A general assumption mainstream economists hold is that the only purpose of society is endless economic growth to satisfy the needs of humans.
This thought seems very naïve. An endless economy cannot be possible biophysically. Climate change negotiations are ironically ignoring social change and equity, which is, in turn, disrupting and flooding carbon sinks even more. The capitalist world economy is contributing to the appropriation of the global commons. This imperialism is shrinking the absorbing capacity of the biosphere to benefit a few countries.
However, when we talk about solutions, we talk about those that again compromise the natural environment. We should not miss the important socio-ecological relationship while thinking of an environmental cure. Unfortunately, capitalists have only focused on exchange value and short-term goals. Human actions for the endless pursuit of capital such as disrupting natural cycles, undermining ecosystems and causing a metabolic rift could invite the wrath of nature anytime soon.
We all know that this capitalist economic system is holding sway throughout the world. But people at large are unconscious of this global system. This is how capitalism works – so overpowering that we end up integrating ourselves with it as we grow up. And ultimately that unconsciousness lets us learn greed, exploitation, and competition.
Some aspects of capitalism are totally in contrast to sustainable development. For instance, capitalism and growth can never go in parallel with nature – and the no-growth capitalism is an oxymoron. As it accepts no limits to its self-growth, it always ends up with the accumulation of wealth through savings and investments processes. In such a case, capitalists do not take the environment as a concept with inherent boundaries but as a commodity to exploit in the process of economic expansion.
Furthermore, a system which is designed to grow and expand will eventually develop a divergence with limited natural resources. Irreversible exertion of natural resources for the production of capital can prove drastic. There is a way out, which includes a planned inexhaustible use of resources aligned with the flexible system. The problem with business owners is that their business demands are very unpredictable. So they account for a very short term, maybe three to five years. Resultantly, they act as if there is no limit on resources.
Even if they get to know that there is a limit to natural resources, what happens is only the exploitation of resources at a faster rate. This is because when an individual is consumed by the desire to accumulate profits by exploring new avenues of capitalism, all of his decisions will then harm society. Similarly, any system that has been sped up for the accumulation of profits will unavoidably contravene planetary boundaries. Fundamental planetary boundaries like the carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, soil, forest, and oceans are being crossed due to the out-growth of the socioeconomic system of capitalism.
Our global strategies to mitigate the environmental challenge need to be re-imagined. The human obsession with profit maximization has undermined efforts for a clean and green environment and exposed the world to scary prospects. The time has come for developed nations to amend their development models by making them environment-friendly.
While the capitalistic model being pursued by the Western world may have resulted in unprecedented economic growth, its limitations should not be lost sight of. These states need to create some kind of a role to check its expansion – especially when the matter involves the interests of those teeming millions whose concerns do not get to be represented.
One lesson that the world should have learnt during the economic crunch in 2008 was that unchecked advance of capitalism was a recipe for disaster. It is about time the West considered the idea of ethical capitalism that privileges the interests of the people. This notion may seem preposterous to the classical proponents of capitalism-induced growth but the consequences of inaction are horrible. One hopes the world wakes up before it is too late.
The writer is an environmentalist and studying at the United Nations