An Anarchist FAQ - E.1 What do eco-anarchists propose instead of capitalism?

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E.1 What are the root causes of our ecological problems?

The dangers associated with environmental damage have become better known over the last few decades. In fact, awareness of the crisis we face has entered into the mainstream of politics. Those who assert that environmental problems are minor or non-existent have, thankfully, become marginalised (effectively, a few cranks and so-called "scientists" funded by corporations and right-wing think tanks). Both politicians and corporations have been keen to announce their "green" credentials Which is ironic, as anarchists would argue that both the state and capitalism are key causes for the environmental problems we are facing.

In other words, anarchists argue that pollution and the other environmental problems we face are symptoms. The disease itself is deeply imbedded in the system we live under and need to be addressed alongside treating the more obvious results of that deeper cause. Otherwise, to try and eliminate the symptoms by themselves can be little more than a minor palliative and, fundamentally, pointless as they will simply keep reappearing until their root causes are eliminated

For anarchists, as we noted in section A.3.3, the root causes for our ecological problems lie in social problems. Bookchin uses the terms "first nature" and "second nature" to express this idea. First nature is the environment while second nature is humanity. The latter can shape and influence the former, for the worse or for the better. How it does so depends on how it treats itself. A decent, sane and egalitarian society will treat the environment it inhabits in a decent, sane and respective way. A society marked by inequality, hierarchies and exploitation will trend its environment as its members treat each other. Thus "all our notions of dominating nature stem from the very real domination of human by human." The "domination of human by human preceded the notion of dominating nature. Indeed, human domination of human gave rise to the very idea of dominating nature." This means, obviously, that "it is not until we eliminate domination in all its forms . . . that we will really create a rational, ecological society." [Remaking Society, p. 44]

By degrading ourselves, we create the potential for degrading our environment. This means that anarchists "emphasise that ecological degradation is, in great part, a product of the degradation of human beings by hunger, material insecurity, class rule, hierarchical domination, patriarchy, ethnic discrimination, and competition." [Bookchin, "The Future of the Ecology Movement," pp. 1-20, Which Way for the Ecology Movement?, p. 17] This is unsurprising, for "nature, as every materialist knows, is not something merely external to humanity. We are a part of nature. Consequently, in dominating nature we not only dominate an 'external world' -- we also dominate ourselves." [John Clark, The Anarchist Moment, p. 114]

We cannot stress how important this analysis is. We cannot ignore "the deep-seated division in society that came into existence with hierarchies and classes." To do so means placing "young people and old, women and men, poor and rich, exploited and exploiters, people of colour and whites all on a par that stands completely at odds with social reality. Everyone, in turn, despite the different burdens he or she is obliged to bear, is given the same responsibility for the ills of our planet. Be they starving Ethiopian children or corporate barons, all people are held to be equally culpable in producing present ecological problems." These become "de-socialised" and so this perspective "side-step[s] the profoundly social roots of present-day ecological dislocations" and "deflects innumerable people from engaging in a practice that could yield effective social change." It "easily plays into the hands of a privileged stratum who are only too eager to blame all the human victims of an exploitative society for the social and ecological ills of our time." [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 33]

Thus, for eco-anarchists, hierarchy is the fundamental root cause of our ecological problems. Hierarchy, notes Bookchin includes economic class "and even gives rise to class society historically" but it "goes beyond this limited meaning imputed to a largely economic form of stratification." It refers to a system of "command and obedience in which elites enjoy varying degrees of control over their subordinates without necessarily exploiting them." [Ecology of Freedom, p. 68] Anarchism, he stressed, "anchored ecological problems for the first time in hierarchy, not simply in economic classes." [Remaking Society, p. 155]

