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The Environment Book, Part 2

jungle waterfallFrom the mountaintops of West Virginia, decapitated for their coal, to the once unique natural paradises of the Caspian and the Niger Delta, now blighted and stinking with leaked oil, from the decomposing permafrost of the Arctic to our poisoned water and smog-choked cities, the system of business enterprise continues to devastate the global environment. Why does the devastation go on, almost unabated, despite the most ingenious efforts at control and reform?

This is the question tackled by guest contributor Lyla Byrne in part two of The Environment Book, which will appear by stages on this website. 

The devastation of the global environment is also discussed in a number of the Recommended Videos (click on logo at top right). Please also read Lyla Byrne's poems.

-- Stephen Shenfield, June 3, 2010 

Why we have not yet been simply sensible

Personal, community and environmental wellbeing are completely interrelated. There cannot be healthy communities without a healthy environment. Nor can there be healthy (which includes fulfilled and happy) individuals without healthy communities – or vice versa. A guide to judging what is healthy for one is to consider if it is healthy for the whole.

This holistic principle is old wisdom that can be found in cultural traditions from around the world, and it is obvious commonsense that children can understand. Along with this, we have never before had so much confirmation of these interrelationships from modern biology, psychology, sociology, history, ecology and science in general. We also have never before had so much technology that could be applied to healthy practices, including communication systems that can be used for sharing information, discussion and hence well informed decision making

In the light of this we would expect social wellbeing in general to be improving. However, is not even stable – things are rapidly getting worse. It seems that half the world suffers war, famine, and the old preventable diseases and lacks even clean water, whilst the other half suffers road rage, obesity, numerous pollution and stress related illnesses such as allergies, addictions, depression and cancer, and oh yes, is destroying the biosphere.

In most if not all countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., poverty, homelessness, imprisonment/detention and surveillance are increasing, fewer paid jobs are available, public services (including welfare for the unemployed, health care and a comprehensive education) are being cut, and civil liberties and democratic rights are being eroded.

Amongst all the desolation wealthy individuals have protected, extravagant and wasteful lifestyles, regularly jetting around the world (polluting as they go) to do their shopping; paying as much for a painting or handbag as it would cost to plant trees and make a green space for children in the city, or to install clean water systems for several villages. And millions of us (so it seems) will admire them in the next day’s newspaper or magazine, which was once a tree, and has been processed by using and polluting large amounts of water. 

Whatever arguments there might be about what social conditions are healthy and thus desirable, or even just desirable, it is undeniable that if we want to survive we need social arrangements that do destroy the environment that supports them, i.e. a society that does not kill itself. We need a society that is environmentally sustainable.

Without profound global changes in how society is managed, conditions will continue to deteriorate. And there will come a day when no amount of financial wealth will be able to supply a green space or clean water – for anyone. Because it turns out that trees, clean water, fresh air and fertile earth are actually what provide for us – not money.

So why are we in this situation?

Why have we been so ignorant of or distracted from, and/or or unable to provide for our real needs?

Why have we felt so powerless and hopeless, even though we have the intelligence, skills and technology to provide for all our needs in a sustainable way?

Why is it so difficult for us to act as individuals and communities, from the local up to the global level, to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – and, indeed, develop sustainable practices in general?

Why do pressure groups of numerous type and size have to work so hard to try to get governments to do what is simply sensible for us all? And why are they for the most part failing in this respect?

The problem is not technology, but how it is used.

Current problems are often blamed on the swift development of technology. This would indeed be likely to involve the making of some mistakes – but not sustained progression towards self-destruction, despite all the evidence of what is occurring. As noted already, technology can also help us, and communication technology enables people around the world to collaborate to solve problems and swiftly share the solutions.

The problem is not essentially technological development, but how technology is has been developed and used because of the present political and social system. That is: a system in which resources and the means of production are largely owned and thus controlled by a minority for financial profit.

This means that the majority have to work for the owning minority to get money to purchase from them what they need to live. It also means that the available paid work will tend to be dictated by what will generate and protect profits for this minority. I.e. NOT what will generate safe communities and protect the environment. Indeed, financial profit making tends to be very harmful in these respects, and over time this adds up. As a minority accumulates financial wealth, communities and the environment accumulate problems.

In this system, the majority of people who do the work and have the wealth of experience, have comparatively little say in what is done or how to do it. This, to say the very least, is unhelpful for the development of responsibility. 

We have been told that the desire for financial gain, and in particular competition for financial gain, stimulate and motivate people to be productive and efficient, thereby benefiting society - but in practice they have brought community breakdown, poverty, war, waste and environmental devastation. 

It should not be surprising that when financial gain is the purpose,  considerations of what is beneficial to society are forgotten or ignored.  The tendency is for life to be arranged very efficiently for the owning minority to make financial profits - but these arrangements are fundamentally at odds with what is efficient for healthy, enjoyable, sustainable life.

Systemically, energy has not been directed into working together to develop and use technology to serve the needs of our communities, but into working – often violently against each other - to serve the needs of a capitalist elite for maintaining their positions of power.

