Capitalism and the Global Environment
The world economic systems can either be classified as capitalism or socialism depending on the ideological inclination they subscribe. Capitalism involves individual amass of wealth for personal benefits. On the other hand, socialism is categorized as consideration of the greater good and the wellbeing for all. Depending on the economic system, various factors are worth consideration and they different affects various aspects of life. Capitalism affects essential and natural systems causing imbalances since individuals are only concerned with their interest only. The foundational basis of capitalism is the depletion and exploitation of natural resources and disruption of the ecosystem. Human activities in pursuit of wealth have caused climate and environmental changes which are detrimental to the human survival. Exploitation and depletion of natural resources have caused adverse consequences to the environment leading to climate change conditions like global warming. Consequently, droughts, floods and earthquakes are largely witnessed more frequently. Developed countries are the greatest proponents of capitalism hence contributing much to climate change while they are not accountable for its effects which is greatly witnessed in developing countries with little capabilities to mitigate the effects. Therefore, capitalism does not support global environment nor does socialism in isolation, hence, a combination of the systems is paramount to enhance the balance paramount for mitigating effects of climate change.
Various challenges ranging from political, socio-economic, and environmental face mankind in the contemporary society. These challenges are expected to be enormous in the near future, especially due to human activities and environmental changes, which are dynamic. The environment is a source of livelihood to nature including human beings. Nature is supported virtually by all means through well maintained environmental care and conservation. Various tribes and groupings of people, such as the Australian aboriginals hold environment dear and believe that it provides their source of income and livelihood. Land among the aboriginals and other groups of human existence is a valuable resource and treasure since it provides food and supports other ecological systems, which are vital for human survival. Therefore, the recent changes in environmental aspect are a cause of alarm and worry. Consequently, the threat posed to human life is not only imminent but also real (Corbera & Brown, 2008).
Evident ecological imbalances have been caused by adverse changes in environmental aspects. As a result, the Darwin’s theory observed that only the strongest of species survive such harsh environmental conditions in face of competition for few resources. However, the current occurrence in environmental changes is no longer a normal phenomenon. The effects on the environment have been majorly driven by extensive social economic human activities. Therefore, the problem of environmental degradation can be construed as a human made catastrophe as opposed to natural occurrences and reactions. Economic systems are the major form of human interactions with the environment. The world has two major forms of economic systems; either capitalism or socialism. In this consideration, capitalist economic system is the most preferred and embraced by majority of the world nations.
Ideally, an overtime direct connection has been established between the type of economic system practiced and the environmental changes (Jacobs, 2001).
Various schools of thoughts with many economists and environmentalists advocating for capitalist form of economic system argue that the system helps in conserving the environment. The experts’ view with regard to this notion is that capitalists are conscious of the environmental changes and practices since they form their main source of livelihood. Therefore, the possibility of environmental degradation under capitalist watch is minimal since they highly recognize its use presently as well as in the future. In addition, those inclined to these prepositions believe capitalists take all the appropriate measures in ensuring the negative effects of environmental changes are mitigated accordingly (Lipschutz, 2004).
However, the greatest and fundamental question, which ought to be addressed at this point is whether the foundations that make up capitalist systems are strong enough to guarantee the practices of good governance of the environment? The answer to this essential question in the debate of environmental change is certainly – not. On the other hand, it is worth considering whether the other form of economic system (socialism) provides viable alternatives to the menace of environmental change. Unfortunately, it does not. With such consideration and lack of viable solutions in these two popular economic systems, there is great and urgent need to establish a mid-system, which will neither incline to capitalism nor socialism but it will provide a balance between the two, integrating their respective beneficial aspects. Hence, there is a need for the establishment of a sustainable and reliable economic system conscious of environmental changes (Newell & Paterson, 2010).
