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Impossibility of attaining sustainable Human Development under Capitalist Mode

Prof. Thota Jyothi Rani

Kakatiya University

Environmental destruction is one of the two serious consequences of the aggressive growth process of capitalist mode of production. The devastation reached its peak and manifested in the form of climate change and Global warming, warranting the declaration of ‘Planetary Emergency’. The second serious consequence is the highly skewed distribution of income and wealth at the national as well as at the global level. This process throws the lives of majority into critical and vulnerable conditions which results in the demise of decent and dignified lives. This negates the ‘Right to life’ which is the most important fundamental right of the ‘Declaration of Universal Human Rights, 1948’. Thus, these twin consequences have emerged simultaneously as the process of accumulation of capital in the global capitalist system has its very roots in the exploitation of Labour and Nature. Marx’s theory of value rightly states that the Labour and Nature are the true sources of value. Therefore, the simultaneous exploitation of these two sources is an inevitable condition for the sustenance and development of capitalist mode. The methods to end competitive rivalry and to strengthen class inequality further paved the way for the emergence of monopoly capitalism which is stated as the highest stage of capitalism, where the domination of monopoly capital over global resources and the resultant exploitation have reached accumulative magnitude which nature never tolerates.

Therefore, the biggest challenges of the world are:

i. How to save our planet

ii. How to ensure decent and dignified lives to all by building socio-economic and political structures free from all kinds of exploitation, oppression and violence.

The question whether it is possible to achieve these two goals within the frame work of capitalist mode warrants a serious debate as the system itself is anti-people and anti-environment. Therefore, it is necessary to focus the discussion on

1. What is the inherent principle that drives capitalism into motion? How is it harmful to the environment?

2. What are the production methods that are promoted by the capitalist mode that inevitably delinks the human being from nature? What are its effects on environment?

3. Will the system accepts the revival of the process of development to stop environmental degradation? What are the tools that are discovered and imposed by dominant global forces on developing countries like India to mitigate the challenge? What are its consequences?

What is the principle that drives capitalism into motion? What is effect on environment?

Marx clearly states in the ‘Capital’ that the only driving force of capitalism is ‘Profit’ and ‘Accumulation of Capital’. The antagonistic tension between Use Value and Exchange Value of Capitalist commodity is the key to both internal contradictions of capitalism and to its conflict with its eternal natural environment. Moreover, the labour costs alone come into the cost calculation of the capitalist while ecological and social costs will be excluded from the production costs. Because, under capitalist mode, nature as a whole is free gift to capital. The seeds of environmental destruction have been sown here only. Capitalism itself is ecologically unsustainable.

The simple formula of capital formation that drives the movement of commodities is stated as ‘Conversion of commodity into money and again money into commodity i.e.,


Where C is Commodity and M is Money.

However, this formula is transformed as M-C-M’ in the capitalist system where money will be converted into commodities and the commodities will be converted back into money where M’>M. How is this possible? Because, in the process of transforming investment into commodities, value will be added by labour and nature. So the equivalent money value i.e., M’ will be higher than M. There is no need to this process under capitalist mode. Again reinvestment, consequent capital accumulation and expansion of production…. This will continue forever until crisis emerge where it is impossible to sell the output produced. Thus, accumulation for the sake of accumulation, growth for the sake of growth. It is not people centered development but profits… profits… profits are its sole aim.

This process naturally creates enormous and unsustainable pressure on environment. As environmental resources are free goods to capital, they will be used excessively for more profits and therefore exceeds nature’s regenerative capacity.

Noam Chomsky, a major figure in the analytic philosophy and one of the founders of cognitive sciences explains the functioning of the capitalist mode as follows. He says that everybody who is connected to a corporate organization either as investors or as managers or as employees will but for what? To accumulate wealth, to stand strongly in the global competition, to earn maximum profits, to maximize sales and to raise their share in the global market. Therefore, it is immaterial for the capitalist, if the expansion of commodities leads to crisis in the human lives and environmental destruction because their consolidated goal is only profits. For this, the system produces unnecessary goods. But how can they be sold? For this, the capitalists spend billions of dollars on advertising to create irrelevant wants and to sell the stock of commodities. Despite these enormous superfluous costs, they could get more and more profits. This itself shows the level of exploitation of labour and environment by capital.

