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The capitalism / ecology contradiction

The capitalism / ecology contradiction

By Leonardo BOFF

For the first time in the process known as hominization, the human being has given himself the instruments of his own destruction. From now on the existence of the biosphere will be at the mercy of human decision.

The logic of capital, as a mode of production and as a culture, is this: to produce accumulation through the exploitation of people's labor power, through the domination of classes, through the subjugation of the peoples and finally through the pillage against the nature-.

An even cursory analysis between ecology and capitalism identifies a basic contradiction. Where capitalist practice prevails, ecological concern is sent into exile or limbo. Ecology and capitalism are flatly denied. There is no agreement possible. If, despite this, the logic of capital assumes the ecological discourse ... or is it to obtain profit, or to spiritualize it and thus empty it, or simply to make it impossible and, therefore, to destroy it. Capitalism not only wants to dominate nature, but to wrest everything from it, to prey upon it.


Today, by the unification of the world economic space in capitalist molds, the systematic plunder of the industrial process against nature and against humanity, makes capitalism clearly incompatible with life. A bifurcation is thus proposed: either capitalism triumphs by occupying all spaces as it claims, and then ends ecology and puts the Earth-system at risk, or ecology triumphs and destroys capitalism, or subjects it to such transformations and reconversions that can no longer be recognizable as such. This time there is not going to be a Noah's ark that saves some of us and leaves the rest to perish. Either we are all saved or we all perish.

Capitalism also produced a culture, derived from its mode of production, based on exportation and pillage. Without a capitalist culture that conveys the thousand reasons justifying the order of capital, capitalism will not survive. Capitalist culture exalts the value of the individual, guarantees him the private appropriation of wealth, made by everyone's work, places the competition of all against all as a hinge on his dynamism, tries to maximize profits with the minimum possible investment, tries to transform everything in merchandise to always have benefits, it establishes the market, today globalized, as the articulating mechanism of all production, competition and distribution processes ...

If someone seeks solidarity, respect for otherness, compassion and veneration in the face of life and the mystery of the world ... let him not seek them in the culture of capital. George Soros, one of the world's greatest financial speculators and profound connoisseur of the logic of merciless accumulation (he lives off it), clearly states in his book The Crisis of Capital that globally integrated capitalism threatens all democratic societal values , putting the future of human societies at risk.

We want to show how capitalism, as a mode of production and as a culture, makes both environmental and social ecology unfeasible.

Let's start with environmental ecology. In this respect, the hypotheses about the future of the Earth are dramatic. Great analysts confess that the current time is very similar to the times of great rupture in the process of evolution, times characterized by mass extinctions.


Indeed, humanity is facing an unprecedented situation. You must decide if you want to continue living, or if you prefer your own self-destruction. For the first time in the process known as hominization, the human being has given himself the instruments of his own destruction. From now on the existence of the biosphere will be at the mercy of human decision. To continue living the human being must want it positively.

The indicators are alarming. They leave little time for the necessary changes. Optimistic estimates set the deadline for the year 2030-2034. From there, if urgent and effective measures are not taken, the sustainability of the Earth-system will no longer be guaranteed.

Among others, there are three problematic knots created by the order of capital, which must be untied: the knot of resource depletion, the knot of the Earth's sustainability and that of global social injustice.

1. The knot of the extinction of natural resources.
Every day 10 species of living things disappear forever. Since the time of the disappearance of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago, an extermination has never been seen so fast. With these living beings, a library of knowledge that nature had wisely accumulated disappears forever.
Since 1972, desertification in the world has grown equal to the size of all the cultivated lands of China and Nigeria combined. About 480 million tons of fertile soil was lost, an area equivalent to the arable land of India and France combined. 65% of the lands that were once arable, today are no longer so. Half of the existing forests in the world in 1950 have been felled. In the last 30 years alone, 600 thousand km2 of Brazilian Amazon rainforest have been felled, the equivalent of a united Germany, or twice Zaire.
The immense natural reserves of water, formed over millions and millions of years, in this past century have been systematically pumped and are close to being depleted. Drinking water is already one of the scarcest natural resources, since only 0.7% of all fresh water is accessible for human use. There are going to be wars over drinking water sources.
Behind this looting process, a reductionist image of the Earth is hidden. It is seen only as a dead storehouse of resources to be exploited. It is not respected in its otherness and autonomy, nor is any sacredness recognized. Much less still is she loved as a living superorganism, the Great Mother of the ancients, the Pacha Mama of our natives, and the Gaia of cosmologists.

2. The knot of sustainability of the Earth.
How much aggression can the Earth endure without destroying itself? The 60 thousand nuclear weapons built, if they exploded could cause a nuclear winter. The fine particles of smoke from the great fires produced by them, together with the radioactive elements injected into the atmosphere, would darken and cool the Earth more intensely than in the ice ages of the Pleistocene. There would be a collapse of humanity and the entire system of life, perverse consequences always neglected by the militaristic powers.
Another important threat is represented by the increasing warming of the Earth. It is the so-called greenhouse effect. The burning of oil, coal and forests releases carbon dioxide that warms the atmosphere. In the last century the temperature of the earth has increased between 0'3 and 0'6 † C. For the next 100 years an increase of between 1'5 † to 5'5 † is calculated. Such changes will cause enormous disasters, like droughts and melting of the polar debris. The flooding of the maritime coasts, where 60% of the world's population lives, would cause millions of victims.
What capacity does the land have in the face of so many aggressions produced primarily by the capitalist mode of production? It is feared that the cumulative effect of the attacks will reach a critical point such that it breaks the physical-chemical-biological balance of the Earth.

3. The knot of world social injustice.
Let's move on to social ecology: How much injustice and violence can the human spirit endure? It is unfair and merciless that, in the current order of globalized capital, 20% of humanity has 83% of their livelihoods (in 1970 it was 70%) and the poorest 20% have to be content with only 1 '4% (in 1960 it was 2.3%) of the resources. This social cataclysm is neither innocent nor natural. It is a direct result of a type of development that does not measure the consequences on nature and on social relationships. That is why the so-called "sustainable development" constitutes a trap of the capitalist system, which shows a contradiction in its very name.
The category "development" is taken from the area of ​​capitalist economics. Capitalist development (we should say growth) is profoundly uneven: it creates accumulation appropriated by a few at the cost of exploitation and damage by the great majority. This growth is intended to be linear and always increasing.
The category "sustainability" comes from another realm: biology and ecology. It means the capacity that an ecosystem has to include everyone, to maintain a dynamic balance that allows the subsistence of the greatest possible biodiversity, without exploiting or excluding.

As you can see, sustainability and capitalist development deny each other; they do not combine the interests of human production with the interests of ecological conservation; on the contrary, they refuse and destroy. What is needed is a sustainable society that gives itself a development that meets the needs of all, and of the biotic environment. May the planet be sustainable and be able to maintain its dynamic equilibrium, redo its losses and remain open to further forms of development.

In addition to having been, in the past, suicidal, homicidal and ethnocidal, now we are beginning to be echocides. Will capitalism soon lead us to be geocides too?

But a hope accompanies us: in its history, the Earth went through about 15 great exterminations. It always came out with more energy and biodiversity. Now it will be no different. We will overcome the disease of capitalism with solidarity, cooperation and assumed interdependencies, since they guaranteed the future of the Earth. And they will also guarantee our future.

* Leonardo Boff
Rio de Janeiro Brazil


Video: Global Cities and Ecological Contradictions in Historical Capitalism (September 2021).