By Martin Empson
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 342

Climate change: Capitalism’s inbuilt obsolescence

This article is over 12 years, 6 months old
The economic driving force of capitalism is the need to accumulate wealth - to make profits.
Issue 342

This drive to make money means that anything that increases costs, such as reducing pollution, will be resisted by those in charge. Investment in energy reduction or improved processes may have a long term logic, but in the short term they risk reducing a company’s ability to compete for profit.

But there is a wider problem. For capitalism the natural world is something to be exploited. Either it is a source of raw materials for profits or it is a dump for the waste of the production process. For mainstream economists the natural world is outside their calculations. The productive process is one based on competition and geared entirely towards making money. It is not, in other words, based on rational decisions or aimed at supplying the needs of ordinary people.

So despite the huge need for renewable energy, Vestas closed its wind turbine factory because it could make more profits by moving production to the US.

Capitalism is also inherently wasteful – billions of pounds are invested in industries that bring no benefit to society as a whole. Think of the wealth wasted in arms manufacturing or the advertising industry. In their efforts to make more money, the capitalists build obsolescence into the manufacturing process. Goods we buy have a short lifespan, rather than being designed to last as long as possible. We’re encouraged to quickly replace everything from clothing to vehicles.

Finally, the long-term future of society is under threat because the vested interests of the most powerful corporations – the fossil fuel industries – will resist any challenge to their wealth and power. We need to rapidly move away from a carbon economy, but there are trillions of dollars of historical investment that the capitalists won’t want to give up.

Since its beginnings, capitalism has been plagued by repeated economic crises. It has also produced repeated environmental and ecological disasters.

Tackling climate change is a fight for the future of the planet and the survival of the human race. Because of this it raises starkly the problem of the type of society we live in.

If we want to create a sustainable world, we will have to get rid of a system that can only exploit the planet. This means we need to create a society that relates to the natural world in a different way. A sustainable society can only be one which has rational, planned production at its heart.

This is not to say we should emulate the bureaucratic top-down planning that characterised the Soviet Union. Of course there will need to be some centralisation and coordination. But this should be on the basis of the maximum involvement of ordinary people in the productive process. Making a planned economy as democratic as possible is one way to ensure that the interests of people and planet are at the heart of a better world.

Such a world will have to be fought for. In the face of economic recession, by uniting the campaigns against environmental destruction with those fighting for jobs and investment we can start the process of creating a movement to change the world.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance