I enjoyed reading a blog post by an old friend, Michael Lewis. Michael and I met around 1989 on a listserve dedicated to Edward Abbey. Michael was well versed in Ed’s ideas and works. I was a new comer, searching for answers to many questions in life. I’d become deeply interested in the natural world and in environmentalism, having instinctively come to the conclusion something was badly wrong with human society.
Abbey was one of the first people to write about the effect of growth capitalism on the natural world. He’s well known for both his fiction and non-fiction, but I more closely connected with his essays. That’s where he connected all the dots and hit the proverbial nail on the head. Basically, capitalistic growth, the need for constant growth, is our core problem. Capitalism’s ruthless commodification of life, its constant opening of new markets, non-stop development and the use of increasing amounts of fossil fuels is the problem that must be addressed. But that’s not happening. What is happening is the production and shipment of more Amazon boxes, more planes, more deforestation and more recently, increased mining of rare earth metals to produce electric cars.
Never is there any serious discussion about using less. Driving less. Fewer trips by plane. Reducing the amount of cheap plastic shit we buy from China and insisting it hit our door step within two days. Instead, our hubris is leading us down another dangerous path, one where we falsely hope technology will save us. Well, as Michael used to say, “There’s no free lunch. Mother Nature always bats last.” And another Lewis favorite, “‘Twas ever thus.”
I’m very pessimistic about our chances. I believe we’ve allowed climate change to go too far, and we can’t stop it, because most people don’t even understand the problem, much less know how to solve it. The notion that capitalist growth is the core issue is confined to a small set of academics and writers and their followers. They bravely wrote the truth, caring more about truth and finding solutions than making a best seller list. Anything that challenges growth capitalism is met with an immediate and forceful obloquy. You’re a commie. A Marxist. You hate America. People cannot imagine or tolerate the behavioral changes that are necessary for humans to survive on earth. And they certainly can’t handle the thought that their portfolios may need to take a hit.
What to do? Joel Kovel put forth some brilliant ideas in his work, The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? It’s a well thought out framework for eco-socialism, where the economic system is bound and ultimately regulated by the laws of the natural world. A “steady state” economy where we live within limits. But Kovel’s ideas where so remote and not fully understandable by the masses. He was 100% right, but in order for that system to work, you’d have to have a fair number of powerful politicos to bring those ideas into the mainstream, make it easy to understand and then enact policies to make it possible. The only way to get anything done in America is via codification into law, because it’s the codification of law that makes everything, including wealth building, possible.
But Kovel was always suspicious about working within the system, and truth be told, those ideas are a bridge too far for Americans. Which makes me believe the only hope for meaningful change is via collapse, so Americans (and others) are forced to change. That’s not something I like to say, because it will involve untold human suffering. No one wants that, but I believe we’re like drug addicts and only a near death experience can force us to change.
All addiction programs begin with a simple premise. First, you have to admit there’s a problem. Only then can you begin to heal.