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John Passant

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March 2012



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Capitalism and the environment

There is overwhelming evidence that the world is facing an ecological crisis says Declan Murphy in Socialist Alternative.

Capitalism and the environment

The exhaustion of natural resource deposits, soil erosion, reckless deforestation, the poisoning of rivers and seas by chemicals and the contamination of the earth by nuclear waste are all part of it. At the centre, of course, is climate change. The earth is heating up at an unprecedented rate. The rising sea levels produced by global warming threaten to displace millions of people, turning them into so-called “climate refugees”.

In country after country, the prevailing public opinion is that something needs to be done. People everywhere are asking how we can stop climate change and turn back the clock on environmental destruction. But to answer the question of how we can stop global warming, we first need to ask why the crisis exists in the first place.

Capitalism and the environment

There are two key characteristics of capitalism. The first is that a tiny minority of people control the economy. The second is the fact that these people are locked in fierce competition with one another. This creates a society where everything is produced not in order to satisfy some human need, but rather to be sold to make a profit. This profit motive is the basis of all production. The rest of us have no say in how the economy is run. All human interests, the environment included, is subordinated to this insatiable drive to profit. It makes capitalism a system that is, in the last instance, blind to everything except the bottom line.

Every capitalist is driven to re-invest their profits back into the economy to try to make even greater profits. If one company doesn’t, its competitors will. Sure, every capitalist has a choice: they can worry about the environment or they can worry about their investments. But those who choose to worry about the environment will soon find themselves out of business. This influences how the ruling class views the environment. The only way they can conceive of the natural world is either as a source of resources to be exploited, or as a receptacle in which to dump waste and excess.

This dynamic makes capitalism extremely myopic and short sighted. It makes capitalists pretty much incapable of seeing beyond their next immediate profit. One of the clearest examples of this is the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010. A BP oil rig off the south coast of America exploded into flames, triggering a massive oil leak. The explosion itself killed 11 workers, and the leak saw 5 million tons of oil find its way into the ocean. The spill destroyed massive amounts of marine life and wildlife habitats, as well as eradicating thousands of jobs overnight in the tourism and fishing industries. Even today, oil is still washing up on Gulf State beaches.

This crisis said to be accidental. But this was not just some mistake. The White House Oil Spill Commission, hardly an enemy to corporations like BP, found that the company had cut corners on a whole series of extremely basic safety procedures that had directly led to the explosion. It concluded that “whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP and the other corporations involved made that increased the risk of the oil blowout clearly saved those companies significant time and money”. Hardly any wonder, then, that BP posted profits of over $5 billion less than a year after the spill took place.

This same story has played out time and time again. Almost all of the environmental disasters of the last 100 years or so have their roots in the blind profit motive of capitalism. But this short-sighted pursuit of profit by the ruling class doesn’t just underlie these would be “accidental” tragedies. It’s also the reason why capitalism is incapable providing solutions for any longer term environmental issues, like climate change.

Climate change isn’t the kind of crisis that you can resolve with just a brief concerted effort. Most scientists agree that CO2 emissions need to be reduced by up to 80 or 90 percent by 2050 to avoid serious and irreversible climate change.

But taking such action would require a massive reorientation away from polluting energy sources like fossil fuels, and this inevitably butts its head against the realities of the capitalist economy. Worldwide, more than $13 trillion of capital are invested in fossil fuels. In the US alone, there are 150 oil refineries, 4000 offshore platforms, 160,000 miles of oil pipelines, facilities to handle more than 15 million barrels per day in imports and exports, 10,400 fossil fuel consuming power plants, 410 underground gas storage fields and 1.4 million miles of gas pipelines.

But it’s not just that the capitalists in the fossil fuel industry have massive amounts of money invested and will fiercely oppose any attempt to switch to more renewable options. It’s also that the capitalist class as a whole has an interest in maintaining an economy based on fossil fuels. Having a cheaper, non-renewable source of energy like fossil fuels allows other industries to operate at a lower cost, enabling bosses everywhere to make higher profits. So any demand to transition to a sustainable economy generally meets the staunch resistance of not just the fossil fuel industry, but the broader ruling class as well.