It profits us nothing

The pressure to make financial profits means that there is pressure to use the ‘cheapest’ ingredients/materials and methods as well as labour. In a saturated market, or where people are more financially stressed, prices have to be lowered to get sales and the pressure is even more intense. But what is cheapest in these terms is frequently not what is healthy for the environment or for communities. Even in capitalism’s own financial terms harmful practices are only cheap in the short term.

Environmental damage has already in various ways cost billions of dollars/euros/yen etc., but big business, which is profiting from the harmful practices, is careful to transfer as much of their financial cost as possible elsewhere - to governments, global organisations such as the U.N. and charities – i.e., back to workers. We all pay with our health, of course, and if damage continues to be done as it is at present we will pay the ultimate price.

‘How can big business be so short sighted?’ we might ask. Probably a book could be written on this subject alone. I will keep it here to a few short points:

1) Success (in capitalist terms) of those involved in business depends on them continuing to make profits, and preferably increasing their profits. So those who prioritise financial profit now, regardless of the harm that is done to life, whether out of ignorance or heartlessness or both, will tend to get into positions of power.

2) Financially wealthy owners (and thus controllers of this wealth) are likely to live a cosseted life and to loose touch with the reality of the whole situation. They are likely, for instance, to be surrounded by ‘yes men’, whose fat wage packets depend on business as usual.

3) The fear of change - a factor that also affects society more broadly.

*  *  *

Large corporations have developed mainly because it costs less money to produce goods using mass production methods. Products can then be supplied at a lower price. Big profits can still be made because people will tend to buy (and often can only afford to buy) ‘cheap’ mass-produced goods rather than any environmentally and socially friendly, and usually better-quality alternative that might be available. Moreover, once a company becomes more financially powerful there are numerous ways in which it can exercise this power to eliminate or take over competitors. Then it no longer needs to keep prices quite so low, resulting in larger profits, more financial power, and so on.

This has led to concentrations of wealth, the domination of mass markets by fewer firms and mega-mass production, with the ruthless acquisition of land and resources and ruthless exploitation of labour that are characteristic of any oppressive system. Business will tend to use the land and labour that are ‘cheapest’, so many products are sourced from far away that used to be and/or could be produced locally. Also for profit, different parts of the process of production are often centralised in different parts of a country - or in different countries. This involves a huge amount of road, air and sea transport driven by fossil fuels.

On a personal note, the local milkman told me that increasing environmental awareness and concern over the living conditions of farm animals led to a growing preference for free-range organic milk. This milk is slightly more expensive because it takes more time and skill to produce, but it generally involves better animal care and avoids the long term problems of spraying poisonous chemicals into the environment. Several farms set up locally to supply it, but very soon the ‘recession’ hit and people ‘economized’ by going back to buying the ‘cheaper’ milk. We lamented the loss of local free-range organic herds, the wasted effort put into setting up those farms, the effect on those who went bust, the effect on the animals, the communities and the wider environment. But that was not all.

He went on to tell me about the loss of local dairies, of which there used to be many. Now any milk produced in the area is sent to be processed and bottled 300 miles away in London or beyond, and is then sent back – every day. In addition, to place orders he has to speak to an impersonal office 300 miles away in another direction, that deals with huge consignments of stuff and really can’t be bothered if he is a couple of pints short.  Also, colleagues he has known for many years have recently been made redundant as a direct result of this centralisation. This kind of thing is now common.

*   *   *

The huge financial power of large companies is not only exercised by them directly in markets, but also confers a correspondingly huge influence on government policy in favour of their profit making and further expansion. The land, materials and people being used are often the ‘cheapest’ because governments have conducted wars or economic bullying on behalf of corporations to forcibly acquire them as such.

Politicians and the mass media use various deceptive ‘justifications’ for wars. One of them is the sometimes overt and sometimes more surreptitious appeal to economic nationalism, ‘justifying’ war as ‘good for the country’s economy’. I must briefly interject here that it is very sad that some people think that it is O.K. for children to get their legs blown off so we can afford drive around in cars for instance. - But what this ‘it’s good for the economy’ line actually means however, is that in this financially competitive system, war is good for the financial gain of the owners of companies associated with that particular capitalist state. In environmental and social terms, war is an extremely uneconomical use of resources.

The drive to make profits also motivates companies to use attractive packaging and to aggressively market products to get as many sales as possible. Regarding packaging, the dual priorities are to make it as cheap as possible and to make it look as ‘glamorous’ as possible, with shiny colourful pictures. Packaging is usually ‘cheaper’ to produce than the actual goods, so extra is used to make the product look larger and/or more splendid than it really is. This all uses up energy, plus a lot of packaging is plastic - which is derived from petrochemicals, and is harmful to the environment ‘from oilwell to landfill’.              

In general, the techniques used to get us to buy products have many perfidious social as well as environmental effects [1]. In the advertising industry, again, human talent and effort is put into maximising financial profit rather than wellbeing. We are tempted to buy more than we need, to buy things that are harmful to us, and to discard items and buy new ones rather than mend them or replace a part.

