Our planet is suffering from the severe destruction and there is a need to analyze whether it is possible to prevent the environmental degradation. Rapid development of modern capitalism is creating severe imbalance in the distribution of wealth and power. Therefore, this paper analyzes two different approaches. One of them is a traditional approach, which argues that it is possible to promote the sustainable development in capitalistic system. While another argues that capitalism is complex phenomenon, which cannot be stopped just by environmental concerns. As the result, one position is defined and proposed as an alternative way of solving the environmental problems.
Key terms: environment, degradation, capitalism
Nowadays, many scholars are disturbed by the growing problem of environmental degradation. The damage that has been done to the Earth’s ecosystem by humans is tremendous. Especially since the beginning of industrialization, people started to seriously pollute our environment. The loss of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is yet one more piece of the evidence that environmentalism, as a political movement, is exhausted (Werbach, 2005). That is why, despite any challenges, it is crucial to limit the ecological footprint of human beings on the Earth.
In addition, it is also crucial to define some other factors, which are making a negative impact on our environment. Population growth problem is also a serious challenge to many third war countries, where people are struggling to survive and earn for living. It negatively influences economy of many countries. Nevertheless, the growth of population also creates a large threat to the environment.
In the next decades, the population growth, rising average resource consumption, and persistent inequalities in resource access will affect many regions in the developing world with a severity, speed, and scale unprecedented in history Homer-Dixon (1996). Population is an important issue for the environmental degradation, because it is usually increasing the level of pollution. It is also important to stress that many business companies are creating a lot of environmental problems. Therefore, the main question is whether it is possible to avoid degradation of our environment in the modern era of capitalism.
In fact, many scientists are greatly concerned about environmental problems and are already examining major causes of environmental degradation as well as developing solutions to how people can overcome these environmental issues. In fact, there are many suggestions on how to be more sustainable. Nevertheless, our environment is still deteriorating. Therefore, it means that most of these efforts did not give positive results. However, there may be some other important issues, which do not allow society to solve the problem of environmental degradation. That is why it is necessary to examine what environmental strategies different scholars recommend and whether they can be applied in the modern world.
At the same time, there are also scholars, who are very skeptical about possible implementation of environmental goals. One of their main arguments is based on the fact that our global economic system remains capitalist. Therefore, liberalization, growth of businesses and manufactories is a serious threat to our environment nowadays. It is clear that capitalism creates a great threat to the development of sustainable development. Nevertheless, it is also crucial to analyze whether it is possible to promote sustainable development in this system of global environmental pollution.
In order to carefully analyze the problem of environmental degradation it is crucial to focus on traditional perspective of the environmental problems. It is also important to analyze and compare what Hardin, Hawkin, Homer-Dixon, Werbach were trying to explain and describe in their articles on the environment. Therefore, the main argument is that environmental problems can be successfully addressed within a capitalist structure.
The main purpose of Hardin’s article is to examine whether there is a technical solution to the problem of national security and environmental degradation. The key question, the author is trying to answer, is how to decrease the environmental degradation. The most important information in the article is about such problems as overpopulation and pollution. Hardin (1968) said that the most rapidly growing populations on Earth today are (in general) mostly the poor one.
In fact, nationally and globally, we perceive the social and environmental decay as distinct and unconnected Hawken (1997). Nevertheless, the overpopulation is causing many problems to our environment, because people are exhausting natural resources. Hardin, (1968) also noticed that each person is locked into a system that compels him or her to increase his or her herd without limit - in a world that is limited.
In addition, there are states, which are the most affected by the population growth. Population growth stubbornly remains around 2 percent a year; the country's population of 955 million (of which about 700 million live in the countryside) grows by 17 million people annually, which means it doubles every 38 years (Homer-Dixon, 1996)..
Another important problem related to overpopulation is pollution. For example, Hawken (1997) stressed that most of us know that along the way to free-market capitalism, the United States became the most wasteful society on the planet. Therefore, population density is closely connected with the problem of pollution. In fact, modern industry and capitalism is driving people to waste recourse. Hawken (1997) mentioned that industry still operates by the same rules, using more resources to make fewer people more productive. Thus, if a rapidly growing population depends on a fixed amount of cropland per person - the size of each person's slice of the resource pie - falls inexorably (Homer-Dixon, 1996).
