The Earth Is Not Fungible: How Capitalism Destroyed The Planet (Part 1)

This essay was written by Celine Qin on the 20th of February, 2022.

“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many.” — Michael Parenti

We are living through a time of environmental crisis. Damage to the planet, its natural resources, and nearly all ecological life, has grown to an extreme degree. The deadly age of global deterioration owes its origin to the growth of colonialism and then capitalism, as the environment–everything from the land, to biodiversity and natural ecosystems, to the air we breathe–has been losing its once luscious and thriving (or simply liveable) state ever since colonial exploitation allowed for the sustainable cultivation of nature (the practices we owe to Indigenous nations) to be brutally disrupted.

Of course, capitalism also deserves gigantic credit for its straining toll on the world we live in — and it would be audacious to assume both the capitalist and colonist system as mutually independent. These forces have no loyalty to life and rely on one principle: profit above everything else, at whatever cost it takes.

Fossil fuel emissions and other pollutants continue to infiltrate the world’s atmosphere and essential environmental systems. At the same time corporations slurp up the planet’s land and resources to be sold and exploited, the majority of the population suffers the major consequences from the actions of the rich minority.

Rising temperatures and unethical use of the earth provokes a chain of disasters and atrocities. These events are the aftermath of when finite resources are used inconsiderately for an atypical purpose: Hoarding and manipulating a finite planet for the process of infinite accumulation. Capitalism disregards the mass death and destruction under its footsteps as its only priority is to expand money.

They say that something should not be sold for profit if its absence can be deadly, and this harshly applies to planet earth. The effects of climate change have already deeply harmed the Global South and its people (particularly agricultural and industrial workers exploited through outsourcing, the poor and impoverished, and various regions under the influence of Western imperial conquest), another example of disparity between the oppressing imperial core, colonizers and capitalists responsible for the unequal state of geopolitics and climate destruction, and the rest of the world.

Marginalized peoples have always been disproportionately impacted by global crises, which is why the climate fight requires a forefront of decolonization, anti-white-supremacy and anti-capitalism, and transcontinental anti-imperialist solidarity.

In part one, this piece will dissect the nature of capitalism and explain why it is ecologically unsustainable. In part two, this piece will comment on the fight for the environment and what needs to be done in order to be on the path for true global justice.

Capitalism must commodify everything in order for the capitalist class to accumulate wealth. Commodification is the process through which items are transformed into commodities. (These can include goods, services, nature, ideas, etc. to be bought and sold in the market).

Capitalism requires consistent growth of the market to survive. As a result, the commodification of new items (even if they are human essentials needed universally) is necessary for the capitalist economy to continue.

Under the free market, or the system of neoliberal capitalism, the market has little, if any, governmental regulation. This is because neoliberal capitalism relies on the foundation of as little restriction as possible in order to produce the most wealth. Consequently , the free market must meet the demand to endlessly produce commodities to be sold indefinitely, aiming for as much wealth accumulation as possible.

When something is commodified, it also becomes privatized, which is when something that was or could have been available universally or owned/controlled publicly is now at the hands of private individuals, under their manipulation and order.

When natural resources and essentials (such as land, food, forestry and habitat, water, etc.) are privately owned, commodified, they become at risk of being extracted, exploited, and taken away from the environments or people that need them to survive. Capitalist exploitation has superimposed itself on the natural environment as with nearly everything in mankind.

When the rich capitalist class owns an essential resource, practically dividing up the world for their own use, they also have the power to dictate the distribution of these resources. The idea that something can be bought and sold means that there will ultimately be people who cannot access that resource, as this is the basis for private ownership.

Capitalism is structured for the infinite gain of profit, depending on infinite commodities and infinite exploitation. From this a huge contradiction can be emanated that explains why capitalism is not ecologically sustainable. The earth is not fungible, so using it as if it is will no doubt lead to an environmental crisis, as it has already.

The free market can fluctuate extremely and earth’s resources can not be regarded on those same standards. Ecological life and relentless capital accumulation are incompatible. The capitalists accumulate, accumulate, accumulate until there is nothing left to accumulate, until the world is completely devoured.

Of course, resource extraction is not the only action of capitalism that is responsible for killing the planet. The continual cycle of mass production, pollution, outsourcing, imperialist wars, and establishing such a large portion of our world for solely commercial use, leaving no room for natural wildlife to flourish, directly expands the climate disaster. The planet has lost a humongous amount of its greenery to the hands of corporations hoarding land to establish even more business locations, industrial plants, and other centers.

Politicians do not serve to alleviate this crisis, being lobbied and making policies in favor of big oil and pollution industries and other monopolies of the sort. According to the Carbon Majors Database, 100 companies in the world are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions.

While considerable damage has already been done to our planet, not all hope is lost in terms of mitigating the effects of climate change. In order to save or preserve our land, environment, or natural resources, we have to realize the root cause of the current atrocity–capitalism, imperialism, colonialism. What must be at the forefront of the fight for our planet? Let us break it down in Part 2.

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