Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet. And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives, and as long as it continues to be so it will automatically undo (with its invisible hand) every single green initiative anybody cares to come up with.
In other words the self-interest and greed of corporations must work against those solutions that can mitigate the effects of climate change and peak oil. This is proven, so far as it goes, by the actions of Bushco and his corporate cronies.
Much discussion of energy, with never a word about power, leads to the fallacy of a low-impact, green capitalism somehow put at the service of environmentalism. In reality, power concentrates around wealth. Private ownership of trade and industry means that the decisive political force in the world is private power. The corporation will outflank every puny law and regulation that seeks to constrain its profitability. It therefore stands in the way of the functioning democracy needed to tackle climate change. Only by breaking up corporate power and bringing it under social control will we be able to overcome the global environmental crisis.
Rhetoric occasionally gets in the way of logic. The problem is not with capitalism per-say, but with the over-concentration of power. People selling produce is good, but supermarkets are bad:
The very model of the supermarket is unsustainable, what with the packaging, food miles and destruction of British farming. Small, independent suppliers, processors and retailers or community-owned shops selling locally produced food provide a social glue and reduce carbon emissions.
Of course what Newman says will never be seriously considered, much less accepted, At least not in those countries devoted to the Anglo-Saxon economic model.
Many career environmentalists fear that an anti-capitalist position is what's alienating the mainstream from their irresistible arguments. But is it not more likely that people are stunned into inaction by the bizarre discrepancy between how extreme the crisis described and how insipid the solutions proposed?
Exactly. As I wrote yesterday: "It is obvious to anyone who has kept up with energy news that in the post peak-oil era there is no single or even combination of alternative technologies that can give us the amount of energy that we now get from oil. Oil sands, coal based oil, bio-fuels, wind power, wave, more nuclear plants, and who knows what else will come on line. But even the combination of all those things will not provide us with the same amount of energy as we now get from oil. This is the one monumental fact about peak-oil that most people still don't want to grasp."
Hybrid cars and florescent light bulbs are great, but not the solution. The massive discrepancy between the energy available today and that available in a post oil economy has not been grasped by the vast majority.
It will take, argues peak-oil expert Richard Heinberg, a second world war effort if many of us are to come through this epoch. Not least because modern agribusiness puts hundreds of calories of fossil-fuel energy into the fields for each calorie of food energy produced.
Catch-22, of course, is that the very worst fate that could befall our species is the discovery of huge new reserves of oil, or even the burning into the sky of all the oil that's already known about, because the climate chaos that would unleash would make the mere collapse of industrial society a sideshow bagatelle. Therefore, since we've got to make the switch from oil anyway, why not do it now?
Does anyone doubt that if another elephant field were found, a reserve as large as the Saudi fields, alternative energy research would slow to a trickle.
If we are all still in denial about the radical changes coming - and all of us still are - there are sound geological reasons for our denial. We have lived in an era of cheap, abundant energy. There never has and never will again be consumption like we have known. The petroleum interval, this one-off historical blip, this freakish bonanza, has led us to believe that the impossible is possible, that people in northern industrial cities can have suntans in winter and eat apples in summer. But much as the petroleum bubble has got us out of the habit of accepting the existence of zero-sum physical realities, it's wise to remember that they never went away. You can either have capitalism or a habitable planet. One or the other, not both.
Of course Newman is far from the first to suggest this. There are groups who have been working to promote ideas like this for ages. The most vocal of them may be AdBusters, which promotes an anti-consumerist, anti-corporate, and pro-environmental agenda. But they have little traction and get little respect among the mainstream media. In the US, at least, there is a huge disconnect between the common good and public. We worship at the altar of short-term profits, and I fear this is too engrained in the national psyche. You might as well be a Mormon missionary in Mecca.
So there you have it comrades. What Marx, Mao, Lenin, and Trotsky failed to do might be accomplished be peak oil and climate change. Or it might not, and that may the larger danger.
What do you think? Is capitalism, or corporatism, compatible with a post-oil world threatened by massive climate change? Or will we, like the proverbial (and mythical) boiled frog, sit passively until it is too late?