Despite massive public concern, the environment continues to deteriorate. What is the problem?
While individuals are lectured to reduce, reuse, and recycle, industry is allowed to destroy the environment on a grand scale. In search of profit, raw materials are ripped from nature as cheaply as possible, toxic chemicals are mass produced, and dumping is preferred over recycling or safe disposal.
After World War II, the U.S. military dumped millions of pounds of nerve gas and mustard gas, 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land-mines, rockets, and tons of radioactive water in more than 26 sites off the U.S. coast. Today, a river of radioactive poison is flowing from the Hanford nuclear waste dump towards the Columbia River while authorities pretend not to notice..
How societies relate to the environment is determined by how the people in those societies relate to each other.
Cooperative, sharing societies treated nature as a life-giving force. Conscious of their responsibility to the next generation, they took only what they needed and wasted nothing.
In contrast, capitalism severs our connections with one another and with nature in order to accumulate capital. Instead of working for ourselves and each other, we work for employers who exploit us, then throw us away. These same employers use nature as a source of raw materials to pillage on the one end and a massive toilet in which to dump garbage on the other. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how disregard for people and disregard for the environment go hand-in-hand.
The media ignore the role of capitalism in damaging the environment, preferring to place the the blame on ordinary people. As the New York Times warns, “We simply cannot continue to hold our national security and the health of the planet hostage to our appetite for fossil fuels.”
There is no “we.” The people in power push dependence on gas and oil because they profit from control of these resources. Ordinary people do not get to choose mass transit instead of automobile-clogged roads. We get no say in redesigning work to shorten the daily commute. We have no power to force companies to recycle at the point of production.
As long as a few people are allowed to exploit and oppress everyone else, they will also pillage and pollute the environment. Only when we organize to protect ourselves will we gain the power to protect our world.
Capitalism can solve only one problem, how to accumulate profit. Every other problem is waiting for a worker-run society that will protect people and the environment on which we depend.