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By Mateo Aguado
Just over a year ago, three renowned NASA scientists published a shocking study in which, based on complex mathematical models, they predicted the possible collapse of human civilization within a few decades. The causes that were mentioned as determining factors to reach such conclusions were mainly two: the unsustainable human overexploitation of the planet's resources and the increasing social inequality between rich and poor (1).
Beyond analyzing the seriousness of this prediction, I would like to note that the two reasons that, according to these researchers, could end up causing the collapse of our civilization are precisely two of the clearest characteristics of the capitalist system: a total insensitivity towards the ecological sustainability of the planet and an overwhelming disregard for (in) equality and social (in) justice.
Consequently - and as will be seen in greater depth in the following lines - it would not be too far-fetched to affirm that capitalism is, today, one of the greatest threats to the continuity of human culture on planet Earth. .
Evidences of a foolish system
In today's modern societies we have become used to associating purchasing power with the ability to achieve a happy life. In other words, it is assumed that –more than less– our income level determines the happiness that we can achieve in our lives (or, as they say, that money gives happiness).
This deceptive way of conceiving life (based on material and monetary aspects as a measure by which to achieve a good life) represents, probably, the greatest moral tool that capitalism possesses today. However, and as we will see below, this conception offers at least two pieces of evidence that make it untenable.
I) Social evidence
From the social point of view, capitalism is unsustainable insofar as it promotes a global society of possessors and dispossessed in which the unnecessary over-consumption of a few occurs at the cost of the vital deficiencies of the majority. And it is that one of the characteristics that modern capitalism has shown is the construction of societies in which social inequalities tend to grow (which happens whether we think on a planetary scale, at the country level, or if we do it within of the same country under the increasingly simplified prism of classes).
Parallel to this economic stratification of society into two clear groups (very rich elites and poor masses), capitalism has not even managed to fulfill its classic promise of bringing happiness to an increasing number of people. There are numerous studies that in this sense have roundly questioned the axiom so strongly established in capitalist DNA (and in the collective imagination) that money gives happiness. These studies would show us how the correlation between income and life satisfaction is only maintained in the early stages, when money is used to cover the most basic needs. From this point on we would enter a situation of "comfort" where more money no longer necessarily means more happiness. Moreover, once this situation has been reached, stubbornly pursuing economic growth (at the macro level) and the increase in income and consumption (at the micro level) can even be counterproductive, since it tends to make us neglect other aspects. of our life - intangible but equally essential for happiness - such as social relationships or the good use of time (2).
So it seems clear that capitalism is a system that squeaks with both social justice and human happiness. As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett made clear a few years ago - in their magnificent work Inequality: An Analysis of Collective (in) happiness - these two issues (social justice and human happiness) are two closely related issues. It seems that social inequalities tend to make us more unhappy: in those societies where the levels of inequality are higher, the levels of unhappiness are also higher (3).
From all this, the correct conclusion can be drawn that a society concerned with maximizing its levels of happiness should be a society focused on minimizing its levels of inequality (which, incidentally, seems a task incompatible with current policies Western development). Therefore, as Jorge Riechmann argues in his book How to live? About the good life, capitalism is "a declared enemy of happiness." And for this very reason "the supporters of human happiness can only be anti-capitalists."
II) The ecological evidence
On the other hand, the axiom of indefinite growth that capitalism defends, while (as we have seen) social nonsense, is a biophysical unviable. The constant demand for materials and energy that an economy like the one we have entails cannot be sustained indefinitely in time without ending up colliding with the biophysical limits of our planet (a place here, let's not forget, finite and limited). This fact, despite being firmly ignored by conventional economists (and by the vast majority of politicians), constitutes an absolutely incontestable reality, as the second law of thermodynamics teaches us. It could be said, therefore, that capitalism is, from the ecological, biophysical and thermodynamic point of view (from the scientific point of view after all) an impossible system doomed to disaster.
It is for reasons like this that [as already noted in the first entry of this blog] in politics and economics, as with other aspects of life, it is essential to have a minimum of scientific culture to be able to exercise as responsible and committed citizens (or what is the same for thermodynamic purposes, to accommodate our behavior to the biophysical limits of the planet).
I find the wise words of Wolfgang Sachs very interesting in this regard, who argues that, in the future, the planet will no longer be divided into ideologies of the left or of the right, but between those who accept the ecological limits of the planet and those who do not. . Or put another way, between those who understand and accept the laws of thermodynamics and those who don't. It is not, therefore, a question of fixing or refounding capitalism (as some politician argued not long ago) but of understanding that our future as a species on this planet will be a non-capitalist future or, simply, it will not be (4).
Making common mortals understand that the economic sphere cannot grow above the ecological sphere (at least not without first behaving like a cancer) is, as simple as it may seem to understand, one of the greatest challenges faced. faces the science and education of the new millennium.
However, this question of the concentric spheres - like Russian dolls - and the limits of the planet is (despite the repeated illusory messages in favor of the senseless gaster that capitalism strives to spread) a simple matter to conceive for all people . And here lies - precisely - our hope: the hope of social change in order to reach another possible world, more just and sustainable.
As Juan Carlos Monedero recently argued, it is much more feasible today to become anti-capitalist from environmentalist positions than from Marxist positions. The infeasibility of a system that advocates constant growth in a world that is limited is something much easier for normal people to understand than the downward trend of the rate of profit or the fetishism of the commodity that Marx spoke about.
Therefore, and as a corollary, it is urgent to understand that being an anti-capitalist today is no longer a question of ecologists or isolated Marxists, but is something of common sense; something directly related to the logic of survival. Hopefully this issue is understood - sooner rather than later - by the vast majority of individuals who populate the Earth until it becomes popular evidence. Our continuity on the planet and our happiness will depend on it.
(1) Motesharrei, S., Rivas, J., & Kalnay, E. (2012). A Minimal Model for Human and Nature Interaction.
(2) To go deeper into this topic, it is recommended to read this article.
(3) The work of Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) shows in detail how the increase in inequalities has significant negative repercussions on other aspects of life that directly affect well-being and happiness. Such would be the case of education, life expectancy, infant mortality, the incidence of mental illness, drug use, obesity and overweight rates or the number of homicides; variables all of them that present worse values in those places where inequality is greater.
(4) Defending from the socio-ecological argumentation the social "suicide" that supposes to remain immersed in the logic of capitalism is a vital imperative as well as one of the great objectives of this blog: to create anti-capitalist consciousness through the Sciences of The sustainability.
(5) EME: Evaluation of the Millennium Ecosystems of Spain (2011). Synthesis of results. Biodiversity Foundation. Ministry of the Environment, and Rural and Marine Affairs.