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Confronting the Carbon Capitalists

By Seattle IWW - It's Going Down, November 14, 2018

Last summer brought another record wildfire season to the Pacific Northwest. Smoky air from fires in the region caused hellish air quality around the entire Northern Hemisphere. The causes of the forest fires and the destruction of our forest ecosystem generally are incontrovertible. Over one hundred years of fossil-fueled capitalist development and hundreds of years of violent colonial oppression–of people and the biological world–have driven the Earth to the brink.

Northwest forests, once some of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, have been clear-cut and laden with biocides. Complex interrelationships have been smashed with saws and machinery to make way for monoculture “working forests” devoid of biodiversity. Decades of fire suppression by the Forest Service on behalf of timber companies have left trees to grow on each other like matchsticks waiting to be lit.

In the face of all of this, liberals, true to form, have resorted to self-flagellation and hand-wringing. The New York Times Magazine’s recent piece, “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” by Nathaniel Rich, places the blame of climate change and ecocide squarely at the foot of an undefined human nature. The author mostly chronicles failed climate negotiations between nation-states at the United Nations.

In his telling, we were so close to breakthroughs, but then greedy human nature stopped everything. Our collective desire for more stuff led to the failure of negotiations being made in good faith between nations. There is no other possible direction for history to have unfolded. Or so the story goes.

International diplomacy’s climate failures are a failure of all humans in the eyes of the liberal elite like Rich. That a nation-state would act counter to the will of its subjects is unthinkable to the privileged classes.

The victims of colonialism and capitalism have always known otherwise. At the same time “human nature” was failing to protect the earth in UN meeting halls, working-class people were mobilizing against extractive industry in Northern California and being targeted for assassination. Indigenous peoples around the world were suffering from state violence for fighting against the very oil drilling that state officials said they were trying to curb. Everywhere the triplet monsters–capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy–tread, organized resistance by the oppressed fought back. Contrary to the pearl-clutching lament that “human nature led to this,” water protectors, land defenders, and workers have laid their bodies in front of the machinery of extractive capitalism countless times. And this is nothing new.

Focus on China: The East is green?

By Martin Empson - Socialist Review, February 2018

China’s rapid economic expansion is based on massive state investment, low pay and manufacturing for export to the Western economies at the same time as the promotion of domestic consumerism. Global competition for resources and markets means China must continue this economic model. But this brings with it the risk of war, economic crisis and the threat of workers fighting for an increased share of the enormous wealth being generated. But it is also driving environmental disaster on a local and international scale.

Last October Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined a five-year economic strategy. He focused on putting China at the centre of the world economy, offering “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”. But commentators noted how Xi also emphasised the environment, using the word 89 times in the 3-hour, 23-minute speech and pledging to lead globally on the environment.

In a dig at Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement, Xi argued that, “No country alone can address the many challenges facing mankind. No country can afford to retreat into self-isolation.” By contrast he claimed that China had “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”, and echoing Friedrich Engels, concluded that, “Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face.”

China faces an unprecedented environmental crisis. Mao Zedong’s decision to make China’s economy match and then overtake the West triggered numerous environmental problems. But the sheer scale of today’s economic expansion means that China’s environmental crises today are colossal.

China is the world’s leading polluter in absolute terms. The country is responsible for around 30 percent of global carbon emissions, twice that of the next biggest polluter, the US. In per capita terms, China’s emissions (7.9 tons per person) fall below those of many other industrialised countries such as the US (16.4) or Germany (9.2). But this merely highlights the size of China’s population (1.4 billion). Meanwhile, current economic trends will only drive emissions upwards. In 2000 China’s per capita emissions were just 2.7 tons per person.

Bayer’s takeover of Monsanto: Indian farmers send their objections to Competition Commission

By - La Via Campesina, January 30, 2018

On 25 January, the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), placed on record their objection with the proposed acquisition of Monsanto by the German firm Bayer.

Here is the full text of the letter.


All Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements

Road No. 2, A – 87, Mahipalpur Extension, New Delhi – 110 037, IndiaTel:+91-9899435968 ; Email: yudhvir55@yahoo.com

The Secretary, 25.01.2018

Competition Commission of India,

New Delhi – 110001

Dear Madam/Sir,

Subject: Our objection to the Proposed Combination between Bayer AG and Monsanto and request for extension of 15 days notice for public participation.

We the farmers in India as Individual Farmers, Farmers Groups, Women Farmers, Small farmers, Young Farmers, Farm Workers, Landless Labourers have come together to place on record our objections pertaining to the Notification issued by the Competition Commission of India under Section 29(2) of the Competition Commission Act, 2002, inviting objections/ comments/ suggest with regard to the combination of Two Corporate Giants across the Globe viz, between Bayer AG, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Allee, 51368, Leverkusen, Germany (hereinafter ‘Bayer’ or ‘Acquirer’) and Monsanto Company, 2711 Centerville Road, Suite 400, Wilmington, Delaware 19808, County of New Castle (hereinafter ‘Monsanto’ or ‘Target’, and collectively with Bayer as ‘Parties’).

The signatories hereunder are members of All India Coordination Committee for Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM) and South Indian Coordination Committee for Farmers’ Movements (SICCFM) and we represent 12 farmers’ organizations across India representing millions of peasants, small and medium size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers. We defend peasant agriculture for food sovereignty as a way to promote social justice and dignity and strongly oppose corporate driven agriculture that destroys social relations and nature.

We consider that the acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer not only causes but also likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition within India. We request the Commission to call for the records from these two companies regarding their market concentration and study the overall reach of these two companies put together in the market and assess the percentage of their shares objectively and independent of the projections given by the Parties in Form IV, before arriving at any conclusions. The Commission should carry out this investigation to determine the questions whether the acquisition or the combination of these two giant Corporates would cause adverse effect on competition within India.

It is important to place on record the study conducted by the Friends of Earth, Europe led by Ioannis Lianos, Professor of Global Competition Law and Public Policy and Director of the Centre for Law, Economics and Society (CLES) at University College London (UCL),1 concludes that even on a narrow reading of EU competition law, the merger between US-based agro-chemical and biotech company Monsanto and German ‘life science’ company Bayer should not be permitted. The legal study sets out five main reasons why EU competition law requires that the merger be blocked. The copy of the said document is enclosed herewith.

In addition to the issues raised in the said study mentioned supra and the objections submitted by many other individual farmers, farmers organization and farmers collective, we also like to highlight the certain discrepancies in the combination of Bayer and Monsanto as published in the Notification dated 5th January 2018.

In India, Bayer and Monsanto, as per the assertions given by the Parties in Form IV, prior to the closing of the Proposed Combination operate in the 5 Segments in terms of Products, viz, 1. Crop Production, 2. Agricultural Seeds, 3. Vegetable Seeds, 4. Environmental Science and 5. Traits and Technology. The Crop Productions again has 6 Sub Segments, Agricultural Seeds has 5 Sub Segments, Vegetable Seeds has 22 Sub Segments , Environment Science has 5 Sub Segments and Traits and Technology has 1 Sub Segment.

In the Crop Production Segment, both the parties have one Sub Segment overlapping i.e., Non –selective herbicides.

In Agricultural Seeds Segment, both the parties have one Sub Segment overlapping i.e. Cotton Seeds.

In Vegetable Seeds Segments, both the parties have 13 Sub segments overlapping, i.e., Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Eggplant, Bitter Gourd, Bottle Gourd, Melon, Okra, Onion, Hot Pepper, Sweet Pepper, Tomato and Watermelon.

Market Economy: Deep Roots Of Dysfunction

By Jane Roelofs - Global Justice Center, December 2, 2017

There is nothing new in the disaster anticipated from NAFTA. The market  economy hasn’t “broken down,” or suddenly reached environmental limits. Its inherent faults are simply more clearly manifest in an age of mass communication and heightened consciousness. Here I will focus on the conflict between the market—the backbone of capitalism—and Green values.

Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking

By Pete Dolack - CounterPunch, November 24, 2017

The world’s governments got together in Germany over the past two weeks to discuss global warming, and as a result, they, well, talked. And issued some nice press releases.

Discussing an existential threat to the environment, and all who are dependent on it, certainly is better than not discussing it. Agreeing to do something about it is also good, as is reiterating that something will be done.

None of the above, however, should be confused with implementing, and mandating, measures that would reverse global warming and begin to deal concretely with the wrenching changes necessary to avoid flooded cities, a climate going out of control, mass species die-offs and the other rather serious problems that have only begun to manifest themselves in an already warming world.

The 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP23, wrapped up on November 17 in Bonn. Fiji was actually the presiding country, but the conference was held in Bonn because Fiji was not seen as able to accommodate the 25,000 people expected to attend. The formal hosting by Fiji, as a small Pacific island country, was symbolic of a wish to highlight the problems of low-lying countries, but that this was merely symbolic was perhaps most fitting of all.

These conferences have been held yearly since the UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. Two years ago, at COP21 in Paris, the world’s governments negotiated the Paris Accord, committing to specific targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Although capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius (as measured from the 19th century as the Industrial Revolution took off around the world) has been considered the outer limit of “safe” warming, a goal of halting global warming at 1.5 degrees was adopted at Paris. The catch here is that the goals adopted are far from the strength necessary to achieve the 2-degree goals, much less 1.5 degrees.

Before we explore that contradiction, let’s take a brief look at the self-congratulatory statements issued at the Bonn conference’s conclusion.

Let's Just Admit It: Capitalism Doesn't Work

By John Atcheson - Common Dreams, November 13, 2017

In almost every way you examine it, capitalism – at least the relatively unconstrained, free- market variety practiced here in the US and supported by both parties -- has been an abysmal failure. Let’s take a close look some of its worst failings.  But first, it must be admitted that when it comes to exploiting people and the planet for the purpose of generating apparent wealth for the few, it has been a smashing success.  More about that notion of “apparent wealth” in a moment, but now, the specifics.

The logical end-point of a competitive system is an oligarchic monopoly

A recent report  by UBS reveals that the global march of economic inequality is accelerating.  The report found that the billionaire’s share of wealth grew by nearly 20 percent last year, reaching a level of disparity not seen since 1905, the gilded age.  Interestingly, the first gilded age followed decades of uber-free market laissez-faire policies, just as today’s gilded age has.

Not surprising, really. Empirical evidence shows that without constraint, markets will proceed toward a winner-take-all status. In short, monopolies and oligopolies. For example, the United States has had three periods of prolonged laissez-faire economic policies, and each was followed by extreme wealth inequality and the three biggest economic crises in US history, such inequality causes.

Oh, but the magic of competition makes companies compete for our dollar, so they can’t afford to exploit us, right? Not so much.

The magic elixir of competition doesn’t work—for the simple reason that there isn’t much competition anymore. Having convinced folks that regulation is bad, the Oligarchy is in the midst of a frenzy of mergers that is giving a few large conglomerates control of many of the major market sectors.

Derrick Thompson, in a recent article in the Atlantic, lays out some of the grim statistics that illustrate the trend. As Thompson writes,

To comprehend the scope of corporate consolidation, imagine a day in the life of a typical American and ask: How long does it take for her to interact with a market that isn’t nearly monopolized? She wakes up to browse the Internet, access to which is sold through a local monopoly. She stocks up on food at a superstore such as Walmart, which owns a quarter of the grocery market. If she gets indigestion, she might go to a         pharmacy, likely owned by one of three companies controlling 99 percent of that market. If she’s stressed and wants to relax outside the shadow of an oligopoly, she’ll have to stay away from ebooks, music, and beer; two companies control more than half     of all sales in each of these markets. There is no escape—literally. She can try boarding an airplane, but four corporations control 80 percent of the seats on domestic flights.

The consolidation of the media is yet another example; just six corporations now control 90 percent of the market. And of course, there’s the inconvenient fact that the “too-big-to-fail” banks that were a major cause of the 2008 Great Recession are now bigger and fewer.