*   *   *

 Production of a ‘surplus’ usually means NOT surplus to human need BUT more than can be profitably sold. If there is not a profit to be made, it is unlikely that the producing company will make an effort to deliver products to where they are needed, nor enable this to happen; and indeed, will usually actively prevent this happening. So the profit motive is also the main reason why products are thrown away unused, often in huge quantities. As noted in Part 1, there also tends to be minimal effort to recycle materials. This again is because there is no profit to be made from it – in fact, such activities could eat into profits.

So in numerous ways the profit motive is the cause of immense amounts of raw materials, production and transportation facilities, fossil fuel energy and working hours being used only to generate heaps of rubbish that are often toxic and produce large quantities of greenhouse gases. All this adds to global warming and general pollution in a way that is completely unnecessary - except to serve the profit making power structure.

The profit motive also underlies the frequent failure to dispose safely of potentially harmful substances. Once again, all this is economical for capitalists (in the short term anyway), but it is the opposite of economical if we want to use earth’s resources wisely for sustaining healthy life.

A particularly ironic example of unhealthy practice stemming from the profit motive is the pharmaceutical industry, which is supposed to apply modern science to healing us. This is another industry that uses petrochemicals. As indicated previously, these can be used for human benefit. On the whole, however, the pharmaceutical industry studiously nurtures and maintains a medical culture of providing drugs to treat the symptoms of illness rather than properly attending to its causes, despite the fact that many of these drugs have been shown to have harmful side effects. Moreover, as in other industries, the materials used, the production methods (including testing on animals) and the means of disposal of by-products and unused products are largely subject to considerations not of health, but of profit. And the story doesn’t end there.

Profits are put into maintaining and where possible increasing profits, and into maintaining profit-making systems, in the following ways:

* purchasing land, buildings and equipment

* [as noted above] advertising to get us to buy more poisonous, GHG-emitting and non-biodegradable stuff

* paying lobbyists to influence government policy (including foreign policy and going to war) and law making - for example, promoting laws which make life harder for smaller companies and easier for big companies to buy them out

* by paying lawyers to influence the application of law

* by more surreptitious forms of bribery

* by paying for private security systems and forces

* by contributing via taxes to the huge arsenals of weaponry, armed forces, police and prisons associated with the state, which are used to impose capitalist law, and when required, used to break the law. There are numerous international laws that are simply ignored by governments and big business, or regularly flouted.

As competition for profit continues, the most financially powerful gain more financial power and diversify their operations into more industries; always seeking more control to further their exploitation of us and our environment for profit. As a direct result we face deepening social and environmental crises.

Mutually supportive power structures

As shown in Part 1, the organisations that have become financially powerful in capitalism are very much interrelated: fossil fuel industries, vehicle manufacture, weapons manufacture, the military, the construction industry, the chemical and drugs industries, privatized health ‘care’, agri-business, supermarkets, media and advertising corporations, financial service ‘industries’ (banks, property and stock market investors, insurance companies, etc.), and ‘security’ companies. 

These all support one another in a monstrous symbiosis. For this monster, fear is good, greed is good, war is good, ignorance and hatred are good (so we will go to war and generally be divided and controllable), families getting into debt and paying interest is good, stress and depression are good, eating disorders and other addictions are good, illness in general is good; good for business. And pollution? It doesn’t really matter – but if the icecaps melt so more oil and gas become accessible, and more profit can be made – that is pretty good.

The ‘security’ business in particular is booming in the present conditions [2]. Business is brisk as ‘austerity measures’ continue to get more austere, as the insanity of capitalism hits home more widely in ‘the West’, as we reach ‘peak oil’, as the environmental problems caused by current practices become undeniable and affect production and supply, and as democracy therefore becomes scary for the owning and ruling class and is curtailed wherever possible [3].

The security business includes national armies and police paid for out of tax, private armies, private policing, security firms serving banks and generally protecting money, surveillance systems, scanners, biometric ID cards, internet monitoring, boarder control, check point infrastructure, prisons and detention centers.

*   *   *

Big business is closely intertwined with government. Not only in state run capitalism/dictatorships, but often in ‘democratic’ countries also, prominent business figures are appointed to government posts, and politicians sit on the boards of large companies. Directors, investors and others financially associated with wealthy corporations also hold influential positions in other governing bodies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

In capitalism, states and economic groups are in competition with other states and economic groups. Governments, obsessed with the financial economy, either intend to or feel obliged to submit to the will of their associated financially powerful businesses. These include, of course, corporations which own and thus control the mass media – and so can have a huge influence over who is supported in any state, and who gets elected in ‘democratic’ countries.

Financially competitive conditions in themselves mean that companies and corporations will strongly resist any change that will affect their profit making; but as well as this, all the interrelated power structures in capitalism strongly resist any change that will affect the established hierarchies and profit-making systems.

In fact, powerful economic groups, in order to protect capital investments and profits, give a lot of support to those who distract us from or deny the reality of human-caused climate change.

