Thinking aloud on Eco-Socialism and Eco-Capitalism

I don’t usually post on environmental issues, not because I’m not interested but mainly because it’s not a subject I feel particularly knowledgeable about. Usually I prefer to read and learn but I do enjoy a challenge so this post is largely me thinking aloud.

For me, the merits of eco-socialism largely depend upon what it’s up against. When offered as an alternative to Bush-like capitalism with all its vested interests, then there’s no contest, but what if it’s pitched against eco-capitalism (if there is such a thing)? That might be a more interesting discussion. While both capitalism and socialism have been around for generations, the ecological concerns are relatively new and are forcing proponents of both ideologies to stop and think. Socialism on its own isn’t particularly green and some environmentally disastrous policies have been passed by socialist governments which often put social goals above ecological ones. Equally, capitalism by its very nature is always more concerned with the bottom line and the need for expanding markets and won’t act ecologically unless there is a profit in it (or a loss in not acting). But just as both ideologies can be environmentally bad, they can both offer different solutions, or rather, different ways of bringing about change.

Capitalism, as we know, bases all its decisions on the market. If there is a market for, say, energy efficient light bulbs or hybrid cars then we will very quickly be inundated with these products as we are starting to see. But usually the market has to be there first which means that there needs to be a widespread change in attitudes on a personal level before businesses are prepared to take the risks, either that or a marketing campaign to change attitudes and flog more environmentally sensitive products. Eco-socialism seems to work a different way. Change would be imposed by government rather than the market. Government can help to introduce really big changes like the introduction of alternative power production, schemes to bury greenhouse gasses in old oil fields or legislate to make new buildings more energy efficient. It can introduce legislation or a tax regime to force us to embrace change. Authoritarian though this may seem, it might be necessary if the window of opportunity to lessen the effects of climate change is as small as so many scientists are telling us.

Perhaps, if time is so short, we may need the best elements of eco-socialism and eco-capitalism. Governments can be notoriously slow to act while businesses thrive on the spirit of enterprise. Ideally the two ideologies would work together to produce a positive feed-back loop. Just how likely this is in the current political climate is open to question but we are seeing some early signs of what that co-operation can look like even though what’s being proposed seems fairly ineffective at the moment.

Carbon trading, for example, is something that European governments are pushing for and businesses are implementing and using. In my opinion, it doesn’t seem to be such a great idea and I doubt it will make any real difference the way the scheme works at the moment. Carbon trading is an inherently capitalist idea – to make a profit from global warming by trading carbon credits and to allow polluting businesses to continue polluting by buying credits from less polluting countries or businesses. And governments are happy with it because it looks like they are acting on climate change without actually doing anything. There is also a moral issue about carbon trading which was recently pointed out by the former socialist UK politician, Tony Benn. He compared the need to reduce carbon output with rationing in Britain during the Second World War, the idea being that everyone got their fair share regardless of wealth. He compared Carbon trading with the war-time black market racketeering which allowed those with money to get more than their fair share.

Viewed like this, carbon trading is about as far away from eco-socialism as you can get, nor is it a great credit to capitalists who are trying to do as little as possible and dump their problems on others. However, with nationalisation so out of fashion, large corporations do have a role to play. A large energy company might be persuaded to produce alternative fuels or build a solar power station instead of a coal powered one. These are enterprises that governments are reluctant to do on their own. The motivation would be profit rather than any altruistic concern, but at this stage does that really matter? In Spain, which now has a left wing government, we are seeing the growth in solar power stations. And throughout Europe ecological concerns are moving up the agenda whether it’s recycling or alternative energy. Sometimes it’s driven by government and at other times by private enterprise.

As the problems of climate change become more evident, bigger solutions will be needed. Producing a car which uses a different fuel isn’t really a complete answer when you think of the energy used to produce that car and the roads it will drive on. Capitalists wouldn’t lose much sleep if their fields of biofuel meant starvation for others. This is where eco-capitalist ideas fall down. Eco-socialism would, ideally, recognise that resources are limited and focus more on things like public transport and the need for us to consume less (the antithesis of capitalist ideology) and also bringing in laws which would be unpopular but may be necessary (restricting cheap flights is a prime example). If those governments are voted in democratically by a population that recognised the need for change but also the near impossibility of implementing change by themselves then those governments would have the mandate to impose environmentally sound legislation.

At the end of the day, I don’t think climate change is a matter to be tackled solely by ideologies but by values. Ideologies are limited geographically but climate change doesn’t recognise borders. This fact, of course, implies a need for larger international organisations to play a more forceful role, but after seeing the performance of world leaders at the recent G8 summit, I’m pessimistic about that. Eco-socialism or eco-capitalism, it’s the ‘eco’ that matters most and the challenge is to get governments and the people they represent to recognise that.

