The 6th mass extinction is a product of capitalism — not population growth

by Barnaby Philips via RCG

Every particular mode of production has its own special laws of population, which are historically valid within that particular sphere. An abstract law of population exists only for plants and animals and even then only in the absence of any historical intervention by man’
Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 25, pp783-784

‘You don’t need to be a scientist to know what’s causing the sixth mass extinction,’ began Professor Paul R. Ehrlich in a Guardian article on 11 July.

Given the ‘developed’ imperialist world’s throwaway consumerism and the well-documented destruction of the environment by multinational corporations, it should indeed be fairly obvious.

Ehrlich, however, names one main culprit: population growth.

His solution? Some unspecified form of ‘humane’ population reduction.

Apparently, the reason you don’t need to be a scientist is because the pseudo-science of eugenics suffices. Ehrlich must be refuted with science. It is capitalism’s need for infinite economic growth that is destroying life on earth.

Ehrlich is best known for his 1968 book The Population Boom, which warned that the next two decades would produce mass starvation across the world. He advocated ending US food aid to ‘developing’ capitalist countries, government-imposed population control and enforced sterilisation of fathers of three or more children in India (p. 151).

Time proved Ehrlich wrong, but now he is back with a team of researchers who have announced that earth’s ‘sixth mass extinction is underway’.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal,[“Was 2017 the year we lost control of the world population surge?” asked an article sponsored by the Gates Foundation.

“Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children” stated another, reporting on a study that said the other most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint was to “sell your car and avoid long flights”. Such individualistic and moralistic solutions are insufficient, and attempt obscure the systemic cause of the crisis.

It begs the question: do liberals oppose US President Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the global ‘gag rule’[2]  because it denies women vital reproductive services or because they want to control populations?

French President Emmanuel Macron recently remarked that Africa’s problems are ‘civilizational’ because mothers there are all having ‘seven or eight’ children.[3]

Nothing to do with the scars of colonialism or the fact that the imperialist nations still drain billions of dollars out of Africa every year.[4] That poor parents may choose to have many children to meet the needs of their families and communities, which may not enjoy much, if any, state support, does not come into the equation.

Losing control?
Have ‘we’ ever been under threat from ‘losing control’ of the ‘population surge’? Global population growth in fact peaked the year Ehrlich’s book was published (at 2.1%) and has steadily fallen ever since (to 1.11% today).

Global population has indeed doubled from 3.7 billion since then to 7.5 billion now, but declining growth rates mean it will take over 200 years to double again.

Elitist intellectuals expressed fear about population growth throughout the 20th century, when it boomed from 1.65 billion to six billion. Contemporary followers of Reverend Thomas Malthus persist in believing that the number of people on the planet naturally increases faster than the supply of food.

That we already overproduce food, enough to feed 10 billion people, while almost 800 million go to bed hungry and up to two billion suffer from malnutrition, does not come into their analysis.

The unplanned and parasitic nature of capitalism, or the fact that capital increasingly becomes a fetter on productivity as profitable investment opportunities diminish, goes unquestioned.

Of much greater concern for societies across the ‘developed’ world should be the fact that, with declining state provisions, we are increasingly unable to support ageing populations.

The ‘support ratio’ (i.e. the number of people of working age to the total population) has been falling in Japan since 1990 and in the US and Europe since 2005-10. Japan’s support ratio is now approaching 1.5 workers per older citizen and is expected to reach parity by 2050, with the US and Europe not far behind and China even closer.

The crisis in social care is only just beginning. People are living longer but women are having fewer children, partly because they are becoming increasingly expensive to raise under decaying capitalism.

For capitalists, the ageing population crisis can only be resolved through falling living standards. In 2015, the US death rate – the age-adjusted share of Americans dying – rose slightly for the first time since 1999. According to Bloomberg, over the past two years at least 12 corporations have stated in their annual reports that recent slips in mortality improvement have reduced their pension payouts by a combined $9.7 billion.

The Anthropocene?
Despite the efforts of US and European NGOs, Africa’s population has surged from 477 million in 1980 to 1.2 billion in 2016. Yet its population density remains relatively low, with 20% of the world’s land mass but only 15% of its people. While Europe’s population density is 105 people per square kilometre, Africa’s is 65.

But Africa’s population is expected to nearly quadruple by 2100. North America will continue to grow at a slower rate, surpassing South America’s overall population in around 2070. Who, though, is really to blame for climate change and ecological devastation? It cannot simply be ‘people’, treated as homogenous and monolithic, can it?

The UN says that carbon emissions must fall to two tonnes of CO2 per person by 2050 to avoid severe global warming. But in the US and Australia emissions are currently 16 tonnes per person and seven tonnes in the UK. The US energy consumption rate is 11.4kW per person, while China’s is 1.6.

To say that ‘humanity’ or the age of ‘the Anthropocene’ is to blame for global warming is lazy and absurd when the average US citizen emits more carbon than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi.

