It is argued that capitalism is the best way to exhaust an environment with finite resources. So how long can we, as the species with the greatest power to alter our planet, continue to industrialize and innovate through competitive notions and attitudes aimed at attaining economic prosperity?
For decades, prominent evidence has portrayed the irreversible effects inflicted upon the environment by the human population. Through modern concepts of fast fashions, landfill islands, and fossil fuels, humans have systematically over time included overproduction and consumption within their daily lives. The recent Australian wildfires, the melting of the polar ice caps resulting in higher sea levels, and the periodic warming of certain regions of the Americas are all only recent examples. For the past 3,000 years, the Earth has continually been transformed and developed to suffice the needs of a growing human population. For example, the deforestation within the Amazon rainforest not only decreases the earth’s biodiversity but also speeds up climate change and increases the concentrations of greenhouse gases within the environment. The environmental crisis is portrayed through increased natural disasters that are influenced directly by rising sea levels, climate change, and many other alarming global devastations. The destruction to human civilizations by natural disasters should be furthering the concerns regarding current mannerisms and attitudes that shape our world today. The specific transformations that capitalism has shaped the environment to undergo have resulted in these large impacts on the planet. As long as this transformation of the planet works to satisfy the unrelenting needs of the human population, businesses will not cease to ease their actions upon the environment.
The inherent problem of consumption that lies within the business cycle of capitalism is what characterizes the phrase, “the capitalist crisis.” With economic prosperity regarded as the key element to achieving quality of life, groups of people over time have developed aggressive attitudes to pursue paths that are socially construed as successful. These paths, or ways of living life, work to ensure a person individually succeeds or gets ahead of others. These paths are often occupations that lead to better rates of survival within this materialistic and business-oriented world. associated with specific occupations have historically been divided into social classes, that are generally assessed by how easily a human can accumulate wealth or profit. But with the most control of global economic decisions designated to upper or elite social classes, or the top one percent, the decisions to impact the world are generally not up to the majority, they are often left up to the wealthiest individual entities in the world.
Delving into the concept of survival reveals an interesting dynamic that is constantly evolving as human landscapes continue to develop. Humans are no longer frequently threatened by attacks from other species, but new challenges like unemployment, economic competition, and attainment of resources still put our survival in peril. As a result, humans believe that acquiring more material wealth will better their chances of survival in the industrial world. Historically, in the face of profit and drive for survival, humans evolved with the circumstances and opportunities that opened up around them. Beginning with mercantilist thought in the sixteenth century, the world’s economy was primarily influenced through nationalists and largely dominated by Western nations. The mercantilist idea that there was limited wealth in the world encouraged individual states to attain as much of it as possible. This mentality was achieved by increasing the number of exports over imports of goods. The main idea promoted through mercantilism was to increase state power at the expense of other countries. A very specific problem that developed from this school of thought, was a materialistic way of life that continues to captivate humans. Materialism became increasingly powerful among wealthier nations, as people wanted more goods and products to show off a higher status in society. The world had evolved into something more than just a need-based lifestyle. Nations in Africa for example today, have been exploited for their natural resources for so long that now the entire continent’s population is in shambles because of its continued manipulations and resource consumptions.
Economic prosperity for the individual is defined as the state of flourishing or thriving in regards to one’s wealth and standing within the world. Applying it to the global scale, economic prosperity for each of the nation-states shifts to define how well a country is doing in competition with others. Competition is a normal human survival tactic that has shifted to more materialistic ideals and rooted in group settings. For example, in today’s world, materialism is essentially just an indication of economic progress. The better car or house you have, the better you are doing in life. It comes down to modern mainstream values. A competition between two individuals is also just easier to win if you have better opportunities than the other person. Hence the reason to believe that economic prosperity is necessary for the nation to be competitive in the world economy. As individuals in the global economy have throughout time shifted from being production-based to instead focusing on creativity and innovation, they have generated much more wealth for themselves. However, these individuals that are able to successfully start innovating, are only able to do so because of their opportunities, locations, and privilege. And we have often seen that those with this kind of privilege generally do not care about the well-being of others. Those with privilege in specific nation-states are able to become increasingly richer by capitalizing on the work of other less advantaged states. For example, rich entities in the western hemisphere capitalize on outsourced labor forces in the global south. This relentless pursuit of economic prosperity by strong actors within the global economy has made the environmental demise of our planet seemingly inevitable. As long as the rich continue to get richer, the actions to exhaust the finite resources that fuel their wealth, will not cease.
The highly normalized cycle of supply and demand by firms and consumers has caused the incremental degradation of regional air qualities, exhaustive consumption of nonrenewable resources, and increased environmental accidents triggered through rapid pursuits of urbanization. With urbanization being seen as the figurehead for job stability, it is an attractive ideal that shapes where people live, what they study, and eventually what occupations they pursue to ensure the continuation of their family lines. The problem however with this migration towards cities and better opportunities, is that the world does not have enough resources or time to keep up with growing demands. Researchers have noted that when poorly planned, urbanization leads to congestion, pollution, and poor social conditions.