  • dunk

    INTRODUCTION – Your Dreams Fulfilled

    The following ideas and concepts have the potential to radically change your world for the better. Every aspect of your life could be enhanced and every dream you have could become a reality.

    Every hope you’ve ever conceived,
    Every need you’ve ever known,
    Can easily be achieved

    Welcome to the growing group of people on this planet who want more from life…

    STAGE 1 – Understanding the physical world

    The world exists outside of our heads. It’s there to be analysed and understood. It’s not a hard task. The organic material between your ears, your brain, is more than capable of understanding the current world situation.

    You are connected.
    You are not alone.
    You are part of this world.
    You have the solution within you.
    The world needs you to do your part.
    You need you to do your part.

    You are connected to every one else on this planet. You may not feel it, but it’s a fact. A fact that can not be refuted, proved wrong, or even sensibly denied. Anyone that does deny it can be ridiculed, and you’ll see why…

    Did you have a cup of tea this morning? Have you ever had a cup of tea? Do you drink coffee? If you’ve had any of these experiences, or you’re familiar with the concepts then the ideas below are going to make so much sense to you, and have such an impact on you and your life, that you’ll be asking why you’d never thought of it sooner and then you’ll be demanding that everyone begins to think it too.

    Imagine the cup of tea that you had this morning and the process of creating that cup of tea. You took a cup, you boiled some water and you took a tea bag and placed it in that cup or in a tea pot. Now, stop for a second to imagine what that tea bag is, what it means and what it represents.

    For that tea bag to exist at all, humans, no matter how far away or close to you, need to that have ploughed a field, planted tea bushes, tended tea bushes, nurtured them through their growth cycle, harvested the leaves, dried the leaves, packaged the leaves, transported the leaves and finally stacked the leaves in a shop where you could purchase them. You know all of these things to be solid, undeniable and verifiable facts.

    You are connected to all of those humans in that chain of production as without them, you could have no tea bag. For you to have something as simple as a tea bag to put in a cup, to begin to make tea, there may have been thousands of humans involved. That Tea Bag is a result of their labours and their endeavours, no matter how unseen by you. The Tea Bag should have HumanityTM embossed on it. Those humans have lives, they exist. They have had a direct impact on your life as you are able to enjoy a cup of tea. You are connected to them. They are connected to you.

    For, if it was not for you, using their tea bag, the fruits of their labours, their lives would be dramatically different.

    And remember, that’s just the tea bag. Think about the kettle that you boiled the water in. Where did the water come from? And did you use gas or electricity to heat the water? Where did that energy supply come from? How many miles of pipes and pumps and wires had to be used? How many connected humans were involved?

    And this is all so that you can have a cup of tea! You can now see that you are part of the collective of humanity on this planet, you are not alone; welcome to the realisation.

    STAGE 2 – How we currently operate

    The collection of humanity on this planet, though highly efficient at getting you the basics like tea and coffee, is currently organised in a very self defeating way.

    You and I work for different companies. The companies that we work for may very well be in competition. Companies are only there to make a profit for the company. That is their role. That is their reason for existing. Someone had an idea to make money, and they started a business. All very well as far as it goes. However, now, at this period in our history, the idea of individual companies, working alone to produce the “next big thing”, is something that is holding you and I back from realising our full potential. That is, full potential of the productive capabilities of humans, of humanity, on this planet are being squandered by competition and the profit motive.

    Again, this is very easy to demonstrate and again, it’s undeniable.

    For example, take two competing drugs companies; you work for one and I work for the other one. Both companies are in business to make a profit and as such they are pouring millions of dollars into research and development to find the next big cure for blindness, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, paralysis, HIV, or pick an ailment or condition that’s close to your heart.

    We know that the humans that make up the work force of these companies are members of the collective of humanity that brought us the humble tea bag. So we know that each member of that collective would benefit from a break through in any new treatment; you and I included. ¬¬

    So let us assume that the solution that both of these companies are working on will take 10 years to develop. Now what if, after 5 years, the company that you’re working for has half of the solution and the company that I’m working for has the other half of the solution? As a collective, as humanity, we have the whole solution. You know half of it, and I know half of it. So, in theory, we could actually bring it to the other members of the human collective directly. That is after 5 years, not 10. We could half the time that it currently takes to share the break through, as we have all the pieces.

    That is, we, as a collection, have done all the work we need to do as both halves of the solution are now known. However, given the fact that we are working for companies that are in competition, for greater and greater profits, the solution will not flow to the members of the global society as no one company owns the whole solution. In theory it will take each company another 5 years to fully understand the solution thus any benefits for humanity are delayed by that time. Even then the companies will only release a product if they can realise a profit from it.

    We have just worked out how, with this one example, capitalism is not best suited to the needs of you and I and humanity. In case you think this is just a one off, let us examine the case of mobile phones and competition within that sector..

