What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know about Capitalism
A Citizen's Guide to Capitalism and the Environment

Magdoff, Fred; Foster, John Bellamy
Publisher:  Monthly Review Press, USA
Year Published:  2011
Pages:  187pp   ISBN:  978-1-58367-241-9
Library of Congress Number:  HC79.EM329 2011   Dewey:  330.12'2-dc23
Resource Type:  Book
Cx Number:  CX13084

A manifesto for those environmentalists who reject schemes of “green capitalism” or piecemeal reform. Magdoff and Foster argue that efforts to reform capitalism along environmental lines or rely solely on new technology to avert catastrophe misses the point. The main cause of the looming environmental disaster is the driving logic of the system itself, and those in power — no matter how “green” — are incapable of making the changes that are necessary.


Table of Contents


1. The Planetary Ecological Crisis
2. Business As Usual: The Road to Planetary Destruction
3. The Growth Imperative of Capitalism
4. The Environment and Capitalism
5. Can Capitalism Go Green?
6. An Ecological Revolution Is Not Just Possible - It's Essential

Appendix: People's Agreement (Pueblos Acuerdos): World People's Conference on Climate Change



The continuation for any length of time of capitalism, as a grow-or-die system dedicated to unlimited capital accumulation, is itself a flat impossibility.


It is precisely because ecological destruction is built into the inner nature and logic of our present system of production that it is so difficult to end.


Where technology is concerned, capitalism is far from neutral. It invariably favors those particular technologies that enlarge profits, accumulation, and economic growth. Indeed, it has a history of promoting those technologies that are most destructive of the environment: fossil fuel dependency, toxic synthetic chemicals (arising in particular form petrochemical production), nuclear energy, large dams, etc. In its headlong rush to expand, capitalism systematically gives rise to technologies that produce waste in vast quantities - as long as the costs can be externalized on nature and society and not on corporation themselves. Given that the technological objective is to feed the growth, the tendency is to choose technologies that maximize the overall throughput of resources and energy in the interest of higher overall economic output.


Generally speaking, capitalism must be regarded as an economy of unpaid costs, 'unpaid' insofar as a substantial portion of the actual costs of production remain unaccounted for in entrepreneurial outlays; instead they are shifted to; and ultimately borne by, third persons or the community as a whole.


Business owners and managers generally consider only the short term in their operations, Most take into account the coming three or five years, or, in some rare instances, up to ten years. This is the way they must function because of unpredictable business conditions (phases of the business cycle, competition from other corporations, prices of needed inputs such as raw materials, and investors not wanting to wait too long for profits) and demands from speculators looking for short-term returns. They therefore act in ways that largely ignore the natural limits to their activities - as if there were an unlimited supply of natural resources for exploitation. Even if the reality of environmental limitation enters their consciousness, it merely speeds up the exploitation of a given resource, which is extracted as rapidly as possible, with capital then moving on to new areas of resource exploitation. With each individual capitalist pursuing the self-interested goal of making a profit and accumulating capital, decisions are made that collectively harm society.


Indeed, the problem with all of these approaches is that they allow the economy to continue on the same disastrous course it is currently following. The economy can keep on growing and we can go on consuming all we want (or as much as our income and wealth allow) - driving greater distances in our more fuel-efficient cars, living in very large but well-insulated homes, consuming all sorts of new products made by green corporations, and so on. All we need to do is support the new green technologies and be "good" about separating out waste than can be composted or reused in some form, and we can go on living pretty much as before, in an economy of perpetual growth and profits.


What needs to be reduced is not only carbon footprints but ecological footprints, which means that economic expansion on the world level and especially in the rich countries needs to be reduced, even cease. At the same time, many poor countries need to expand their economies, requiring an even bigger cut in the ecological footprints of rich economies to make room for development in the periphery.

Subject Headings

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