Skip to comments.Returning Troll Zotted! Capitalism is not even mathematically possible, let alone biologically viabl
Posted on 10/25/2003 11:42:31 AM PDT by PushForBush2004
With the turning of every year, we expect our lives to improve. As long as the economy continues to grow, we imagine, the world will become a more congenial place in which to live. There is no basis for this belief. If we take into account such factors as pollution and the depletion of natural capital, we see that the quality of life peaked in the United Kingdom in 1974 and in the United States in 1968, and has been falling ever since. We are going backwards.
The reason should not be hard to grasp. Our economic system depends upon never-ending growth, yet we live in a world with finite resources. Our expectation of progress is, as a result, a delusion.
This is the great heresy of our times, the fundamental truth which cannot be spoken. It is dismissed as furiously by those who possess power today -- governments, business, the media - as the discovery that the earth orbits the sun was denounced by the late mediaevel Church. Speak this truth in public and you are dismissed as a crank, a prig, a lunatic.
Capitalism is a millenarian cult, raised to the status of a world religion. Like communism, it is built upon the myth of endless exploitation. Just as Christians imagine that their God will deliver them from death, capitalists believe that theirs will deliver them from finity. The world's resources, they assert, have been granted eternal life.
The briefest reflection will show that this cannot be true. The laws of thermodynamics impose inherent limits upon biological production. Even the repayment of debt, the pre-requisite of capitalism, is mathematically possible only in the short-term. As Heinrich Haussmann has shown, a single pfennig invested at 5% compounded interest in the year 0 AD would, by 1990, have reaped a volume of gold 134 billion times the weight of the planet. Capitalism seeks a value of production commensurate with the repayment of debt.
Now, despite the endless denials, it is clear that the wall towards which we are accelarating is not very far away. Within five or ten years, the global consumption of oil is likely to outstrip supply. Every year, up to 75 billion tonnes of topsoil are washed into the sea as a result of unsustainable farming, which equates to the loss of around nine million hectares of productive land. As a result, we can maintain current levels of food production only with the application of phosphate, but phosphate reserves are likely to be exhausted within 80 years. Forty per cent of the world's food is produced with the help of irrigation; some of the key aquifers are already running dry as a result of overuse.
One reason why we fail to understand a concept as simple as finity is that our religion was founded upon the use of other people's resources: the gold, rubber and timber of Latin America, the spices, cotton and dyes of the East Indies, the labour and land of Africa. The frontier of exploitation seemed, to the early colonists, infinitely expandable. Now that geographical expansion has reached its limits, capitalism has moved its frontier from space to time: seizing resources from an infinite future.
An entire industry has been built upon the denial of ecological constraints. Every national newspaper in Britain lamented the "disappointing" volume of sales before Christmas. Sky News devoted much of its Christmas Eve coverage to live reports from Brent Cross, relaying the terrifying intelligence that we were facing "the worst Christmas for shopping since 2000". The survival of humanity has been displaced in the newspapers by the quarterly results of companies selling tableware and knickers.
Partly because they have been brainwashed by the corporate media, partly because of the scale of the moral challenge with which finity confronts them, many people respond to the heresy with unmediated savagery. Last week this column discussed the competition for global grain supplies between humans and livestock. One correspondent, a man named David Roucek, wrote to inform me that the problem is the result of people "breeding indiscriminately. ... When a woman has displayed evidence that she totally disregards the welfare of her offspring by continuing to breed children she cannot support, she has committed a crime and must be punished. The punishment? She must be sterilized to prevent her from perpetrating her crimes upon more innocent children."
There is no doubt that a rising population is one of the factors which threatens the world's capacity to support its people, but human population growth is being massively outstripped by the growth in the number of farm animals. While the rich world's consumption is supposed to be boundless, the human population is likely to peak within the next few decades. But population growth is the one factor for which the poor can be blamed and from which the rich can be excused, so it is the one factor which is repeatedly emphasised.
It is possible to change the way we live. The economist Bernard Lietaer has shown how a system based upon negative rates of interest would ensure that we accord greater economic value to future resources than to present ones. By shifting taxation from employment to environmental destruction, governments could tax over-consumption out of existence. But everyone who holds power today knows that her political survival depends upon stealing from the future to give to the present.
Overturning this calculation is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. We need to reverse not only the fundamental presumptions of political and economic life, but also the polarity of our moral compass. Everything we thought was good -- giving more exciting presents to our children, flying to a friend's wedding, even buying newspapers -- turns out also to be bad. It is, perhaps, hardly surprising that so many deny the problem with such religious zeal. But to live in these times without striving to change them is like watching, with serenity, the oncoming truck in your path.
I'll let the author go first. I stand ready to borrow money from him and have him pay me for the privilege.
'68 was also a great year for cars and rock n' roll records.
Who I am
George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain; as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man's Land. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper.
During seven years of investigative journeys in Indonesia, Brazil and East Africa, he was shot at, beaten up by military police, shipwrecked and stung into a poisoned coma by hornets. He came back to work in Britain after being pronounced clinically dead in Lodwar General Hospital in north-western Kenya, having contracted cerebral malaria.
In Britain, he joined the roads protest movement. He was hospitalised by security guards, who drove a metal spike through his foot, smashing the middle bone. He helped to found The Land is Ours, which has occupied land all over the country, including 13 acres of prime real estate in Wandsworth belonging to the Guinness corporation and destined for a giant superstore. The protesters beat Guinness in court, built an eco-village and held onto the land for six months.
He has held visiting fellowships or professorships at the universities of Oxford (environmental policy), Bristol (philosophy), Keele (politics) and East London (environmental science). He is currently visiting professor of planning at Oxford Brookes University. In 1995 Nelson Mandela presented him with a United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement. He has also won the Lloyds National Screenwriting Prize for his screenplay The Norwegian, a Sony Award for radio production, the Sir Peter Kent Award and the OneWorld National Press Award.
back to George Monbiot's website
It's too bad the hornets and the maleria didn't finish him.
I got laid.
In an sense it is. But the Malthusian delusion holds an intuitive grip on the minds of lots of pretty smart people.
It's difficult to explain how positive feedback into a complex system throws all of the assumptions about resource limitations of the system out the window. When the positive feedback comes from smart people who can make money by solving problems, Malthusian limits--however intuitive--have never panned out. What works for lemmings doesn't seem to work for humans.
History is full of failures of the predictive power of Malthus' thinking. Our task is explaining why to folks who are satisfied with their zero-sum intuition.
I wonder how he figures this.
The elements of life are continuously recycled, driven by an external energy source: the sun.
I discovered finite numbers, namely the term mono.
Prosperity, of course!
This is tue and the poster has a point!...depending upon what ones definition of "we" is.
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