In addition, nowadays people are more rationalized and usually on the way to success they are not concerned about preserving the environment. Hawken (1997) stressed that commercial institutions proud of their achievements do not see that healthy living systems - clean air and water, healthy soil, stable climates - are integral to a functioning economy. That is why many businesses are significantly polluting our environment. In fact, this capitalistic system is very unfair, because it contributes to the division of people on rich and poor.
This is a severe imbalance in the distribution of wealth and power, which results in some groups in a society receiving disproportionately large slices of the resource pie while others get slices that are too small to sustain their livelihoods (Homer-Dixon, 1996). It is important to stress, that rural regions are usually suffering more from the environmental degradation. Economic liberalization forced people to move into the urban areas, because employment situation in rural locations is quite difficult.
Homer-Dixon, 1996 stated that rural resource scarcities and the growth of population have combined with an inadequate supply of rural jobs and economic liberalization in cities to widen wealth differentials between the countryside and urban areas. Therefore, those people, who live in rural locations, depend on the agriculture that requires good environmental condition. As the result, the rural areas are usually poorer than urban.
The strain arises from a rapid yet incomplete economic transition, from widening gaps between the wealthy and the poor, from chronically weak political institutions, and - not least - from continued high levels of population growth and resource depletion (Homer-Dixon, 1996). It is interesting to analyze an Indianexample of environmental degradation. First of all, India's rapidly growing population impedes further loosening of the state's grip on the economy, as the workforce increases by 6.5 million annualy (Homer-Dixon, 1996). As the result there is a large disproportion between the workforce and work available.
This usually leads to large gaps between the majority of poor people and minority of wealthy citizens. In addition, the resentment among the poor rises against those castes and classes that have benefited most from liberalization (Homer-Dixon, 1996). Those people, who managed to contribute from the modern capitalism and acquire wealth, are not distancing themselves from poor citizens. Moreover, according to Homer-Dixon, (1996) left-wing politicians are able to exert strong pressure to maintain subsidies for irrigation, fertilizers, and inefficient industries and to keep statutory restrictions against corporate layoffs.
Nevertheless, this distribution of the resources also depends on the state.Often it is sustained and reinforced by international economic relations that trap developing countries into the dependence on a few raw material exports (Homer-Dixon, 1996). All the states are developed in a different way and have different economic, historical and cultural traditions. Nevertheless, the problem of environmental degradation is common.
In addition, there are many other ignored problems, which are caused by the exhaustion of resources. For instance, the resource depletion can be extremely harmful for some people. Homer-Dixon stressed (1996) that in the majority of regions, where people are highly dependent on renewable resources, these resources are being depleted or degraded faster than they are being renewed.
In addition, Homer-Dixon, (1996) said that Indian democracy and social institutions are now under extraordinary strains from a rapid yet incomplete economic transition, from increasing gaps between the poor and the rich, from extremely weak political institutions, and continued high levels of population growth and resource depletion. It is an important issue as the country is left with no stable government and it is not able to care for its environment as much as it is required by the international jury.
The most important information in this article is that ecological marginalization, occurs when a structural imbalance in resource distribution joins with rapid population growth to drive resource-poor people into the ecologically marginal areas, such as upland hillsides, areas at risk of desertification, and tropical rain forests (Homer-Dixon, 1996). Therefore, some people are particularly suffering from resource imbalance. For instance, they are not able to earn money and are forced to live in poverty.
Moreover, according to Homer-Dixon (1996), scarcities of critical environmental resources— in particular cropland, freshwater, and forests—are contributing to mass violence in several areas of the world. Therefore, people, who usually live on the same territory start fighting for the resources. For instance, wars between upstream and downstream neighbors over river water are likely only in a narrow set of circumstances: the downstream country must be highly dependent on the water for its national well-being; the upstream country must be able to restrict the river's flow (Homer-Dixon1996). This violence affects Western national interests by destabilizing trade and economic relations, provoking migrations, and generating complex humanitarian disasters that divert militaries and absorb huge amounts of aid.
The main conclusions in these articles are that it is possible to solve such environmental pollution problems even in the modern capitalistic system. Hardin, (1968) mentioned that population problem cannot be solved in a technical way, it can be successfully addressed within a capitalist structure. There are many negative elements in the modern world, which are causing serious damage to our economic and environmental stability.
For instance, severe environmental scarcity can reduce local food production, aggravate the poverty of marginal groups, spur large migrations, enrich elites, who speculate on resources, and undermine a state's moral authority and capacity to govern (Homer-Dixon 1996). Nevertheless, modern business can also take different incentives in order to reach some kind of balance with our environment.
