Unregulated Capitalism is Destroying the Planet

We are in the middle of the first great mass extinction since the end of the age of the dinosaurs. That’s the conclusion of a shocking new study published Friday in a journal called Science Advances.

The study, which was conducted by a group of scientists from some of America’s leading universities, found that over the past century-plus, vertebrate species have gone extinct at a rate almost 114 times faster than average. That’s right -- not one, not two, not 50, but 114 times faster than average!

The study also found that as many 477 different vertebrate species have disappeared since 1900, a mind-boggling statistic because it usually takes between 800 to 10,000 years for that many species to disappear. In terms of the bigger picture, we really haven’t seen this kind of planet-wide holocaust since an asteroid wiped out T. Rex and friends over 65 million years ago. And that isn’t a coincidence.

According to the scientists behind the vertebrate study, their data reveals an “exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way.” So that raises the question: if a sixth mass extinction is under way -- what’s causing it?

The answer, it turns out, is easy -- arrogance, greed, and the belief that we as a species can continue to exploit natural resources without any regard for the effect that such behavior has on the world around us. One of the most important points the Pope makes in his new encyclical on the environment is that the source of our current ecological crisis is actually an ideology, the ideology of unregulated capitalism.

"The idea of infinite or unlimited growth,” he writes, “which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology…. is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth's goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry at every limit."

As the Pope goes on to explain, we have now turned unregulated capitalism into the new God, and as result, we now see the Earth as something to dominate as a opposed to something we hold in trust as part of the great chain of being. This is really the story of Western civilization as a whole, but things have gotten a lot worse since the Reagan revolution and the “greed is good” era of the 1980s.

Before Reagan came to town, we were actually having a conversation about how to moderate our culture’s tendency towards greed and exploitation. The EPA was created, and so was Earth Day. And thanks to people like Rachel Carson, we were actually taking the time to think about how the hunger for profit was hurting our planet and our health.

But ever since the Reagan Revolution, we’ve become addicted to the pursuit of “growth.” Instead of thinking about how to become better stewards of the Earth, we now worry about how to make markets more “efficient,” and the environment be damned. Unregulated capitalism - also known as Reaganomics - is our new religion, and we’re just as fundamentalist about it as the Taliban are about Islam. And that’s a really important point.

Going forward, we’re going to have to make some important policy choices if we want to stop most life on earth from vanishing forever - including, perhaps, us. We’re going to have to better manage natural resources, abandon fossil fuels, and decentralize our energy system. But we also need a revolution in terms of the way we think.

As the Pope said, “We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that the problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals."

For too much of our history, but especially since the 1980s, we in the Western world have seen the planet as something to be exploited for profit. We’re now addicted to an extremist ideology and that extremist ideology is literally killing us.

So if we want to save the planet, the environment, and probably the human race, we’re going to have to let our belief in unregulated capitalism go extinct.


2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 7 years 50 weeks ago

Ending exploitation of people for profit in my opinion would speed the transition away from exploiting the planet for profit. Offer the guy working on the oil rig a government run green energy job with decent pay, hours, health insurance, and a pension plan, and watch him tell Exxon where to go. There are countless military/spy government jobs with geat benefits, it's time we wage war on the real enemy, Global Warming...hire the troops now!

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 7 years 50 weeks ago

Thom, it needs to go further than that: capitalism itself needs to go extinct. We've seen it time and again: politicians cannot be trusted to maintain those regulations on capitalism. Therefore it is capitalism that needs to go.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 7 years 50 weeks ago

AIW -- We are looking for replacements. Do you have any?

mathboy's picture
mathboy 7 years 50 weeks ago

It's hard to come up with a replacement, probably because capitalism is less a thing, and more a lack of a thing (namely, regulation).

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 7 years 50 weeks ago

Also, capitalism in the northern European nations seems to be working in a tolerable fashion. Capitalism was also quite tolerable from 1933 to 1981 in the USA.

ckrob's picture
ckrob 7 years 50 weeks ago

The prime directive of capitalism is maximization of profit. Another way of stating this principle is "maximum extraction for minimum investment." Followed to its logical, unrestricted outcome, both the environment and the customer base will be impoverished without limit until the system collapses.

I suggest capitalism is the true death cult we face. Slavery was/is just one example of a capitalist system. As for an alternative go to YouTube and listen to rdwolff describe worker cooperatives.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 7 years 49 weeks ago

Reply to #4: Chuck, I don't understand the question. Do you mean replacements for capitalism or for politicians?

Eric Schechter's picture
Eric Schechter 7 years 48 weeks ago

Part of the problem is evident in the title of your article. When you say UNREGULATED capitalism is destroying the planet, you are implying that we just haven't found the right regulations yet, and the fundamental principles of capitalism itself are just fine. I cannot disagree more with that statement. There are major problems INHERENT in capitalism, that cannot be solved through regulation. Here are the biggest and simplest three that I know about. (1) ALIENATION. The American dream is that you keep your stuff in your house, I keep my stuff in my house, I don't need to care about you, and I can't afford to care about you. Obviously that leads to problems, as long as we're not simply sharing everything. (2) INEQUALITY. Every market transaction gives greater benefit to the trader in the stronger bargaining position, thus making that trader stronger still, and increasing inequality. Thus, plutocracy is inevitable as long as we have markets -- i.e., as long as we're not simply sharing everything. (3) EXTERNALITIES. A market transaction negotiated between you and me does not take into account the costs that are borne by some third party; such costs -- war, poverty, ecocide, etc. -- are unmeasured and are not reflected in the market price. That's unavoidable, as long as we have markets. The solution to all these problems is sharing, but that's hard for anyone in our present culture to imagine. Hence John Lennon's lyrics: "Imagine no possessions -- I wonder if you can."

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 7 years 48 weeks ago

AIW -- I mean a replacement for an economic policy.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 7 years 48 weeks ago

Eric Schechter -- Regulated capitalism means the New Deal. The FDR policies dealt with points 2) and 3). Maybe now Facebook can take care of 1).

Furthermore, what is your alternative plan? One guess would be replace humans with another species.

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