“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity,
stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
“To sum up: a system of conservation based solely on economic
self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. It tends to ignore, and thus eventually
to eliminate, many elements in the land community that lack commercial value,
but that are (as far as we know) essential to its healthy functioning. It
assumes, falsely, I think, that the economic parts of the biotic clock will
function without the uneconomic parts. It tends to relegate to government
many functions eventually too large, too complex, or too widely dispersed
to be performed by government.” --Aldo Leopold
Any economic system based upon greed rather than the public good and
the ruthless exploitation of nature is not only wrong, it is a prescription
for disaster. Capitalism not only embodies this self destructive ideology, it
depends upon endless growth (the ideology of the cancer cell) for its continuation.
Endless growth, regardless how well it is managed, is an ecological impossibility
on a finite planet. Thus the perceived success of capitalism is short-lived
at best. Because it is based upon a cycle of voracious consumption and waste,
capitalism will inevitably collapse. This is not idle speculation or wishful
thinking on my part; it is a mathematical certainty based upon the most elementary
precepts of ecological science.
Meanwhile, the ecological consequences of unbridled capitalism will be dire.
The collapse of the world’s great ecosystems, driven by capital’s
insatiable lust for material wealth, is already well under way and is almost
certainly irreversible. To continue down this path will surely make things orders
of magnitudes worse than if we change direction and begin to live responsibly
Combined with a human population explosion, the growth of highly industrialized
cultures driven by capitalism’s ceaseless quest for raw materials, new
markets, cheap labor and higher profits, we are witnessing the systematic and
wanton destruction of the biosphere in exchange for capital.
Free trade is not what the name would seem to imply. Free trade has nothing
to do with freedom for people or the promotion of democracy. It is in fact the
capacity for multinational corporations to do business without restrictions
of any kind. Capitalists come in all sizes and shapes, some of them Republican,
some Democrats; some conservative, some liberal. Future generations, whether
human beings or polar bears, means nothing to them. They cannot see the world
in its incomprehensible biological complexity, but only in terms of dollars
and cents and profit margins.
The world’s largest financial institutions are run by gluttonous
robber barons that have hijacked most of the world’s governments and set
us on an irreversible course of self-destruction. They are literally consuming
the earth, exploiting the world’s poor and altering complex ecological
processes that provide habitat, a livable climate, clean air, potable water
and abundant food for perhaps 30 million or more species. These are processes
that have evolved over eons of time. They are a gift, a right of birth that
belongs equally to all beings, not just to those who can convert them into private
Only the most maniacal and perverted thinkers could conceive of the
idea of private ownership of the earth’s life processes. Monsanto and
DuPont do not have a legitimate claim to the world’s genetic library.
Any economic system that adversely affects the planet’s ability to sustain
life is not only wrong; it is criminally insane and must be subverted at all
Imagine having to pay a fee to breathe the air that is the birthright of every
living organism. Several large corporations, including the Nestle’ company,
is even now in the process of privatizing the world’s drinking water and
doling it out for corporate profit. Nestle’ did nothing to create or manufacture
water; it was already here in abundance through most of the earth’s 4.5
billion year history. It is absurd for the Nestle’ company to claim that
they own the world’s drinking water. One cannot own what one cannot create.
Contrary to popular belief, the world does not operate on economic capital;
it functions on biological capital. The ecological health of the planet is the
underpinning of all of the world’s economic systems. When human activities
such as industrialization, mining, logging, over-fishing and war disrupt the
world’s ecosystems, they diminish the earth’s ability to self repair
and to sustain life. The combination of over population and the denigration
and loss of habitat lead to a condition known as overshoot. And that is where
we are today: overshooting the planet’s ability to sustain life with the
capacity for self renewal.
Never satisfied that enough is enough, capitalism’s appetite for wealth
is truly insatiable. Its stated goal is to own the world and to put it under
private ownership. Those who command the capital, the wealthiest one quarter
of one percent of the global population, can thus force the rest of the world
to pay for the privilege of breathing clean air and drinking potable water.
Clean water and pure air are not the result of industrial production; they are
the result of complex ecological processes that no man can duplicate, much less
create. To privatize them is to hold the world’s people hostage to the
wealthiest individuals and the corporate state. This is what happens when corporations
such as Monsanto deliberately destroy the world’s genetic plant diversity
and force growers to buy genetically altered seeds that produce sterile offspring.
As a result of human overpopulation, and capitalism’s inherent greed,
virtually all of the world’s great ecosystems are in decline or collapse.
The earth’s ability to replenish herself and to sustain her immense biological
diversity (biological capital) is being diminished. So we are living in the
midst of one of the planet’s great extinction episodes and it is human
Every plant and animal that exists has an impact on the planet. It is therefore
imperative that we live gently and with minimal environmental impact, lest we
impair the earth’s ability to sustain life. The concept of the private
ownership of nature simply does not produce a sound and responsible land ethic.
Unbridled greed, like that driving virtually all of our governmental policies,
has no place in a sustainable culture. Enriching the world’s wealthiest
people at the expense of the biosphere is the worst kind of insanity imaginable.
And that is exactly what we are doing.
It may come as surprise to most people but human beings, like all of the other
animals that inhabit the earth, cannot produce food. We are totally and utterly
dependent upon plants to photosynthesize and produce the world’s food
supply. That is why plants are called primary producers by ecologists. With
every forest or prairie we destroy we diminish the earth’s ability to
produce food and to sustain life. Every parking lot and shopping mall that is
built, every housing development, takes more land out of production and diminishes
the earth’s ability to sustain life.