Needless to say, the forms of hierarchy have changed and evolved over the years. The anarchist analysis of hierarchies goes "well beyond economic forms of exploitation into cultural forms of domination that exist in the family, between generations and sexes, among ethnic groups, in institutions of political, economic, and social management, and very significantly, in the way we experience reality as a whole, including nature and non-human life-forms." [Op. Cit., p. 46] This means that anarchists recognise that ecological destruction has existed in most human societies and is not limited just to capitalism. It existed, to some degree, in all hierarchical pre-capitalist societies and, of course, in any hierarchical post-capitalist ones as well. However, as most of us live under capitalism today, anarchists concentrate our analysis to that system and seek to change it. Anarchists stress the need to end capitalism simply because of its inherently anti-ecological nature ("The history of 'civilisation' has been a steady process of estrangement from nature that has increasingly developed into outright antagonism."). Our society faces "a breakdown not only of its values and institutions, but also of its natural environment. This problem is not unique to our times" but previous environmental destruction "pales before the massive destruction of the environment that has occurred since the days of the Industrial Revolution, and especially since the end of the Second World War. The damage inflicted on the environment by contemporary society encompasses the entire world . . . The exploitation and pollution of the earth has damaged not only the integrity of the atmosphere, climate, water resources, soil, flora and fauna of specific regions, but also the basic natural cycles on which all living things depend." [Bookchin, Ecology of Freedom, p. 411 and p. 83]

This has its roots in the "grow-or-die" nature of capitalism we discussed in section D.4. An ever-expanding capitalism must inevitably come into collision with a finite planet and its fragile ecology. Firms whose aim is to maximise their profits in order to grow will happily exploit whoever and whatever they can to do so. As capitalism is based on exploiting people, can we doubt that it will also exploit nature? It is unsurprising, therefore, that this system results in the exploitation of the real sources of wealth, namely nature and people. It is as much about robbing nature as it is about robbing the worker. To quote Murray Bookchin:

 

"Any attempt to solve the ecological crisis within a bourgeois framework must be dismissed as chimerical. Capitalism is inherently anti-ecological Competition and accumulation constitute its very law of life, a law . . summarised in the phrase, 'production for the sake of production.' Anything, however hallowed or rare, 'has its price' and is fair game for the marketplace. In a society of this kind, nature is necessarily treated as a mere resource to be plundered and exploited. The destruction of the natural world, far being the result of mere hubristic blunders, follows inexorably from the very logic of capitalist production." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, pp. viii-ix]

So, in a large part, environmental problems derive from the fact that capitalism is a competitive economy, guided by the maxim "grow or die." This is its very law of life for unless a firm expands, it will be driven out of business or taken over by a competitor. Hence the capitalist economy is based on a process of growth and production for their own sake. "No amount of moralising or pietising," stresses Bookchin, "can alter the fact that rivalry at the most molecular base of society is a bourgeois law of life . . . Accumulation to undermine, buy out, or otherwise absorb or outwit a competitor is a condition for existence in a capitalist economic order." This means "a capitalistic society based on competition and growth for its own sake must ultimately devour the natural world, just like an untreated cancer must ultimately devour its host. Personal intentions, be they good or bad, have little to do with this unrelenting process. An economy that is structured around the maxim, 'Grow or Die,' must necessarily pit itself against the natural world and leave ecological ruin in its wake as its works it way through the biosphere." [Remaking Society, p. 93 and p. 15]

This means that good intentions and ideals have no bearing on the survival of a capitalist enterprise. There is a very simple way to be "moral" in the capitalist economy: namely, to commit economic suicide. This helps explain another key anti-ecological tendency within capitalism, namely the drive to externalise costs of production (i.e., pass them on to the community at large) in order to minimise private costs and so maximise profits and so growth As we will discuss in more detail in section E.3, capitalism has an in-built tendency to externalise costs in the form of pollution as it rewards the kind of short-term perspective that pollutes the planet in order to maximise the profits of the capitalist. This is also driven by the fact that capitalism's need to expand also reduces decision making from the quantitative to the qualitative. In other words, whether something produces a short-term profit is the guiding maxim of decision making and the price mechanism itself suppresses the kind of information required to make ecologically informed decisions

As Bookchin summarises, capitalism "has made social evolution hopelessly incompatible with ecological evolution." [Ecology of Freedom, p. 14] It lacks a sustainable relation to nature not due to chance, ignorance or bad intentions but due to its very nature and workings

Fortunately, as we discussed in section D.1, capitalism has rarely been allowed to operate for long entirely on its own logic. When it does, counter-tendencies develop to stop society being destroyed by market forces and the need to accumulate money. Opposition forces always emerge, whether these are in the form of state intervention or in social movements aiming for reforms or more radical social change (the former tends to be the result of the latter, but not always). Both force capitalism to moderate its worst tendencies.