Homer-Dixon (1996) mentioned that properly functioning economic institutions, especially markets, can provide incentives to encourage conservation, resource substitution, the development of new sources of scarce resources, and technological innovation. In addition, government should also be responsible for promoting the sustainable development.
It can support those companies, who choose to decrease the amount of resources they use as well as pollution to the local environment. Moreover, increased global trade allows resource-rich areas to specialize in the production of goods (like grain) that are derived from renewable Homer-Dixon (1996). For this reason states should participate in international trade agreements and sight treaties, which can later benefit and preserve their resources.
In addition, society can also participate in preserving environment and decreasing the negative impact of capitalism. For instance, these societies supply enough ingenuity in the form of new technologies and new and reformed social institutions—like efficient markets, clear property rights, and rural development banks—to alleviate the effects of scarcity (Homer-Dixon, 1996). Therefore, it is important for the citizens to take initiative and develop environmental reform in the different spheres of life.
It would also be a good idea to create certain social groups, which would control and prevent businesses from polluting environment. The use of such 'front groups' enables corporations to take part in public debates and government hearings behind a cover of community concern (Beder, 1997). These groups can also be involved in a political process. These front groups lobby governments to legislate in the corporate interest; to oppose environmental regulations and to introduce policies that enhance corporate profitability (Beder, 1997).
In fact, not all countries are able to take initiative and solve the problems, which are created by capitalism. The answer is complex: different countries, depending on their social, economic, political, and cultural characteristics, will respond to scarcity in different ways and with varying amounts and kinds of ingenuity (Homer-Dixon, 1996). There are many factors, which defines the country’s ability to supply ingenuity. For example, there are poor states or states with authoritarian regime, which can seriously restrict such initiatives.
Simultaneously, the supply of ingenuity will also be constrained by a number of factors, including the brain drain from many poor societies, their limited access to capital, and their chronically incompetent bureaucracies, corrupt judicial systems, and weak states (Homer-Dixon, 1996). Nevertheless, environmentalists also fail to promote the environmental stability. For instance, the environmentalists are failing to attract young people, the physical embodiment of the future, to our cause and they are failing to attract the disenfranchised, the disempowered, the dispossessed and the disengaged (Werbach, 2005).
The solution can be developed throughout a long period of time. That is why the authors say that it is important to focus on such an important issue as morality. Hardin (1968) implies that solution can be achieved only by realization that common responsibility is a way to decrease pollution. Therefore, people will only be willing to implement these reforms if they have a certain level of morality and understand all the serious effects of the environmental degradation. For example, poor people, who are impacted by the effects of environmental degradation, are able to take incentives. However, it is important to educate wealthy population and corporations, which are polluting environment. Nevertheless, these incentives cannot be successful without a special support from particular stakeholders.
For this reason the certain level of morality can be established through the legislative system. When there are stable laws in the country, such as on taxing, society is becoming freer and more responsible for the environmental degradation. Hardin (1968) gives an example of laws, saying that when men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became freer, not less so. This is a type of common agreement, which makes all people responsible for their actions.
Another possible solution of the environmental problems would be to unite people under the environmentalist movement. In fact, the main purpose of the article is to analyze effectiveness of environmentalism, which is already dead. The purpose of describing the environmental movement as dead is to allow the space for a new movement to grow--a new movement that does not set arbitrary limitations for what is considered an "environmental issue," in service of building a larger progressive movement Werbah (2005). In fact, social movements are not only important for promotion of democratic society, but for economic and ecological development of the country.
The most important information in the Werbach’s article is that it is not an easy task to create and unite people in environmental movement. One of the reasons is that, when people are not confronting with environmental problems on a daily basis, they are do not think about the major problems concerning their environment.
For instance, Werbach (2005) stated that even environmental leaders freely acknowledge that their "issue"--this thing we call "the environment"--is not a major priority for Americans. Environmental initiatives are not supported very well in political sphere. What is even more important, they are not supported during elections, which usually raise and define the main problems of the society. Thus, when people are pressed to choose between two candidates, environmental concerns are rarely a deciding factor (Werbach, 2005).
That is why the main solutions in this article are to refocus attention on broader issues, including environmental degradation. Werbach (2005) suggests constructing a new progressive ideology that recognizes that Americans yearn for an ideology that provides a deeper fulfillment, instead of focusing solely on enhancing our political tactics. In fact, the faster some steps toward the sustainable development will be taken, the less harm we can make to nature. This will lead to preservation of environment for other generations.
