social systems break down into warlord societies of the kind we find in environmentally stressed parts of Africa, Asia, Micronesia, and South America.
Personally, I try to buy the least to get by. I’m not perfect but I’m getting better.
Yours affectionately,
Patrick

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