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Smashing the Myth of Sustainable Capitalism

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Former Dickinson Professor Sebastian Berger used to teach a course on Environmental Economics, which is used as a synthesis course to relate sustainability with economics. Sustainability is the capacity of the environment to maintain a diverse ecosystem that renewably provides a flow of resources which, in turn, furthers biodiversity. In essence, sustainability is the ability for Earth to continue supporting life. In economic terms, this means ensuring natural funds constantly to provide a flow of stock resources for other organisms in the environment to utilize for their own survival. However, this paradigm can only be viable if you believe the economy is a subsystem of the environment.

In Environmental Economics, students are taught how to make the economy more efficient by making current productive systems more environmentally friendly. Basically, Environmental Economics resides in the anthropocentric school of thought that the economy and environment are entities that operate in separate systems. Environmental economists view climate change as a serious threat yet they offer solutions only to save the civilization that brought about those problems in the first place. Economists want you to believe that you can save the world with regulations, Cap and Trade policies, pollution quotas, and move privatization of property rights.

For this reason, Professor Berger taught economics from an ecological perspective, emphasizing that economics takes place in the natural world. Through his lectures and videos, he taught students the importance of understanding the relation between Peak Oil and Climate Change. According to the laws of thermodynamics, infinite consumption of a finite resource is inherently unsustainable, yet this is exactly the system our civilization continues to function on. Berger broke the spell of capitalism reminding students economics is a social science and thus subject to bias in contrast to the natural science of ecology.

Mainstream environmentalists continue to buy into the economists’ free-market myth of prosperity. The market is not the best solution to the global environmental crisis. At its core, the current economic system is based off of unsustainable growth. The economy needs to continually expand in order to support an increasing population, even if it consumes environmental resources and traditional communities. Environmentalists are slaves to the spectacle of consumerism. They understand its destructive nature yet feel defeated in any option other than in working with the system to win mild victories. The Cap and Trade regulation is championed the most by environmentalists as a healthy step in the right direction. This program makes it possible for polluting corporations to earn “Clean Air Credits” from which stock traders on Wall Street could then trade with. Environmentalists created a way for rich people to make more money out of thin air, while still allowing them to pollute. At their worst, the ecocapitalists refuse to believe our modes of production are responsible for carbon emissions.

Environmentalists tend to shift the blame away from the power brokers who control the levers that produce pollution to an easier target: us. Instead of blaming oil companies and unfettered capitalism, mainstream environmentalists blame individuals for not doing their part to protect the environment. They shift the burden of responsibility onto the individual by emphasizing recycling and dish shares rather than synthesizing human communities with natural ecosystem services. The problem is only environmentally-conscious people will recycle properly. Casting responsibility unto the individual only builds the illusion of progress while maintaining the current power structure which enables people to profit off of the environment’s destruction.

In an even greater perversion of message, environmental celebrities such as Al Gore are in fact profiting from the energy industry. If Bill McKibben wants to deal out serious divestment, he should chalk up the renewable energy corporations as well. Large solar panel companies such as Solyndra are based off the same business model as the fossil fuel companies. Thus, endless consumption is still the bottom line. Despite their technological usefulness, solar panels need incredible amounts of fossil fuels to be created. If Solyndra keeps selling solar panels, this means they will need more fossil fuels. Through this lens, the renewable energy companies actually rely on the fossil fuel industry for survival.

If we continue to let these types of people lead the environmental movement, eventually a form of ecofascism will develop out of desperation to hang on to the last remaining resources. Government regulations will be used to stomp out non-complying small businesses while keeping the destructive energy companies in power.

To achieve true sustainability, a community’s economic consumption must be scaled down to what economist Herman Daly called a “steady-state” economy. This means people consume only as much as they produce. Only local agrarian communities with a few green cities could adopt such a lifestyle for our current society is too globalized for this to be a reality. The only way to save the world from the impending climate catastrophe is for environmentalists to bring down the current power structure. People must wrestle control over our natural resources away from the corporate state. The energy industry should be dissolved and put into the hands of regional organizations responsible to the common person. Yet, since too many people have a stake in maintaining the status quo, blood will need to be shed if we are going to save any hope of democracy. To quote journalist Chris Hedges, as the world crumbles, “the end will be horrifying.”

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Smashing the Myth of Sustainable Capitalism