Marxism, Capitalism and the Environment

By Kevin Chang and Emery

On 7th May about 10 of us met in the Dirac Room at St John’s College for the last discussion of term. Adam Booth from Socialist Appeal, who is just finishing off his PhD in Environmental Engineering, opened with an interesting and accessible talk on the ecological crisis threatening the survival of the species, and the inability of capitalism to deal with it.

He began by pointing out that the ecological crisis is the logical extension of the laws of capitalism – a system of private property, competition and the anarchic free market. No sane person would wish for the destruction of our world, and thus, civilisation as we know it; but individual capitalists, compelled by the need to make profit in a competitive market, literally cannot afford to be green. Adam then went on to explain the futility of dealing with the crisis within the confines of capitalism – via market mechanisms such as carbon credits and carbon taxes, as well as the proposed Keynesian “Green New Deal”. He explained how carbon taxes were regressive, as they hit the poor the hardest, and that taxing businesses would only result in a flight of capital.

After touching on the flawed logic of using consumer boycotts to combat such an endemic problem, and the trend amongst some environmentalists of blaming industrialisation itself for the crisis – a pessimistic view of us as a species, which stems from a society reacting to the horrors of capitalism; Adam concluded that a permanent solution could only be achieved through a rationally planned economy, free of the fetters of private property, the profit motive, and nation states that each have an obligation to protect the interests of their capitalist class.

This sparked a lively discussion, in which we debated, and ultimately dismissed, the possibility of nation states cooperating, the carbon credit scheme, consumer boycotts, and corporate ‘greenwashing’. This led to further discussion about the nature of the state and how political consciousness can be affected in the face of massive events.

The Cambridge Marxist Discussion Group wish students the best of luck in their exams, and look forward to meeting you all again in the next academic year!

Recommended Reading:

Global Warming: A Marxist Perspective


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