Lifestyle in capitalism

The ‘western lifestyle’ has been held up in the past as ‘safe’, ‘normal’ and ‘respectable’. However, a life style which is rapidly proceeding with what, to an observer from space, could look like a well thought out plan to warm our climate within as short a period as possible, is in fact the opposite of these things. It is extremely dangerous, abnormal and undeserving of respect.

It is also seems to be widely believed that this lifestyle is some sort of zenith of human achievement – and it is called ‘civilised’. Of course marvellous and worthy things happen – because human beings have marvellous and worthy abilities. But the system that we are presently functioning in is a polluting, landscape ravaging, ocean pillaging, throw it away mode of operation. It is hugely productive, but not economical in the (actual) real terms of human need and environmental resources. It is causing ecological disaster, mass poverty, ignorance and degradation, and it supports and is supported by ongoing wars. If we survive to make a more humane world, this will rather be thought of as, quantitively, the most brutal period of human existence, and the absolute nadir of social organisation.

Of course, a lot of work is done that is directly helpful to the community, but it is often made less efficient or involves some harmful aspect as a result of the pervasive effects of the profit motive throughout society. We do of course have some responsibility for what, as workers, we sell ourselves to do, and what, as consumers, we buy and use. However we have not had so much choice in all of this as we have been told. The choice presented to many around the world has been: ‘Do this work, consume this product, live in this condition, or die’.

Those of us who have been brought up to think that we live in a free society have actually been presented with very limited choices in many areas due to the general control of our social and wider environment by an owning minority. We have been able to choose which color of metal we would like our prison cell to be – and it can have comfortable seats; and we have been able to choose what color of plastic we would like our environmental destruction to be – as long as we have done the work we are told to do to get the money to buy it.

Also, as we begin to realize how profoundly the functioning of the capitalist system has affected us, and become more socially and environmentally aware, it is likely that (as things are) we will find ourselves lacking sufficient resources and community support to take all the healthy and sustainable measures that we would like to.

Government in capitalism

In another personal note: ‘government initiative’ to save the environment in my area seems to amount to supplying more plastic bins and bags to us (for a fee) in which we can put garden waste to be taken away by a large fume spewing vehicle. Not setting up local composting then – which is actually necessary. So the supermarkets can rest assured that people will still be jumping into their cars to go there and buy compost in more plastic bags [often peat from endangered ecosystems] – and because super markets have their own filling stations these days, they can be reminded fill up their car with oil at the same time. 

National and international policies to prevent further dangerous climate change, and to generally protect the earth’s ecology, are widely held by environmental scientists to be far too little, in a situation where it may soon be too late. For anyone thinking of waiting for adequate government action, there is one piece of advice – don’t hold your breath.

Although individual politicians may care about people, and indeed get elected on the strength of promises to look after the environment and the community, they are pressured in various ways to simply rubber-stamp what has already been decided [4]. Whatever their intentions may be, and whatever may be said, the government is expected to facilitate and support the profit making of big business. If a government does not live up to these expectations, big business turns against it, with disastrous consequences for that government.

We have all heard this phrase: ‘there is no work around here’. There is, of course, useful and enjoyable work to be done in communities all around the world. What people mean is: ‘there are no jobs on offer that we can get money for doing’, i.e. jobs provided by private business or the government. With regard to starting a business of their own, most people do not have the capital and/or (due to poor state run education and the break up of more self sufficient and integrated communities) do not have the skills, confidence or social support. Even then the circumstances generally make it very difficult to provide a socially and environmentally friendly service to the community that is also financially viable. This is particularly the case where people are poor, or recession panicked and large corporations have already cornered the market with the ‘cheap’ products and services as we have looked at earlier.

As noted, in capitalism the companies and corporations that most ruthlessly pursue profit will tend to be the most successful at getting profit – i.e., accumulating wealth and the power to expand that goes with it. So the tendency, predictably, has been less and less the service of communities, and more and more the service of profit – and with government support.

As with environmental policies, we will wait until we are dead if we wait for government to pay for the work that properly serves the wellbeing of communities to be done.

Of course, some directly beneficial work is paid for by government, but only the minimum possible in the social climate of the time. In the case of the British N.H.S., for instance, all manner of measures are taken to reduce funding. This results in dangerously long hours, unhealthy conditions – such as having to stand all day, inadequate equipment, lack of access to new technology, heaps of ‘we are checking up on you’ paperwork, and the resultant dangerously high stress levels. Schemes that there have been or could be for prevention of illness by education have been mostly scrapped or are ‘non starters’; and follow up care particularly for psychological problems and overcoming addictions is sparse to say the least, with the inevitable results. In all the service industries there is more and more privatization anyway, which removes the responsibility from government and is leading to even less transparency, accountability and concern for patient and community welfare. 