So compare that staggering $13 trillion to the paltry $10 billion invested in alternative energy, most of which is funnelled to massive agro-fuel corporations like Monsanto who use it to develop technologies that need fossil fuels to run anyhow. Switching from fossil fuels is a pretty simple idea, but it comes up against a formidable barrier – the logic of capitalism. Too many capitalists would lose too much money, so the necessary action simply doesn’t take place. In fact, things generally get worse.

In November 2006, scientists working on the Global Carbon Project announced that emissions were rising four times faster than a decade previously. To quote scientist Mark Lynas, “in other words, all of our efforts – of carbon trading, switching off lights, the Kyoto Protocol and so on – have had a discernible effect so far: less than zero”.

This helps explain why all of the “attempts” by officialdom to reverse the ecological crisis have actually done very little. From the UN-sanctioned talk fests at places like Bali and Copenhagen – which have produced nothing more than large amounts of hot air and toothless treaties – to the myth of “clean coal”, those in power clearly have no solution to the environmental crisis.

Capitalism, then, is both the cause of the crisis and the barrier to all solutions that don’t seek to abolish it. If we want to stop environmental destruction and live in a truly sustainable society, we have to abolish capitalism. The choice, to put it bluntly, is between capitalism and a habitable planet.



Comment from Shane H
Time March 28, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Carbon emissions have fallen with the GFC – which is the key issue that emissions (like population) are linked to economic growth. So that leaves us advocating no-growth as the solution doesn’t it? Or asking the same question the same way if we abolish capitalism what are we replacing it with?

Comment from John
Time March 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Replacing capitalism – production for profit – with democratic production to satisfy human need, ie socialism. In such a society renewables become a viable option because cost is removed as a consideration and satisfying human need (including saving it from environmental barbarism) becomes the principle for action. Non-growth – that maybe the decision people decide upon democratically.

Comment from Hans Ehrbar
Time March 29, 2012 at 12:48 am

Climate change is not “at the centre, of course” of the several problems which you describe. It is one of them. A switch away from fossil fuels is therefore not the main solution as you imply. It is one of the necessary steps. Non-growth cannot be decided democratically just as you cannot decide democratically whether a gallon is bigger than a litre. Non-growth and a thorough re-invention of industrial production is necessary in order to make production truly sustainable (no production of pollutants which cannot be fully cleaned up and no consumption of inputs which cannot be restored). This requires also a rethinking how much consumption, and what kind of consumption, we need to be truly human.

Comment from John
Time March 29, 2012 at 3:34 am

For those sections of global society who have not yet reached a minimum level of food, clothing, housing, education, health care etc, ie the level to be human, the question of growth will be the key. Whether this is redistributive within the world economy or a program of growth within those sectors is a question to be decided democratically, ie after the revolution when the majority rule. But you also seem to imply some form of static or even worse regressed society. I disagree. For example better technology (ie future developments) may free us from some at least of the constraints of our humanity. Innovation etc to aid humanity offers us opportunities to move beyond the profit system and its limits on humanity and our humanity.

Comment from don coyote
Time March 29, 2012 at 10:25 am

Quote :
Dangerous environmental conditions came to the attention of the public in the Soviet Union under the glasnost policy of the regime of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in office 1985-91), which liberated the exchange of information in the late 1980s. The three situations that gripped public attention were the April 1986 nuclear explosion at the Chernobyl’ Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine, the long-term and ongoing desiccation of the Aral Sea between Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, and the irradiation of northern Kazakstan by the Semipalatinsk (present-day Semey) nuclear testing site. The overall cost of rectifying these three disasters is staggering, dwarfing the cost of cleanups elsewhere, such as the superfund campaign to eliminate toxic waste sites in the United States. By the time the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, such conditions had become symbols of that system’s disregard for the quality of the environment.

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