However, state intervention is, at best, a short-term. This is because the state is just as much a system of social domination, oppression and exploitation as capitalism. Which brings us to the next key institution which anarchists argue needs to be eliminated in order to create an ecological society: the state. If, as anarchists argue, the oppression of people is the fundamental reason for our ecological problems then it logically follows that the state cannot be used to either create and manage an ecological society. It is a hierarchical, centralised, top-down organisation based on the use of coercion to maintain elite rule. It is, as we stressed in section B.2, premised on the monopolisation of power in the hands of a few. In other words, it is the opposite of commonly agreed ecological principles such as freedom to develop, decentralisation and diversity

As Bookchin put it, the "notion that human freedom can be achieved, much less perpetuated, through a state of any kind is monstrously oxymoronic -- a contradiction in terms." This is because "statist forms" are based on "centralisation, bureaucratisation, and the professionalisation of power in the hands of elite bodies." This flows from its nature for one of its "essential functions is to confine, restrict, and essentially suppress local democratic institutions and initiatives." It has been organised to reduce public participation and control, even scrutiny. ["The Ecological Crisis, Socialism, and the need to remake society," pp. 1-10, Society and Nature, vol. 2, no. 3, p. 8 and p. 9] If the creation of an ecological society requires individual freedom and social participation (and it does) then the state by its very nature and function excludes both

The state's centralised nature is such that it cannot handle the complexities and diversity of life. "No administrative system is capable of representing" a community or, for that matter, an eco-system argues James C. Scott "except through a heroic and greatly schematised process of abstraction and simplification. It is not simply a question of capacity . . . It is also a question of purpose. State agents have no interest -- nor should they -- in describing an entire social reality . . . Their abstractions and simplifications are disciplined by a small number of objectives." This means that the state is unable to effectively handle the needs of ecological systems, including human ones. Scott analyses various large-scale state schemes aiming at social improvement and indicates their utter failure. This failure was rooted in the nature of centralised systems. He urges us "to consider the kind of human subject for whom all these benefits were being provided. This subject was singularly abstract." The state was planning "for generic subjects who needed so many square feet of housing space, acres of farmland, litres of clean water, and units of transportation and so much food, fresh air, and recreational space. Standardised citizens were uniform in their needs and even interchangeable. What is striking, of course, is that such subjects . . . have, for purposes of the planning exercise, no gender; no tastes; no history; no values; no opinions or original ideas, no traditions, and no distinctive personalities to contribute to the enterprise . . . The lack of context and particularity is not an oversight; it is the necessary first premise of any large-scale planning exercise. To the degree that the subjects can be treated as standardised units, the power of resolution in the planning exercise is enhanced . . . The same logic applies to the transformation of the natural world." [Seeing like a State, pp. 22-3 and p. 346]

A central power reduces the participation and diversity required to create an ecological society and tailor humanity's interaction with the environment in a way which respects local conditions and eco-systems In fact, it helps creates ecological problems by centralising power at the top of society, limiting and repressing the freedom of individuals communities and peoples as well as standardising and so degrading complex societies and eco-systems. As such, the state is just as anti-ecological as capitalism is as it shares many of the same features. As Scott stresses, capitalism "is just as much an agency of homogenisation, uniformity, grids, and heroic simplification as the state is, with the difference being that, for capitalists, simplification must pay. A market necessarily reduces quality to quantity via the price mechanism and promotes standardisation; in markets, money talks, not people . . . the conclusions that can be drawn from the failures of modern projects of social engineering are as applicable to market-driven standardisation as they are to bureaucratic homogeneity." [Op. Cit., p. 8]

