Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Does Capitalism contribute to global warming? Australian Green Party Candidate Jim Casey wants to revive the debate – so lets start by agreeing with him, that increasing the efficiency of Capitalist systems increases anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
Thanks Daily Telegraph, I welcome a debate about the overthrow of capitalism
In an old tweet, I framed capitalism as an idea that could be overthrown. On reflection, it is something that is more likely to collapse under its own weight.
The Daily Telegraph published an old tweet of mine on Wednesday (as part of its front-page endorsement of my opponent, Labor’s Anthony Albanese, for the seat of Grayndler) that said: “Overthrow of capitalism – you don’t hear this often enough”
Who knew an old tweet could spark such a necessary debate but as a Greens candidate taking on Labor member Anthony Albanese at this election, I guess I can expect greater scrutiny. I appreciate the reminder and welcome the debate. Frankly, we don’t have this discussion often enough and what better time to have it than when political parties are selling their stories in the marketplace of ideas?
As a union leader used to speaking shorthand to comrades, I framed capitalism as an idea that could be overthrown. On reflection, it is something that is more likely to collapse under its own weight – we cannot adhere to a belief that is so obviously unable to make the transition into the future that awaits many of us and all of our children.
We must challenge the durability of capitalism in the face of three overriding realities: climate change, growing inequality and resource depletion.
Competition drives business to continually increase its profitability. How does it do that? By driving down costs of production. The main cost of production for most businesses is labour.
While the smart kids in Silicon Valley may claim that data, artificial intelligence and new technologies like block chain will turbo charge technology and solve that old problem of resource depletion – I argue it won’t. The robots won’t save us from water scarcity, the loss of arable land or indeed the loss of fish stocks as the oceans become more acidic.
Why do I think Capitalism increases CO2 emissions? After all, the vast Soviet industrial estates produced CO2 and toxic waste on a heroic scale. But I would argue that the Soviets were an exception. Most socialist economies, places like Cuba, Venezuela, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, don’t produce a lot of economic activity. Starving wretches picking at stubble for a few grains of wheat, don’t emit CO2 on anything like the same scale as a freeway commuter working in an air conditioned office.
So I guess it really comes down to choosing what kind of future we want – a value judgement.
If we embrace socialist economic stagnation, or more dramatically, a shift back to a primitive subsistence economy, there is no doubt we would substantially cut global anthropogenic CO2 emissions – especially when famine slashes world population. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides, utterly essential for modern levels of food production, are the products of a highly industrialised, CO2 intensive economy.
If we embrace a future of robots, artificial intelligence, endless exponential economic growth, we really might run out of a resource we can’t replace. I don’t think it likely, but the whole house of cards actually could come tumbling down. But is the possibility technological civilisation might fall down really a justification for giving it a hard shove? The bleak end result of such a collapse – survivors clinging to life through primitive subsistence farming – doesn’t sound all that different to the future greens seem to think we should all embrace as our first choice.
Personally I like my modern lifestyle – air conditioning, downloadable movies and TV, a fridge to keep the food fresh. So I’ll cling on to the “evil” conveniences of Capitalism, as long as the Earth can sustain my way of life. And when this planet can no longer produce everything needed to keep the economy running, I hope my descendants have the simple common sense to look beyond our planet for the resources they need, to keep those modern conveniences flowing. Because there is no doubt we already have the technology to affordably reach beyond our planet on an industrial scale, when the need arises to do so.