Sunday, December 8, 2013

Capitalism's march toward collapse

A good, but depressing article in Der Spiegel about why capitalism is incapable of reforming itself:
To put it another way: The primacy of economics has prevailed. It no longer seems to matter how we're supposed to get through the rest of this century if the world grows warmer by three, four or five degrees Celsius. National economies require an ever-growing dose of energy if their business models are to continue functioning, and, in the face of this logic, all scientific objections to the contrary are just as powerless as the climate protest movements, which are, in any case, marginal.

At this point, we could act as if we've seen it all and argue that in the course of human history many cultures failed because they did not adapt their success strategies to new conditions. The Vikings left Greenland in part because they clung to animal husbandry despite practically having to carry their cows out to pasture in the spring, because the lack of winter feed had left the animals too weak to walk. The Vikings would have just needed to come up with the idea of eating fish instead, but to them that seemed as inconceivable as renouncing the idea of growth does to nations today. The Vikings believed they could not live without cows, just as we believe that a high quality of life rests on expansion.

The economy's refusal to set limits has set off a new race: that of which society in this world of limitless resource exploitation and unchecked pollution will be able to remain within its comfort zone the longest. Economically powerful societies will have a considerable head start over those who embraced capitalism later or have the misfortune of being located in the wrong part of the world or are so-called "failed states" who do not have legal protection for their citizens or obstacles to the appropriation of land, water and raw materials of all kinds. The late sociologist Lars Clausen spoke presciently of "failed globalization."

We have to assume that expansive strategies will intensify as scarcities increase -- and as these scarcities are economically desired. The scarcer a resource, the greater the unmet demand for it, and thus the higher the asking price. And the more the balance shifts to the disadvantage of the consumers, the more favorable the conditions become for the suppliers. Scarcity is thus, in principle, good for business.

The capitalist economy, in fact, had great success with this principle. No other economic system in history has generated and distributed more wealth in such a comparatively short a span of time. But when expansion is the central problem-solving strategy of an economic and societal system, and when that system is finite, it will eventually encounter a fatal trap when it begins to consume that which it itself requires.
And its rather depressing conclusion was to why the system will never solve its own problems:
The task then becomes to extract as much out of it as possible, while we still can. In this sense, the alarmism of environmental activists and climate researchers actually adds fuel to the fire, because it calls attention to the fact that the party may soon be over...It demonstrates the utter powerlessness of the intervention strategies which have been employed so far...Any form of protest that doesn't interfere with the existing business models, and which is able to perform well in the economy of attention, quickly establishes its own economic segment. To put it cynically, such protest creates its own "concern industry," with its own experts and industry professionalization, its own career paths and PR divisions. A science that produces troubling findings, as climate research does, differentiates itself as its own discipline, experiences booms in the creation of institutes, commissions and councils, yet in practical terms hardly disrupts the economic metabolism that is responsible for the troubling findings in the first place. We could even say that neither climate research nor climate conferences reduce CO2 emissions, but rather blithely contribute to their annual increase, because they are part of the larger system.
Climate Summit Trap: Capitalism's March toward Global Collapse (Spiegel Int'l Online)

The article ends on a positive note, but I wish I could share the author's hopefulness.


  1. This is a bit of a bunny trail, but... I just can't quite fathom why climate has become such a bugaboo (and concomitantly with it the pretense if only we genuflect appropriately -- reduce emissions -- Gaia will obligingly recreate the benign and stable climate of the last 200 years).

    I mean, isn't it obvious that humanity biggest problem is that we are cutting off the branch we are sitting on, in ways too numerous to add up in brief? We are destroying everything we touch via poisons, huge machinery, paving over, filthification, overharvesting, and on and on... yet the big hullabaloo is about temps. Even though when it comes to temps, they have always (well, for millions of years now) fluctuated rather wildly.

    My guess is that people prefer magical thinking to facing their civilization's fatal flaws. If only we cut emissions, if only we turn down fossil fuels, we'll be saved. What about the fact that mere what, 8,000 years ago, the earth was warmer than today by a bunch, and humans survived just fine because they were not overinvested in coastal areas? When the coastline moved, and the tundra gained or retreated, they packed up and went with it. Of course, there were only a few million of us then, and moving was no big deal.

    It's getting tedious, all this ritualistic hand wringing.

  2. Pentti Linkola, I am afraid, is correct: neither free-market crapitalism nor democracy will stop ecological, and therefore civilizational collapse. The only thing that would stop the over-consumption of limited resources, and the destruction of limited ecosystems, is some form of "eco-fascism."
    That is unlikely to come about, although anything is possible.

    Humans think short-term, and as this article points out, when people see the Doom coming, they just want to consume faster, to "get what is theirs."

    Since there is no solution, there is no problem: there is only a process. The process is the rise and now collapse of industrial civilization. Which brings to mind your other recent post on scientific thinking: since thinking "scientifically" was a necessary component of the rise of the system that is destroying the basis of life, how useful is it, really? Those who enjoyed the phase of abundance benefited immensely, at the expense of everything and everyone else.

    There is no moral basis to privilege our species, and every reason to condemn the results of the scientific-technical-industrial complex.

    But regardless of one's view of its merits, its days are limited. I suggest pre-adapting, but most will not. Most people will, and are, whining and crying as they get cut off from the benefits. Just this past week, "food-stamps" were cut by 25%. I personally know two people who were affected.


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