In the short term, the state may be able to restrict some of the worse excesses of capitalism (this can be seen from the desire of capitalists to fund parties which promise to deregulate an economy, regardless of the social and environmental impact of so doing). However, the interactions between these two anti-ecological institutions are unlikely to produce long term environmental solutions. This is because while state intervention can result in beneficial constraints on the anti-ecological and anti-social dynamics of capitalism, it is always limited by the nature of the state itself. As we noted in section B.2.1, the state is an instrument of class rule and, consequently, extremely unlikely to impose changes that may harm or destroy the system itself. This means that any reform movement will have to fight hard for even the most basic and common-sense changes while constantly having to stop capitalists ignoring or undermining any reforms actually passed which threaten their profits and the accumulation of capital as a whole. This means that counterforces are always set into motion by ruling class and even sensible reforms (such as anti-pollution laws) will be overturned in the name of "deregulation" and profits

Unsurprisingly, eco-anarchists, like all anarchists, reject appeals to state power as this "invariably legitimates and strengthens the State, with the result that it disempowers the people." They note that ecology movements "that enter into parliamentary activities not only legitimate State power at the expense of popular power," they also are "obligated to function within the State" and "must 'play the game,' which means that they must shape their priorities according to predetermined rules over which they have no control." This results in "an ongoing process of degeneration, a steady devolution of ideals, practices, and party structures" in order to achieve "very little" in "arrest[ing] environmental decay." [Remaking Society, p. 161, p. 162 and p. 163] The fate of numerous green parties across the world supports that analysis.

That is why anarchists stress the importance of creating social movements based on direct action and solidarity as the means of enacting reforms under a hierarchical society. Only when we take a keen interest and act to create and enforce reforms will they stand any chance of being applied successfully. If such social pressure does not exist, then any reform will remain a dead-letter and ignored by those seeking to maximise their profits at the expense of both people and planet. As we discuss in section J, this involves creating alternative forms of organisation like federations of community assemblies (see section J.5.1) and industrial unions (see section J.5.2). Given the nature of both a capitalist economy and the state, this makes perfect sense

In summary, the root cause of our ecological problems likes in hierarchy within humanity, particularly in the form of the state and capitalism Capitalism is a "grow-or-die" system which cannot help destroy the environment while the state is a centralised system which destroys the freedom and participation required to interact with eco-systems Based on this analysis, anarchists reject the notion that all we need do is get the state to regulate the economy as the state is part of the problem as well as being an instrument of minority rule. Instead, we aim to create an ecological society and end capitalism, the state and other forms of hierarchy. This is done by encouraging social movements which fight for improvements in the short term by means direct action, solidarity and the creation of popular libertarian organisations

E.1.1 Is industry the cause of environmental problems?

Some environmentalists argue that the root cause of our ecological crisis lies in industry and technology. This leads them to stress that "industrialism" is the problem and that needs to be eliminated. An extreme example of this is primitivism (see section A.3.9), although it does appear in the works of "deep ecologists" and liberal greens. However, most anarchists are unconvinced and agree with Bookchin when he noted that "cries against 'technology' and 'industrial society' [are] two very safe, socially natural targets against which even the bourgeoisie can inveigh in Earth Day celebrations, as long as minimal attention is paid to the social relations in which the mechanisation of society is rooted." Instead, ecology needs "a confrontational stance toward capitalism and hierarchical society" in order to be effective and fix the root causes of our problems. [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 54]

Claiming that "industrialism" rather than "capitalism" is the cause of our ecological problems allowed greens to point to both the west and the so-called "socialist" countries and draw out what was common to both (i.e. terrible environmental records and a growth mentality). In addition, it allowed green parties and thinkers to portray themselves as being "above" the "old" conflicts between socialism and capitalism (hence the slogan "Neither Right nor Left, but in front"). Yet this position rarely convinced anyone as any serious green thinker soon notes that the social roots of our environmental problems need to be addressed and that brings green ideas into conflict with the status quo (it is no coincidence that many on the right dismiss green issues as nothing more than a form of socialism or, in America, "liberalism"). However, by refusing to clearly indicate opposition to capitalism this position allowed many reactionary ideas (and people!) to be smuggled into the green movement (the population myth being a prime example). As for "industrialism" exposing the similarities between capitalism and Stalinism, it would have been far better to do as anarchists had done since 1918 and call the USSR and related regimes what they actually were, namely "state capitalism."