This concentration of market power translates into lower wages, fewer jobs, and higher prices – exactly the opposite of what the neoclassical economic theory embraced by capitalists tells us will happen when we remove regulatory constraints – and exactly the opposite of what the Republicans’ trickle-down myth says will happen. Or what the neoliberal Democrats tell us, for that matter.

But it also gives the wealthy control over our political system, and the people have gotten wise to it.  That’s why a little over a quarter of the eligible voters were able to put Trump in power – most of the rest of us are completely turned off by a political system that’s clearly for sale and so, increasingly, many do not show up to vote.

That control has expressed itself in policies that result in extreme income disparities between the increasingly few haves and the expanding have-nots. Today, just five people have as much wealth as the 3.8 billion people comprising the least wealthy half of the world’s population, and nowhere in the developed world is the problem as acute as it is in America.  The system is rigged, and our belief in capitalism and the power of the magic markets is what allowed that.

What Whales Have to Teach Humans About Capitalism

By Laura Bridgeman - Common Dreams, October 22, 2017

The International Whaling Commission meets every four years to decide the future of the whales. That is, it decides which nation will kill how many, and for what reasons (commercial, subsistence, “research”). Stakeholders from around the world are engaged, from whaling and non-whaling nations alike.

Notably absent in these discussions on the future of whales, are the whales themselves. But this is not just because they would have a hard time fitting into the conference room. It’s an intentional omission, since whales are a part of the commons: that great, amorphous void which we draw individuals out of, pour refuse in to, and in which lives the nameless, faceless “biomass” that we refuse any real legal or political consideration on a categorical basis. According to our current paradigm, the whales, and everyone else in the oceans, are resources to be protected, conserved or exploited: divided up (albeit unequally) amongst ourselves, and consumed.

This might sound like an article about whales, but it isn’t. It’s really about us, and what we chose to believe about ourselves, our societies, and what our future can look like. For perhaps the first time in history, we human cultures of the world are largely united in a struggle for what comes next – an active discussion, a exercise in collective imagination that’s becoming all the more urgent as we watch our current world, and worldviews, fall apart – or more aptly, being ripped apart by late-stage capitalism.

Our current system is incapable of addressing the problems within our own species because inequality is embedded within its very foundation. Strategies to dismantle plutocracy and eradicate poverty often involve new ways of managing the commons. However, as long as we try to preserve or manage “habitats” and “ecosystems” for human benefit alone, the resulting devastation of the lives of other species will reverberate into our own in increasingly disastrous and unpredictable ways.

Within capitalist models, individuals of other species are not only neglected - their very existence is denied. They are instead relegated to the realm of property, only to be considered or “conserved” when their bodies are seen as necessary for the health of an ecosystem of value; and then, they are lumped into “populations” or “stocks” rather than recognizing them as individuals with interests, deserving of their fair share of resources like any human being.

When we begin to consider this legion of individuals of other species, the commons can transform into a system for “mutualizing responsibilities” wherein other species are considered active stakeholders as they participate and benefit from those responsibilities. This can maximize the health and generative capacities of a given area, be it in the ocean or upon the grasslands or within a forest.

Let’s go back into that conference room again, with its notable absence of the whales who are being discussed. The changes I’m proposing might sound extreme, but not if we begin with species that we can all agree are intelligent and sophisticated enough to have interests of their own. We can begin by considering whale’s needs, desires, and perspectives as stakeholders. Rather than having conservationists advocating for whales’ protection, we ought to be giving whales a seat at the table – via a representative such as a guardian ad litem - to express what’s in the best interest for these individuals in matters concerning them, such as establishing Marine Protected Areas designed to protect their culturally relevant spaces in the ocean. Whales should also be considered stakeholders where industrial projects, such as salmon farms, may have adverse impacts on their lives. And, one day, whales should be considered stakeholders at the very meetings where their kin are being scheduled for slaughter.

This is no quaint idea rooted in sentimentality towards charismatic megafauna. It’s an idea that can save us - all of us – because when other species thrive, we all thrive.

