ecology

James Miller jamiller at igc.apc.org
Sun May 5 16:07:51 MDT 1996


TECHNOLOGY AND RESOURCES

   Rakesh writes:

>2) Do new technologies require so little raw materials in their manufacture
>and have they become so energy efficient in their operation that there is
>no longer any long-term danger of resource depletion (we could use tax
>credits and subsidies to diffuse this new technology)? Won't new technology
>solve the ecological crisis (In his chilling concluding reflections in *The
>Socialist Tradition:From Crisis to Decline* Carl Boggs doesn't think so, it
>should be noted.)

   Given a world with planned economies and international
coordination (a world we are still a long way from winning),
technological innovation will be accelerated, since the needs
of the population will be considered paramount. Resources will
be reallocated to quicken the pace of solving the most pressing
ecological problems: stopping deforestation, moving away from
reliance on fossil fuels, etc. But I think it is important to
recognize that there are no guarantees other than the ingenuity
and solidarity of the human race itself.
   I think the demand for "tax credits" assumes that the world's
ecological crisis can be solved, or perhaps mitigated, within the
context of capitalist rule. It's true that some progress has been
made, but not enough to reverse the disastrous course we are on
under capitalism. And I think whatever small gains have been made
in the area of environmental protection are due to the fears of
the ruling class of alienating the masses of people even more
than they already have. (Although it seems to be a little bolder
of late when it comes to alienating the masses.) The bourgeoisie
is very class conscious, and never for a moment does it stop
fighting to keep its power.
   There is no mystery to solving the environmental crisis. The
environmentalists have been very helpful in explaining how to
provide technical solutions. And you can be sure that more and
more suggestions will be forthcoming, even under capitalism.
And most of these technical solutions are not hard to understand.
Switch to solar, wind or geothermal energy. Stop using so much
paper. Use computer files instead. Build with plastic or concrete
instead of wood. Stop using so many toxic chemicals in manufacturing.
(It can be done.) Shift to more and more organic farming. Recycle.
Shut down nuclear power plants. And so on. There is nothing wrong
with any of these methods. And most of these methods involve not
a "quick fix," but a whole different way of doing things. And this
is what is needed. But you have to have a socialist revolution to
implement this new "earth-friendly" orientation on a big enough
scale to actually solve the problems.

   Rakesh continues:

>3)While there were fears for example of an exhaustation of the world's oil,
>there now seems to be a crisis of overproduction.  Are we really running
>out? If "bottlenecks" do develop at some point, couldn't the real reason be
>that investment in new resources had not been sufficiently profitable due
>to the low prices resulting from the breakdown in cartels or from the rents
>extorted by third world governments or that animal spirits of decadent
>industrialists has simply dying out, instead of there being a real physical
>shortage of non-renewable resources?

   Back in the 1970s, people thought that the world would run
out of oil in a few decades. But since then new oil deposits
have been found. Still, if the rate of use continues to grow
as it is now, these deposits will be depleted in about 50
years or so. (I can't remember the exact figure, but it is
listed in a book which I consider authoritative: _Only One
World_, by Gerard Piel.) Meanwhile there is enough coal to
last a number of centuries, even if the annual rate of
consumption continues to grow. (But we will choke to death
long before we run out of coal, if the usage rate continues
to grow. Not to mention the acid rain.)
   Some people have talked about squeezing oil out of shale.
This process is prohibitively expensive right now, but there
is plenty of oil in shale, and it could be squeezed out if it
were profitable under capitalism. I doubt whether socialism
will lead to the use of oil shale. We need to switch over to
solar, wind, geothermal, or perhaps some kind of hydrogen
power that has been discussed (not fusion).
   Regarding the "overproduction" and "bottlenecks" mentioned
by Rakesh: we are living in a state of permanent crisis in
the world economy now, and, in many respects, it's getting
worse. This gives rise to intensified competition among
capitalists, which in turn could lead to a lot worse than
the games that monopolists play manipulating supply and
demand. In the most immediate sense it leads to increasing
exploitation of workers, especially in the third world. And
ultimately, it engenders the growth of military conflicts
around the world which provide increasing opportunities for
imperialist military intervention. In short: intensifying
interimperialist rivalry leads to world war.

   Finally, Rakesh asks (following the words of Wm. J. Blake):

>4) What kind of wealth would there be torrents of in socialism? Would we
>come to understand wealth differently? Would socialism then be the result
>of our struggle to meet new needs, to enjoy new forms of wealth--which
>perhaps would not require widespread damage to the earth to enjoy?

   Wealth would remain as Marx defined it: a combination of labor
and the earth's resources. Wealth has been the same since the
dawn of humanity (see: "The Part Played by Labor in the Transition
>from Ape to Man," in _Dialectics of Nature_, by F. Engels.)
   Humanity has repeatedly managed to provoke the growth of new
needs for itself in the course of cultural evolution. Not only
have new needs appeared, but also new ways of satisfying old
needs. This process will undergo a qualitative leap, once the
function of government is given over to satisfying the needs
of the entire population, rather than a small part of it.
   Socialism, which implies not only the freedom of the
individual from exploitation, but also individual commitment
to helping others realize their freedom, will create the
kind of social environment which fosters creativity and
responsibility. It is these people of the socialist future
who will truly accomplish the task of saving the earth.
   Our job today is to help to create the political conditions
so that the socialist future can exist. When the environmentalists
are won over to revolutionary socialism, then they will be
able to do something really effective to realize their dreams
--by fighting for socialism. Until then, they will continue to
be a source of good ideas on technical questions, but not of
much use for making the kind of social and political progress
that will be necessary to save the environment.

Jim Miller
Seattle



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