Notwithstanding the faults of capitalism and socialism, each of these systems possesses essential advantages as well as disadvantages mostly reflected in their cultural, socio-economic and political spheres in the society (Walis, 2008). However, having considered these two systems, it is worth noting that none of the system is capable of solving the menace of environmental changes in isolation regardless of the policies and regulations in place. Therefore, the following discussion will focus more on why the current global environmental changes and dynamics cannot be solved and highly mitigated as long the global economic system is inclined and remains capitalist (Agyeman, Bullard & Evans, 2003).
Capitalism and the Environmental Change
Capitalism mode of economic system is characterized by individual accumulation of wealth and enterprises with little or no regard to societal wellbeing. Capitalism is a common form of economic system in the world majorly because of inherent ability to generate rapid economic growth in a very short span of time with comparison to socialism counterpart. The onset of capitalism has resulted in certain and unique trends in political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental fronts, which significantly affects the way of life. The fundamental aspect identified with capitalism – the individual accumulation of wealth – the definitive characteristic of capitalism. This action has led to the commonly referred phrase as “wealth rush.” Virtually, all forms of greediness in the society have been propagated by capitalism form of economic system. Therefore, when the society places much regard and respect on wealth accumulation, people adopt unorthodox means and ways of acquiring and accumulating wealth. This is the point of concern where capitalism negates its high regard the ability associated with the system in the provision of sustainable economic development systems in the society (Pelletier, 2010).
These unorthodox means used to amass wealth have consequently resulted in environmental depletion and degradation. One major concern in this front is the large scale emission of green house gases from industries across the world. The recent study by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNDP, 2013), identified green house gases as the leading cause of environmental and climate change in the world. Green gases, as famously known as carbon cases, when emitted covers the atmosphere directly above the earth, which consequently results in global warming. This process leads to environmental and climatic changes currently witnessed on the globe. Statistics with regard to carbon emission for the last two decades points rather a grisly picture depicting the developed countries as the ones leading in this menace. From this discussion, it is clear that these are also the capitalist powerhouses of the world. Basing on thorough scrutiny and consideration of the recent concluded global climate summit in South Africa, it is heartbreaking that there has not been tangible resolution agreed among the parties striving to reduce carbon gas emissions as well as environmental changes across the globe (Levy & Newell, 2005).
There have been great and “loud” silence especially from industrialized nations with regard to steps, which ought to be undertaken to reduce these carbon gas emissions both in short and long term durations. The negative and adverse effects have been witnessed mainly in third world countries as a result of climate and environmental change. The developing and third world countries have little to do with greenhouse gas emission to the atmosphere. This scenario is a perfect presentation of capitalism as well as its inability to adequately address the issue of climate and environmental change menace. However, various efforts have been put in place to address the issue of climate change, such as the establishment of Kyoto protocol. However, the problem started even before the implementation of the protocol, the capitalists’ economic systems were not fully committed to its execution. In the process of individual amassment of resources and wealth, the natural resources and environment were the greatest affected aspects due to misuse, wastage, and environmental pollution without any or little guidance. This is the point where Adam Werbach documented the death for environmentalism in his article Werbach (2005), where he noted with great concern the actions of Senator Adams who moved from piercing all his activities from the world life refuge, which was located at the Arctic.
The proponents of capitalism have argued against it in solving environmental and climatical changes with the notion that capitalism has nothing to do with it. However, such glaring denial of negative contribution of capitalist economic systems in the environmental changes is a result of moral an ethical decay in the capitalist society. Hence, their mitigation and defense is derived from the believe that there is a capitalist natural system, which is naturally occurring and it creates competition according to Hawkens (1997). According to Hawkens, there is a natural competition which when allowed to operate of the free handle principle will bring forth fruits to the capitalistic economic system. The aspect of scarce resources in the world is another front that capitalists uses to manifest their traits. Hence, according to Dixon (1996), there is a need to find and compete for these resources for survival. Homer Dixon indicates the importance attached to natural resources in the days of non-existence of environmental changes.
