While the BP oil spill nothing short of an ecological tragedy, I can’t help feel a tiny bit grateful for it. Like any disaster, despite the overall harm, there’s still a lesson to be learned from it. In the case of the oil spill, the lesson is this:
Capitalism and Environmentalism mix about as well as oil and water.
As has been discussed many times before in this blog, Capitalism’s primary function is the acquisition of Capital– money. It’s not the greater good of humanity, it’s not the advancement of one’s nation, and it’s certainly not the defense of the planet. It’s about cold, hard cash- nothing else. Of course one could argue that there’s money to be made in advancement of one’s nation or the defense of the planet, but precious little compared to that of the simple exploitation of the earth.
Now this is not the first time BP has been implicated in faulty safety measures that have resulted in an oil spill. In 2006, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, over a quarter million gallons of oil was spilled as a result of BP maintenance cost-cuts. Why cut maintenance costs? To increase profit of course. The higher the profit, the more the Capital– the entire point of Capitalism. So what if it’s dangerous to the local ecosystem? Capitalism is about profit- it’s about keeping the investors happy and the product(s) flying off the shelves. Now one might argue that people want to buy from eco-friendly companies (the entire issue of participatory economics will be dealt with in another post), but in general the trick is simply not getting caught damaging the environment. Really all the same principles behind the exploitation of the laborer apply to the exploitation of the earth. Making sure one’s equipment is up-to-date and functioning safely is costly, you want higher profits, cut back on clean waste disposal for cheap, (and almost inevitably) environmentally damaging) options. Rather than worry about the long-term implications of the effects of one of your products (herbicides, let’s say), make sure people just focus on the fact that it kills weeds in seconds rather than the fact that it does serious damage to the soil. As I’ve said before, it’s about the money, not the potential damage.
Now I’m not trying to argue that every product on the shelves right now has been made in such a way to maximize profits at the expense of environmental welfare. I’m pointing out that the potential is there, that Capitalists have no real reason to attempt to make their products environmentally safe (other than higher profit, of course), and that there are many, many instances of this happening- the BP oil spills being prime examples.
A strong-counter argument to this would be that, to an extent, the same rationale of “profit-before-environment” can be applied to a situation where a factor/mine/rig/etc. is owned by the local public (a major tenet of Communism), rather than a handful of individuals (the foundation of Capitalism). Sure, if the public living in and around the Bay of Mexico owned and operated the rig themselves, there’d still probably be the temptation to cut costs/manpower/time in ensuring the rig is environmentally safe, but if there was an oil spill as a result, the local communities controlling the rig would be the ones chiefly affected by the disaster and would have no one to blame but themselves. But instead of this fair and just ‘you-do-it-you-clean-it-up’ system, we have Capitalism. A man or company can own a rig on the other side of the world, profit off it, and never have to worry about waking up to dead seagulls and black tar in their yards. Now you can call me idealistic, but I can’t help but feel it a bit unjust that someone can be responsible for a major ecological, economic, and sociological disaster and never have to deal with the consequences. The reason I said “there’d still probably be the temptation to cut costs” earlier on was because one tends to have a differently mentality when dealing with something like this. Imagine you’ve been given the job of keeping bears off of an acre of land hundreds, no- thousands, of miles away. Chances are you’re going to be a lot less careful about keeping bears away than if you actually had to live on that acre and would be directly affected. Marx talks quite a bit about the estrangement of labor, but he mentions the estrangement of property as well.
Let’s face the facts. Capitalism is not going to solve our environmental problems (and even if you’re among the few who don’t believe in global warming, you have to acknowledge we’ve got some serious pollution and deforestation issues), and in all likelihood, Capitalism and Environmentalism are going to be at odds. The way the Communists see it, we can’t live without the environment- we’re more than happy to live without Capitalism!