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Rearranging the Deck on Capitalism’s Sinking Ship

David Harvey famously stated, “capital never solves its crisis tendencies, it merely moves them around” [1]. As capital’s crisis is also ecological, one of the problems it moves around is environmental destruction. And because capital has only moved its problems around, over the course of the last 50 years the Unitedstatesian and European environmental movements only won the pollution of the Global South under the auspices of globalization and development. We just kept piling up our dirty laundry in the closet of horrors being brutally made since 1492. The lack of internationalism in confronting the ‘tragedy of the commodity’ [2], has meant that what were perceived of as gains were actually the infliction of harm. Without internationalism, there is no socialist solution to capitalism’s environmental crisis.

For instance, certain apologists point to reduction in CO2 or ecological footprint in the Global North as capitalism incorporating ecological externalities into its normal functioning. However, several leading researchers, like Richard York, Thomas Dietz, and Eugene A. Rosa, have shown that reduction to be a sham once we take a global-comparative look [3]. As Jorgenson and Clark put it, there is a “stark global North/ global South environmental inequality divide” and we need to consider that any perceived incorporation of ecological rationality is “partially attributable to the growth of carbon-intensive manufacturing in less developed countries via the transnationalization of production” [4] Like the initiating Harvey quote states, we are just moving our problems around.

In another important study, Clark and Jorgenson point out that the treadmill of production and destruction, the economy and military respectively, are based on “more economically developed and militarily powerful nations [who are] able to secure and maintain favorable terms of trade, allowing them to over utilize global environmental space, which suppresses the domestic consumption levels of many less-developed countries, well below globally sustainable levels” [5]. In street terms, the oppressors fuck over the oppressed to benefit themselves causing ever more ecological destruction along the way. Sadly, a statistically demonstrable fact, and due to the history of colonialism, primarily inflicted on the victims of imperialism.

So, when world leaders met in Paris at COP21 to talk about marketized plans for ecological sustainability, we know that the proposed solutions are bogus. Taxing carbon and other “incentive” policies are nothing more than propaganda to avoid admitting the truth, capitalism will never be ecologically sustainable. Its functioning has always been based on a parasitic relationship with nature leading to a social metabolic rift that eventually causes civilizational collapse [6]. Does anyone really think that a finite planet can sustain the extractivist onslaught? Eventually entropy sets in [7]. And drawing out the ramifications of the problem means that post-colonial countries will continue to bear the brunt of capitalism’s environmental devastation.

As such, the title’s cliché is not only pertinent, but perfect. We accept the superficial argument that the system is reforming itself only because we neocolonially fucked the nations we originally colonially fucked. By ignoring the scientific studies and their implications we are just rearranging the deck chairs on capitalism’s sinking ship. Civilizational collapse is not only real, but a problem accepted by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists [8]. If you doubt we are heading there, you might be trapped in a liberal-reactionary fantasy that this system can save us.

Notes

[1] Harvey, David. 2010. “The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis this Time” prepared for American Sociological Meetings in Atlanta, accessed here http://davidharvey.org/2010/08/the-enigma-of-capital-and-the-crisis-this-time/

[2] Longo, Stefano B. and Brett Clark. 2015. “Ecological Crisis and the Tragedy of the Commodity” at CounterPunch, July 21st, accessed here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/21/ecological-crisis-and-the-tragedy-of-the-commodity/

*See also Clausen, Rebecca, Stefano B. Longo, and Brett Clark. 2015. The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans, Fisheries, and Aquaculture, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press

[3] see York, Richard, Eugene A. Rosa, and Thomas. 2003. “Footprints on the Earth: The Environmental Consequences of Modernity” in American Sociological Review 68(2):279-300; Dietz, Thomas, Eugene A. Rosa, and Richard York. 2012. “Environmental efficient well-being: Is there a Kuznets curve?” in Applied Geography 32:21-28

[4] pp. 30-31 in Jorgenson, Andrew K. and Brett Clark. 2012. “Are the Economy and the Environment Decoupling? A Comparative International Study, 1960-2005” in American Journal of Sociology 118(1): 1-44

[5] p. 642 in Jorgenson, Andrew K. and Brett Clark. 2009. “The Economy, Military, and Ecologically Unequal Exchange Relationships in Comparative Perspective: A Panel Study of the Ecological Footprint of Nations, 1975-2000” in Social Problems 56(4):621-646

[6] Foster, John Bellamy. 2013. “Marx and the Rift in the Universal Metabolism of Nature” in Monthly Review 65(07), accessed here: http://monthlyreview.org/2013/12/01/marx-rift-universal-metabolism-nature/

[7] Delgado-P, Guillermo. 2014. “Land, Territory, Entropy” pp. 125-135 in Grabbing Back: Essays against the Global Land Grab, edited by Alexander Reid Ross, Oakland, CA: AK Press

[8] visit the Bulletin for Atomic Scientist’s website to see the Dooms Day Clock at 3 minutes to Midnight here: http://thebulletin.org/#

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Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist.

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