The fantastic rise of the human population and industrial production is driving
global warming, which has so altered the atmospheric chemistry that traditional
weather patterns, oceanic currents and trade winds no longer behave as they
have traditionally. These oceanic and wind currents have a profound impact on
the global climate. Altering them has consequences that are not well understood.
However, one predicted result is more intense hurricanes and typhoons, which
we are already witnessing. The number of hurricanes and typhoons appears to
remain fairly constant at about eighty per year. It is their intensity that
Another prediction of global warming is the worldwide melting of glaciers,
accompanied by a rise in sea waters. We are also seeing this phenomenon. These
effects exert a profound impact on global climate and hence every living being.
Ignoring the consequences of our actions will have dire consequences that will
probably result in the death of billions of human beings, and untold numbers
of other species, all of which contribute to the ecological health of the planet.
As these phenomena worsen the American consumer continues to expend enormous
quantities of fossilized energy in order to drive inefficient, polluting, petrol
guzzling hulks of steel, oblivious to the harm they are doing to the biosphere.
Because so many Americans lack ecological literacy and social conscience, they
do not have a clue. They have been thoroughly indoctrinated in the advertisements
of Madison Avenue to consume and waste, as if the earth was infinite and their
actions were without consequences. But there is no cause without its attendant
effect. Superfluous consumption in one place creates want and impoverishment
in another. That is what happens when the world’s wealth is not equitably
We are a materially wealthy but spiritually impoverished people lacking a land
ethic because we lack a spiritual connection to the land.
Those who are running rough shod over the global economy do not care if they
destroy the earth. They view the earth is a resource to be exploited for private
gain at public expense. They have no spiritual connection to the earth or the
processes that create life. Their industrial strength religion has taught them
that the earth is an imperfect and vile place that must be subdued and conquered.
For them wilderness is evil and unruly. By the time they succeed at annihilating
the earth they will be dead, rising into the clouds with harp strumming angels
in a beautiful harmonic convergence on the last day, gently flapping white feathered
wings of their own. It certainly would be beautiful to be rid of them.
The indigenous cultures that once populated this earth of majesty viewed the
world with a deep sense of reverential awe and respect. They knew the earth
was endowed with a living spirit that made their own existence possible. The
world view of the American Indian, for example, prior to being Christianized,
was far more sophisticated and appropriate than the modern industrial view wrought
from capitalism and industrialized religion. The Indian understood the world
in terms of interconnectedness and interdependence. All things are connected.
Destroying the webs of interdependence that bond the world together is to obliterate
the sacred relationship that exists between all beings, both animate and inanimate.
It is the path to self-annihilation. Who but a fool or an idiot would choose
to take that path?
Among the Indians, consensus decisions were made based upon how the proposed
actions would affect the next seven generations. That is the kind of visionary
thinking that is wholly absent from corporate board rooms.
With the rise of capitalism as a dominant paradigm the sense of the sacred
is nearly lost. Nature was commodified and placed under the private ownership
of multinational corporations. The world’s indigenous cultures were systematically
obliterated and a great cancer was unleashed upon the world that would consume
everything in its path like a cloud of locusts. Because capitalism requires
new markets and an inexhaustible supply of raw materials the world lost much
of its biological and cultural diversity to corporate plunder. In biological
systems diversity is the key to long term stability. Left to continue its destructive
course, capitalism will reduce the world to a nearly sterile monoculture—a
monument to gluttonous depravity and waste.
Whereas the Indian saw the great Appalachian forest as a complex web of relationships
that were the source of life, the capitalist saw the forest as mere commodities
measured in board feet, free for the taking. The Appalachian forest was clear-cut
and hauled to the lumber mills, making the mountains bald before their time.
The forest was put on short cutting rotations, like a crop of corn that provided
the robber barons with enormous wealth, all of it stolen. Today they are managed
for multiple abuse by industrial foresters trained at our finest universities.
Eventually the mountains themselves would be blown apart when the mining companies
sought cheaper and faster ways to mine coal. The process is known as mountain
top removal and it is in vogue in West Virginia and other regions where the
great Central Appalachian forests once flourished. Ecologically and economically
devastated communities are left behind, while the timber and mining companies
move on to greener pastures to repeat the process over and over. These destructive
practices spread across Turtle Island like a cancer, destroying world class
biodiversity and leaving only a few fragmented, ecologically impaired islands
behind. The same destructive forces have been set loose upon every part of the
word. This is socialized cost and privatized wealth in the most extreme, subsidized
by our tax dollars.
Wherever the extractive industries have gone they have left polluted waters
and depauperate landscapes, and exhausted and impoverished workers in their
wake. The company owners get rich while the workers continue to live in abject
poverty and are still dying in the mines. This is the legacy of capitalism,
as witnessed by a historical record that is beyond dispute. It is there for
the entire world to see, as if etched in granite. You can see it in the face
of the miners and the impoverished remnant forest, in the toxic waste left behind
in Butte, Montana, where the water in the aftermath of copper mining has the
acidity of battery acid.
It makes no moral, ecological or economic sense whatsoever for us to continue
down this path of self-deception and self-annihilation. As we have seen, capitalism
produces only a few winners, and leaves death and devastation in its wake. Either
we rebel or die. Think about the kind of world we are leaving future generations.
How can they ever forgive us this trespass?
Imagine, if you can, living in a world based upon mutual aide and cooperation,
rather than cut-throat competition; a world where people cared for the earth
and for one another, and the world’s wealth was equitably shared among
Charles Sullivan is a photographer, free lance writer
and social activist living in the hinterland of West Virginia. He welcomes your
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org