Profit maximization is the iron rule of capitalism, setting limits to ecological reform. A profit-based economy that requires continuous economic growth makes ecological catastrophes inevitable.
Voluntarism, technological fixes and market incentives as they have been constructed cannot achieve even the weak Green House Gas targets governments have committed to. Even so, many governments such as ours and that of theUSA, haven’t even initiated these market mechanisms like carbon taxes or cap and trade.
We need to accept that we WILL pass the terrible tipping points that climate scientists like James Hansen have been talking about for at least a decade now. And that the catastrophes they predict will happen, gradually at first and then rapidly as the feedbacks kick in.
As the consequences of passing the tipping points eventuate, with droughts, floods, rising sea levels, growing numbers of climate refugees – states everywhere will begin to exercise authoritarian measures to preserve order and to ensure that increasingly scarce water, food and energy resources are preserved for the rich and to feed the material requirements of corporate enterprise. Robert Heilbroner predicted this outcome back in 1974 in his Inquiry into the Human Prospect. Joel Kovel discussed the prospect more recently.
We can already see the beginnings of the move towards authoritarianism – the xenophobic response to immigration throughout Europe, the attempt to destroy unionism in the USA, the harsh way protesters against austerity measures are being treated, to say nothing of police repression against G20 protesters inToronto. And Stephen Harper’s deliberate efforts to silence his critics by shutting down or reorienting research and advocacy organizations.
It is essential for us to be critiquing market-based solutions and those, including most mainstream environmental organizations, who promote these solutions and insist on working within the system. We need to expose environmental organizations who accept funding from corporate-based foundations that are extensions of the energy industrial complex and thus allow themselves to be used by the perpetrators of climate change and bolstering their legitimacy.
We need to be putting forth more structurally based solutions such as stopping the tar sands, massive investment in solar, wind and geothermal renewables and expanding public transit. Yet, we should accept that these solutions are and will be totally rejected by capitalist states and that, in any case, renewable energy cannot meet the mass energy requirement of consumerism and relentless economic growth especially in the light of ongoing neoliberal globalization.
We need to be talking now about how we will respond to the ecological catastrophe as it unfolds and to the authoritarian actions of capitalist states to repress popular resistance against harsh austerity measures and to increasingly destructive methods of extracting oil and natural gas from less accessible sources.
It will be essential to show how the economy can be transformed so that it does not require continuous growth and yet provides for the basic requirements of all citizens.
- Intellectual argument is not sufficient. Our movement will have to turn towards widespread forms of direct action to stop the ecocide and the austerity measures that shift the burden of the ecological crisis onto the lower and working classes.
This article appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Canadian Dimension (The Food Issue).