Vast regions of the planet have undergone extreme amounts of human manipulations to service the needs of multinational corporations and other singular business entities. The development of megacities in major nations around the world leads to large carbon footprints that adversely impact the environment. Megacities arise through higher population concentrations in certain areas, triggered by urbanization. The attraction of people to these cities is influenced through its promise of opportunities and individual stability. Yet, in contrast, it delivers neither of these things and just contributes to worsening environmental impacts. Capitalism thrives on competition, and megacities embody exactly that. The competitive nature that thrives in areas of social unrest leaves no concern for the environment.
The environmental crisis is not a new concept. Despite cities being underwater and regions engulfed in flames, many still choose to ignore the downward trend in which the planet is going. The reason for this ignorance is because it just isn’t good business to acknowledge this environmental crisis. And scientists have only been warning the world about this for what, more than thirty years? The increasing amounts of naturally occurring disasters simply verify the prolonged concerns voiced by the scientific community. In 1992, over 1,700 scientists worked to release an official statement declaring the state of emergency that the world was in. Explicitly stating that humans and the natural world were on a course headed for a collision, scientists sought to distinctly forewarn the world that the future of our planet may not sustain life as we know it. From atmospheric alterations due to stratospheric ozone depletion, exploitation of groundwater, destructions towards the ecosystems pre-existing within the oceans, and many other irreversible effects that are out of our control. And yet, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence, we have historically ignored the signs of the coming environmental crisis in pursuit of economic profit.
Working to compel the world about the gravity of the environment’s situation, scientists have even started to routinely focus all of their efforts on discovering current measures of the current global climate temperatures. The well-known phrase “ignorance is bliss” perfectly captures how we address environmental issues. Much of humankind has developed this willful blindness towards climate change, and this has paved the way for a means of life that the population cannot help but continue to contribute towards. Becoming ignorant towards environmental problems triggers the idea that the current lifestyle that humans undergo is perfectly normal. It also reinforces the patterns that communities rely upon with regard to consumption, occupation, and expansion behaviors. These normalized behaviors and the way in which our world is set up makes it easier for humans to ignore the problems of the natural world.
The dependence on this way of life makes it hard, or even impossible to shift from these behaviors. For example, the ease of trash being collected from suburban homes and put out of sight develops massive tons of landfills in our oceans. But that “out of sight, out of mind” visual is what makes people so unaware of how detrimental their current lifestyles are. Fracking or drilling for natural resources facilitates easy energy access and helps many businesses, so many find it a valuable exploit. It is also easier for people to ignore problems that they simply do not have enough of an understanding of. Their unwillingness to try to understand the facts and data presented by educated individuals, reveals why many people do not regard the environmental crisis as an issue of grave importance.
The problem with capitalism is that it eventually will end up contradicting itself in the future. It is a fact that it simply cannot go on forever. Over time, mercantilism facilitated the growth of capitalism and the rise of individual economic superpowers. Through capitalistic ideals and the idea that exports must exceed imports, overproduction was no longer a concern. The environmental implications of overproduction do not seem to phase the population at all today, as people are more concerned with supplying the demand for certain markets. We see this specific problem arise in what is known as fast fashion. Due to trends and fashions becoming cheaper or more easily accessible, we see large global clothing chains dominating large shares of the market. The problem with fast fashion is how detrimental the production process is for the planet. It takes 700 gallons of water to make a single cotton shirt, 80 years for a clothing item to break down in a landfill, and the fashion industry itself contributes a whopping ten percent of the world’s emissions.
The question of which economic method is better; capitalism, socialism, or some sort of hybrid mix has long been debated and there is still no concrete answer. But maybe, it is neither. Those who heavily oppose socialism and its ideals usually come from countries that have already tried their fair share of socialist governance. The people of Venezuela saw what had happened when inflation rates went up and the entirety of their economy collapsed. Opponents of socialism believe that the basic principles and ideologies behind socialism take away the incentive to innovate and thrive. But is capitalism in the long-run going to be any better? Capitalist attitudes are proving to further provoke the permanent actions humans are making upon the environment. By looking at the current environmental crisis, most people see socialist methods as the best way to inhibit capitalist attitudes and actions. Regulation by private owners and specific policy caps on production could be ways to mitigate the impending environmental crisis. However, would caps and regulations on innovation stifle the economic development of the population? Capitalists tend to hold the sentiment that any government regulation on individual activity is a loss of freedom and a step backward on the bright path industrialists have set out for us.
The interpretation of the world’s political economy is altered by the awareness of its worsening impact on the environment over time. The question for humankind is which approach we should take to start helping the environment. By taking the time to first recognize the scientific evidence of the environmental crisis that we have placed ourselves in, and then to appreciate the planet, we can begin to take concrete steps towards alleviating the damage done to the planet. This includes understanding the harmful consequences that capitalist attitudes have had on the global environment. There is a relationship between the global economy and the environment’s worsening condition and now is the time to reverse global economic policies before it is too late.
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