Clearly consumption is driven not by population growth but by purchasing power. In 1999 the World Resources Institute found that the US, Europe and Japan – comprising 16% of the world’s population – together sucked up 80% of the world’s natural resources.

The culprit is capitalism – the Capitalocene – and more precisely imperialism, its highest stage, which must constantly penetrate new territory in a world of finite resources in order to sustain itself.

A study from the University of Valladolid in Spain[5]  has also shown that there is a direct correlation between the rate of economic growth and the rate in the increase of atmospheric CO2, which evidently falls, for example, when the global economy goes into recession.

The study, which took volcanic activity and the ‘El Nino’ effect into account, also found no observable relation between short-term growth of world population and CO2 concentrations.

That imperialism is responsible is surely confirmed by another study,[6] also released in July, which shows that just 100 fossil fuel producing companies have been responsible for 71% of all greenhouse gasses – 1 trillion tonnes – since 1988.

ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron are among the highest emitting investor-owned corporations. It is these multinational conglomerates, not simply ‘people’ as Ehrlich would have it, which destroy natural habitats, by pushing small African farmers off their land, for example, to grow processed food with cheap toxic chemicals or to plunder precious resources.

The need to shut down or take under public ownership and repurpose such companies is of much greater importance than population growth. Do this and we are halfway towards saving the planet.

The private sector may have started investing in green technology but while the upfront costs remain high and risky, and fossil fuels remain profitable, the pace of change will remain too slow. The report warns that if fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, global average temperatures would be on course to rise by a cataclysmic 4°C by 2100.

One side of the ruling class, thinking itself immortal, denies the existence of global warming and does not care about the continued destruction of the ecological systems we all depend on. The other recognises the seriousness of the crisis but is prepared to resort to some form of eugenics as the solution.

They too are living in denial, clinging to the belief that throwing the poor overboard will keep the Titanic afloat. Saving life on earth requires a level of bravery, selflessness and imagination that only an international revolutionary communist movement can summon.

We must follow the example of socialist Cuba.[7] By prioritising human need it has, for example, reversed colonial deforestation; reduced long-distance food transport by developing urban farms; and replaced synthetic pesticides with unique biopesticides to maintain soil fertility.

Only by eradicating the fetter that is the profit motive will such a radical reorganisation of society become possible. To survive and progress, humanity must transform its consciousness and fight to replace capitalism with the socialist mode of production.


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Ian Rappel
Ian Rappel
Sep 29, 2017 6:04 PM

