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Post No.: 0991capitalism


Furrywisepuppy says:


To solve this climate crisis, we’ve got to somehow reconcile our short-term self-interests (at the individual lifestyle, corporate growth and national GDP levels) with our long-term collective interests.


One problem though is that our individualistic actions under capitalism firstly and mostly negatively impact upon the poorest globally who have contributed to this anthropogenic climate change the least. They suffer the most from droughts, rising sea levels and so forth. Another negatively affected group are future yet-born generations. So those who are precipitating this crisis aren’t the ones paying the most for its impacts.


The relatively affluent have been experiencing some heat waves, forest fires, floods and higher food prices – but they’ve been able to purchase and crank up their air conditioners (thus consuming even more energy), avoid becoming climate refugees, and ultimately not starve or perish in significant numbers.


Working hard to accumulate wealth and capital, and making progress in the form of new generations continually living more luxurious lifestyles than previous generations, is unsustainable in a finite-resource world – thus we need to modify the notion of what it means to live a ‘good life’ from one that means increasing consumption and acquiring material goods to having a sustainable relationship with nature and other people.


But people don’t want to just ‘make a living’ – they want to ‘make a killing’ i.e. get rich and live in as much comfort as they can! Enough is never enough. I suppose ambition isn’t a problem but unsustainability.


We shouldn’t treat everything as about profit or GDP – we need to also consider community, environmental and other concerns too. And although everything needs to ultimately be long-term sustainable, we don’t have to treat everything as needing to be short-term self-sustaining e.g. children cannot pay for their own education and the sick cannot always afford their own healthcare thus schools and hospitals don’t need to be for-profit enterprises where shareholders seek quarterly returns on their investments. They can be a collective responsibility. These things will pay back down the line via a higher-skilled and healthier workforce. The economics of all ventures, including social ones, must make sense – but profit maximisation can run counter to sustainability.


This climate crisis arising from unsustainable consumption empirically proves it’s not the case that ‘as long as we make money and put money first then society will self-correct towards an optimum state’.


Much of what we think is clever, like selling pointless plastic tat that makes a lot of money, aren’t clever in the long run because they just end up in landfill. It’s like being clever finding ways to play truant. There’s like a consumption FOMO where people want the latest gadgets – seduced by the marketing and/or to socially signal their apparent wealth and status – but most people barely use the maximum of their features, and in many cases don’t even know about them all. All those features they’ll never use or even be aware of (including troublesomely some security and privacy ones), or vehicle top speeds they’ll never drive to. Many ‘off-road’ vehicles never venture more off-road than onto a pavement during the school run! Just because you can personally afford to constantly buy new stuff – the health of the planet cannot. Thus ‘can’ doesn’t mean ‘should’.


We may wonder how people used to cope without most of the stuff people today say they ‘cannot live without’, like wet wipes! But cope they did.


If one argues that the problem is the fallibility of humans, not a fallibility in laissez-faire capitalism, then that’s to argue that humans shouldn’t be a species that dabbles in laissez-faire capitalism. A smarter species maybe… but not humans.


Some believe that individual property ownership of everything would preserve biodiversity better than sharing things as part of the commons because when animals are privately owned, like farmed livestock, they don’t go extinct. However this is poor logic because not all animals have equal, direct, commercial value.


Therefore the opposite happens – those species that do have high direct commercial value become overproduced at the expense of those that don’t. This leads to crop monoculture and razing biodiverse forests to create grazing land for commercially valuable cattle. It’s therefore unfettered capitalism that overall reduces biodiversity rather than protects it. Animals and plants considered commercially low in value get exterminated or expelled from their natural habitats to make way for the relatively few animals and plants that do have a higher market value.


Standing in a field of cultivated wheat may appear like we’re standing amongst nature – but this monoculture is unnatural, and the pesticides used drive away most other life from the field too. (An issue with many tree-planting carbon-offsetting schemes is likewise the resultant monoculture.) Only ~4% of present mammalian mass on Earth consists of wild animals! The rest consists of principally humans and livestock.


Wrecking biodiversity is short-sighted because many species have indirect or yet-known value for us, including economically, because ultimately everything is interconnected in an ecosystem. A future medicine could’ve come from a plant that went extinct today, thus biodiversity loss means less chance of discovering medicines that could save our own (children’s) lives. Post No.: 0978 was about caring about Earth’s biodiversity.


Therefore it works better to regard ourselves more as custodians of nature – not owners who can do whatever we desire with the land, seas and everything on and in them just because we’ve arbitrarily claimed them as ‘ours’. Woof!