The Critical Perspective
Despite the fact that environmental problems should be solved as soon as possible, there are authors, which are convinced that it is impossible. For instance, Beder, Magdoff, Foster, Polychroniou, Butler, Williams Wallis support the critical perspective that environmental problems cannot be solved successfully within a capitalist structure. That is why, it is necessary to analyze their counterarguments.
First of all, the environmental degradation has always been a key problem of many nations. Nowadays, we are also facing diverse problems, such as deforestation, water and air pollution, etc. Nevertheless, Magdoff and Foster mentioned (2011) that what makes the modern era stand out in this respect, however, is that there are much more of us inhabiting more of the Earth; we have technologies that can do much greater damage and do it more quickly; andwe have an economic system that knows no bounds. Therefore, modern era of computerization and growth of industries contributed to diverse environmental problems. For that reason it is more difficult to eliminate the problem of environmental degradation.
In addition, many businesses are concealing information about the chemicals they apply in their industries. For instance, there are more than 80,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States, and we do not know the composition and potential hazard of about 20,000 of them—their composition falls under the category of "trade secrets" and is legally withheld (Magdoff &Foster, 2011). In fact, it would be very hard to convince these businesses to start the sustainable development policy.
Hence, there is a direct and growing contradiction between capitalism and the environment, a contradiction that becomes more and more apparent as the size of the capitalist economy begins to rival the basic biogeochemical processes of the planet (Foster, 2012). There is a moral dilemma, which is based on the choice of preserving environment and the choice of letting different countries succeed economically.
Nowadays, most businesses are focused on economic rationality and they are more interested in making profit rather than avoiding the environmental degradation. In other words, businesses must also be sure that they will not lose from these environmental incentives. For instance, sometimes it can take time and effort to change some managerial system of the company. Moreover, some companies, which are seriously polluting environment, have to change some mechanic equipment, which can also be quite costly. For this reason the government is responsible for explaining and encouraging local business to redevelop and become more sustainable.
Moreover scholars also argue that pollution of the environment is almost impossible to stop. One of the reasons is that capitalism allows many people to create their companies, with their own rules. As the result, everyone in the developing countries seeks to attain the average standard of living of the wealthy capitalist states—while the latter try to enlarge their already considerable per capita wealth. Therefore, they will create businesses that are harmful to environment.
Another argument against ability to preserve counties from environmental degradation is based on disparities between wealthy and poor nations. There are many countries, which managed to reach economical success due to the system of capitalism. Therefore, capitalism contributed to inequality, which gives the rich and the super-rich in a country such as the United States ecological footprints sometimes a hundred or a thousand times more than those at the bottom—is only magnified at the global level (Magdoff &Foster, 2011).
In fact, although many rural areas are suffering from environmental degradation, they are not the one, who are contributing the most to the degradation of nature. Therefore, wealthy people and international corporations are making these environmental damages to many societies. Therefore, Magdoff &Foster said (2011) that to reach a steady-state economy requires going against not only power arid wealth, but against the basic logic of capitalism as a system.
It is also important to stress that some people assume that the problem of the environmental degradation is exaggerated. According to the documentary “A Really Inconvenient Truth” the issue of Global Warming is not that important. For example, from NASA: "Global temperature in 2011 was lower than in 1998 (Patterson, 2012)."
Therefore, it is an inconvenient truth, because people tend to believe in destructive effect of global warming. The truth is this: there is no such thing as an "average" global temperature, because the history of our planet is a history of wildly fluctuating temperatures, locally and globally, from season to season, century to century, epoch to epoch (Patterson, 2012).
Some scholars support this argument and argue that it is almost impossible to stop degradation of our environment, because these problems go beyond the global warming. Butler stressed (2010) that “climate change is one part of a broader ecological disaster, brought about by an economic system that relies on constant growth, endless accumulation, and ever-deepening human alienation”. In addition, Foster (2012) mentioned that climate change, species extinction, and the disruption of the nitrogen cycle have already crossed planetary boundaries and we are currently experiencing catastrophic effects.
These authors are trying to defend the point that environment has seriously been damaged of different levels. Nevertheless, Foster says (2012) that we live in a capitalist society, which means a society, in which the accumulation of capital, i.e., economic growth carried out primarily on the terms of the 1 percent at the top (the ruling capitalist class), is the dominant tendency. Therefore, nowadays it is impossible to stop people from accumulating capital, because capitalism cannot stand still. John Foster (2010) also mentioned that facing with the increased costs corporations will undoubtedly shift their things around to ensure continued profitability, rather than launch environmental programs.