Ehrlich, as usual is mistaking symptoms for causes…
Global population growth is driven by 3 main forces:
1. Mortality decline (basically increases in Life Expectancy) results in higher survival rates especially for mothers and children. This leds to a greater population size but also an increase in the number of children reaching reproductive age and mothers surviving childbirth. Historically the trend for mortality has been downwards – sometimes rapid (eg Cuba and the West), sometimes less so (eg Latin America), occasionally increasing (Russian Federation after the end of the Cold War – life expectancy fell to the mid-50s for males during the ’90s as the health system was privatised – the WHO estimates that 3-4 million died as a consequence. Sub Saharan Africa under the IMF-led Structural Adjustment period of the ’90s also witnessed this to some degree).
‘High’ birth rates (actually persistently high rates not increases in birth rates – there are occassional ‘baby booms’ but these relate to wider historical forces like the end of WWII). The standard demographic measure of birth rate is Total Fertility Rate or TFR – the average number of children born to the average woman of a given country during their reproductive lifetime (ages 15-45ish). Globally, TFR has been declining since the industrial revolution – but mortality decline has been much more rapid (see 1 above) so more children born have been surviving.
In order for any population to stabilise (not grow) it needs to reach Replacement Level Fertility – this is roughly TFR 2.3 (although higher where mortality rates stay high).
Here’s a table of Global TFR decline that illustrates a steady decline in global TFR towards replacement level (which is more or less where we are today):
Years Global TFR
1950–1955 4.95
1955–1960 4.89
1960–1965 4.91
1965–1970 4.85
1970–1975 4.45
1975–1980 3.84
1980–1985 3.59
1985–1990 3.39
1990–1995 3.04
1995–2000 2.79
2000–2005 2.62
2005–2010 2.52
2010–2015 2.36
That the post-war period witnessed a trebling in global population growth illustrates the influence of mortality decline. But it also illustrates the impact of what demographers call ‘population momentum’ or population lag effect. This is the third and probably today’s most significant factor in determining future population growth and the ultimate size of Earth’s human population.
Population Momentum is defined pretty accurately as follows on Wikipedia:
“A population that maintained a TFR of 3.8 over an extended period without a correspondingly high death or emigration rate would increase rapidly (doubling period ~ 32 years), whereas a population that maintained a TFR of 2.0 over a long time would decrease, unless it had a large enough immigration. However, it may take several generations for a change in the total fertility rate to be reflected in birth rate, because the age distribution must reach equilibrium. For example, a population that has recently dropped below replacement-level fertility will continue to grow, because the recent high fertility produced large numbers of young couples who would now be in their childbearing years.
This phenomenon carries forward for several generations and is called population momentum, population inertia or population-lag effect. This time-lag effect is of great importance to the growth rates of human populations.”
Basically this is the ‘ripple’ effect or echo of previously higher fertility rates. In the West the post-war ‘baby boom’ echoed down through the generations thus. There are lots of potential outcomes of population momentum. But, from the perspective of the global population, it means that the population will grow even though fertility rates are falling to replacement levels. This means:
a. That the global population will grow and stabilise to between 9 and 12 billion even if we all have only 2 kids.
b. That the only effective means of bringing about global population decline would be a sudden increase in mortality (a world war would do it but that would probably reduce the human population to zero).
c. That any arguments in favour of ‘population control’ are really aimed at Sub Saharan Africa and the Third World and are therefore implicitly racist/neocolonial (explicitly in certain instances). TFR could have been reduced more rapidly if Third World countries hadn’t been crushed under neoliberalism. This is because basic improvements in material security for populations can bring TFR rates down very rapidly (this is what happened in Cuba and in the Southern Indian state of Kerala). The destruction of health, education and general civil society across the Third World during the last 30 years, under neoliberal policies enforced by the World Bank and IMF, undermined development efforts and poverty alleviation. This increased household insecurity and therefore maintained the need for larger families for longer.
The reasons for recent fertility decline aren’t totally clear but a combination of cultural change and economic factors appears to be likely. It is also possible that for the poorest sections of the Third World things have got so bad that they cannot even afford to have the kids they want/need – something of a hollow victory if so.
On population and the environment, there’s not much doubt that population increase can have environmental consequences. But there is a great deal of uncertainty over what this is specifically. There are lots of simplistic assertions made by neo-Malthusians but they ignore or downplay other major factors such as inequality, corporate greed, trade and markets, neoliberalism etc.
I would argue that it is almost impossible to isolate the role of population growth because the speed and extent of environmental degradation derived through capitalism is so overwhelming and dominant. Many environmentally-damaging practices (such as agricultural intensification) are driven by monopoly capital and inter/intra corporate competition and short-term quests for profit through speculation. The policy environment is also significant – the Common Agricultural Policy for example has had a devastating impact on biodiversity loss during a time when Europe’s population has grown only slowly.
Many environmentalists place human population growth at the top of their concerns. In so doing, they rarely understand the nature of demographic change that I discussed above. They also tend to simplify the relationship between humans and the planet – leading to erroneous ecological assertions over ‘carrying capacity’ that ignore or downplay human ingenuity. Sometimes they can also be simply ideological (Malthus was a horrible old reactionary) or misanthropic.
So – in conclusion – I would say that birth rates have fallen globally to a level where the ultimate size of the world’s population will be determined by population momentum alone. If this is so then we can stop worrying about it and concentrate on poverty alleviation (which would bring birth rates down more rapidly and humanely anyway). This means confronting and resisting capitalist neoliberalism.
On the environment, we should reject outright any arguments that place human population growth as greater import than neoliberalism. The impact of the latter is more rapid and more devastating than anything else underway (including climate change I would argue). Politically, neo-Malthusianism is a form of (thinly-veiled racist) scapegoating. It blames the victims of capitalism for having ‘too many children’ whilst making platitudes about the need to control consumerism and other characteristics of our age.

Ian Rappel
Ian Rappel
Sep 29, 2017 4:11 PM
Sep 30, 2017 11:28 AM
Reply to  Ian Rappel

Ian: thanks for posting the link. I am genuinely fascinated by your well considered study; it is erudite and insightful. I do have some questions though:
1) Was Capitalism the dominant mode of production for its entire 350+ year history?
2) Was the Communist mode of production – industrial and agricultural – environmentally friendly, non-impactful, and ecologically benign?
If not, does it not show that some other aspect of human agency is impactful on the environment; above and beyond the means of production?
This leads into your argument against (biological) determinism. It can be shown (by self-study if nothing else) that the conditioned human psyche IS largely deterministic. Whether this is in our DNA or not, I’ll let others argue. Our neural pathways react, enact, and protract our thinking to the point of ossification (if allowed). It is possible to modify our mode of thinking (and being), but this is an individualistic and small community trait: not a societal norm. I do not know how it could be verified, but I would argue that society at large DOES act deterministically: against Nature.
Making an argument in defence of indefensible Capitalism (or Malthus) I am not. From when it really began to metastasise and hyper-globalise; it has been the most pernicious organising principle humanity has ever unleashed. But is it causal: or is it a convenient proxy for more fundamental flaws in our collective psyche that have been unleashed through it? Have we literally harnessed and unleashed the very worst of ourselves in a self-destructive competitive cycle we conveniently label neoliberalism??
My personal non-academic thesis (based largely on the work of Hall and Klitgaard): is that human agency (and labour) over time has acquired and been leveraged by ever denser sources of primary fuel: from burning wood and peat right up to oil and nuclear. It is this energy intensity and excess net energy production is what we equate with technological and innovative “progress” (IR1, 2, 3, and 4, if there truly is to be one?). As to whether the requisite amount of intellectual and psychological development has occurred over time: I would argue, that based on your research and the current state of the world – a simple no would suffice to answer.
So how to progress? The problem with environmentalism is Nature: as Tim Morton has expressed in “Ecology Without Nature” and “Dark Ecology”. Departing from his thought, I would propose that István Mészáro’s interactive equation is re-expressed as: Humanity=Nature=Industry. To maintain reciprocity, remove dialectical tension, and introduce self-reinforcing positive feedback: this could also be expressed as a cycle: Humanity=Nature=Industry=Humanity… etc. This could be further expressed as Ecology=Economy. This should be the kernel or DNA of a New Socialism: whereby all human economic and post-industrial activity is low entropy, non-wasteful, non-polluting, life-affirming, and biome and biodiversity maintaining. Too Utopian? To coin a mantra: TINA (there is no alternative.) Thoughts???

