Will capitalism survive climate change?

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George Victor
Will capitalism survive climate change?


George Victor

This April 3 item by Walden Bello seemed a natural for discussion, but I cannot find a peep, anywhere.

What forum might this be offered in with some hope of it not getting lost in the robust back and forth of party politics?

Robust is good, but looking at what we (Homo sapiens) have to tackle might best be accomplished with the economy in mind? At least, that seems to be the conversation stopper, whenever the pocketbook, the prospect for life in the golden years, etc., comes round.

Or am I imagining a silence of the lions in this area? And that anyway, guessing at - and debating - the meaning of head counts in opinion polls among the great unwashed has an important function. Simple, therapeutic release in this tightly-sphinctered world? Too-serious won't fly?

[img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]


Definitely environmental justice. Thanks!

George Victor

I was rather hoping, chief interlocutor, that you, or someone, was going to say that a reading of the April 3 article suggests that one should NOT separate politics, economics and environment.

I stil can't believe that such a seminal question goes undebated!

The historic approaches to questions of either politics or economics, dealt with them under the heading of political economy. That went out of fashion gradually - the U. of T. held out longest in maintaining a department of political economy, but finally capitulated to the econometric bean counters ("scientists").

Environment is the new ingredient, of course, although old F.Engels said in reply to a friend's letter (about Malthus) that when the western hemisphere and eastern European lands were all taken up - that would be the time to sound the alarm.

Could we not take a shot at dealing with the April 3 article question with all three perspectives in mind? Place our political parties against that question and rank them?

NOT reduce to a peurile back and forth in the frustration that must come from statistics and polls among the great unwashed?

Will capitalism survive and what do we do without it?

Would the wartime economy work? Is there any other answer?


Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Do you have a link to that article?

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Okay, read [url=http://www.rabble.ca/news_full_story.shtml?x=69628]it[/url].

I think there is a bigger question:


Very few people outside of climate scientists and climate activists even know about Hansen's polar ice melt hypothesis and what it means to each of our distant and more immediate futures. There is probably a scientific debate raging in labs and symposia about this new and compelling vision of climate change, but since publics globally remain, surrealistically, almost completely uninformed, how would we know?.

For example, Andrew Revkin, the NY Times expert and dean of American climate science reportage, mentioned the Hansen et el latest paper, "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" only through his Dotearth blog with no coverage in the Times newspaper at all. At Dotearth he quotes from the paper's summary:

Humanity today, collectively, must face the uncomfortable fact that industrial civilization itself has become the principal driver of global climate. If we stay our present course, using fossil fuels to feed a growing appetite for energy-intensive lifestyles, we will soon leave the climate of the Holocene, the world of human history. The eventual response to doubling preindustrial atmospheric CO2 likely would be a nearly ice-free planet.

Humanity's task of moderating human-caused global climate change is urgent. Ocean and ice sheet inertias provide a buffer delaying full response by centuries, but there is a danger that human-made forcings could drive the climate system beyond tipping points such that change proceeds out of our control. The time available to reduce the human-made forcing is uncertain, because models of the global system and critical components such as ice sheets are inadequate. However, climate response time is surely less than the atmospheric lifetime of the human-caused perturbation of CO2. Thus, remaining fossil fuel reserves should not be exploited without a plan for retrieval and disposal of resulting atmospheric CO2. Paleoclimate evidence and ongoing global changes imply that today's CO2, about 385 ppm, is already too high to maintain the climate to which humanity, wildlife and the rest of the biosphere are adapted.

But the vast majority of New York Times newspaper readers, Americans in general and people globally have never even heard of this emerging vision of climate change, let alone been informed and educated by critical commentary from those with relevant expertise.

Hansen's emerging climate change vision and climate change A are almost mutually exclusive. Today's nascent climate change mitigation measures, including carbon taxes and cap and trade, remain completely within the gradual, linear, conventional wisdom. This level of mitigation does not address the big ice sheet melt as a crucial tipping point. No governments anywhere - not even those governments that have led in acknowledging climate change as a real and serious problem - are even remotely considering mitigation measures of an immediacy and scale needed to try to return atmospheric CO2 emission levels below 350 ppm. Climate change B is an impossibility within our present political and economic systems.


Capitalism is not just a problem when confronting global environmental degradation. It is the one biggest, and most resolute obstacle.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]This April 3 item by Walden Bello seemed a natural for discussion, but I cannot find a peep, anywhere.[/b]

I actually posted a link to it [url=http://www.rabble.ca/babble/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic&f=45&t=000442#0..., two days before it even appeared on rabble.ca.