Hence, there is a direct and growing contradiction between capitalism and the environment, a contradiction that is becoming more and more apparent as the size of the capitalist economy begins to rival the basic biogeochemical processes of the planet (Foster, 2012). Moreover, some scholars stress that nowadays environmental movements are not able to involve major polluters to developing sustainable mechanisms. It is very important to stress that the fact that the entire economy runs on three substances—oil, coal, and natural gas—and that these are the three most responsible for the global warming presents capitalism with an insuperable problem (Williams, 2009).
Nowadays,our planet is suffering from the severe destruction. The damage that has been done to the Earth’s ecosystem by humans is tremendous. They include chemical pollution, global freshwater use, ocean acidification, greenhouse effect and many others. Therefore, the global socialism a viable alternative and it is crucial for each country to develop effective sustainable development approach. In fact, the sustainable development is a key to future prosperity of any nation.
However, many scientists are greatly concerned about environmental problems and are already examining major causes of the environmental degradation. At the same time, there are also scholars, who are very skeptical about possible implementation of environmental goals. Hence, there is a direct and growing contradiction between capitalism and the environment, a contradiction that becomes more and more apparent as the size of the capitalist economy begins to rival the basic biogeochemical processes of the planet. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that despite serious challenges to sustainable development, it is still crucial to limit the ecological footprint of human beings on the Earth.
First reasons is that population growth is seriously exhausting natural resources. For example, the world's population is growing by 1.6 percent a year; on average, real economic product per capita is also rising by 1.5 percent a year (Homer-Dixon, 1996). Moreover, population density is closely connected with the problem of pollution. Some scholars argue that it is almost impossible to stop degradation of our environment, because these problems go beyond the global warming. However, it is not a dead end, it is an indication that we need to preserve resources we have. Therefore, there is a need to create a system, which can balance population growth and the preservation of environment.
Secondly, capitalism is creating severe imbalance in the distribution of wealth and power. Therefore, modern era of computerization and growth of industries contributed to diverse environmental problems. In addition, many businesses are concealing information about the chemicals they apply in their industries. One of the reasons is that most businesses are focused on economic rationality and they are more interested in making profit rather than avoiding environmental degradation. That is why a big issue for those concerned with climate change and other environmental illnesses is to get a better understanding of the capitalist system, which mostly benefits from it, and how it works to undermine stable ecosystems.
However, it is possible to solve such environmental pollution problem even in the modern capitalistic system. Nevertheless, it is important to know that it is sustainable development is an incremental action and cannot be enforced in a short period of time. Moreover, individuals and not only businesses should take responsibility for their environmental impact. For example, it is possible to preserve recourses by such simple steps as recycling. We should also acknowledge that the related exploration of alternative living arrangements may contribute in a positive way to the longer-term conversion that is required. If people implement it in each corner of the world, environment will significantly contribute. It is also true and promising that as ecological awareness spreads, the space for such activities will grow.
Critics of environmental programs claim that there are businesses, which are not ready to stop their production, only because of the harmful effect of their plants to environment. However, modern business can also take different incentives in order to reach some kind of balance with our environment. There is also an important alternative, which is called “green capitalism”. It would also be a good idea to create certain social groups, which would control and prevent businesses from polluting environment.
In addition, society can also participate in preserving environment and decreasing the negative impact of capitalism. However, people will only be willing to implement these reforms if they have a certain level of morality and understand all the serious of environmental degradation. That is why certain level of morality can be established through the system of laws.
Another possible solution to environmental problems would be to unite people under the environmentalist movement. Some scholars argue that the most hopeful development within the advanced capitalist world at present is the meteoric rise of the youth-based climate justice movement, which is emerging as a considerable force in direct action mobilization and in challenging the current climate negotiations. It is difficult to create such movements, because when people are not confronting with environmental problems on a daily basis, they are not thinking that they have major problems with their environment.
All in all, we need to renew socialism now globally and in the broadest terms consistent with a sustainable society if humanity is going to be able to restore the conditions for its own survival. Although capitalism is a serious challenge to development of sustainability, society still has to be concerned about preventing global environmental degradation. In fact, by creating special laws and social institutes it is possible to preserve our environment from an early destruction.