Large numbers of government employees are ‘civil servants’. This suggests that they work for us, or for the whole of society, but bureaucracy in capitalism is to maintain the capitalist financial system, i.e. this work is actually done for the owning minority – to keep their profits rolling in. The government pays as little as possible for work that is helpful to communities because that money is needed for running capitalism for the capitalist masters. It is needed not only for capitalist bureaucracy, but for preferential financial policies for capitalists, for setting up infrastructure for them, and for capitalist justice, policing and prisons. The government also uses vast amounts of money to pay for defence and for wars because, in this system, profit making enterprises around the world get workers to fight each other to the death on their behalf. It is now also needed in vast quantities to bail out banks in order to keep this sick and murderous system functioning.

So where has all this wealth come from which is used by governments to support minority rule? And where has all the wealth come from that constitutes the profits of this minority, that they use privately to maintain and extend their abusive businesses, and for their wasteful and polluting life styles? All this wealth has been generated by exploitation of workers and the earth’s resources.

The capitalists have to function by taking the abundance of the Earth and human labor and turning it into money as a means of maintaining their power to take it. Some of it is given back to workers, of course, as pay – but only so that they are able to carry on buying things – i.e. giving it back again, preferably with interest. As noted earlier, a lot of work is done, both paid and unpaid, which does benefit the community. But all this energy of the earth and of our lives is at the same time being spent on supporting a system, which, as long as it continues, is inexorably undoing everything of real value that we are working for.

How many people have debilitating problems because communities/the majority are so depleted? How many fall into the prison system for the same reason? In other words, how many social problems, and how much of what is correctly recognized or falsely labeled as anti-social behaviour occurs because capitalism is an anti-social system, with its role models, its leaders and controllers, being anti-social on a grand scale?

To briefly anticipate part three: What would the world be like if we put our energy directly into making a healthy, enjoyable, sustainable world for ourselves and our children to live in?

It is said that successful business men have ‘made money’; and this is thought to be admirable.  What they have done is successfully transform resources – including the effort and skills of other human beings into private wealth; into power in that sense. This is largely achieved using processes which are harmful psychologically, socially and environmentally. What is returned comes no where near to redressing the damage, and has tended to be used to perpetuate an unhealthy, cruel and unsustainable system. This is why there have been trends of psychological, social and environmental decline.

We need a system which is not damaging in the first place.

*   *   *  

Government also serves big business with state supplied infrastructure, such as roads and car parks that are required for more centralisation of agriculture, processing and manufacture, outlets (supermarkets), services and leisure areas. Centralization itself means more transportation of raw materials, processed ingredients, components and products using fossil fuels.The kinds of business that benefit from this are also those which perpetrate and support the most harmful practices.

As noted in part one, demand from these highly profit orientated corporations is the major cause of deforestation around the world. This is because, financially, it is the cheapest way to get wood for making products, to get meat from ranching, to get animal feed for factory farms, and to get various product ingredients such as palm oil. The type of agriculture involved degrades the natural fertility of the soil by pulverizing it and applying numerous poisonous chemicals. The clearing of land to get at fossil fuels is also a cause of deforestation; and competition for fossil fuels because they are in demand and can be sold at a fine profit, is a major cause of war.

Centralisation not only means more transportation of goods, but also more travelling for workers and consumers by air and road. It creates stronger incentives for people to buy cars, and of course the oil to run them. This situation is exacerbated by other systemic factors. For instance, many people are not able to afford to live near their families, or have to move away to find paid work.  Long roads stretch out between the various aspects of our lives, and we pay with money and time and with our personal, community and environmental health because these aspects are so separated from each other.

Many might say that they like it like that – but i venture to suggest that this attitude itself is a symptom of the social dysfunction, the alienation from each other and our environment, which is in a feed back loop with the capitalist system. Due to the pressures inherent in the system, pleasure tends to be associated not with deep connections, not with understanding and affection for each other and the living environment, but with temporary, superficial and often harmful experiences.  This sets up behaviour patterns which can be addictive.

The road is a powerful symbol of freedom and adventure, but today most roads are more like the treadmills of a cage – in which we have been generating power for our captors, by exhausting our own life support systems.

Democracy in capitalism

In the past capitalism has gained credibility from democracy, because the two have been associated in people’s minds – but democracy in capitalism a very poor example indeed of what democracy can be. A social construction in which the majority do not have direct responsibility for the means of life provides little development of their powers of discernment, and little exercise of the power of their will. Instead, democracy has been widely used to legitimise the construction. It is used to legitimise the inordinate power of a minority, by the election of one or other slightly different group of their front men (politicians). Democracy has of course brought some benefits, but it has also been used to keep us powerless by obscuring the actual situation.

Besides this, the democratic rights that we have in some countries have not come along as a gift from the capitalist masters, but have had to be fought for, against these masters, with great determination. They have been fought for because of the poor and frequently horrific conditions which have been imposed on workers and their families, notably due to the voracious confiscations of common land during the agricultural revolution, the rampant exploitation of the industrial revolution, and the devastation and dislocations of the first and second world wars.

Almost unbelievably, after what people have been through to gain them, the ruling class is now managing to take these rights away, and at a much faster rate than it took to achieve them. It seems to be another symptom of the division in society that we are more susceptible to the misleading propaganda and fear inducing campaigns of capitalists. Many who most ardently supported their ‘country’ (which in this context actually means state) in the past, because they believed that they were fighting for democracy and justice, are now cheering on the depletion of their own democratic and human rights . . . because they think it will keep them safe!