Some greens (like many defenders of capitalism) point to the terrible ecological legacy of the Stalinist countries of Eastern Europe and elsewhere. For supporters of capitalism, this was due to the lack of private property in these systems while, for greens, it showed that environmental concerns where above both capitalism and "socialism." Needless to say, by "capitalism" anarchists mean both private and state forms of that system. As we argued in section B.3.5, under Stalinism the state bureaucracy controlled and so effectively owned the means of production. As under private capitalism, an elite monopolised decision making and aimed to maximise their income by oppressing and exploiting the working class. Unsurprisingly, they had as little consideration "first nature" (the environment) as they had for "second nature" (humanity) and dominated, oppressed and exploited both (just as private capitalism does).

As Bookchin emphasised the ecological crisis stems not only from private property but from the principle of domination itself -- a principle embodied in institutional hierarchies and relations of command and obedience which pervade society at many different levels. Thus, "[w]ithout changing the most molecular relationships in society -- notably, those between men and women, adults and children, whites and other ethnic groups, heterosexuals and gays (the list, in fact, is considerable) -- society will be riddled by domination even in a socialistic 'classless' and 'non-exploitative' form. It would be infused by hierarchy even as it celebrated the dubious virtues of 'people's democracies,' 'socialism' and the 'public ownership' of 'natural resources,' And as long as hierarchy persists, as long as domination organises humanity around a system of elites, the project of dominating nature will continue to exist and inevitably lead our planet to ecological extinction." [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 76]

Given this, the real reasons for why the environmental record of Stalinist regimes were worse that private capitalism can easily be found. Firstly, any opposition was more easily silenced by the police state and so the ruling bureaucrats had far more lee-way to pollute than in most western countries. In other words, a sound environment requires freedom, the freedom of people to participate and protest. Secondly, such dictatorships can implement centralised, top-down planning which renders their ecological impact more systematic and widespread (James C. Scott explores this at great length in his excellent book Seeing like a State)

Fundamentally, though, there is no real difference between private and state capitalism. That this is the case can be seen from the willingness of capitalist firms to invest in, say, China in order to take advantage of their weaker environmental laws and regulations plus the lack of opposition. It can also be seen from the gutting of environmental laws and regulation in the west in order to gain competitive advantages Unsurprisingly, laws to restrict protest have been increasingly passed in many countries as they have embraced the neo-liberal agenda with the Thatcher regime in the UK and its successors trail-blazing this process. The centralisation of power which accompanies such neo-liberal experiments reduces social pressures on the state and ensures that business interests take precedence

As we argued in section D.10, the way that technology is used and evolves will reflect the power relations within society. Given a hierarchical society, we would expect a given technology to be used in repressive ways regardless of the nature of that technology itself. Bookchin points to the difference between the Iroquois and the Inca. Both societies used the same forms of technology, but the former was a fairly democratic and egalitarian federation while the latter was a highly despotic empire. As such, technology "does not fully or even adequately account for the institutional differences" between societies. [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 331] This means that technology does not explain the causes for ecological harm and it is possible to have an anti-ecological system based on small-scale technologies:

 

"Some of the most dehumanising and centralised social systems were fashioned out of very 'small' technologies; but bureaucracies, monarchies, and military forces turned these systems into brutalising cudgels to subdue humankind and, later, to try to subdue nature. To be sure, a large-scale technics will foster the development of an oppressively large-scale society; but every warped society follows the dialectic of its own pathology of domination, irrespective of the scale of its technics. It can organise the 'small' into the repellent as surely as it can imprint an arrogant sneer on the faces of the elites who administer it . . . Unfortunately, a preoccupation with technical size, scale, and even artistry deflects our attention away from the most significant problems of technics -- notably, its ties with the ideals and social structures of freedom." [Bookchin, Op. Cit., pp. 325-6]