[img]cool.gif" border="0[/img]


If you have trade and you have interest on loans, then you have capitalism. It's been around for thousands of years, will probably be around in some form until the end of time. Trade and interest are things which arise quite naturally. There may be other systems that supercede these two for some time, as during the era of feudalism in europe or state capitalism in the USSR.



Originally posted by 500_Apples:
[b] Trade and interest are things which arise quite naturally. There may be other systems that supercede these two for some time, as during the era of feudalism in europe or state capitalism in the USSR.[/b]

COMECON trading nations also made use of barter. People have participated in truck and barter for centuries.

The Soviets sent oil and other raw materials to countries like Cuba and Vietnam for what would have been considered by capitalist countries to have been exchanged at a net loss for the source countries. Soviets also sent humanitarian aid and technical expertise to satellite countries in
exchange for raw materials and food staples.

What happened with Cuba's sugar exports after 1959 wasn't by design so much as necessity. Previous arrangements between big sugar companies under Batista and U.S. mainland companies operated on a quota system, which wasn't as exemplary of free markets as it was central planning. The Soviets agreed to accept Cuban sugar in exchange for oil and other necessities.

George Victor

Okay FM.
We agree that capitalism is the "biggest and most resolute obstacle" to dealing with climate change causal factors.

And we know that not all folks out there are in agreement with us (but concensus builds).
What do we have to offer them (and let's not forget us) as a way out, once the believers are in the cat bird's seat?

To break the ice:
In September of 1939, the political parties of Canada, Australia and the mother nation had to begin to decide to act as one - in the name of survival - and that is where we are going to have to go again, in the not too distant future.
And looking at the activities of political parties up to that time - and for a year or so into the war there was still some restiveness - one could not have imagined societies pulling together in that fashion. But look at the historical accounts!

The article by Walden Bello is a very precise Marxist evaluation of the economic situation facing us. But, unfortunately, he hints at a class struggle to come in the face of Apocalypse.

I believe we can leave that imagined scenario in favour of tried behaviour, control of those means of production, consumption, and, yes, distribution (recall the Bevridge Report of 1943 tht gave us social welfare).
We've built some additional dependencies vis a vis capital accumulation in the intervening half century, but a command economy can find means of social support not available in "the market".

That is, we could not all begin to take in each other's washing (that famous nonsense example of a solution to unemployment and sagging economic growth)_but we could quickly learn to accept (then enjoy?) the production of the necessities again.

It would not be a return to some ancient capitalism, 500 Apples. Adam Smith (then Marx) showed us how capitalism imposed itself on mercantalism. Smith and Hume and their cohort (see "How the Scots Invented the Modern World")gave us an understanding of modernity based on changes in production etc. etc. Gotta be precise, even if we don't agree completely with their 18th Century conclusions.

And I'm sorry I missed your posting, M.S. I'm realy doing not too badly for an old born again Luddite on these infernal machines.

Would love to hear something of the institutional needs of a society needing to bring this off. And dramatic changes will obviously be needed. But this isn't composing science fiction. It's coming at us down the pike, and today's radical thinking will be tomorrow's orthodoxy.But it's gonna hafta go beyond party battles for the hearts and min..well, the hearts of the great unwashed. That's a never-ending merry go round without some input into what they read and hear. Chomsky's concern.

Better stop for a mo' before the chief reminds us that this thread started out trying to determine its parentage.

And is it an orphan?Is the discussion legitimate?

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

I think it is legitimate. But my views are well known on this.

We, in fact, have three problems coming down the pike simultaneously:

[LIST][* Climate Change][* Energy Depletion][* Water Scarcity][/LIST]

All of these issues are global in scope and there is no national or limited multinational approach to addressing them. The only approach is a truly global approach and I fear that is too little, too late.

The full gravity of what we face as a global community I don't think is fully appreciated on a scale approaching a critical mass of understanding.

The current world population is only possible as a result of fossil fuels extending the carrying capacity. As the era of cheap, easily accessible fossil fuels becomes visible in the rearview mirror, as has begun, the carrying capacity of the planet will diminish and famine will become common place.

Meanwhile, our best efforts to mitigate that disaster will be undermined by both climate change, growing water scarcity exacerbated by climate change, and an increasing cost for energy.

Fossil fuels are the life blood of our modern, global, industrial economy and there is no substitute or series of substitutes. But electricty is the critical energy system upon which our cities and civilizations depend. They, the powers that be, will do whatever is necessary to keep the lights on including, and especially. coal plants regardless of the greater cost.