Therefore, Dixon concludes how capitalism used to exist, especially in the traditional form as opposed to the contemporary formalized and bureaucratic order of the day. It is because of capitalism that some people have been in a position to amass huge wealth and considered rich and wealthy while others are simply surviving. From the presentation above, the rich people forms the minority grouping while the majority poor people are the many. It is ironical how capitalist activities of the minority rich have enormous adverse effects to the poor majority. Hardin (1968) referred the situation as “the tragedy of the commons.” As the discussion has pointed out, capitalism is not capable nor willing to address the problem of environmental changes. The following section will consider the various sectors of the economy, which are greatly affected by capitalism (Wallerstein, 2009).
Climate change is one area, which has suffered a great deal of capitalistic activities on environmental changes in all aspects without any sign of remedy. Although climate change is a combination of various factors, the greatest contributor in this perspective is carbon case emissions. It becomes detrimental when the emissions continue for long without any mitigating factors in place. Industrialized countries are the greatest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. However, the effects of greenhouse gas emissions are greatly felt and the adverse effects are mostly among the poor population in the southern countries. It is highly unlikely that capitalism is willing to rectify and compensate these activities, which have resulted directly from their activities and no ethical consideration can be attached to their actions regardless of whichever perspective greenhouse gas emission is considered (Rosenbaum, 2005).
The effects of greenhouse gas emissions in the third world and developing countries are numerous including droughts, which is a rare phenomenon in industrialized countries directly responsible for the menace. The current weather patterns are no longer favorable to the third world countries; there are inconsistent food production patterns and their lands are no longer productive considering land is their major and primary source of livelihood. Despite other factors contributing to these conditions, the blame is on the climatic changes and conditions. The situation may further be compounded by the increased arid areas and desert regions in the world. The phenomenon of dry land traditionally used for agriculture has been submerged by the increased water levels as a result of ice melting in Antarctic, Arctic, and Iceland regions, which were predominantly with iced mountains (Kovel, 2002).
The above aspects are directly affecting the weather and climate patterns consequently having a direct effect on the ecosystem. Therefore, the logical conclusion points deliberate efforts to all stakeholders to be committed and consciously ensure climate change is maintained at bare minimum rate. However, such aspirations will still remain a mileage with completely fledged capitalism advancing their economic strategies in the world. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that capitalism further anchored on the principle of amassing individual wealth through every mean possible. The current trend emphasizes on less demanding practices with little effect on improving climatic and environmental changes. Efforts by the United Nations through various conferences on climate change have been less productive due to the reluctant approach undertaken by industrialized countries’ unwillingness to implement the expensive measures since it would jeopardize their chances of amassing wealth (O’Connor, 2004).
The socialist perspective to climate change advocates that any economic activity undertaken in a certain region does not compromise the environment or interfere with the ecosystem (Foster, 2011). In these aspect, the economic activities undertaken in Europe are known to cause environmental effects in Africa and vise versa. The interdependence of ecosystem integration ought to be recognized where activities in one region, which affect the other region shall be the first step towards the right direction. Socialists objective and priority will always be the well being of the society as opposed to amassing wealth. The adoption of socialism will also ensure the natural resources are not exploited in mining and management. The socialist approach to the management and exploration of energy and natural resources revolves around sustainability (Singh, 2008).
Energy is considered as the primary pillars for any economic growth and development. Virtually, all aspects of the world economies are driven by energy either at micro or macro levels. Energy is broadly categorized either as renewable or non-renewable. Renewable sources of energy include green energy like solar, tidal, and wind energy. Wood and crude oil are some examples of non-renewable energy sources. Capitalism has exploited the need and desire for energy sources in driving the economic activities across the world and it has heavily invested in it. For instance, the factories, which use wood as their primary source of energy for fired boilers are usually located near forests oblivious of the nonrenewable nature of wood. The continued cutting of trees to feed these factories has constantly reduced the vegetative cover resulting in carbon imbalances in the atmosphere. The rainfall amounts are also significantly affected due to reduced forest covers and disturbances of ecosystem. This is simply one of the many energy situations facing the world today. Oil is the predominant source of energy used in the world today and no debate of energy is complete without oil. The value of oil has led to conflicts and civil wars in oil rich belts across the world like Iraq, Syria, and Sudan among others. The main issue at the center of such conflicts is accumulation of wealth depicting capitalism at its best (Harriss-White & Harriss, 2007).