Ian Rappel
Ian Rappel
Nov 14, 2017 9:44 PM
Reply to  BigB

Hi BigB,
Thanks for your response in turn. Your thought provoking questions are much appreciated and I hope my answers to some of them make some sense.
Was capitalism the dominant mode of production for its 350+ year history?
No. But it was and has been by far the most hegemonic as Marx and Engels eloquently pointed out in the Communist Manifesto. Consideration of capitalism’s dynamism and expansionary growth is central to this question. From the perspective of ecology capitalism’s influence spread beyond its ‘homeland’ of Western Europe on the coattails of mercantilism, early colonialism and the slave trade. Other ecologies – associated with pre-capitalist social diversity – would have been disrupted by the tendrils of trade, wars and communicable diseases as much as the human settlements that came into contact with European expansionists/ explorers/ colonists etc. By the time Victorian explorers like Darwin reached the tropics the patterns of human settlement had already been destroyed or displaced (creating and illusion of untouched wilderness), and early commodity production in sugar cane etc would have displaced the biodiversity of large swaths of the subtropical zone. In other words, early capitalism may not have been the dominant mode of global production but it’s higher metabolism and inherent expansionary tendencies meant it didn’t need to be.
Was the Communist mode of production – industrial and agricultural – environmentally friendly etc?
If it was or has been it was only briefly so. There were some interesting and progressive experiments in ecological conservation across post-revolutionary Russia until the mid 1920s (despite the awful conditions of the civil war). But Stalin’s productivist agenda undermined these – simultaneously smashing the peasantry in the process and condensing an similar process of early capitalist agricultural intensification and primitive accumulation that took over a century to run in Britain (through the enclosures and clearances) into 3 years – triggering famine and soil degradation.
Other Communist regimes have dabbled with ecologically sensitive farming but they have done so through enforced isolation (as in Cuba or Sandinista Nicaragua) which has ultimately destroyed their heroic efforts.
I would probably argue that the mode of production that has dominated communist states should more accurately be described as State Capitalism and this explains why ecosocialism has been so hard to locate historically.
On biological determinism I would echo the points made by Richard Lewontin: “Biology is not physics, because organisms are such complex physical objects, and sociology is not biology, because human societies are made by self-conscious organisms” and VS Ramachandran: “Humanity transcends apehood to the same degree by which life transcends mundane physics or chemistry”. In other words, we are both bound by and liberated by our inherent human characteristics and although we share biological fundamentals it is our societal form and the interconnected and dialectical tempo of such that shapes our world. If you want a non-ecological example just take autism. Autistic humans are encouraged to describe ‘normal’ people as neuro-typical. But what passes for neuro-typical in one society and culture (whether historic or contemporary) is determined by prevailing and class determined social norms (neuro-modal would be a better and more dynamic description).
In relation to nature, humanity’s unique blessing and curse is that we are part of nature but also capable of acting on it as if external (I’d recommend anything by Raymond Tallis on this). If our societal mode of production depends on open-ended exploitation (as capitalism does) then we are on a treadmill of conflict with nature which we will, of course, lose. But a change towards a historically viable social metabolism would allow us to dominate nature (as we must to cloth, feed and shelter ourselves from its amoral forces) within limits that are already well known (i.e.. sustainably).
On the DNA of a New Socialism – yes, I’d agree with your inspiring conclusion. There are some great activists out there working on this as we communicate – and many more who are doing likewise even if they’ve not yet realised that their work is essentially anticapitalist or socialist. In my view it would only take a sustained heightening of the ongoing class struggle for these common threads and groups/individuals to come together and democratically move humanity towards a meaningful future. I’d describe myself as optimistic rather than utopian but I’d definitely agree with your TINA conclusion (if only to take Thatcher’s ideology in vain).
Thanks again for feedback. I’m pretty easy to get hold of via google etc if you want any references for the above.

