Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Capitalism and the Ecological Crisis

When I attended the Socialist Register session on ecological crisis at the Historical Materialism conference recently I carted along with me a certain prejudice. I expected to be told that capitalism could find no solution to this crisis - but I was wrong. As I reported in a previous post at least one speaker, Daniel Buck, suggested that capitalism might well find a 'solution' to the fossil fuel pollution/global warming crisis under the pressure of looming catastrophe. As far as I remember, none of the other speakers claimed that capitalism was completely unable to dig itself out of the hole it has dug itself into. It may seem strange, but I found this deeply disappointing. The notion that capitalism is driving us to disaster and that the very logic of this system prevents us from finding a solution while we remain within its confines has become akind of anchor - the anchor in fact - which keeps me at least loosely tied to the idea that a complete alternative to capitalism is both necessary and possible. It is possible simply because it is necessary (if you see what I mean). Without this thought at the back of my head - the assumption that sooner or later humanity is going to be forced out of sheer necessity to throw off the sick (and sickening) system that we currently live under if it wants to survive - I'm afraid that capitalism must stretch on and on into the endless future.

That's why I want to get this sorted out asap. If anyone knows of any good books from a left perspective which come to a firm conclusion on this matter I'd like to know of them. Can you, dear reader, recommend one?

While I'm on the subject, the Socialist Register has put three new essays online (at least two of them are from the current edition of the journal). They are excellent. One of them at least (by Barbara Harriss-White with Elinor Harriss) comes to the firm conclusion that capitalism cannot fix the problem it has created - so let's cut to the conclusion - one that I find (perversely) pleasing and a source of hope:

Capitalism is not fixing the environment. It is not able to, either in theory or in historical practice. [ftnote*] Market-driven politics has ensured that renewable energy remains far from the point where it might start to form any kind of technological base, either for an alternative model of capitalist development (in the UK or in an engagement with large developing countries which are about to enter a highly polluting phase of industrialisation...), or for the remoralised and equitable allocations argued for by Altvater. In energy, there is no sign of the politics able to generate a new kind of social, non-market regulation of money and nature. Sustainable capitalism is a fiction and the politics of renewable energy are merely a reflection of the fiction.

* Not in theory because of the logic and thermodynamics of capitalist growth; not in practice because of its path dependence; and because of the contradiction between the pace of physical system dynamics and that of the global economy.

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