[Marxism] “It’s so hard to be good under the capitalistic system.”

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 31 07:42:27 MDT 2011

NY Times op-ed August 30, 2011, 10:27 pm
Profits Before Environment

I wasn’t surprised when the administration of George W. Bush 
sacrificed the environment for corporate profits. But when the 
same thing happens under a Democratic administration, it’s 
depressing. With little or no public input, policies that benefit 
corporations regardless of the consequences continue to be enacted.

No wonder an April 2010 poll from the Pew Research Center found 
that about only 20 percent of Americans have faith in the 
government (it’s one thing upon which the left and right and maybe 
even the center agree). But maybe this is nothing new: as Glenda 
Farrell, as Genevieve “Gen” Larkin, put it in “Gold Diggers of 
1937,” “It’s so hard to be good under the capitalistic system.”

But is anyone in power even trying? Last winter, the Department of 
Agriculture deregulated Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa, 
despite concerns about cross-pollination of non-genetically 
modified crops. It then defied a court order banning the planting 
of genetically modified sugar beets pending completion of an 
environmental impact study.

Monsanto engineers these plants and makes Roundup, the herbicide 
they resist. But Roundup-ready crops don’t increase long-term 
yields, a host of farmers are now dealing with “superweeds” and 
there is worry about superbugs, nearly all courtesy of Monsanto. 
In fact, this system doesn’t contribute to much of anything except 
Monsanto’s bottom line. Yet Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gave 
Monsanto the nod, perhaps yielding to pressure from the White House.

The United States exerts that same kind of pressure abroad. 
WikiLeaks cables show that U.S. “biotechnology outreach programs” 
have promoted genetically modified crops in Africa, Asia and South 
America; they’ve also revealed that diplomats schemed to retaliate 
against any European Union countries that oppose those crops.

Sacrificing the environment for profits didn’t stop with Bush, and 
it doesn’t stop with genetically modified organisms. Take, for 
example, the Keystone XL pipeline extension. XL is right: the 
36-inch-wide pipeline, which will stretch from the Alberta tar 
sands across the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast, will cost $7 
billion and run for 1,711 miles — more than twice as long as the 
Alaska pipeline. It will cross nearly 2,000 rivers, the huge 
wetlands ecosystem called the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala 
aquifer, the country’s biggest underground freshwater supply.

If Keystone is built, we’ll see rising greenhouse gas emissions 
right away (tar sands production creates three times as many 
greenhouse gases as does conventional oil), and our increased 
dependence on fossil fuels will further the likelihood of 
climate-change disaster. Then there is the disastrous potential of 
leaks of the non-Wiki-variety. (It’s happened before.)

Proponents say the pipeline will ease gas prices and oil 
“insecurity.” But domestic drilling has raised, not lowered, oil 
prices, and as for the insecurity — what we need is to develop 
wiser ways to use the oil we have.

They say, too, that the pipeline could create 100,000 new jobs. 
But even the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers 
Union oppose the pipeline, saying, “We need jobs, but not ones 
based on increasing our reliance on Tar Sands oil.”

Sounds as if union officials have been reading the writer and 
activist Bill McKibben, who calls the pipeline “a fuse to the 
biggest carbon bomb on the continent,” and NASA scientist Jim 
Hansen, who says the oil Keystone will deliver “is essentially 
game over” for the planet.

Game over? No problem, says the State Department, which concluded 
that the project will have no significant impact on “most 
resources along the proposed pipeline corridor.” The Sierra Club 
quickly responded by calling the report “an insult to anyone who 
expects government to work for the interests of the American people.”

I do expect that, and I am insulted. President Obama can deny 
Keystone the permit. A truly environmentally friendly president 
(like the one candidate Obama appeared to be) would be looking for 
creative ways to leave fossil fuels underground, not extract them. 
Perhaps he doesn’t “believe in” global warming at this point, like 
many Republicans?

When government defends corporate interests, citizens must fight. 
McKibben has helped organize protests at the White House against 
Keystone, and he’s one of hundreds who’ve been arrested in the 
last couple of weeks. These people are showing that the role of 
government as corporate ally must be challenged.

As it will be in the fight against carte blanche for genetically 
modified organisms: From Oct. 1 to Oct. 16, there will be a march 
from New York City to Washington to demand that genetically 
modified foods be labeled, something a majority of Americans want. 
This small, perfectly reasonable request has run into joint 
opposition from the biotech industry and (here we go again) the 
Food and Drug Administration.

Why are most of us are filled with mistrust of the government? 
Maybe because we, like Gen Larkin, know it’s so hard to be good 
under the capitalistic system.

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A version of this column appeared in print on Aug. 31, 2011.

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