Sep 28, 2017 12:34 AM

Do not forget about the planet destructive force that is geoengineering. Geoengineering is also directly responsible for the decline of fauna and flora species on this planet. Capitalism and profits are partly or greatly responsible for the geoengineering. How about reinvesting into Tesla Technologies? He did create free and green energy but was shut down and systematically destroyed by bankers headed by Rothschild man Morgan. There have been several others over the decades. Here are some names to look into if interested: John Bedini, John Hutchinson, Dr. Eugene Mallove, Brian O’Leary, Floyd “Spanky” Sweet, Professor Adam Trombly. That is just a sampling.

Sep 29, 2017 10:26 PM
Reply to  jwtwd

How can you refer to capitalism as a cause and then talk about the likes of Tesla as a solution?? Tesla needed capitalists and would have required it to get anywhere.
The author is also way of base. This piece is basically one branch of collectivism arguing against another.

Oct 3, 2017 9:22 PM
Reply to  Johnny

Possible. But my argument was/is that there is free energy out there and it is collectivism that has squashed all possibilities of any of it in any form ever being utilized. The collective, the kakistocracy will never allow their power/control base coming to an end. If we wish to be truly free, we need to walk away from currency, until then, we will be enslaved within the kakistrocracy hierarchy. I’ll check out your link.

Sep 28, 2017 12:14 AM

Do not forget about the plant destructive force that is geoengineering. Geoengineering is also directly responsible for the decline of fauna and flora species on this planet. Capitalism and profits are partly or greatly responsible for the geoengineering.

Sep 27, 2017 3:55 PM

I know I am not alone here in having many issues with George Monbiot. However, I agree with most of what he said in his talk at The World Transformed :

Mobiot doesn’t recognise declining net energy as a key component in the way ‘narratives have changed’, i.e. how the economics of growth are bygone, but I think the focus on trying to re-establish the economies of communities is the only alternative to a tyrannical response to rese=ource decline and climate change.
Contrast what Monbiot is saying with this Leftwing techo-utopian panel discussion with P Mason, D Harvey, A Bastani, J Medway and A Bell (I don’t hear any acknowledgement of a resource crisis) :
Corbynism has opened a door to new political possibiliies, and to old ones re-invented in a modern image.

Big B
Big B
Sep 28, 2017 9:30 AM
Reply to  mog

Mog: George makes some good points, intelligently: but he is still spinning a fairy tale. George, as you know, has been shilling for the nuclear industry since 2011: possibly the only person on the planet to be turned onto nuclear by Fukushima. He presumes Prince Charming Jeremy will ride his white charger, Momentum, all the way to No10: and in a World Transformed, will immediately enact an energy strategy to keep the lights on after 2030 (whilst bringing us back in line with our legally binding Carbon Reduction Targets)? I’m afraid that land is Far Far Away???
Even if we moot the resource depletion-net energy crisis: our conventional strategy seems suspect. Our energy generating infrastructure (coal, gas, and nuclear power plants) is ageing – with all but one of our current nuclear plants due to be retired by 2030. Lets just say Labour won the election, and is in power now. What are the chances of building 30 new nuclear reactors – to produce 40% of our generating capacity – by 2030???
[UK currently has 15 nuclear plants generating 20% of our electricity – so simply double that to comply with the 60-40 energy split in the Manifesto]
Figure resource depletion-net energy crisis back in: into an already implausible scenario – and you have a fairy tale. Forget nuclear, even the infrastructure required to generate 60% of our electricity from ‘renewables’ comes into question in a stagnant Bear market? Our future energy sovereignty looks to be dependent on Russian natgas, or Qatari LNG – which makes our current foreign policy highly questionable. Anyone who believes the US shale-LNG mythos is a also living in a defunct American Dream.
The time for a believable story is 30 years past: the time to face the consequences of our profligate past are upon us – or we could just continue to spin magical thinking fairy tales? [Another human psychological trait not mentioned – humans will continue to believe a narrative, long after it becomes apparent that it is defunct – simply because we can’t deal with uncertainty. We’d rather continue to believe that which is certainly wrong].
Translating all that into the next possible narrative: I’m afraid that makes rather Grimm reading. The consequences down the line of continuing to base fairy tales on the return to prosperity of cheap abundant oil; magical economics; and a human mind that sees itself as phenomena superior and detached from Nature – are presently unconscionable – but need addressing anyway. No more bedtime stories – the children are asleep – time for the adults (who can face the consequences) to take over???

Sep 29, 2017 10:24 AM
Reply to  Big B

I agree with almost all of that Big B, although the utopian ‘post scarcity’ line from Bastani and Mason is much more extreme than Monbiot’s.
What is more, as I am sure you know, many industry insiders predict an oil price spike in the next two years, which will cripple the Bear market and turn it into, I dunno, a T-Rex ?
The only quibble I have is about the ‘woke’ people taking charge.
To do what ? It is hard to sell a political program of ‘contingency planning for extreme austerity ahead’.
Understanding the role of energy has, for me significantly changed my perspective on political history, and on what is unfolding at present. I used to defend the Corbyn movement from accusations of ‘personality cult’, or ‘retro-idealism’, but now I am not so sure. Many people in the movement have admirable objectives of redistribution and democracy, but they are also pinning so many false hopes onto Labour whilst avoiding any acknowledgement of the reality of our situation with regards to energy depletion.
Anything that empowers small communities with small scale renewable resources and simple livelihoods (soil !) is worth promoting, but this is not what I hear coming from the socialist revival.
‘Grimm reading’ – I almost laughed.

