Richard Smith to speak on capitalism and the global ecological threat

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CEOs, workers and governments find that they all "need" to maximize growth, overconsumption, even pollution, to destroy their children's tomorrows [in order] to hang onto their jobs today. If they don't, the system falls into crisis, or worse. So we're all on board the [fast train] of ravenous and ever-growing plunder and pollution. As our locomotive races toward the cliff of ecological collapse, the only thoughts on the minds of our CEOs, capitalist economists, politicians and most labor leaders is how to stoke the locomotive to get us there faster.

“Corporations aren't necessarily evil,” he wrote. “They just can't help themselves. They're doing what they're supposed to do for the benefit of their owners.”

This idea of a system ‘doing what it’s supposed to do’ is a recurring theme in his writings. It’s extremely pertinent, albeit jarring, to those of us in Canada looking at industries that are furiously taking the economy and society in an entirely opposite direction from where we should be going. Instead of winding down all but essential fossil fuel extraction and burning, Canada’s capitalist industry and governments are opening up the floodgates.

To a clinical observer, Canada’s and much of the world’s economy would appear to be in the hands of madmen. But Smith writes in his April 2013 article, ‘Capitalism and the destruction of life on Earth: Six theses on saving the humans’:

We all know what we have to do: suppress greenhouse gas emissions. Stop overconsuming natural resources. Stop the senseless pollution of the Earth, its waters and its atmosphere with toxic chemicals. Stop producing waste that can't be recycled by nature. Stop the destruction of biological diversity and ensure the rights of other species to flourish. We don't need any new technological breakthroughs to solve these problems. Mostly, we just stop doing what we're doing. But we can't stop because we're all locked into an economic system in which companies have to grow to compete and reward their shareholders and because we all need the jobs.

The arguments of Marxists and other ecologists such as Richard Smith sound like a tough pill to swallow. How can human society flourish without the massive production and consumption of ‘things’?

Smith likes the sentiments of ‘slow growth’ economists that the world’s finite resources can’t sustain all the excess and that we gain little from it for culture or science. But he warns in a 2010 essay, ‘Beyond growth or beyond capitalism’:

Like it or not… it's time to abandon the fantasy of a steady-state capitalism, go back to the drawing boards and come up with a real "new macro-economic model," a practical, workable post-capitalist ecological economy, an economy by the people, for the people that is geared to production for need, not for profit. "Socialism"? "Economic democracy"? Call it what you like. But what other choice do we have? Either we save capitalism or we save ourselves. We can't save both.

If Smith is feeling pessimistic about humanity’s prospects, he isn’t showing it. He lives in New York, one of the epicenters of the Occupy movement last year that inspired people around the world. He lived through the movement against the war in Vietnam that compelled history’s largest empire to end its terrible war in Vietnam and let that country live in peace. He wrote in last year’s ‘Six theses’ essay:

We may be fast approaching the precipice of ecological collapse, but the means to derail this train wreck are in the making as, around the world, struggles against the destruction of nature, against dams, against pollution, against overdevelopment, against the siting of chemical plants and power plants, against predatory resource extraction, against the imposition of GMOs, against privatization of remaining common lands, water and public services, against capitalist unemployment and precarité are growing and building momentum. Today we're riding a swelling wave of near-simultaneous global mass democratic "awakening," almost global mass uprising. This global insurrection is still in its infancy, still unsure of its future, but its radical democratic instincts are, I believe, humanity's last best hope. Let's make history! 

Richard Smith will speak in Vancouver on Monday, March 24, in Victoria on March 26 and on Gabriola Island on March 28. All times are 7 pm. More details are here. His Vancouver talk will be filmed and podcast by the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group on its website. He will be interviewed on Vancouver Cooperative Radio’s Redeye program on Saturday, March 22 at 9:40 am. Tune in live at 100.5 FM or on the internet at www.coopradio.org.

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