Any accounting of the commons without acknowledging the presence and interests of others within these spaces will lead to their continued destruction, to our human detriment as well. But when we consider the perspectives of the other species, whom we rely upon for our survival and vice versa, can we begin to work towards nurturing an environment that is actually sustainable. Doing otherwise will only doom us to repeat history. And it’s already a bit late for that.

Greed Has Poisoned Their Souls

By Demand Climate Justice - The World at 1°C, September 9, 2017

Unless you are an environmental geographer or a regular reader of The World at 1°C, chances are you apply the term “natural disaster” to events such as Hurricane Harvey, the landslides in Sierra Leone which claimed 1000 lives, or any of the other countless climatic shocks felt over the last month.

The fact is that nothing could be more unnatural:

In every phase and aspect of a disaster […] the contours of disaster and the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus.”

This is true enough of events which occur irrespective of human activity, such as volcanic eruptions, but when it comes to the droughts, storms, floods, and famines (and, actually, even some earthquakes) caused by climate change or extractive industries, the term natural disaster hides not only a truth about differentiated impacts — it also masks a truth about where responsibility lies.

ExxonMobil, for example, has known that its continued existence causes climate change for decades. And ExxonMobil lied about having this knowledge with such abandon that now even their ex-employees are suing them (in addition to Californian communities affected by climate change). A journal article published this month was the first to analyse all of Exxon’s communications about climate change. It concluded that the corporation knew the facts thanks to its own scientists, yet continued to peddle doubt and foster confusion (including through paid editorials in liberal papers like the New York Times).

The very same ExxonMobil, which now has a major ‘in’ at the White House via Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has been repeatedly let off the hook by authorities. One emblematic story recently published in The Intercept explains how the company has been poisoning a black community in Beaumont, Texas, for decades, by pumping millions of tonnes of toxic chemicals into the air while refining “sour crude.” The community, where people suffer from high rates of hair loss, birth defects, asthma, and cancer, tried to get the EPA to do something (the Exxon refinery regularly broke the law), but were ignored for 17 years. Those who could afford to moved away. Those who could not still live in the shadow of Exxon’s stacks, which stand as monuments to greed and indifference to human suffering.

The market-based “logic” of greenwashed capitalism is that if corporations must pay for doing things like ruining people’s lives or even ruining the planet, then they won’t do it, or at least not as much. But that is demonstrably untrue. Last year, Exxon’s Beaumont refinery illegally released 2,125 pounds of carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. They were fined $7001. Even when companies are fined much more — as Exxon was when one of its decrepit pipelines burst in 2013, flooding an Arkansas community with 200,000 gallons of Tar Sands oil — they are often able to appeal, as Exxon did.

If a conviction somehow sticks, corporations are sometimes able to ignore the ruling altogether, as these 3 companies appear to be doing in Indonesia. Following successful convictions with penalties in billions of dollars, the Indonesian government has been unable to collect. While the corporations make billions exploiting Indonesia’s vast mineral reserves and precious forests, the communities in the way are left destitute and savaged by both corporate mercenaries and state military forces.

Cognizant of (negative) publicity, corporations are careful to cover themselves with the fig leaf of “corporate social responsibility” and other such meaningless phrases which sound good but don’t mean much in practice. In a case that has echoes of ExxonMobil’s climate change cover-up, Monsanto was recently exposed in The Poison Papers as having made and sold a toxic industrial chemical known as PCB almost a decade after being told by their scientists that:

The evidence proving the persistence of these compounds and their universal presence in the environment is beyond questioning.”

In addition to covering up the horrendous health impacts of its PCB products, newly revealed documents show that Monsanto also conspired with a consultancy firm to “ghost write” a supposedly independent review of the health impacts of its flagship herbicide Roundup. Monsanto has since attempted to force the documents offline, out of sight.

What these examples make clear is that the ways in which people are made to suffer under the dominant social, political, and economic systems are not natural or innate. People suffer by design. And the designers have names like Exxon and Monsanto.

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