Big B
Big B
Sep 29, 2017 1:56 PM
Reply to  mog

Mog: my go to analyst is Gail Tverberg (ourfiniteworld.com): that ‘oil spike’ is likely to be a series of ‘dead cat bounces’ – indefinitely down the road. Oil price recovers (currently up to $58pb); transport, food, and commodity prices rise – depressing the networked global economy; oil price slumps – economy picks up; the circle completes and the cycle starts again… more or less, a mini boom-bust sine wave oscillating around the flatlining arrhythmic ‘heartbeat’ of the long deceased world economy…
Absent another GFC – the Great Recession or ‘secular stagnation’ – could continue like this indefinitely. [We have in effect reached a biophysically constrained ‘steady-state’ economy – though not in a good way.] Although the deadweight of multi-decadal debt accumulation and the EROI drag on the economy will become ever more burdensome. [Not to mention the massively overpriced stock market and asset bubbles that are way out of line with the ‘real economy’ – which are (energetically) bound to correct {Tverberg; Hall and Klitgaard; Keen; etc}]
People are already ‘aware’ of the fairy tale turning nightmare (as an impalpable peripheral dread). There is already a growing dialectical tension between what we are being told (the neo-classical economic fairy tale) – and what we experience (the impending nightmare). The symptoms of this readily apparent dichotomy equate to a growing trans-national nausea and anti-global austerity fatigue – to which the ultimate remedy is the truth.
It is perhaps my fairy tale, that somehow this may translate in time into a networked mass movement – based on factual whole system analysis, human altruism, and compassion – much as George outlined… a truth based grassroots community-orientated recovery???
Capitalism doesn’t have the answers any more: a real Socialism is the only possible counterweight to the slide into Nationalism; Imperialism; and Fascism.
My one minor quibble with your reply: is with the hard sell ‘contingency planning for extreme austerity ahead’. Sure, the neolib definition of ‘austerity’ (accumulation by dispossession leading to forced impoverishment and immiseration) is an impossibly hard sell. But austerity of means need not equate with austerity of spirit. There is a narrative to be found whereby the resources we have left can be equitably allocated in people-invested economy. Human happiness can be the unit of currency. Human capital can be an ends invested in: not the disposable means??? [One vision of how the 21st century economy might look is “Doughnut Economics” by Kate Raworth – which I heartily recommend.]
All we have to do is convince enough of the others!
[PS: Corbyn is a work in progress. I believe in the man (plus McDonnell and a few others): but not the party apparatus… although, at Conference, we are witnessing a considerable pushback against neolibs (who erstwhile held the reins). Who knows what he could achieve with enough Momentum???

Sep 29, 2017 3:17 PM
Reply to  Big B

Agree BigB.
I have been involved in the Corbyn movement with the very same hopes that you express.
I guess I am troubled when I look for the voices, the ‘ideas people’ behind the spectacle, and I read things like this tweet from A Bastani:
P Mason et al point out the danger of a ‘Stalinist’ response to climate change, to which I would add, ‘ditto energy decline’. I see some attempt at rationing and draconian state control of resources as a likely course that governmental power will take- it is just how they are wired up. Who knows maybe that is the only way it can be curtailed ?
I am drawn back to my anarchist tendencies. I like Greer’s suggestion of promoting a plethora of responses in the hope that diversity might give us more chance of success.
I hope that Corbyn keeps to his word with regard to maintaining his allotment, and thereby keeps his feet firmly on the ground.

Big B
Big B
Sep 29, 2017 8:46 PM
Reply to  mog

Re: the “‘Stalinist’ response to climate change” – my hope is that collective altruism can see through TPTB’s attempts to co-opt a people invested economy as a means of control. The problem is: their decentralization plan for the future is much more advanced than ours. It may look quite attractive: but it is a means toward open borders; the end of national sovereignty; global governance of city states; etc… the United States of Pangea???
My roots are anarchist-agorist too: but conscious communities – until such times (a la Buckminster Fuller) that they outgrow the current world order and form a self-organized networked economy of their own (not likely without a totalitarian backlash) – can’t solve global problems. This feeds straight back into the co-option of global cooperation or governance by elites.
My hope is for the millennials: who are or were students of the like of Professors Werner; Hudson; Keen; Blyth; McMurtry; Harvey; and Charles Hall; to sample but a few heterodox and progressive thinkers… as some of them take that knowledge to infuse the next generation of policy and opinion makers??? Maybe necessity, Mother Nature, and the timely emergence of a New Socialism can break the the chain of elite dominance? Corbyn has turned the tide, shown what is possible… maybe that tide can become an unstoppable wave??? At least, so I can dream…

Sep 26, 2017 6:32 PM

Once I see the silly comments about “eugenics” or “neo-Malthusianism” I know the author has an axe to grind. Of course ‘capitalism’ can be partly to blame for over-use of resources, but why say that somehow “proves” that we can ignore the sheer weight of numbers?
Trying to achieve a limit to our numbers by voluntary means runs into so many cherished beliefs, nationalistic bigotry, racial intolerance that I’ve given up. Instead I’ll rely on James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. When the Earth-mother decides that we humans are a scourge and pestilence on Her planet She’ll reduce our numbers ruthlessly and without sentiment!
Black Death anyone? Four Horsemen? Is that what you really want?

