The Polluting Machinery of Capital


This is part one of a three-part series on economics and the environment. This first segment will cover our current system’s, capitalism’s, effects on the environment. The second essay will cover the false notion of “green” capitalism. And the series of writings will be finished with an economical solution to ecological problems.

Production’s current mode of capitalism is also the current mode of systematic ecological destruction. This ecological destruction means health issues, lower living standards, and death beyond a genocidal level. The processes of capital and the market it operates within, have a primary focus on the pursuit of profit for the current ruling class, the capitalist class, and a secondary focus on capital accumulation to unsustainably accelerate the whole structure and perpetuate profit. This concludes in a blindness to the environmental cost and the prevention of it being often contradictory to the system, and the problem exponentially worsening. The forces of capital, its accumulation, its basic operations, lead to devastating ecological problems.

Ecological damage is a critical issue, that should not be held at any lower level of priority. It’s estimated that around 12.6 million people die yearly from environmental issues, to put that into perspective that’s more deaths in one year than the entirety of the Holocaust [1][2]. 24% of all diseases, fatal and non-fatal, are also caused by ecological problems[3]. A lower general quality of life as people will live in degenerated surroundings and the beauty of nature will be lost, is also another symptom of an unhealthy environment. To simply categorize ecological issues as of no importance, is a grave and ignorant mistake.

At the heart of the current system is private property, the means of production, the factories/facilities in which commodities are created, that are owned by private individuals and are subjected to hierarchical organization. This arrangement of society results in the means of production being used as tools, in which to gain profit for the private ruling class of proprietors. The ruling class employs workers to produce commodities which are sold on the market at a higher price than what the worker was paid to produce it. Useful labor passed the amount needed to generate a wage to sustain the worker, is extracted by the capitalist as surplus value (the monetary form of surplus labor) or otherwise known as profit while some of it is used a capital to reinvest in the business, this process is called capital accumulation. Capital accumulation serves the role of renewing, perpetuating, and reinvesting in production. Capital is spent on machinery, raw materials, labor, advertising, etc. This leads to a culture of greed within the ruling class, greed for profit and capital to perpetuate the production of profit.

These relations of production and capital lead to a blindness of ecological damage. Under this system the corporate owners will almost always attempt to make production as profitable as possible, no matter humanitarian, ecological, and other social costs and other words cost marginalization. The most ecologically friendly option can be the most profitable but in reality, this is rare as environmentally sympathetic options are often contradictory to the goal of profit. For example. it costs profit to spend on research of green production methods, to properly handle waste, to install measures to handle and prevent pollution, among countless more scenarios. All of this results in institutions simply ignoring ecological solutions, in favor for profitable solutions.

Even just a brief glance at our planet would conclude that it’s being ravaged and strangled by a sequence of processes powered and controlled by capital. This systematic ruining of the Earth starts with primary accumulation, the extraction of the raw materials to be used for production. One form of primary accumulation is metallic mining, which can cause contamination of water by acid mine drainage and metal contaminants, particulate matter being released into the air leading to respiratory illnesses [4]. Toxic dust from oil drilling and coal mining can pollute the air and oil spills and fracking risk water supplies [5]. All of these also contribute to deforestation. And this is only the first point of pollution in the relations of capital.

The next step in this horrific system is production. Many forms of production can cause ecological damage like the production of electricity, by burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, causes toxic emissions to enter the air and CO2 emissions. Also, byproducts of consumer goods manufacturing can seep into the water and atmosphere [6] and steel production can release dangerous gasses like Sulfur [7], among many other examples. Sometimes, two sets of production are involved like oil needing to be refining, releasing toxic waste into the air [8], before being burned and releasing even more toxic waste into the air or polluting ore refining [9] before it’s turned into steel, another process involving environmental damage. Capital accumulation occurs at every single point of production, meaning after the product is produced or refined the capital extracted from the surplus labor is used to reinvest in the whole process causing all of it to repeat but on a larger scale every time. This concludes in the pollution happening over and over but worse every cycle. Cost is also marginalized during production so ecological solutions like waste management and cleanup are skipped in order to save profit. After this, The commodity finally reaches, the last step of this system, consumption.

The epitome of capitalism is mindless, wasteful, and endless consumptionConsumption under capitalism is heavily engineered in society by the advertising-marketing industrial complex to always be greater and greater, so more and more profit can be made and to direct consumption towards more profitable products (and as stated above, also meaning probably more ecologically damaging products). Cost marginalization is also used to direct consumption, since how cheap a good is, is a major consideration of consumers. Consumption of a product can be extremely environmentally harmful. For example using gasoline while driving emits nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants into the air [10], and has covered New Delhi, India in off the charts amounts of smog from trucks and vehicles [11]. Smoking Cigarettes will harm the user but also give off second-hand smoke containing 7000 toxic ingredients and 70 carcinogens [12]. After consumption, waste is created when the product is thrown away in a landfill, which threaten the air and water sources [13] and make streches of lands useless for other applications. A product has finally made its path through our system, directed by the forces of capital and the market, and has most likely been involved in much destruction of our environment.

The cherry on top of all this is that every step from resource extraction to consumption involves electricity and transportation. It requires electricity to run the drills and machines to extract the resources, to refine the resources, to turn the resources into products, to store those products in inventory, and to run the product. Which means a whole another process to produce electricity involving the most ecological damaging industry in the US [14] just so you can power a process that causes, even more, ecological damage.  It also involves transportation and the consequential polluting emissions [10], to get the resources from each phase to the next. Cost marginalization and pollution happens at every phase and between.

Every step and between of our current mode of production has the potential for ecological damage. And it usually meets this potential because of cost marginalization and the relations capital acts in. This means grave consequences of death at a genocidal level and widespread health issues. The next segments of this series of essays will cover, how liberal suggestions of ethical consumerism and regulations as solutions are undermined and rendered useless by the very system, and how the solution to the ecological destruction is the removal of capital and its substitution by communalism and revolution.


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