Summary: This working document provides build notes for the theme: Capitalisms Meet Climate Change, 2050. Please see the disclaimer, below.
Goals & Mission
This site gathers working notes for the conflict between capitalism and Global Warming, Impacts, and Responses (GWIR). The project attempts to define a strategy to re-frame our understanding of capitalism to disclose a feasible path toward shrinking and toward inverting capitalism, the dynamic, dominant, hierarchal global political economy. As I initiate the shift from my fledgling blog to this website, these pages indicate where I am heading:
My Statement of Concern has been my constant mission since 2007. However, a glaring omission is the absence of global warming. This deficiency reflected the curricular role that I served, while others, typically scientists, covered global warming. I correct that in this website now that I am retired. I will argue that global warming has been underestimated, the gravity of its effects poorly understood, and its responses understate the forces of Dark Money that will resist and distort the widespread popular concern. The stagnation of capitalist profit and the continuing failure of shared economic growth could unleash an aggressive form of crony capitalism. This recipe for endgame keeps me focused on this project.
My nascent blog, World Sustainbility 2050, specifically my post Capitalism Breaking Down --- repeated below --- lays out the argument that capitalism will falter. The themes presented here deserve more explanation, sources, and insight. Briefly, I explore the trends that will hamper economic growth, promote inequality, and plunder nature. I am realistic, thus pessimistic. The due date for catastrophe derives from the impacts and (generally perverse) response to global warming.
Thus, I agree with Naomi Klein's important book, This Changes Everything: Global warming and capitalism cannot coexist for much longer --- reckoned in decades, not centuries. However, capitalism contains contradictions and vulnerabilities that are obscured from our view. Soon, such contradictions could exceed capitalism's impressive adaptive capacity. The uncertain outcome could destroy civilization.
My method will be to present critical speculation as to how this frame will unfold to 2050 --- roughly a generation from now (May, 2019). The speculation will contain three parts:
Part one explains the current dilemma as capitalism breaks down and as global warming intensifies. The time horizon of 2050 provides but a single generation to rectify what could be a global catastrophe. You will find little optimism here, as expressed in my long-term mission, my Statement of Concern, first composed
in 2007. Two segments contain the emerging dilemma:
Capitalisms Breaking Down, the first part, will explain the flaws and vulnerabilities inherent in capitalism. I will focus on the dominant power, now in decline, the USA under a neoliberal regime, the purest form of neoliberal capitalism. Other forms exist such as the EU and the rising superpower, China, pulling Asia with it. Since capitalism typically does not see the long term, climate change, its impacts, and its responses will be ignored in favor of what capitalism seeks: profit, typically in the short term.
Capitalists will not easily reform, particularly in the fossil fuel industry. Entrenched capitalists, operating through the opaque channels of Dark Money, will likely continue the ongoing propaganda campaign of climate denial and the intensive lobbying that produces a de facto industrial policy that protects well establised, typically oligopolisic industries. The stagnation of capitalist profit and the continuing failure of shared economic growth could unleash an aggressive form of crony capitalism. See Klein, Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything.
Global Warming, Impacts, and Responses (GWIR) framed as the legitimate science, the IPCC version and its offshoots, not the ideological distortions; the impacts, now poorly understood at a granular (down-to-earth) level; and the responses, likely to be perverse as lurking crony capitalism forestalls remediation However, the sheer economic cost of climate disruptions, the needed infrastructure (Naomi Klein's concept disaster capitalism will profit and lobby) but the potential for a genuine remedy outside capitalism and the instrumentalism of anthropomorphism will be contested.
In part two, I offer a re-framing around the inversion and the shrinking of the economy (conceptually identical to capitalism in the popular mind) and then the world social ecology:
The global economy is now under the spell of neoliberal capitalism as a total world system. This dominant hierarchy must be inverted, consistent with the magesterial historical tomes of Fernand Braudel, with a dynamic contributed by Karl Polanyi --- both economic historians of distinction who speak to us today. Thus, the inversion I try to disclose has its foundation in a distinguished tradition of understanding capitalism historically, but does not follow Marxism except in specific aspects.
The perspective will then expand beyond the instrumentalism of economics into a fulsome world social ecology that opens a horizon beyond economics, materialism, hierarchy (including patriarchy), and instrumentalist anthropomorphism. The ethical end is simply life itself, a precious gift as I see it (see Laudato Si' by Pope Francis): humanity within nature. Another approach is that all life is a creation, making the whole effort caring for creation.
A parallel blog that posts events, cases, and data that support and illustrate the case made here.
I will synopsize the argument in the sections below, then link to work in progress.
Challenges to Capitalism 2050
While I do not forecast the demise of capitalism, I do regard capitalism under long-term challenges. My goal is to speculate on a strategy toward a better world: just, sustainable, and climate-benign. How? I envision a feasible strategy to shrink and to invert the monetized, profit-driven capitalist sector while expanding sectors now neglected operating below the capitalist sector: households and communities.