The truth of the matter is that we, as a species, are upon a cross-roads where we are faced with the choice of abandoning consumer capitalism and reorganizing ourselves to weather the coming storms or continuing along business as usual. We have already made the choice.

The key is that we are proceeding as though 1) climate change is a linear process with which we have plenty of time; 2) oil depletion and water scarcity are separate unrelated problems, and; 3) we can have our earth and eat it too.

Already the foundations of our global, capitalist civilization are beginning to quake. Global capitalism and the civilization is supports depend upon three things. Cheap energy, plentiful grains, and unlimited resources including water and base minerals. All three are in decline and climate change complicates the picture in ways we can't even yet fully imagine.

This is the legacy of capitalism and, at the risk of being accused of being nihilistic, there is no systemic solution for what is a systemic failure.

Within the lifetime of the current generation a new era will be thrust upon us.


man....you guys just remind me of how Un-educated i actually am [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Welcome to babble, Chris.

Stick around, and you'll learn fast enough. [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]


And probably teach us a few things in the bargain.

George Victor

"We have already made the choice."

Don't think so, FM. In fact, the knuckle draggers and their conservative followers are "unmaking" their choice in a comedic (it would be hilarious if the subject were not so critical) scramble to revise recent history. They lay claim to the moral highroad while frantically counting the numbers of newly conscious voters. They can't count quickly enough.

I hate the use of "we" for the above reason, but WE (you and I and a growing collectivity) could say we are emerging into the era of The Great Concession on the part of all those desperate to preserve their (superior) lifestyle.

Some of us have tried to speed the process of recognition since the late 60s, and would not, with general enlightenment in sight, deliver a negative verdict on the collective world view NOW. We got kids.

There was one helluva slippage in consciousness in the 1970s and 1980s as Buck Rogers gave way to the "technological fix" that was put forward by bright people who should have known better; then "sustainable" came to replace the demand for end to growth.

Those apologies for answers no longer fly, and their previous proponents, beginning with the techno' fixers, are heading for the hills.

So here we are, looked to for answers. That is why this thread came into being. There has not been as large an audience looking for answers to this question ever before. Ever!

You speak of linear thinking. Of course straight lines are bad - even in Utopian schemes that have trouble telling us how to get from here to there. We're not talking Utopia. Tom More ain't in it. How does "wartime" planning constitute a straight line in capitalist history?

Linearity, it seems to me, is expressed by those who do not look at ACTUAL EXAMPLES of breaks with, say , systems of economic thought. Look what our expatriate J.K.Galbraith did to pricing in the U.S., even before they entered war (see his biography by Richard Parker). David Hume's demand for an empirical base for our decisions.

Total war calls for total mobilization of all resources, all people. And, again, this is what happened in democracies where the contrarians and libertines were invisible at election time. We have come to be frightened by the prospect of that kind of democracy, but, again, a close reading of history does not leave room for that concern.

And we do have to think of new roles for Homo sapiens in the grand scheme, eh?

It's gonna be difficult. Look at Obama this morning, defending himself against Hillary's charge of "elitism" in telling it like it is about folks' consciousness up in the hills of Pennsylvania (where, apparently, the term "blather" was coined).

And it's not just the Hillaries. Look how our nascent neo-cons use populist language among the great unread.

And, here, the amazin' thing about M.Dion is not so much that the party chose him as leader. THE amazin' thing is that an aware youth element at that convention, many with young families, KNEW that his environmental position was the only honest one in that party's house.

And no, this old subversive is NOT of that ilk, but some concessions are possible. :-)

But, could we proceed in a working exchange toward that light at the end of the tunnel? I don't really believe it's a mirage either.

Oh, and thanks for your forbearance on this fragile, rather threadbare thread, chief.

[img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 13 April 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

The Wizard of S...

"Chief?" I didn't know we had any First Nation leaders on the board. Right on!

George Victor

I did say "chief interlocutor" in the first instance.
I suppose that must continue to be the formula (I hold no grievance or hidden agenda for any culture except that of the intolerant stone throwers).
[img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

The Wizard of S...

I think this whole topic is just wishful thinking by those so desperate to see capitalism fall that they're linking it to the eco-fad curently in vogue.

To think that you can affect the natural warming and cooling cycle of the planet by bankrupting it's people is just silly. It's like taking all your money out of the bank and burning it in a bonfire to try and stop night from coming. It makes no difference but in the end you're broke. As long as it's just all cloud talk, I'm sure you can get all sorts of people to go along. But when their kids start going hungry so "Gaia" can be pure again, I think you'll find the cult of the two square toilet paper users collapses pretty damn fast.