Big B
Big B
Sep 26, 2017 8:30 AM

Although I often err lazily into the Capitalocene blame-game (it’s fun!): the inflection point – onto the exponential and unsustainable trajectory that propelled us into the current crisis of humanity – occurred in 1950
(before late (cancer) stage Capitalism really got going).
The Great Acceleration has everything to do with our (so far) abundant and cheap primary fuel source: oil. How complex a society can be: the total numbers, and rate of population growth that it can sustain are proportional to the amount of excess net energy (exergy) available to it. One of the major factors propelling the Great Acceleration, particularly of population, was/is the ‘Green Revolution’ (using land to turn oil into food – CAS Hall). Capitalism should maybe be known as the Great Accelerant for its part in this equation- particularly after the 70s – but it is not specifically causal (no single factor is). Ergo, changing the means of production alone is a socialist sticking plaster.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it. But the real existential question, correctly framed, is: how are we going to produce the amount of excess net energy (exergy) we require to maintain a complex society??? How we order that society: that will be a function of the answer that human ingenuity and adaptability provides to solve our current and future fuel crisis. Just as the Capitalocene, sorry, Anthropocene: was a function of human greed, exponentially leveraged by cheap oil. It is THE question we need to answer and implement a cooperative transition strategy for: or the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that we will all be (subsistence?) farmers – soon.

Sep 26, 2017 7:00 AM

The real issue is the ability to create infinite amounts of debt to fund activities that deliver no value or ‘superior’ outcomes to the community – infinite debt creation operating within a finite physical system (the Earth). Hence the hundreds of billions accumulated mal-investment (debt). If there is no value, or no possibility of delivering a superior outcome for the community, then it should not be done. However, the creators of debt do not care about ‘outcomes’ though as they make money from the transactions. This also builds ‘cumulative catastrophe’ the more we change/re-engineer the world around us. The ability to magic debt has accelerated non value investments which in turn has generated a false sense of how robust civilisation is. Finance/economics is not grounded in ‘constraints’ – the limits imposed by physics and what is possible. Economists are clueless and the bankers destroy hundreds of billions in value – much of it environmental.

Tim Groves
Tim Groves
Sep 26, 2017 2:38 AM

In 1830, before industrialization powered by fossil fuels became widespread, the earth supported around one billion humans, mostly living at or below subsistence level. Thanks to industrialization and the attendant benefits of science and technology, powered even today mostly by fossil fuels, there are now around 7.5 billion people and rising, many of whom are living well above subsistence level.
Regardless of the “ism” the economic system is purported to be running under, it is still powered mainly by fossil fuels, which are helping to feed and clothe and house and employ and entertain the 7.5 billion people and rising. The change from capitalism to socialism isn’t going to change that fundamental physical fact.
Since the start of this century, the effort and the costs involved in obtaining fossil fuels have been increasing as we tend to use all the cheap, high-quality and easy-to-extract stuff first. This trend is slowly but surely undermining our collective ability to keep our complex industrial civilization running and ensuring that most of us get fed most of the time. Without adequate cheap to obtain energy, the entire world faces a dilemma to which there are no simple solutions and possibly no solutions at all short of global economic and civilizational collapse.
If you want a picture of the future—an optimistic picture of our common global socialist future, imagine North Korean levels of liberty, leisure time and prosperity.

Gary Wilson
Gary Wilson
Sep 26, 2017 2:12 AM

Quote: “According to the researchers, wildlife is dying out due to habitat destruction, ‘overhunting’, toxic pollution, invasion by alien species and global warming.”
That statement suggests that the researchers know nothing of the consequences of declining soil fertility. The soil fertility, which is the ability of the soil to create protein, determines the nutritional value of the plants that grow there. It is not the genetics or species of the plants that determines the nutritional value of the plants. As soil fertility declines plants become less proteinaceous and more woody with an increase in carbohydrate content with higher yields per acre. As a consequence, the land supports fewer animals per acre.
Introduced non-native plants may seem to be “invading” and “out competing” native plants when, in fact, the original native soil fertility has become so depleted it no longer supports those original native plants. The “invading” species likely has a higher carbohydrate to protein ratio and has a higher yield per acre. The soil fertility suits the “invading” species better than the native plant.
Declining soil fertility leads to soils that compact causing less rainwater to soak into the soil and more to run off. More run off in heavy rains can lead to more serious problems caused by floods. High soil fertility absorbs more of the rainwater causing less to run off thereby reducing damage caused by the high water levels. If a period of time with little or rainfall later occurs, the water in the soil will provide its service to the plant. (The water does not provide its service to the plants when it is falling from the sky.) The water in the soil will keep the soil cooler for the plants as often a period without rain is often accompanied by higher temperatures. Higher temperatures damage proteins. Low soil fertility also results in erosion of the soil itself. High soil fertility prevents erosion of the soil itself even when the soil is plowed.
Evidence for the above is hidden in unopened books which are collections of papers by the late soil scientist, William A. Albrecht, PhD. The experiments, some as long as 50 year experiments, are repeatable.

