The -ism That Isn’t

It’s increasingly clear that human societies of every stripe are engaged in a program of natural habitat and environmental destruction as a direct result of their focus on population and economic growth with accompanying increases in material consumption. Mainstream politics and economics stride on in lock step toward the yawning abyss clearly visible on the near horizon.

Global warming, aka climate change, captures the minuscule imaginations of politicians and their journalistic lapdogs, while their corporate puppet masters take full advantage of the resulting fear mongering to line their own pockets. Amid this frenzy of faux activity, natural habitats continue to decline, species continue to go extinct, water supplies diminish, topsoil continues to wash away downstream and real human pollutants continue to pile up in the corners of all ecosystems around the globe.

Some social and political activists offer alternatives to the status quo, none of which, to any great extent, offer a meaningful alternative to the dominant social systems. Among these, so-called “ecosocialism” is presented as a solution to growth dependent industrial socialism and capitalism.

 

Hans Baer: “Democratic eco-socialism rejects a statist, growth-oriented, productivist ethic and recognizes that humans live on an ecologically fragile planet with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed as much as possible for future generations.”

Source: A vision of democratic ecosocialism

The above Hans Baer quote from Climate and Capitalism expresses the response of a minority of socialists to environmental degradation at the hands of a growing human population and its expansionist political and economic systems.

Ecosocialism is, of course, an anthropocentric political and economic philosophy, attempting to project environmental concern in an otherwise human centered endeavor. It fails in this attempt because it is, first and foremost, conceived by socialists who are not ecologists, environmentalists or even scientists. It merely tacks on the label “Eco-” onto “Socialist,” without challenging prevailing economic, political and social relationships among humans and the non-human world.

For example, the statement “humans live on an ecologically fragile planet” is inaccurate and self-serving. Ecologists know that natural ecological systems are robust, vibrant and adaptive. It is human destruction of natural habitat and exploitation of “natural resources” that depletes natural biodiversity and interferes with natural ecological interrelationships that leads to the erroneous conclusion  of “fragile” ecosystems. Labeling the planet as “fragile” takes the responsibility for its degradation away from human action and responsibility.

The phrase “with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed” assumes that “resources,” that is air, water, sunlight, soil, minerals, plants and animals, are solely for human use, and ignores the irreducible necessity of these resources to the non-human world. It also assumes that humans can “sustain and renew” these resources, rather than concluding that humans must instead reduce our consumption and exploitation of natural raw materials required by all living things.

Finally, the phrase “for future generations” appears frequently in ecosocialist discussion, underlining the basic assumption that preserving vibrant ecosystems is necessary for human betterment rather for the intrinsic necessity of all life.

Human impact on the natural world is the product of per capita economic throughput (consumption) multiplied by population. Ecosocialism attempts to address only the consumption part of this equation, assuming that socialist economic and social systems will result in overall population stabilization, ignoring the fact that human population has already overshot the carrying capacity of this planet, as is evidenced by increasing environmental degradation and ecosystems failure.

Humans are an animal species, subject to the same instinctive drivers of population growth as are all other animal species. The difference between humans and other animal species is that humans have largely eliminated predators that keep human population growth in check. While rapidly evolving bacteria and viruses may change that relationship at some future date, at present human population growth continues, even in countries with social conditions conducive to smaller families.

Depending on increased standard of living and improved social relationships as the sole regulators of human population growth is unrealistic and ultimately defeating. Raising the standard of living of the entire human population to a threshold level that might result in decreased population growth is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Whether caused by excessive consumption or excessive population growth, the ship is still going down.

What is required, if humans are to continue to live on this planet, is for human societies to function within natural ecological cycles and interrelationships, not above but side-by-side with all other species, as part of the natural world, not outside of it.

Rather than tacking “eco-” onto “socialism,” those concerned with human impacts on the world on which we live would do better to envision a human world that first and foremost exists as a contributing and cooperative part of the natural world.

The name is not important. Yet another -ism isn’t the answer.

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