Posting below another letter to the editor I wrote to the Daily Campus, the University of Connecticut’s student newspaper, in response to a spurious editorial on socialism and environmentalism. The letter was not included on the Daily Campus website, for whatever reason.
To the Daily Campus editors,
I’m writing in response to Jacob Marie’s opinion piece, “Socialism is an environmental nightmare,” which ran in the paper on March 26, 2019. The piece was so misguided in purpose and faulty in reasoning that it demands a response. But rather than address the fuzzy logic, potted histories, or quixotic digressions about popular and not-so-popular political figures, I feel it’s necessary to counter Marie’s central claim that environmental issues can only be successfully addressed through the free market.
Marie is right to suggest that capitalist societies possess incentive structures that shape human interactions with the environment. But in contrast to his sunny optimism, the reality is that these incentive structures have been profoundly destructive for the landscapes and cycles of the natural world.
In capitalist societies, a generalized market dependence introduces competitive constraints in productive relations that force individuals and firms to produce commodities more cheaply than their direct competitors. If they fail in this endeavor, they will be unable to meet their subsistence, continue to access the means of production, or secure adequate profits for reinvestment. These competitive constraints not only subject everyone to market demands, they also drive a cycle of endless accumulation that produces detrimental effects for the environment and human society alike.
Market dependence predictably results in the exhaustion of natural resources and dangerous environmental pollution, leads to ever-more intensive and extensive forms of commodification that alienates people from their land and labor, and encourages private companies to shift the costs of environmental degradation and the work of ecological restoration onto state institutions and public finances.
Since the rise of capitalism around the world roughly 500 years ago, this unique incentive structure has generated innumerable harms for human beings, non-human animals, and their shared environments. The immense challenge posed by climate change to the continued existence of human life on the planet is only the most immediate and far-reaching manifestation of capitalism’s negative impact on the biosphere.
Despite Marie’s claims to the contrary, capitalism is not a good way to protect the environment. Indeed, it is the chief source of the ecological crisis we now face. To get beyond this crisis, we will have to get beyond capitalism. Or as the scholar Nick Estes recently put it: “For the earth to live, capitalism must die.”