The real question should be: "Will the current eco-fad survive the downturn in the world economy?" I mean, I was around in '89 when that whole Exxon-Valdez bugaboo took place. Everyone was all upset. That "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" guy wrote a song and everything. Then the recession hit, and everyone quit playing make-believe and went back to the business of making a living. That's the lesson of the Nineties.

Watch for Paris Hilton to jump on the bandwagon. That's probably a good indicator that the eco-fad is nearly over. Don't worry. It'll be back in a few years when the next batch of college freshies catch First Year Syndrome and think they know everything. Then they'll graduate and find out that the real world is different than it is on MTV. It's funny how making student loan payments puts everything in perspective. Apparantly, the bank doesn't take payment in "carbon credits." Or tulips.

Le T Le T's picture

That is one of the most ignorant posts I have ever read, Wiz.

George Victor

"Silly" and "wishful thinking", of course, must apply to anyone who heard the leading executives of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (the biggest industrialists) admit last year that climate change has to be the first concern of Earth's inhabitants - and then suggest that it's all part of a plot to destroy capitalism.

Or to someone who professes a knowledge of science that surpasses that of the vast majority of scientists (Exxon-supported cranks and contrarians excepted)who think differently.

One can appreciate such chutzpah, but can the NDP and "socialism" survive it?

Remember, so far, we come here, not to praise Walden Bello's position but to bur...to appreciate it for analysis that gives empirical grounding of our economic condition - but not necessarily for the implied resolution in revolution.

Hang in there friend and see what we can come up with? [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

John K

An excerpt from the Bello article:


the global reduction of 80 percent in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 that many now recognize as necessary, will have to translate into reductions of at least 150 to 200 percent on the part of the global North

Um, a 100 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would mean zero emissions. Going below 100 per cent is a mathematical impossibility.



Originally posted by The Wizard of Socialism:
To think that you can affect the natural warming and cooling cycle of the planet by bankrupting it's people is just silly.

Keep up there Wiz. No one is talking about the natural warming and cooling cycles. They are talking about anthropologic warming.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

This is the second author that I have read recently who writes about non-capitalist markets. The other is Ellen M. Wood who wrote a very interesting book about the origin of capitalism.

It seems totally appropriate that this new author is writing about capitalism's demise. You gotta look at things from both ends to figure them out.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

I wish I shared your optimism, George.

I have been following the so-called green economic movement for quite some time. The latest comes from a fellow who has been working to help Wal-Mart green their image. He calls it [url=http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/4/11/153519/830/]BLUE[/url].

Essentially, he calls for a new, improved capitalist consumer culture where we can feel good about shopping till we drop and without any thought for what we buy, how it was produced, by whom, or how it reached us (albeit with a few rules and we know we all look at the label to ensure what we buy is union made in Canada and sweat free, right?).

And whenever I listen to the newest and latest arguments and debates and ideas about a new economy it is always focussed on how we keep the old, dirty economy running. Even here on babble, where we are blessed with such progressive minds as the Wizard of Socialism above, discussion tends to focus on alternative energies or technologies for sustaining the automobile culture - as though the effort is not on redeeming our souls but on keeping the devil happy so that he doesn't come collecting.

You mention Dion and I will admit to being thrilled when I heard he won. But then as I read on him that initial feeling of thrill was replaced by disappointment and eventually the familiar dread.

Dion is no different in outlook than Harper in real, fundamental terms. He does not speak of hard caps on emissions or tough requirements on vehicle fuel standards, for one example.

For another example, he does not speak in terms of using federal transfers to cause municipalities to address land use and urban sprawl. He doesn't speak about ending tax transfers and subsidies for roads and highways. He doesn't talk about taxes on parking lots and he doesn't talk about reinvigorating local economies.

He does talk about clean coal and carbon capture as does Bush, Harper, and all the other "business as usual but let's pretend" capitalist politicians.

If there is to be real change, and I do think it is too late but I could be wrong and I am always open to trying something new, it must come from below.

[ 13 April 2008: Message edited by: Frustrated Mess ]



Originally posted by The Wizard of Socialism:
[b] It's funny how making student loan payments puts everything in perspective. Apparantly, the bank doesn't take payment in "carbon credits." Or tulips.[/b]

Neither does the IMF and banking cabal think eco-socialism is viable. And so thirdworld countries will just have to continue clear-cutting forests and allow big agribusiness to rape the land in aid of cash crop capitalism. It's either that or go deeper into debt to the banksters. Same here. Our stoogeocrats pursue powerlessness instead of telling Exxon-Imperial and friends to shove off in order to create our own national energy policy. It's invisible hand dogma all over again, and it's fakery. They really aren't as powerless as they want us to believe, and that's why our two old line parties couldn't manage 24 percent of the eligible in the last election.

