By Stefeun. Original article at Doomstead Diner here.
Reverse Engineer kindly invited me (1) to develop here one of the comments I posted on Gail Tverberg’s blog Our Finite World. It was a link to a very good article by Cory Morningstar on her blog “The Art of Annihilation”(2).
To summarize it, she says that the non-governmental organizations, and especially the environmental activists, are in fact working for Big Corp, voluntarily or not.
In this purpose, the capitalism is trying to find new resources, as standard/traditional ones are depleting.
Here’s an excerpt from the prologue:
It’s ironic because the divestment campaign will result (succeed) in a colossal injection of money shifting over to the very portfolios heavily invested in, thus dependent upon, the intense commodification and privatization of Earth’s last remaining forests (via REDD), water, etc. (environmental “markets“). This tour de force will be executed with cunning precision under the guise of environmental stewardship and “internalising negative externalities through appropriate pricing.”
The commodification of the commons will represent the greatest, and most cunning, coup d’état in the history of corporate dominance – a fait accompli extraordinaire of unparalleled scale, with unparalleled repercussions for humanity and all life.
Further, it matters little whether or not the money is moved from direct investments in fossil fuel corporations to so-called “socially responsible investments.” The fact of the matter is, all corporations on the planet (thus all investments on the planet) do and will continue to require massive amounts of energies (including fossil fuels) in order to continue to grow and expand ad infinitum – as required by the industrialized capitalist economic system.
The windmills and solar panels serve as the beautiful (marketing) imagery, yet they are somewhat illusory – the veneer for the commodification of the commons, which is the fundamental objective of Wall Street, the very advisers of the divestment campaign.
Then I started looking at it in a broader view, and realized that in fact our whole economy is actually about, and based on, Commodification of the Commons.
– the Primary sector (agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining) takes what is “given by Nature” (i.e. for free), and exchanges it for claims on whatever has been given a price (i.e. money).
– then the Secondary sector (manufacturing) turns it into refined or consumer goods or tools, and the Tertiary sector (services) helps dispatch the stuff and information.
The cost we take into account is only the amount of energy spent for the extraction, the transformation or the distribution(3). The “real” cost of a given product is therefore the total energy embodied in it. Apart from heating or cooling it, which obviously uses thermal energy, most of the embedded energy is mechanical energy (= Work) used to move it. Wether this work is hours of human labor or barrels of oil or kWh consumed by a machine only matters for the order of magnitude.
The material itself is counted zero (!!).
Both material and energy are considered infinite (!!!).
Each and every single operation is using energy and generating waste (entropy).
The waste isn’t taken into accout and “the economy” considers that either Nature, or the Society as a whole, should take in charge the burden of recycling it or making it disappear no matter how.
The size of the dustbin must be infinite too!.
Of course most of this waste doesn’t just disappear, as it cannot quickly reintegrate the natural cycles. It isn’t manually or mechanically recycled either, even when possible, because doing it requires energy (often more than the valuable output could buy) and therefore is accounted as a net cost nobody wants to take in charge (as an example, look how successful the carbon-tax is).
This process is transforming the Earth into a huge garbage dump.
Back to the main point, what we call “the economy” is thus a process of appropriation, which first step consists in taking hold of something that primarily doesn’t belong to anybody, for a private profit(4).
We’re stealing from our environment, and in return vomit rubbish that cannot be reused neither by humans nor by Nature, unless spending huge amounts of energy or waiting several years, if not millenia. Steve Ludlum says that what we proudly call “wealth-production” is in reality an organized destruction of our real capital, that cannot be recreated. There’s no substitute, and what is gone, … is gone forever(5). The economy is a component of the natural environment, not the other way round.
Such a “steal & waste” system can work as long as sufficient resource is available for all, and requires only a reasonable effort (i.e. low energy cost) for its extraction. Not to mention the rate of waste-production that must remain low, and with high level of recyclability. In other words, the human population density and the technological level must both be very low, in order to acheive something in which equilibriums are evolving slowly enough to resemble a “steady-state”(6).
As soon as a risk of scarcity appears, the rules of property prevail and there’s a fight over the resource (arable land, fresh water, mineral ores, fossil fuels as required in bigger quantities to compensate the depletion, etc..).
These property laws are being reinforced and are becoming overwhelmingly important as we’re approaching the limits. Once the resource is depleted in a given place, we must take over areas where it is still available.It started with “this land is mine” (colonization), continued with “this subsoil is mine” (oil-wars), “this water is mine”, etc…
By the way, the ownership is progressively shifted from public to corporate (while debt flows in opposite direction), see e.g. landgrabbing(7). Big Corp is more flexible than Nations, thus better adapted to changing environmental & economic conditions.
Then, because of diminishing returns and finiteness of the planet, it becomes increasingly difficult to find new land to conquer, good seams to work, oil-fields to take over. Therefore, in an attempt to catch up with the loss of usual resource, Big Corp is currently expanding its property claims onto patents on the living, rights on species(8), intellectual property, information (big data), etc…
All these examples of new resources, enlarging the pool of valuable ones (IOW the reckless race for privatization of whatever-can-be), are aiming to compensate the decline of traditional ones, if not feed the mandatory growth.
Beyond the likely irreversible changes triggered and the increase in savage destruction caused by this process, the main problem here is that the laws of diminishing returns also apply to the energy, most of it being fossil fuels for which we don’t have any substitute nor expandable source.
So, in the end of the day, finding new “fields to mine” is pointless (not to mention dangerous), since we won’t have the sufficient energy to exploit them.
PS about the economic system: IMHO, capitalism is undeniably speeding up the whole process, especially when financialized, but I’m not sure that another system would have given a better result in the long run, unless it would have considered that a- the resource is finite (the only net input in our system is the energy from the sun, all the rest is -or should be- recycled), b- taken into account the waste management (entropy production), and c- deeply questioned the property rules (to promote cooperation and avoid wealth concentration).
Unfortunately, such a no-growth system is an utopia, because Life is a succession of unexpected shortages, and the winner is always the one who burns most energy, according to the MEP principle (Maximum Entropy Production, aka 3rd Law of Thermodynamics, acc.to F.Roddier/R.Dewar), or the simpler MPP (Maximum Power Principle, as described by Jay Hanson in http://dieoff.org/).
(1): I discovered Our Finite World by end of 2013, that was a few months after I decided to jump off the industrial workforce because I had less and less understanding of how it worked and what I was doing there. I had already grasped parts of the story here and there, but Gail sort of opened my eyes and helped me connect many dots by clearly explaining the interactions within our complex system, which should always be considered as a whole and not studied as independant parts.
(3): I don’t consider here the financial costs. After all, capital and debt are claims on amounts of energy that has been or will (never) be consumed elsewhere.
Note that I’m talking about cost, not price. The price is a result of power struggle, and can be lower than cost in some -temporary- cases (e.g. barrel of oil today).
(4): Michael Parenti, in “Against Empire”, states it as follows:
“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.”
(5): I assume that most of the DD readers know Steve Ludlum better than I do (many articles and podcasts available here on the Diner).