    Mobile phones, at least in the UK, are used for 3 main tasks; sending text messages, making phone calls and sending multi media messages such as pictures and sound files.

    You are more than aware of these functions and I dare say you’ve used at least one of them and if not, you know people that have. Now, in the UK there is competition, again, from Orange, O2, T-Mobile, Vodafone etc, etc. Each of these providers may erect separate radio masts to build their coverage foot print. So potentially we could have 4 or more different masts covering the same geographical area because each of the operators wants coverage in that particular area, of course. That’s competition.

    No matter which provider you choose to be your mobile phone carrier the service you get at the end will be very much the same from one to the other. You’ll be able to make and receive phone calls and send and receive text messages etc. The major criteria that you’ll have used in your decision will be how many minutes and text messages you get for your monthly outlay.

    So instead of distributing mobile phone capabilities to each geographical area once, we, as an unconscious act of the collective and as a direct result of competition and the profit motive of Orange, O2, T-Mobile etc, have actually rolled out enough radio masts, computers, switches and cables to cover each geographical area 4 or more times. However, if we had, as a collective, been working towards providing for the collective, instead of working within competing companies, we could have covered the UK 4 times over in the time that it took us to do it once. We all could have had the benefits of mobile communications sooner than we actually did.

    At this stage in our human development we are holding back the potential of humanity on this planet by organising in competing companies. We are holding ourselves back from achieving. We are wasting time. We are squandering our resources. We are distracting ourselves from our full potential.

    The current system discards and overlooks a huge number of humans on this planet as they have no practical benefit to the current system; capitalism.

    If you condone the current organisational method, in light of this logical evidence, then you are part of the problem. The world needs you to rethink, and understand that a shift in emphasis from working for competing companies and their profit motive to actually working for humanity would bring untold freedoms and benefits to you, your family, your friends, your loved ones, your neighbours.

    You are part of the solution if you take these concepts forward. Tell more people about them. Spread them around. Your future depends on it.

    STAGE 3 – Imagine The Future

    So now we’ve discussed the idea of the collective and of humanity wasting time it’s time to consider what it could mean for us to organise ourselves differently.

    Imagine a place and time when all of our endeavours as humans are used for our benefit. No more working for some company’s profit. No more distractions from the needs of humans. No more impediments to you getting exactly what you want from this life. No more antagonism amongst humans. An understanding that each human, if they play their part in the collective, can reap any and all of the rewards of that collective.

    Imagine the number of people we can also bring into the system to work towards the goals of the collective. All those people that are currently disregarded by the system; the countless millions in “under-developed” [have you ever asked yourself why?] countries.

    With all of these extra resources, we can half the working week or even make it two days long or so. Who knows how we will decide to organise the massive resource on this planet that is the collective community of humanity.

    And no enlightened community of humanity would ever decide to make any decision that did not best fit the needs of the community as that would be akin to suicide. Only the best decisions for the collective would be made. Think what that would mean for governmental organisations? Would we require them? Maybe we’d need some form of “commodity request list” or “goals list” that we could all view and prioritise, with the most obviously important goals being raised to the top of the list with ease. How about eradicating famine, poverty, diseases, war, global pollution etc? What about planting trees to form lungs for the planet? What about designing technology that can clean the atmosphere?

    If we organise ourselves with us as the priority then all the material items that we struggle to collect just now such as houses, cars, gadgets, and even just the basics of food and water will flow to us as a logical consequence. Far from compromising or goals and our desires, by organising for humans, we can achieve them all! And more importantly we can bring the endeavours of every human on the plant to bear for our well being. Each human who is cast aside by the current system of capitalist production and its insatiable drive for greater and greater profits will be brought into the global collection of working productive humanity and they will be able to influence and bolster that global community. Hence, all of our lives become infinitely better and immeasurably easier.

    The solution needs you. It needs everyone you know. So how big is this task? Can we do it? Well, the maths says we can.

    The population of this earth is somewhere in the region of 6,000,000,000 (6 Billion or 6 Thousand million). So that makes any effort you make alone, as an “individual”, equivalent to 1/6 Billionth of the effort needed to realise all of your hopes and dreams.

    However, if in the first instance, you can tell just 10 people, of this way of thinking, and they feel as passionately as you do about it, and they set themselves the same goal of just telling 10 people, then the numbers soon become very large indeed;

    You – 10 – 100 – 1,000 – 10,000 – 100,000 – 1,000,000 – 10,000,000 – 100,000,000, 1,000,000,000, The World!

    Just 10 iterations! That is, just 10 times the process of telling 10 folk and the whole world would know! So the chain that you start, by telling 10 folk about these ideas and about your passion for them, will only have to be repeated 10 times and we can all share in the understandings!

    You have the solution within you. The world needs you to do your part.
    You need you to do your part.

    When you know how it works; it’s easy to change the world!

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