Thus, this project poses four challenges within the time frame 2020-2050:
Avert the threat of profit-seeking crony capitalists to plunder earth (ecocide) and to oppress the majority of its human inhabitants.
Adapt to the inevitable catastrophic consequences of global warming.
Encourage a path toward undermining capitalism from sectors and actors now excluded fromt the rationality of capiitalism, such as women and vast populations excluded from capitalism's monetized material cornucopia.
Capitalism Breaking Down
Since the Great Recession of 2008-2009, confidence has been shaken in the financially dominant form of capitalism as seen in the USA and EU. Economic crisis spawned by financial bubbles appear to be an accepted component of the notorious instability of the capitalist system in its pure forms. However, given other grievances pile up, such as burgeoning inequality (and accompanying loss of support, especially generational) and the inability to acknowledge and address carbon externalities (sort of concern with the environment --- a misnomer that I will tackle later). So, I will break down these flaws and vulnerabilities (not all the cause of capitalism) into several categories that I will then explain more fully.
Slowing economic growth (stagnation) can be anticipated as the workforce and its productivity faces long-term decline. A compelling argument is made by Robert J. Gordon on this significant trend. Since WWII, a global regime dedicated to monetized material growth (GDP)has dominated policy virtually worldwide. The rewards appear broadly shared until the mid-1970s, but has skewed toward the ultra-rich since, with the accompanying grasp of political power. Eventually, profits will shrink and capital accumulation with declining profit and, as we will see below, much higher interest rates. Capitalism contains its own macro-economic dynamics. What goes up can go down, and probably will. Watch closely.
World population levels off, approaching zero population growth (ZPG) in the richer nations of the northern hemisphere (OECD in the jargon of the United Nations). This means that fewer workers will be available (and may not be needed as technology advances) but that aggregate consumption may also level off --- and revenues for firms.
Meanwhile, inequality within nations soars, excluding large portions of the citizenry from the gains of GDP and accumulation of wealth. Now, reactionary forces gather discontent, channeling resentment toward such scapegoats as dispossessed refugees, the multitude of people seeking refuge as they travel from south to north --- an ugly spectacle. However, lower GDP nations and regions expand monetized economic activity and population faster than mature economies, so a worldwide convergence of GDP per capita is underway (Pikkety). The resulting "ecology of rich and poor" has the potential to intensify environmental justice concerns as the planet heats up and equatorial regions become uninhabitable.
As governments, especially in the capitalist north (as opposed to mixed economies elsewhere) practice the political expedience of deficit spending of the Keynesian model along with largely hidden expansions of military forces and imported arsenals. Such deficit spending creates national debt surges, especially since the low-interest rates since 2008. Inextricably, fiscal crises will propel austerity on deprived citizenry. Neglected roads, airports, bridges and other civil engineering infrastructure will fester and decay. The rich, gathering in armored enclaves, will separate from the Others, creating a need to suppress democracy and control restless populations. The rising interest rates and potential for inflation will not contribute to GDP growth or business investment, thus gains in productivity.
Then along comes climate change, its largely unknown global and regional impacts, and the stiffening resistance to prevention thrown up by the ideology of denial backed by the Dark Money that benefits from what Naomi Klein dubs Disaster Capitalism. Demands for "armoring" cities and regions with dikes and walls will intensify as will calls for assistance with the damage of other "natural" disasters such as floods, tornadoes, fires, drought, crop losses, pest infestation, etc. Patronage and pork will have another facet --- witness Puerto Rico. In a fiscal crisis, such luxuries can only go to the Social Darwinists who, ironically, created the havoc. More control, more military, more repression can be applied, for a while. The seminal Stern Report anticipates a decline of 5% to 8% of global GDP to respond to lost productivity and social overhead capital.
Geopolitics will resemble earth's crust shifting on tectonic plates. The USA will be hard hit, with the fuller realization that despite high, but stagnating and inequitable, per capita income, its dashboard of indicators of well being, including longevity, infant and maternal mortality, happiness, and environmental stress put the USA behind most industrialized countries and even behind some developing nations (see Costa Rica and Cuba). Meanwhile, rising superpower China shifts awkwardly to a consumer-based economy despite its mounting piles of debt, and expands its influence through its Belt and Road colonization, along with the debt service and resource grabs it imposes on its client states. The EU stagnates. Southeast Asia, a mixed group, sees its denser and poorer nations (Bangladesh, Pakistan) deteriorate with climate damage. India, like China, a population and land mass giant, strains to control its internal ethnic, class, and regional disputes. Little cooperation on global warming or economic globalization can be anticipated.
Despite all of this, the status of women will improve, but not necessarily within capitalisms, however practiced. In effect, the sheer potential and subjective will of this largely dis-valued majority of humanity will surface as a force for participation, self-improvement, and justice. This trend is happening around us today, often hidden from view, crying out for disclosure, emulation, and sharing.