Earth Day 2017

April 26,2017

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As Earth Day comes around once again this April 22, the powers that be appear rather committed to staying on the self-destructive course.

Lest anyone get too depressed, however, there are plenty of cheery non-antidotes to environmental calamity to distract from impending auto-annihilation. Conscience-easing mechanisms abound beyond those cute little mustard seeds that endearingly endow the business of imperial devastation with a veneer of eco-friendliness.

These range from pledges of corporate sustainability, to green branding strategies and marketing techniques to carbon footprint reduction ploys - by which, for example, purchasers of airline tickets and other high-polluting services can pay extra to magically forgive the environmental impact of their earthly activities.

In a recent email to me, US evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace, author of Big Farms Make Big Flu, addressed the farcical nature of capitalist “remedies” to the crisis.

“Business plans aimed at profiting off increasing environmental efficiencies would be laughable if they weren’t so damn dangerous”, writes Wallace. For one thing, “better - and cheaper - extraction, increasing efficiency per unit currency invested, selects for greater exploitation, often until a resource is exhausted”.

“Environmental destruction”, Wallace explains, “has been stitched into the fabric of capitalism’s metaphysics from its very beginning”, while the global evolution of capitalism has essentially been a process of “stripping the biosphere bare”.

Now, as the destruction of environments proceeds apace, “what’s still left becomes more valuable [and] the resulting competition turns only fiercer, pursued under the guise of ‘saving the environment”.

Max Ajl, a researcher in rural development at Cornell University, concurs that “the history of capitalism has been a history of environmental spoliation, and many of the actual productive industries of capitalism rely on damaging the environment - for example the trillions [of dollars] tied up in the expectation of burning the world’s physical stock of hydrocarbons”. In an email to me, Ajl outlined two basic tendencies of capitalism, the first being “to expand, or make larger the material base of production from which it draws a surplus”.

The second, meanwhile, is “to discount the future, precisely because by robbing from the future one can expand the material base of production in the present”.

Given that capitalism’s underlying logic renders it inherently unsustainable in the long term, it would seem that the system itself is utterly illogical, at least from the point of view of, you know, the survival of humankind.

Luckily for those who would dispense with logic altogether, a godsend has arrived in the form of US President Donald Trump, whose claims to fame include having argued that climate change is a Chinese-orchestrated hoax.

The new head of state has wasted little time cultivating an environment in which reality is whatever Trump himself deems it to be at any given moment. Regarding the potential fallout of the Trump presidency on the physical environment, Time Magazine noted on April 12 that, “[s]ince taking office, Trump has moved to gut [Barack] Obama’s signature climate change regulations, signed executive orders to aid the fossil fuel industry and installed a critic of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as its head”.

Of course, not everyone is resigned to a world war on nature. Ajl brings up “indigenous movements against extraction, pollution, capitalist agri-business, mono-crop forestry, and other disruptive patterns” - natural reactions, no doubt, to predatory and fundamentally existential threats.

Granted, resistance to disruptive patterns can also be met with even more blatantly existential threats. In Honduras and other territories, environmental activism is often a death sentence. Unfortunately, as of Earth Day 2017, barbarism is winning.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘The Earth versus capitalism’. Courtesy:


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