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum
Sep 25, 2017 11:44 PM

What is happening to the planet and it’s inhabitants could be regarded as normal but not natural.
Evolution has always moved in fits and starts (very long ones).
It appears we are approaching the end of a fit.

Sep 25, 2017 9:29 PM

Capitalism may affect biodiversity, but please stop trying to say carbon dioxide is driving it. There is zero correlation over geological time between temperature and carbon dioxide. 400ppm is well within the geological historical envelope and all photosynthesisers grow better wither higher carbon dioxide: go ask commercial tomato growers about 1200ppm in their greenhouses: it will not kill tomatoes, that is for sure…
Also, increasing 400ppm to 800ppm will cause far less temperature rise than 0-400ppm: that is the physics, not the politics, talking.
Climate change is a busted political instrument right now. Proper environmental concerns are where the concerned public now focuses…..

Big B
Big B
Sep 26, 2017 8:59 AM
Reply to  rtj1211

In fact, a recent paper has shown that the optimal response for plant growth in the rising CO2 of the atmosphere has already been achieved (Atmospheric evidence for a global secular increase in carbon isotopic discrimination of land photosynthesis – Keeling et al).
In a year when (already) around 40-60 million people worldwide have been dispossessed by climate related extreme weather events: climate change as a class issue has yet to begin. TPTB are operating climate related apartheid. Mar-a-Lago was (no doubt) open and running before the dispossessed in the Caribbean got their first shipment of aid: I guess you don’t see it that way???

Sep 25, 2017 7:54 PM

The evidence that capitalism is a major cause of today’s catastrophic rates of extinction among wild creatures is indeed very strong. But simply blaming one factor (‘capitalism’) and denying others, such as population growth, is methodologically naive. Both these factors, as well as others, interact as components of the current world system, and pretending that capitalism is to blame while population growth is innocuous flies in the face of undeniable evidence. While the earth may be able to support 15 billion people in 200 years, to use the author’s figures, the notion that this can occur without wiping out almost all wildlife except for those few r-selected species that are ‘camp followers’ of humanity (rats, lice, pigeons, etc) is entirely unrealistic.

Sep 25, 2017 10:46 PM
Reply to  Runner77

“…simply blaming one factor (‘capitalism’) and denying others, such as population growth, is methodologically naive. Both these factors, as well as others, interact as components of the current world system, and pretending that capitalism is to blame while population growth is innocuous flies in the face of undeniable evidence….”
You are missing the point: capitalism is running the world. Capitalism insists that humanity should not govern itself, should not choose its social and economic priorities, should not plan rationally its use of resources, should not stop risking more Fukushimas, should not stop building on flood plains…
As to population growth- the chances are that it is most unlikely.
Thanks to imperialism and capitalism, groundwater supplies are drying up, while the oceans are polluted to the point that fishing can no longer be counted upon to produce food for millions. Water levels are rising while capitalist competition drives fossil fuel producers into more and more dangerous territories (fracking and the Tar Sands being prime examples). Life expectancy is falling in much of the world, just as it fell in the Soviet Union after 1990, because lives are being shortened by bad diets, pollution and declining public health and health care (not to mention the stress of debt and precarious livelihoods.)
A far more urgent problem than population growth is the prospect of large scale famines as the dangerous gamble of chemical agriculture (and low labour costs) causes ecological breakdowns at a time of climate instability.
Capitalism is the problem because rule by profiteers and spivs, protected by a clerisy of cheap ideologists and confidence tricksters, prevents humanity from taking the simple and sensible steps which can make life reasonable for everyone not obsessed with the idea of making money.
Without capitalism everything is possible. As long as a tiny-and rapidly shrinking-part of society controls the means of life for all, and uses that control to increase its power and wealth it matters not at all how many of the rest of us there are.

Tim Groves
Tim Groves
Sep 26, 2017 2:14 AM
Reply to  bevin

Life expectancy is falling in much of the world, just as it fell in the Soviet Union after 1990, because lives are being shortened by bad diets, pollution and declining public health and health care (not to mention the stress of debt and precarious livelihoods.)
I hope you are not laying the fall of the Soviet Union at capitalism’s door. As I remember they were for many decades the world’s leading socialist state and they took a Stalinist attitude to opposing capitalist and imperialist economics.