 *   *   *

To get support for their extremely limited self interests, big business and government rarely miss a trick for manipulating public opinion – and by stressing the need for a successful financial economy they have seemed to have a strong point. However, setting aside for a moment what is called the inconvenient truth, that the activities of these big businesses are utterly unsustainable and life destroying, we are now experiencing the utter failure of the rule of capital to produce a stable, let alone successful, financial economy. Instead we face a global recession, the magnitude of which is only just beginning to unfold.

That capitalism has provided a ‘good standard of living’ and ‘freedom’ has been deception. When it has seemed to be working in some places, it has been causing terrible problems elsewhere, which eventually hit home. Whatever has actually been good for healthy human development, in all spheres, has been achieved by our own work and often despite capitalist pressures making life difficult, or fought for against capitalist forces.

Capitalists try to get us to thank their system for the benefits which we have actually provided ourselves. In doing so they try to hide from us that capitalism has always functioned by ransacking the earths resources, by legitimised theft, by breaking up communities, by abusive hierarchies and social division, by making people feel stupid, bad and worthless, by violent oppression and cruel exploitation both at home and abroad, and by deceiving or bribing people into going along with this [5]. Latterly it has been disguising its failure to meet people’s needs by increasing debt [6].

Psychology in capitalism

In capitalism a minority, served by the government, control large amounts of resources: land, raw materials, industrial apparatus, technology and labour power.  As a result, work places, residential areas and leisure areas are all largely structured according what is most financially profitable for these owning corporations/companies. The rest of the community will be informed rather than consulted. This method of structuring living space, together with the financial and hierarchical structures that come with it, channels our lives in various ways.

Plus, through our living spaces flow strong currents of capitalist propaganda and advertising. The purpose of capitalist propaganda, of its nature, is not to present the truth to us, gleaned from studying of what is best for society; but to keep us subjugated. The purpose of capitalist advertising, of its nature, is not to present the truth gleaned from studying what is best for us as individuals that have rich interrelationships with other living things, but to make us feel lacking until we purchase things as commodities. In both cases these have developed not to help us, but to exploit gaps in knowledge and weaknesses of will. Fears and desires are particularly targeted, such as the fear of not having enough, and the desire to ‘fit in’, to feel accepted. The purpose it to condition us to consent, conform, and to consume as much as possible. 

When so much of society is set up for or influenced by the needs of a few for profit making, rather than to simply meet human need, it is not surprising that so much human need is not met. The result is mass poverty; and this is not just lack of clean water and nourishing food, but for the relatively affluent, it means cultural poverty, intellectual and emotional poverty and poverty of control and responsibility. This is naturally accompanied by high levels of frustration, stress, depression, rage and repression. This could be predicted to be in a feedback loop with a more violent society and a range of abusive behaviours including self harm, domestic violence, child abuse and abuse of our environment - and this indeed seems to be the case.  

*   *   *

The establishment of capitalism as a social norm means that the majority have functioned, by the mental and emotional pressures that they exert on each other, to largely control themselves. This is arguably however a largely unconscious fear based control. To a large extent we have not realised that we are agreeing to the control of our communities and environment by a ruling elite, or recognised the effects that this is having on our lives. 

In this intellectual and emotional climate, skills of observation, critical thinking, imagination (including empathy) and initiative have tended to go undeveloped. There has been a dearth of awareness and appreciation of ourselves and our surroundings; and a dearth of creativity. Instead there are plenty of superficial distractions, especially from thinking about the systemic causes of problems and the possibilities of a different system. So the blame for social problems has tended to be misapplied - put on some ‘other’ of whom we know little - or regarded as an inexplicable mystery; and environmental problems have tended to be denied or regarded as something that we cannot do anything about. 

Information is generally presented and received in the way that it is due to convention, but limits to discourse are also often set by demand, and there is plenty of intentional manipulation and omission of facts involved. In some countries it is illegal to criticize the government [7]. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states in part: "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or the press", and there are similar constitutional rights in other ‘Western’ countries; but within the present power structures there are numerous ways in which those who work in media and education are persuaded or coerced to withhold information, or to present it with a certain spin [8].

At the same time, information about what social and environmental arrangements actually work to produce responsibility and wellbeing is sidelined. There is also an insidious attitude that we really ought not to try to take an active part in economic decision making, but leave it to those who understand it better than we do. We should just watch the T.V. in the evening and see what has been decided for us. All this perpetuates the deception that we cannot take charge of the use of the world’s resources for ourselves.

Anyone is quite capable of understanding the situation. When we have not been able to make sense of what is happening, this has been because, either it has been deliberately mystified, or not explained properly – because the ‘teachers’ themselves don’t understand it. In any case, a sense of initial bewilderment is a sign of intelligence in relation to the capitalist system, because, in terms of our real needs for healthy life, it does not make sense. 

