Earth Day and capitalism
Earth day is the day that we reflect on our relationship with Mother Earth. Globally, we are abusing the earth. If we want the earth to stick around hospitably for us, then we must end capitalism.
Capitalism is an economy that must grow. Economic growth, both in terms of CO2 output and shear resource usage are leading to the next great extinction in earth’s history.
In terms of gross resources and waste, the data shows that in the early 1970’s we began consuming more than the Earth provided, and disposing more than could it reabsorb. Since then, our global economy steadily grew an average 3% GDP/year. Growth has meant increased crop yields due to GMO’s and fake foods, poisoning our air, water, food, and soil. For us, this means a health crisis with increases in obesity, cancer, depression and mental illness.
In terms of greenhouse gases, in 2009 the Obama administration conservatively and noncommitally stated that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. This means a drop of roughly 2.5% a year. Problematically, with the exception of the 2007/2008 economic collapse, greenhouse gas emissions have only increased since then. For every 1% GDP growth, our CO2 emissions increase by .7%. Global climate change has affected every continent, causing more extreme weather, drought and crop failure.
Greenhouse gas emissions stem from many economic practices, not simply cars and electricity. This includes, extracting fossil fuels, creating fertilizers, deforestation, and meat production to name a few. These emissions are ubiquitous to our economy. On aggregate, when our economy grows, so do these emissions. Frustratingly, for each 1% our economy declines greenhouse gasses only shrink .5% as the newly produced machines largely remain working. In order to reduce emissions by 2.5% a year that means shrinking our GDP by 5%.
According to the World Bank, US GDP declined less than 3% between 2008 and 2009. As we all remember, this felt similar to near free fall, negatively affecting millions of middle and lower class Americans. With capitalism, as we know it, the necessary decade long 5% annual reduction would be unfathomable.
Some may say that we can fix our way out with more efficient technology or that we can continue to grow by creating a more efficient economy. The data shows that as efficiency increases so does usage of the tool and its fuel. While efficiency is certainly laudable, without a fundamental shift in economic consciousness and constriction of fossil fuels, it will yield more emissions and consume more resources.
Byron Harmon is a life long Salem Resident. He received a Bachelors degree in philosophy from Willamette University.