Communsim, the Environment, and the BP Oil Spill Disaster

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!

4 Responses to “Communsim, the Environment, and the BP Oil Spill Disaster”

  1. 2 trotskyite
    May 30, 2010 at 1:10 am

    I’m not quite sure I understand your comment…

  2. 3 spinoza1111
    May 30, 2010 at 6:45 am

    The problem being that “actually existing Communism” produced Chernobyl, because it produced a split between appearance and reality. The appearance to be maintained as late as 1986 was that “Communism can industrially compete with the West”, the reality was that subcultures of engineering and management had appeared that were, in Max Weber’s sense, “polytheistic”.

    Weber had devised this concept/metaphor to explain how it is in capitalist society that people can treat separate lifeworlds separately. They can go to church and worship charity and redistribution, and return to work to practice the reverse…while living in a monkish fashion as if they were worshipping God by accumulating Capital. They can teach their children (in Adorno’s phrasing from Minima Moralia) about alles Schon und Güte, then force them to work on Wall Street to pay off college loans.

    At Chernobyl, the ethic was one of appearances: likewise, on the Deepwater Horizon platform, partying executives ordered technicians to use cheap procedures to seal the pipeline while celebrating their safety records.

    Socialism is the answer because of its major defect. We’re told that socialism will reduce economic growth. Well…boo hoo, if “economic growth” means piercing the earth, creating an unprecedented geological event with unpredictable consequence, and trashing the world.

    We need to become monotheists in Weber’s secular sense, and decide what’s important. Can we walk to work? Can we eat fresh, locally grown produce? Can we force computer manufacturers to produce $100.00 netbooks with minimal use of plastic instead of the iPad, or can we get Apple to make the iPad a smaller but real computer? Can we find ways of banking energy such that if we run on a treadmill, we produce something?

    Or will the false gods of home ownership and heterosexuality continue to rule?

  3. 4 trotskyite
    May 30, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    But the vast majority of Communists would not consider the USSR an actual Marxist state. The USSR was merely an authoritarian socialist (using the modern sense of the word) empire that used Communism as a facade to extend its own power and influence. You’ll as many Communists today who believe the Soviet Union was Communist as you’ll find Catholics who believe the Spanish Inquisition was divinely sanctioned.

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