DESTRUCTION OF NATURE
Humans began ravaging nature long before capitalism was a gleam in Adam
Smith’s eye. Surplus capitalism, however, has exponentially enlarged
the scale of that ravaging.
I promised no grim numbers, but I’ll cite just one. In 2005, a United
Nations–sponsored research team reported that roughly 60 percent of
the ecosystems that support life on earth are being used unsustainably. Such
overuse, reported the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, increases the likelihood
that abrupt, nonlinear changes will seriously affect human well-being. The
potential consequences include floods, droughts, heat waves, fishery collapse,
dead zones along coasts, sea level rises, and new diseases.
Thoughtful people can debate whether population or technology is more responsible
than capitalism for our loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. No doubt all
play a role. But most of the damage isn’t done by the numerous poor;
it’s done by the far fewer rich. The United States, for example,
with 5 percent of the world’s people, has dumped nearly 30 percent of our
species’ cumulative carbon dioxide wastes into the atmosphere. It’s
our excess consumption, rather than the poor’s meager gleanings, that’s
the larger problem, and surplus capitalism is the handmaiden of that excess.
Technology, of course, greatly magnifies our impact on the planet, but technology
by itself is mere know-how. It’s the choice of technologies, and the
scale at which they’re deployed, that affects the planet. Electricity,
for example, can be generated in many ways. When corporations choose among
them, however, their choice is driven not by “least harm to nature,” but
by “most bang for the buck.” And, in doing their calculations,
they count the cost of nature as zero. Hence we have lots of fossil-fuel
burning and little use of solar, wind, and tidal energy.
The same calculus drives corporations’ approach to agriculture, logging,
and many other activities. The result is at once humbling and chilling:
capitalism as we know it is devouring creation. It’s living off nature’s
capital and calling it growth. ... read
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