*   *   *

The capitalist system maximizes intellectual separation from our own deeper feelings, from one another, from our work, from our communities, and from the environment that sustains us. This is of course accompanied by lack of awareness of the relationships between these dimensions, and thus of the effects that they are having on each other. 

Concerning work in particular, we are less likely to intellectually and emotionally engage with it if the primary or only purpose is to get money, also if we are only doing what we are told to do. Lack of control in general seems to make it unnecessary to understand what we are doing with our lives in general, even though this does affect us: ‘What goes around comes around’. 

The dynamics of capitalism minimize consideration of what needs to be done for wellbeing. Instead we are encouraged to work mindlessly and heartlessly however harmful this work may be; to consume the products, however harmful the production process and the use of product may be; to repeat the opinions in the papers as our own, however misleading they may be, so that we feel safe in the herd; and to vote once every few years to remain enslaved in a system that, by oppression, war, pollution and destruction, creates the actual manifestation of the medieval vision of what is called ‘hell’. 

We are encouraged to try to buy into an illusion of wellbeing. We are encouraged to do as much of the do-as-you’re-told work as possible in order to get money, and then hand the money back as quickly as possible, and get into debt as well, so that we feel trapped into compliance forever.

We are not encouraged to think about where things are coming from, how they have been sourced and processed, or where they are going and how they will be disposed of. We are not encouraged to think scientifically about cause and effect, but there is lot of encouragement to take out our anger thoughtlessly on others. We are not encouraged to truly empathise with other human beings or with other animals or to appreciate the richness of our life-giving environment. Instead we are distracted with pretence and discouraged from being aware of reality. 

Without knowledge of the reality of our selves and our situation, how can we know the real choices?  Without knowing the real choices, how can we know what we really want? 

Those of us who begin to see through the lies, and want a humane and ecologically sustainable world have been laughed off as being ‘naïve’, or depicted as ‘slackers’ or dangerous terrorists. Even in ‘democracies’, if we demonstrate, however peacefully, we are now monitored and filmed by the police. - And under some new ‘anti-terrorism’ laws any one of us can be legally spied on, raided or assassinated without evidence having to be presented in open court, or detained without charge indefinitely. In other words, a small group of people can decide to harass or kill any of us, without having to present any evidence publicly; or they can kidnap and imprison any of us indefinitely without having to present any evidence at all. These ‘anti terrorism’ laws present an interesting paradox, because they actually allow for legalised terrorism. 

This is nothing new however. Capitalisms gangster politics has always used economic threats, threats of violence or violence itself as a means of control by the most financially and militarily powerful within and between nations. 

The future in capitalism

Environmentally and socially harmful methods have temporarily made many goods and services financially cheaper despite the waste and the creaming off of profit that is inherent in capitalism. This has been disguised for several decades by increasing debt, but now the mask is slipping. Rising prices, lower wages and cuts in public services along with continuing exploitation of land and populations for financial profit, with the resultant continuation of environmental and social damage, are resulting in increasing poverty, war, famine and migration.

How are the powerful in capitalism responding? Another trend is the incarceration of increasing numbers of people in detention centers and profit-making prisons.  For this purpose, via governments and the mass media they are seeking to criminalize the poor [9]. Those being criminalized, and treated as subhuman, include economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees from war and climate change as well as those who are impoverished ‘in their own country’. The capitalist rulers are condemning those who are suffering from the conditions that are being produced by capitalism. It is the ultimate blaming of the victim. 

Increasing numbers of people, although not officially held by authorities, are in situations which function as prisons – and in which they are often left without basic necessities. This happens through out the world in sprawling cities, as well as in situations such as Palestine, the enclaves of India and Pakistan, and famine stricken areas of Africa. The wealthy are also increasingly locked away in fortified and guarded areas. The longer the fences and the higher the walls, the less is the knowledge of and respect for each other or our environment. 

In a very real sense the capitalist system is itself one big life destroying prison. A future in capitalism doesn’t look safe for anyone. 

Real security comes from having a healthy society and a healthy environment. 

Socially this comes from conscious dedication to a process of learning how to live together enjoyably, efficiently, sustainably. We need to get to know ourselves and how to manage our relationships. In communities where there is good understanding, people naturally respect each other’s privacy and attend to each other’s needs. 

Environmentally it comes from conscious dedication to a process of learning how to live enjoyably, efficiently, sustainably with other living creatures. We need to get to know our environment and how to manage our ecological relationships. In communities where there is good understanding of the environment, it is respected and loved as an abundant and beautiful home. 

Capitalist forces bully us into and also tempt forward to create further catastrophes for ourselves. For life, we need a system that enables us to develop our huge potential for vitality, ingenuity, curiosity, appreciation, cooperation and joy.

For other articles on global warming, please go here


[1] The Initiative Corporation spends $22 billion worldwide placing its clients' advertising in every imaginable - and some unimaginable - media. One new target: very young children. Their "Nag Factor" study dropped jaws in the world of child psychiatry. It was designed not to help parents cope with their children's nagging, but to help corporations formulate their ads and promotions so that children would nag for their products more effectively. Initiative Vice President Lucy Hughes elaborates: "You can manipulate consumers into wanting, and therefore buying your products. It's a game."



Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First Century America - Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler, (New York and London: The New Press, 2011).

CISPA: The internet finds a new enemy (Global Post)

CISPA protests begin amid key changes to legislation (Los Angeles Times),0,5314596.story

Cybersecurity Bill FAQ: The Disturbing Privacy Dangers in CISPA and How To Stop It (Electronic Frontier Foundation)  

New CISPA Draft Narrows Cybersecurity Language as Protests Loom (Mashable)


Vince Cable is pushing Chancellor George Osborne to scrap a £740m environmental burden [my emphasis] on British business in this month's budget. It is understood that business department officials have asked the Treasury to remove the carbon reduction commitment (CRC). This forces an estimated 20,000 non-energy intensive businesses that still use lots of electricity and have bills of around £500,000, such as supermarket and hotel chains, to pay a price for every ton of carbon they emit [they obviously don’t fancy setting up renewable/clean sources of energy for themselves, although they could afford to. My comment]. This was introduced in 2010 as part of the Government's ambition to reduce carbon emissions by 4m tonnes a year by 2020.

Feed in tariffs – reducing green credibility?

September 21st, 2011
When the UK Government introduced the Feed In Tariffs in 2010 it seemed to be a genuine (and generous) start to a concerted effort to encourage householders to embrace green technology.  However, recent and proposed changes to the tariff risk undermining credibility in government policy, ahead of the introduction of the Green Deal in 2012.

First, the amount of money on offer was reduced.  Then large-scale industrial schemes were removed from the Tariff.  Now there is a wide-ranging review of the FITs with the results likely to come into force in April next year.

Richard Hartley, Head of Marketing at Ridgemount client Redland, expressed his concern at the policy over the summer and he is far from the only one with reservations about the government stance.

The reductions in FIT per se are not the problem.  The really big issue is what it says about the government’s commitment to its overall target of reducing carbon emissions.  If the first really large-scale project is scaled back so soon, how can we have enough faith to invest in future schemes?

[5] Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View



[8] Chuck Robinson: “I used to be a reporter/columnist for a small town, corporate-owned newspaper. I was very outspoken and my skeptical eye toward those in power infected some of my co-workers. For a short while, we did a good job covering issues like racism, nepotism and other forms of public corruption. Circulation began rising, but alas, the business community rebelled. Increased circulation means nothing if your pool of targeted advertisers won't do business with you. So, being a corporation, and bound by law to turn a profit for shareholders, the newspaper must change its editorial content to please the Chamber of Commerce. Employees who want to investigate injustice are told to shut up or go away. Some choice. There are hundreds if not thousands of unpaid journalists out here who are just like me.” 

"The censorship is such on television in the U.S. that films like mine don't stand a chance." John Pilger

"Propaganda has become the primary means by which the wealthy communicate with the rest of society. Whether selling a product, a political candidate, a law, or a war, seldom do the powerful deliver messages to the public before consulting their colleagues in the public relations industry."

Here in the United States, we’re often brought up and told we don't have propaganda. That we have challenging investigative journalism, and we have this educated, skeptical, even cynical citizenry, and that if there were powerful interests trying to manage and manipulate public opinion, they would be exposed.

The reality actually is just the opposite. Academics like Alex Cary and others who’ve spent their lifetimes looking at how propaganda works, find that it’s actually in western democracies and open societies where the most sophisticated sorts of propaganda are used.  Since World War I, thanks to people like Ivy Lee and Eddie Bernays… propaganda has become a business, this business of public relations.” Excerpt from the film Psywar


It turns out that standing for the public good is an expensive proposition. Ask Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, two investigative reporters fired by Fox News after they refused to water down a story on rBGH, a controversial synthetic hormone widely used in the United States (but banned in Europe and Canada) to rev up cows' metabolism and boost their milk production. Because of the increased production, the cows suffer from mastitis, a painful infection of the udders. Antibiotics must then be injected, which find their way into the milk, and ultimately reduce people's resistance to disease.

Fox demanded that they rewrite the story, and ultimately fired Akre and Wilson. Akre and Wilson subsequently sued Fox under Florida's whistle-blower statute. They proved to a jury that the version of the story Fox would have had them put on the air was false, distorted or slanted. Akre was awarded $425,000. Then Fox appealed, the verdict was overturned on a technicality, and Akre lost her award. [For an update on the case see Disc 2 where we learn that at one point, Jane and Steve became liable for Fox's $1.8 million court costs, later to be reduced to $200,000.]

[9] Tomgram: Barbara Ehrenreich, On Americans (Not) Getting By ... (

[10] In the fifteenth century, the enclosure movement began to put fences around public grazing lands so that they might be privately owned and exploited.

Around things too precious, vulnerable, sacred or important to the public interest, governments have, in the past, drawn protective boundaries against corporate exploitation. Today, governments are inviting corporations into domains from which they were previously barred.

Today, every molecule on the planet is up for grabs. In a bid to own it all, corporations are patenting animals, plants, even your DNA.


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