Energy affects climate change in various ways: the burning of fossil fuels is considered the greatest contributor of carbon gas emissions, which are the greatest cause of environmental and climate change. Therefore, the logical conclusion points to solving the energy menace, which will consequently solve the climate change problem. However, this perspective is not easily acceptable especially considering the availability of green energy. The reason countries, industries, and corporations are still holding on to the nonrenewable energy source is highly questionable. This may result in practicing capitalism since installation of green energy is rather an expensive affair and countries are not willing to do so. Checking environmental and climate changes from this perspective, it remains an illusion as long as capitalist economic system are still in place (Buttel & Frederick, 2011).
When capitalism and socialism systems are considered with regard to climate change, there is a clear distinction that can be identified. The concept revolves around the issue of population wellbeing where capitalism does not take into consideration the wellbeing of people as considered by socialist economies. According to Bulter (2010), socialists always consider the effects of any form of energy to the environment before considering the economic benefits unlike capitalists that operate vice versa. Countries have been pushing for the use of nuclear energy; even though it is green, the possibility of radioactive exposure to human is an area of concern. Therefore, socialist approach to use of energy sources is the recommended movement and direction that ought to be adopted for realization of environmental sustainability (Bulter, 2010).
According to Magdoff & Foster (2011), sustainability is the way to go, which revolves around the current generation having full benefit of natural resources without comprising the same chances for future generation. For this specific reason, socialism is the economic system, which will ensure sustainability and conservation of the environment while progressively tackling the climate change effects. The socialist approach of natural resources ensures majority benefit before considering the financial benefits. For instance, countries endowed with oil resources ought to ensure that all citizens feel and enjoy the benefits of oil according to socialist approach (Williams, 2009). Pollution has been another threatening aspect to the environment. Capitalists, while conducting mining, may not institute proper waste management systems since their aim is to get profits. Therefore, these wastes are disposed in rivers, which pose a major threat to aquatic life. The factories, which are involved in plastics do not take necessary measures to properly dispose off these non-degradable materials further endangering the environment. On the other hand, socialist systems will first consider the disposal of waste before the final product in the market. Environmental conservation efforts, which have so far been achieved have been eroded by all the individualistic approaches taken by capitalism (Beder, 1997).
Capitalism circumvents the due process in any process either for waste disposal, pollution or efforts to conserve environment. These mentalities held by capitalist for profit and wealth first are the greatest threats to the environment (Polychroniou, 2009). In achieving goals and objectives to counter climate change, recommendations are advanced for economies to gradually move from capitalism to socialism. Only then shall the full benefits of climate change be witnessed and recognition of regional activities be achieved. It is only then that stakeholders involved in the economic systems take into consideration all their possible effects to the well being of other citizens.
In conclusion, the discussion has proved the aspect that as long as capitalism is the economic system of choice by majority of world states, environmental change will be hard to achieve and manage. Capitalist objective, notwithstanding other aspects of the economy, is to amass wealth as much as possible. This aspect proves a major hurdle in efforts of environmental conservation. Various areas were considered, such as natural resources, energy, pollution and mining with regard to the environment. The direct link between capitalism and the four aspects of environmental change has been demonstrated and elaborated. Sustainability has been identified as the ideology that ought to be embraced if environment and climate change have been to handled. However, capitalism does not emphasize on sustainability like socialism does. Sustainability will ensure the current generation fully enjoys the benefits of natural resources without compromise to the future generation. Finally, the greatest global challenge of climate change cannot be handled satisfactorily as long as world economies are inclined to capitalism.
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