In other words, "small-scale" technology will not transform an authoritarian society into an ecological one. Nor will applying ecologically friendly technology to capitalism reduce its drive to grow at the expense of the planet and the people who inhabit it. This means that technology is an aspect of a wider society rather than a socially neutral instrument which will always have the same (usually negative) results. As Bookchin stressed, a "liberatory technology presupposes liberatory institutions; a liberatory sensibility requires a liberatory society. By the same token, artistic crafts are difficult to conceive without an artistically crafted society, and the 'inversion of tools' is impossible with a radical inversion of all social and productive relationships." [Op. Cit., pp. 328-9]

Finally, it should be stressed that attempts to blame technology or industry for our ecological problems have another negative effect than just obscuring the real causes of those problems and turning attention away from the elites who implement specific forms of technology to further their aims. It also means denying that technology can be transformed and new forms created which can help produce an ecologically balanced society:

 

"The knowledge and physical instruments for promoting a harmonisation of humanity with nature and of human with human are largely at hand or could easily be devised. Many of the physical principles used to construct such patently harmful facilities as conventional power plants, energy-consuming vehicles, surface-mining equipment and the like could be directed to the construction of small-scale solar and wind energy devices, efficient means of transportation, and energy-saving shelters." [Bookchin, Op. Cit., p. 83]

We must understand that "the very idea of dominating first nature has its origins in the domination of human by human" otherwise "we will lose what little understanding we have of the social origin of our most serious ecological problems." It this happens then we cannot solve these problems, as it "will grossly distort humanity's potentialities to play a creative role in non-human as well as human development." For "the human capacity to reason conceptually, to fashion tools and devise extraordinary technologies" can all "be used for the good of the biosphere, not simply for harming it What is of pivotal importance in determining whether human beings will creatively foster the evolution of first nature or whether they will be highly destructive to non-human and human beings alike is precisely the kind of society we establish, not only the kind of sensibility we develop." [Op. Cit., p. 34]

E.1.2 What is the difference between environmentalism and ecology?

As we noted in section A.3.3, eco-anarchists contrast ecology with environmentalism. The difference is important as it suggests both a different analysis of where our ecological problems come from and the best way to solve them. As Bookchin put it:

 

"By 'environmentalism' I propose to designate a mechanistic, instrumental outlook that sees nature as a passive habitat composed of 'objects' such as animals, plants, minerals, and the like that must merely be rendered more serviceable for human use . . . Within this context, very little of a social nature is spared from the environmentalist's vocabulary: cities become 'urban resources' and their inhabitants 'human resources' . . . Environmentalism . . . tends to view the ecological project for attaining a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature as a truce rather than a lasting equilibrium. The 'harmony' of the environmentalist centres around the development of new techniques for plundering the natural world with minimal disruption of the human 'habitat.' Environmentalism does not question the most basic premise of the present society, notably, that humanity must dominant nature; rather, it seeks to facilitate than notion by developing techniques for diminishing the hazards caused by the reckless despoliation of the environment." [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 86]

So eco-anarchists call the position of those who seek to reform capitalism and make it more green "environmentalism" rather than ecology. The reasons are obvious, as environmentalists "focus on specific issues like air and water pollution" while ignoring the social roots of the problems they are trying to solve. In other words, their outlook "rest[s] on an instrumental, almost engineering approach to solving ecological dislocations. To all appearances, they wanted to adapt the natural world to the needs of the existing society and its exploitative, capitalist imperatives by way of reforms that minimise harm to human health and well-being. The much-needed goals of formulating a project for radical social change and for cultivating a new sensibility toward the natural world tended to fall outside the orbit of their practical concerns." Eco-anarchists, while supporting such partial structures, stress that "these problems originate in a hierarchical, class, and today, competitive capitalist system that nourishes a view of the natural world as a mere agglomeration of 'resources' for human production and consumption." [Op. Cit., pp. 15-6]

This is the key. As environmentalism does not bring into question the underlying notion of the present society that man must dominate nature it cannot present anything other than short-term solutions for the various symptoms of the underlying problem. Moreover, as it does not question hierarchy, it simply adjusts itself to the status quo. Thus liberal environmentalism is so "hopelessly ineffectual" because "it takes the present social order for granted" and is mired in "the paralysing belief that a market society, privately owned property, and the present-day bureaucratic nation-state cannot be changed in any basic sense. Thus, it is the prevailing order that sets the terms of any 'compromise' or 'trade-off'" and so "the natural world, including oppressed people, always loses something piece by piece, until everything is lost in the end. As long as liberal environmentalism is structured around the social status quo, property rights always prevail over public rights and power always prevails over powerlessness Be it a forest, wetlands, or good agricultural soil, a 'developer' who owns any of these 'resources' usually sets the terms on which every negotiation occurs and ultimately succeeds in achieving the triumph of wealth over ecological considerations." [Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 15]