Okay the same could be said about getting an extreme form of socialism to work perfectly with humans too. But at least amongst other creatures there’s relatively more evidence of socialism sustainably working (eusocial species like honey bees and ants) than capitalism. Successful strategies replicate widely since they’re excellent for survival, but the concept of legal private ownership of property appears uniquely human. It’s only relatively recent in human’s own history too. Therefore capitalism has yet been tried-and-tested and proven to be sustainable for geologic time periods thus far. It could be the case that humans are just the first and other animals will evolve to adopt capitalism too eventually? Alternatively, it is a myopic strategy; and indeed, in its current form at least – capitalism is proving to be quite unsustainable. Capitalism is predicated upon economic growth for the sake of accumulation, thus will always favour increasing overall consumption.


Having said all that – do we want to live like wild animals? Whatever the case – capitalism, socialism or something else – we need to learn from the past, notice more than just our own immediate present (e.g. take note of what’s happening around the globe and learn from the climate change experiences of others) and anticipate the future.


Any unfettered or extreme economic philosophy isn’t going to work. We need a balance between Keynesianism and neoliberalism, the power of governments and corporations, freedoms and constraints, looking after others and looking after ourselves, diversity and conformity, confidentiality and accountability, and so on. Where these balances precisely sit is however the question – but the only enlightened path is achieving a sustainable state with nature.


Humans have achieved quite a lot during the relatively short time they’ve existed… well according to human opinions anyway(!) Humans have also decimated plenty of biodiversity. Humans might judge other creatures as ‘simpleminded’ but humans might instigate their own demise via short-sightedness and a lack of cooperation. We should be humble and cautious regarding all our inventions and ways of living. Strategies that appear successful for the short-term can come with enormous long-term costs.


Money was only invented relatively recently hence it’s strange to assert that the unlimited accumulation of money is what we should live for. Life has overall been going fine for billions of years without money whatsoever. Human consumption and greed has and is in fact depleting resources at problematic rates. So which species is truly the biggest parasite on this planet?! It’s also myopic to suck our host dry because we haven’t found another easily habitable planet nearby. (Even if there were one – are we just going to invade and annihilate any life that’s already living there just so we can claim it as ‘our’ new home?! I suppose that’d be true to form.) Infinite greed logically isn’t sustainable when there are finite resources. Remember that nothing comes for free.


The survivorship bias is at play when people believe that parasites never take too much from their hosts otherwise they’ll make themselves extinct – the ones that have died out for taking too much are simply no longer here for us to notice them and talk about them.


The survivorship bias is also why we can fallaciously believe that a species will always find a way to adapt and survive, because we – with our own eyes and personal experiences – cannot see the evidence of all the estimated 99% of species that have ever lived that have naturally or otherwise gone extinct. They’re buried deep in the ground or sea, or haven’t left a discernable trace of their existence. Nature will highly likely find a way to keep life as a whole going for many millennia to come, but it makes no guarantees for any particular species, including humans, to survive for this long.


So humans aren’t guaranteed to survive long enough to become a thriving space-faring species. Well as far as we’ve discovered thus far, there’s no precedence for a thriving space-faring complex-animal species, which suggests that it’s incredibly difficult. We therefore need all the time we can get to develop these technologies – which means looking after Earth so that we’re not forced off this planet prematurely because of our own doing. Any planet or artificial space station we find or develop isn’t likely going to be as benign and beautiful for us as Earth is too.


We could point out that 100% of individual organisms will eventually die. But most will agree that later is better than sooner, and naturally is perhaps better than self-inflicted.


The free market wants cheap so doesn’t inherently care for sustainability or welfare. And this is evident with many examples including battery hens and dredging the seabed for scallops rather than carefully picking them by hand using divers.


We may assume that, say, elephant poachers will self-regulate their industry to not make elephants extinct since this will destroy their own business of selling ivory. But in a free market, the more rare something becomes, like tusk ivory, the more lucrative each kilogram of it will become, which will make it more attractive to poach. The last tusk will be financially worth a packet to sell.


Beavers have been killed for their valuable pelts. But beavers create natural dams, like that sustaining the water levels that supply the desert city of Las Vegas. What’s rationally self-interested behaviour for a few individuals (the beaver hunters) isn’t always beneficial for a community. Those beavers knew what they were doing long before European human invaders arrived and thought they knew better too! Furthermore, if everybody truly got what they deserved under capitalism, the beavers and conservationists who maintain the water levels around Las Vegas should be paid billions by the businesses on the Strip because they depend on them. My mate Beckett ought to be a diamond-bejewelled furry beaver!


A particular resource may be currently under-utilised and therefore isn’t creating much of an environmental impact. But if it suddenly becomes highly demanded then it’ll likely get farmed, mined or mass-produced and consequently create a massive impact, like lithium extraction for manufacturing electric vehicle batteries. This would merely shift the problem elsewhere – hence why consuming less in total is still the aim. We cannot keep on over-exploiting resources.


Woof. We’ve got to each take responsibility and do something about our own lifestyles (e.g. diets, transport, work, leisure) instead of defer responsibility onto others. Instead of apathy or thinking ‘I don’t want to think about the situation because it’s too distressing’ – know that each of our actions do make a difference.


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