Friday, November 23, 2007

Why Capitalism Isn't Sustainable - Part 2 of 2

Touch Base Article July 2007 issue


‘Everything coming together,’ the subway advert says. ‘Nicely’ is the implication.

And, yet, as suggested by my last column (on the implications of thermodynamics for the planet’s future), everything should be degenerating into low-energy, random, high entropy goop.

How can this be?

If we look around, the natural world on this planet is one of beauty, order, vibrancy and coherence, while those laws of thermodynamics suggest that we should be seeing disorder and blah.

The paradox is resolved when thermodynamics talks of systems – particularly of living systems.

Other writers have tackled this, by observing that local systems can defy the drive towards low energy and high-entropy blah by externalizing the drive to disorder out-side themselves, causing their surroundings to be the recipient of disorder. On a personal level, the disordered, low-energy and high entropy waste that your life (and mine) creates goes down the toilet, into the air and into the garbage can.

As for a tree, it, like all other photosynthesizing plants, uses the high energy light from the sun to concentrate energy in the cellulose and so on of its body and, moreover, organizes that material in a highly ordered - and to our eyes – beautiful way. As, indeed, it was seen to be beautiful to the God described in Genesis.

Locally, therefore, the two driving forces in thermodynamics can be run ‘backwards’, but only if the local effects alone are considered. At a global – or, even, universal – level, the laws do have to be obeyed, since the local order is only achieved if the overall change is thermodynamically consistent. And, in particular, if Gibbs Free Energy must be negative (downhill) for the change, overall, to occur (because, if you’re pressing me!, the equilibrium constant for the change has to be large and positive).

So, what of this and the future for (human) life in Canada, globally, for new, settled and, even, yet-to-be immigrants?

The key thing is that life generally, and human life in one particular, is in a life or death struggle with an alien, but human-created ‘life’ form called money. An alien ‘life’ form that is increasing in population and appetite – as it gobbles the planet up.

Money, at present is a species that ‘lives’ by demanding its maximum return in the shortest possible time and, as the wealth-creation equation (that I suggested last month) operates, money – through the four accumulation processes of rent, interest, profits and greater than average earned income – moves from being a circulation to provide for human needs to the ‘investment’ (ha!) cycle – that drives the dash for short-term production – and accelerating ‘externalised’ entropy (disorder) production – ie atmospheric heating, pollution and eco-destruction. More, as we now all know, than ‘Gaia’ – the whole earth system – can cope with* (by radiation of low-energy heat into the rest of the universe and remediation by bio-sequestration processes).

So, what to do to halt the degradation and for Gaia to self-remediate?

In a few words – the answer is to kill off the killing mechanism. In other words, stop money running the world and reformulate human activity as ones that are co-operative, not-for-profit and for stewardship and care, rather than for ownership, profit, accumulation . . . and destruction.

And right quick!


* Two worthwhile books: Margrit Kennedy ‘Interest and Inflation Free Money’ and the Ninth Schumacher Briefing by Roy Madron and John Jopling ‘Gaian Democracies’.



(Created 20 June 2007 - two typos corrected, 22 November 2007)


John Scull said...


In the Part 1 you wrote:

Thus, I’m going to assert – in the hope of reasoned rebuttal – that (so-called) wealth creation is the consequence of the following word equation (the arrow is read as ‘goes to give’):

Raw Materials + Energy --> ‘Wealth’ + ‘Pollution’

While this is correct as far as it goes, it seems to me that this equation is overly simple as a description of human economic activity.

On the left side, there are other important factors: labour, technological innovation, and social organization are three influential factors of production. Thus, for example, a new technology or a government policy can "create wealth" with a variety of consequences for the consumption of energy and raw materials.

In addition, there is a possible feedback arrow from pollution on the right to raw materials on the left. This is often the case in natural ecosystems, where the decomposition path recycles most raw materials and some energy.

John Courtneidge said...

Dear John

In regard to:

Raw Materials + Energy --> ‘Wealth’ + ‘Pollution’

You rightly point to the roles of knowledge and human activity, to which I'll add 'somewhere to do it' and 'working capital - borrowed money'.

In a fuller (I hope!) description, these are factored in - I'll blog that soon under the title 'Capitalism - what it is and what we can do about it'.

You are quite right that Gaia has the wonder-full ability to recycle 'pollution' - the trouble with capitalism (etc) is that it produces pollution faster than Gaia can cope with (eg capitalist CO2 production rate is higher than nature's naturalrate of photosynthetic bio-remediation/ bio-accumulation).

Ie, the problem in capitalism is that money-accumulations (through rent, interest, dividends/company profits and excess paid-work income) constitutes the feedback loop that drives pollution-generation faster and faster. (And sucks money out of the human-needs part of the economy - hence the inevitability for capitalism to create poverty and war.)

Thanks! John, for your comment!

Love 2 all