This means that a truly ecological perspective seeks to end the situation where a few govern the many, not to make the few nicer As Chomsky once noted on the issue of "corporate social responsibility", he could not discuss the issue as such because he did "not accept some of its presuppositions, specifically with regard to the legitimacy of corporate power" as he did not see any "justification for concentration of private power" than "in the political domain." Both would "act in a socially responsible way -- as benevolent despots -- when social strife, disorder, protest, etc., induce them to do so for their own benefit." He stressed that in a capitalist society "socially responsible behaviour would be penalised quickly in that competitors, lacking such social responsibility, would supplant anyone so misguided as to be concerned with something other than private benefit." This explains why real capitalist systems have always "been required to safeguard social existence in the face of the destructive forces of private capitalism" by means of "substantial state control." However, the "central questions . . . are not addressed, but rather begged" when discussing corporate social responsibility. [Language and Politics, p. 275]

Ultimately, the key problem with liberal environmentalism (as with liberalism in general) is that it tends, by definition, to ignore class and hierarchy. The "we are all in this together" kind of message ignores that most of decisions that got us into our current ecological and social mess were made by the rich as they have control over resources and power structures (both private and public). It also suggests that getting us out of the mess must involve taking power and wealth back from the elite -- if for no other reason because working class people do not, by themselves, have the resources to solve the problem

Moreover, the fact is the ruling class do not inhabit quite the same polluted planet as everyone else. Their wealth protects them, to a large degree, to the problems that they themselves have created and which, in fact, they owe so much of that wealth to (little wonder, then, they deny there is a serious problem). They have access to a better quality of life, food and local environment (no toxic dumps and motorways are near their homes or holiday retreats). Of course, this is a short term protection but the fate of the planet is a long-term abstraction when compared to the immediate returns on one's investments. So it is not true to say that all parts of the ruling class are in denial about the ecological problems. A few are aware but many more show utter hatred towards those who think the planet is more important than profits

This means that such key environmentalist activities such as education and lobbying are unlikely to have much effect. While these may produce some improvements in terms of our environmental impact, it cannot stop the long-term destruction of our planet as the ecological crisis is "systemic -- and not a matter of misinformation, spiritual insensitivity, or lack of moral integrity. The present social illness lies not only in the outlook that pervades the present society; it lies above all in the very structure and law of life in the system itself, in its imperative, which no entrepreneur or corporation can ignore without facing destruction: growth, more growth, and still more growth." [Murray Bookchin, "The Ecological Crisis, Socialism, and the need to remake society," pp. 1-10, Society and Nature, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 2-3] This can only be ended by ending capitalism, not by appeals to consumers to buy eco-friendly products or to capitalists to provide them:

 

"Accumulation is determined not by the good or bad intentions of the individual bourgeois, but by the commodity relationship itself . . It is not the perversity of the bourgeois that creates production for the sake of production, but the very market nexus over which he presides and to which he succumbs. . . . It requires a grotesque self-deception, or worse, an act of ideological social deception, to foster the belief that this society can undo its very law of life in response to ethical arguments or intellectual persuasion." [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 66]

Sadly, much of what passes for the green movement is based on this kind of perspective. At worse, many environmentalists place their hopes on green consumerism and education. At best, they seek to create green parties to work within the state to pass appropriate regulations and laws. Neither option gets to the core of the problem, namely a system in which there are "oppressive human beings who literally own society and others who are owned by it. Until society can be reclaimed by an undivided humanity that will use its collective wisdom, cultural achievements, technological innovations, scientific knowledge, and innate creativity for its own benefit and for that of the natural world, all ecological problems will have their roots in social problems." [Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 39]