by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 18, 2015
THE PLANET VS. THE PROFITEERS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Karl Marx maintained that while capitalism is able to innovate and adapt to new situations, it also carries with it the seeds of its own destruction.
Capitalism behaves as if it can endlessly expand without limits. Marx foresaw the day when capitalism would collapse once it has exhausted all means to grow further.
Have we reached the time that Marx warned would arrive, when capitalism is no longer sustainable?
When it comes to the overall health of our planet, the answer is definitely yes.
Capitalism, carried to its furthest extreme, doesn't just seek to privatize and exert total control over every aspect of our economy, our culture, and our system of government. It wants total control over the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the entire ecosystem on which human existence relies.
Can you put a price on clean air and pure water? Can you calculate the costs of acidified oceans, vanishing wetlands, or clear-cut rain forests?
Some have tried. Robert Costanza, a professor at Australian National University, led a study back in 1997 that calculated the dollar value of the services that 16 different types of ecosystems provide us - from soaking up greenhouse gasses, to preventing soil erosion, to shielding coastal areas from flood damage.
Worldwide, they concluded the value was $33 trillion a year, or nearly $49 trillion in 2015 dollars.
Last year, Costanza and his team did a follow-up study, which concluded their 1997 estimate was way too low. One reason is that ecosystems such as coral reefs, tropical rain forests, or wetlands do far more for us than first estimated. Another reason is that the ecosystems they studied in 1997 are in much worse shape today, 17 years later.
When they recalculated the value of the earth's ecosystems and what they provide to humanity, the new value they came up with was $143.7 trillion.
To put that number in perspective, the total gross global product - the annual value of all human-created goods and services - is around $76 trillion.
In other words, it is impossible for traditional economic metrics to assign a value to things such as wetlands, coral reefs, or rain forests. In a way, that's a good thing, because these are all things that are priceless.
Something on which all life depends, and that is also in limited supply, simply shouldn't have a price tag attached to it. But capitalism is all about attaching price tags to everything and turning everything in our lives into a commodity. It sneers at the idea of the commons - that there are certain things that should be accessible to every member of society.
There is nothing that fits this description of the commons more than our nation's natural resources. Given we are already seeing the effects of the rapid depletion of our natural capital - in the form of climate change - the world is already paying a high price for the profiteering plutocrats that are despoiling the planet and sticking future generations with the costly tab.
That tab will only grow with time. But as time runs out for humanity to effectively respond to climate change, society must choose between maintaining an economic system that puts ever-growing profits ahead of everything, or finding an alternative that will preserve the health of the planet, and all who live upon it, for future generations.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A.from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.