We need to democratize Canada because it's feasible and doable. And the U.S.S.A. will officially implode on itself someday soon. Empires just don't last.

George Victor

Well FM, the optimism ebbs and flows, depending on whether I'm reading James Lovelock or Tim Flannery, James Howard Kunstler or George Monbiot.
They come to mind immediately, pairing as being more or less "optimistic" or its opposite.
You'll hafta pardon the book references - I'm a library board member and promoter of old-fashioned sources of knowledge.

If you've read Kunstler, you'll know he's more "end of oil" than CO2 inspired, and his latest little novel, World Made by Hand, is a nice little, not too nasty bit of futurism.

You're right. The major parties, including the Greens of course (see the Green candidate's ad at the bottom of this screen yesterday!!!) see capitalism surviving end of oil and CO2 saturation, but the statistics you've put forward - and Lovelock said it 25 years ago - are incontrovertible. They will come to be accepted across the board by the sheltered unread. And then what?

That's what this little exercise in thought provocation is all about. Monbiot has done it rather brilliantly in Heat, of course. But in Canada we have an extra stair to climb as Tim Flannery points out in his first chapter of An Explorer's Notebook, "Outside Canada Looking In". Canada is as bad as they get.

Of course, it has to do with the gutting of the top third of Alberta. And that, as we "eastern bastards" have come to understand, is a particularly intractable political problem. I began fomenting about western oil in the early 70s. A bit early for political audiences even from a simple conservation perspective, as it turned out. :-)

Western alienation and farm grievances everywhere equals political stasis.

But here in enlightened (and dependent) old Ontariario, we can try to sail around the ad-dependent media to get the message out. (I was asked recently by the library board chair and CEO if I "really felt that library board membership" was a comfortaable fit for my interests.)

But, of course, that's where we're at. The library board members are not about to read the heavy stuff. Avoid it like the plague. Denial comes in many forms.

But "the message" can't be just a litany of woe.
Neither must we allow the Greens to get away with a simple message like "leave it up to the market". I told Jim Harris last fall just what a copout that was. No wonder they rise in the polls. Just leave it to God and "the market". Oh, and as Monbiot points out, ignoring the poor who can't pay those carbon prices just isn't going to (and shouldn't) fly.

"Change must come from below?"

My, how nice that would be. But I'm afraid it's the "belows" who are considered most problematic each time the leadership and candidates of any party consider what they can safely get away with. Same with the media.

That's why it's taken us until now to begin to formulate real political agendas. And science itself is just catching up to the leaders like Lovelock, who only a decade back convinced the world's leading biologists that his account of Earth's ability to provide a thermal balance for the biosphere was correct. He went from "that GAIA guy" to world leading scientific innovator.

But look at how his acceptance of nuclear energy is still treated by Greens and New Democrats, who are in a neck-and-neck race for the fealty of the 21st Century's beautiful people (sans flowers).

But we beaver away on the edge of things, making ourselves a pain in the derriere (hope that's roughly the spelling and area of the anatomy) to both the status quo and the great unread. Not ready to just sit in The Wasteland (in April or any other month).

Optimistic? We can't know, to what degree. Not just yet, eh? One does what one can, my new friend?

[ 14 April 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]And again five minutes later on another name. Must check the glasses.

[ 14 April 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]This is the second author that I have read recently who writes about non-capitalist markets. The other is Ellen M. Wood who wrote a very interesting book about the origin of capitalism.[/b]

The best book I have read about the role of markets in [b]post-capitalist[/b] societies is [i]Against The Market[/i] by David Mcnally. His main target is the concept of so-called "market socialism" but he demonstrates quite effectively how market economics stalls the development of socialism by perpetuating alienation, inequality, and all the other effects of commodity production.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

George, I gave up on television a long time ago and I have read all those authors. Lovelock is my least favourite. I found his book entirely disappointing not least because he contradicts himself almost from the get-go. I find Lovelock is a victim of his culture. For him, it is a given that we are headed toward catastrophe, and therefore all efforts should be put to ensuring he lives out his lifetime in the manner and comfort to which he is accustomed.

I must go ... have a meeting. I will return later.

remind remind's picture


Originally posted by Frustrated Mess:
[b]I must go ... have a meeting. I will return later.[/b]

Oh sure I have been waiting all day for you to start the contrast and compare FM, and had have to content myself with exposing cueball's Liberal propaganda.


Okay, I'm moving this to environmental justice.

Topic locked