the enemy of nature
Sometimes, when you are reading something it is just so appropriate to the times and other things you have recently read or heard about. So it was for me the other day when I was reading Joel Kovel's excellent argument for ecosocialism, the enemy of nature.
The Bhopal anniversary was just the other day, I had just been reading in the newspaper about the plans to privatise parts of Scotland's forestry in order (it is claimed) to "pay for climate change tackling measures" and this weekend sees the annual climate change demonstrations in London and elsewhere. With these in mind, Kovel's words (on page 40-41 of the 2007 Zed second edition) took on an extra immediacy and relevance -
The essential argument for environmental economics within the capitalist system is that by privatizing nature people learn to care for it as their property. However, the problem is that, being made property, nature is a priori severed from its ecosystemic ways of being. Thus the ceaseless rendering into commodities, with its monetization and exchange, breaks down the specificity and intricacy of ecosystems. To this is added the devaluation, or basic lack of caring, which attends what is left over and unprofitable. Here arise the so-called "externalities" that become the repositories of pollution. To the extent the capital relation, with its unrelenting competetive drive to realize profit, prevails, it is a certainty that the conditions of production at some point or other will be degraded, which is to say, natural ecosystems will be destabilized and broken apart. As James O'Connor has demonstrated in his pioneering studies of this phenomenon, this degradation will have a contradictory effect on profitability itself (the Second Contradiction of Capital"), either directly, by so fouling the natural ground of production that it breaks down, or indirectly, in the case of regulatory measures, being forced to pay for the healthcare of workers, etc, re-internalizes the costs that had been expelled into the environment.(see note)
In a case like Bhopal, numerous insults of this kind interacted and became the matrix of a ghastly "accident." For Bhopal, degradation was concentrated in one setting; while the ecological crisis as a whole may be regarded as its occurrence in a less concentrated but vastly more extended field, so that the disaster is now played out more slowly and on a planetary scale.
It will surely be rejoined to this that a great many countervailing techniques are continually introduced to blunt or even profit from the degradation of conditions and production, for example, pollution control devices, commodification of pollutants, etc. To some degree these are bound to be effective. Indeed, if the overall system were in equilibrium, then the effects of the Second Contradiction would be contained, and we would not be able to extrapolate from it to the ecological crisis. But this brings us to the second great problem with capital, namely that equilibrium and confinement of any sort are anathema to it.
Note - The first contradiction of capital is that of the classical "realization crisis", where cutting workers wages makes it more difficult for them to purchase the commodities they produce.
Wise words indeed - I recommend Kovel's book to all seeking a deeper understanding of the current systemic economic and ecological crisis.