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I would respectfully disagree

I would respectfully disagree. Capitalism has not failed. This is how capitalism functions. It matures through the progressive degradation of people and place.

A successful capitalism is, by its very nature, socially and ecologically destructive. It is why any notion of a ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ capitalism is from a rational perspective a contradiction in terms. The pauperisation of people and place is an inevitable by-product of the system of capital accumulation. It is a problem of and not in capitalism and so cannot be ‘fixed’. It is an endemic condition internal to the capitalist mode of production.

According to Eric Hobsbawm the “central task of the time…[is] to consider…the built-in defects of capitalism (Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes, 1994: 574). ” Because “… as Joseph Schumpeter had observed…they ‘are not, like tonsils, separate things that can be treated by themselves, but are, like the beat of the heart, of the essence of the organism that displays them’ (Hobsbawm, 1994: 574-5)” It is the nature of capitalism to have these contradictions – they cannot be addressed without removing capitalism itself – socio-ecological degradation is inherent in the functioning of capitalism – if you remove the heart beat you kill the organism.

And so, striking a balance “between humanity, the (renewable) resources it consumed and the effect of its activities on the environment…would be incompatible with a world economy based on the unlimited pursuit of profit by economic enterprises dedicated, by definition, to this object and competing with each other in a global market (Hobsbawm, 1994: 570).” He then concludes “From the environmental point of view, if humanity [is] to have a future … capitalism [can] have none (Hobsbawm, 1994: 570).”

This is not to say that sustainable development itself is a contradiction in terms. To again paraphrase Eric Hobsbawm “the operational model of development [can] be combined with various other sets of beliefs and ideologies, so long as [they do] not interfere with it (Hobsbawm, 1994: 201).” Historically this approach, centred on co-optation, has demonstrated itself to have a great deal of political, economic and ideological utility. The attempt is made to add the most important beliefs of others into the dominant ideology expressed here by Sustainable Development (SD). The continuous expansion of SD results in a continuous expansion of the ‘applicability’ of the dominant ideology itself, into which the ideas and practices (and most valuable aspects) of groups that are consumed/targeted in the expansion are assimilated. It also results in the language of the dominant ideology becoming the accepted language of discussion in the targeted process. By adapting and adopting these new practices the promoters of the dominant ideology are at pains to increase the veneration accorded to the chief exponents and facilitators (and primary pathways) of their system (i.e. corporations and markets) and to enhance the power exercised by them. Sustainability, of any stripe, then represents, little more than a disguised form of expression of the dominant ideology itself. (Last sentence paraphrased from p.150 of Katz, Ancient American Civilizations). And so, we end up with The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

These attempts at the ‘economisation of sustainability’ demonstrate little more than a “sustained attempt to impose an ideological dogma, in defiance of the evidence of human need (Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 1968: 295).” There are other excellent reasons for dismissing economics as an approach and even economics as a science of any value. Eric Hobsbawm put it this way:

In a chapter charting the progress of the natural sciences over the course of the twentieth century Hobsbawm asks the question of whether the “fluctuations in political and ideological temperature [over the course of the century] affected the progress of the natural sciences?” He continues: “Plainly less than was the case in the social sciences, let alone the ideologies and philosophies (Hobsbawm, 1994: 547).” He elaborates on this comment by noting that the natural sciences are subject to far more stringent “limits on ideologizing [sic]” and so the natural sciences can only reflect the time of the scientists themselves “within the confines of the empiricist methodology…:that of hypotheses verifiable – or,…falsifiable – by practical tests (Hobsbawm, 1994: 547).” On the other hand the theoretical grounding of certain subjects can be, and are, altered to suit political and ideological temperature[s]. For instance, “Economics, though subject to the requirements of logic and consistency, has flourished as a form of theology…, [indeed] as the most influential branch of secular theology – because it can be, and usually is, so formulated as to lack this control (Hobsbawm, 1994: 547-8).” And so, as Hobsbawm and other have noted “it is easy to show that the conflicting schools and changing fashions in economic thought directly reflect contemporary experience and ideological debate (Hobsbawm, 1994: 548).” Economics of this kind can be made to say whatever their proponents wish it to. It is no basis for a rational discourse on human development.

Human Development cannot be based on exploitation. Sustainability, as with the image of wider society and ‘environment’ from which it derives, is viewed through the prism of exploitation where exploitation as a goal and a process as held to be virtues. “That is a term not so much derogatory as explanatory, describing both the process by which the [wider ecology is] experienced and the attitude…[taken] towards it. (Sale, 1992 The Conquest of Paradise: 258)” Sale continues: “It [is] the desire for material enrichment…more than anything else” that guides the process and sustains the interest. All the surface talk “even when genuinely meant, [is] just so much ancillary camouflage.” (These quotes were originally written in the context of a discussion on the early English expansion into the Americas). The current result of this exploitation is well, although dryly summarised in the attached image on global wealth distribution in 2010 (also available at

And so, when we discuss the market approach to biodiversity, the pricing of nature and ecosystem services and the general principles involved “it all rests on the assumption that…the bacterium is a reliable source of information about the behaviour of its host (Sale, 1992: note 3, ch.11 p.389). This vision of nature is one “refracted by the marketplace” with nature as barely more than a “storehouse of commodities (Sale, 1992: 288).”