Now, it is appropriate to refer the observation of US Marxist Economist, Paul Sweezy to show that the development of capitalism itself is “anti-ecological”. In this regard, he states that during the twentieth century, development is centred around automobile industry which is strongly connected to oil usage. CO2 emissions will be larger in this activity. Till today, this trend has been growing aggressively, releasing high level of CO2 emissions which is the main cause for the emergency of environmental crisis in the form of “Climate Change”. In regard to CO2 emissions from transportation alone, US stands first and Australia stands third.

Thus, the process of development of capitalist system itself is truly anti-environmental and has been closely connected to shifting the costs of environment and its destruction on to the society at large. The profits are individualized but environmental costs are socialized or collectivized. Therefore, excess utilization of nature exceeding its regenerative capacity is the order of the day. The division of world into developed/rich/centre and developing/poor/periphery is the product of the development processes of advanced countries. This provides opportunity for the dominant countries to shift entire ecological costs on to the third world/periphery. This paved the way for the emergence of Ecological Imperialism to exploit natural resources of third world countries, to transfer highly polluting industries as well as to dump all the toxic waste generated in the advanced nations into the periphery and convert them into toxic colonies. Therefore, India stood at 155 with high pollution, out of 178 countries studies by International Labour Organization, based on resource depletion, environmental pollution and scarcity of safe drinking water.

Union Carbide India Ltd., which is a subsidiary of US, MNC, American Union Carbide is a unit which release high levels of toxic gas and high levels of pollution has been successfully transferred to Bhopal, India. Who will forget the horrifying Bhopal disaster of 1984 that resulted in the loss of thousands of lives? Horrifying health hazards as well as terrible toxic effects have still been continuing there making life miserable to lakhs of people over generations. Is it not a tragic effect of ecological imperialism? This trend has been continuing aggressively in the accelerated growth process of Capitalist mode. Will it ensure the attainment of “Sustainable Human Development”?

Metabolic rift between Human beings and Environment under Capitalism

Marx’s key conception that explains the tendencies of ecological crisis under capitalism is his notion of irreparable rift in the interdependent processes of social metabolism. This reveals his ecological perspective. This concept has been developed by John Bellamy Foster, a Marxist Environmentalist, as “Metabolic Rift” which argues that the natural metabolic relationship between humans and nature has been fractured in the process of development of capitalism. Marx could theorize a rupture in the metabolic interaction between humanity and the rest of nature emanating from capitalist production. The capitalist mode violates the nature-imposed conditions of sustainability in the name of controlling nature’s limitations. The initiation of this process and its aggressive development under capitalist mode inevitably leads to the environmental destruction.

The Industrial Revolution in England which is stated to be the beginning of capitalist mode has started with Enclosure Movement. This successfully separated mass from land/nature, destroyed the common property resources and converted them into individual private property of landlord class. This process reached its height with the introduction and spread of Green Revolution in the third world countries. This is a powerful tool in the hands of imperialist forces to delink/alienate farmer from his own experience and knowledge gained through generations as to the methods of cultivation. In addition, the farmer is also alienated from nature. Its strong aim is to divert peasantry from communist insurgency and agrarian conflict in the name of techno-politic strategy that creates abundance. It is a strong tool to loot all the natural resources and dominate entire agriculture sector of the politically independent third world countries. As it is expected to provide ‘Peace’ to the imperialist forces by receding peasant uprising, Norman Borlang who invented HYV/Miracle seeds, interestingly has been awarded “Noble Peace Prize”.

The Green Revolution is the package of HYV seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machines, and fuel/electricity. This compels farmers to purchase all these inputs that are produced and sold by MNCs. The spread of this method resulted in the destruction of indigenous and environmental-friendly methods. Further, it has reduced the entire experience and knowledge of peasantry into futile. The entire process of agriculture has been individualized resulting in the demise of collective feature of agriculture and has also destroyed common property resources. Moreover, neither inputs not methods are in the control of the farmer. Every input has to be purchased which requires heavy finances which naturally throws the farmer into debt trap. Further, the new method is water-intensive which requires the construction of large dams. This compels the third world nations to run foreign finances.

Thus, the Green Revolution is a powerful imperialist tool which offered multiple benefits to the capital. It could establish domination of global capital on the entire agriculture of third world countries. It delinks the peasant from his knowledge of methods of cultivation which are in line with the nature’s principles. It alienates farmer from common property resources. It could suppress peasant uprisings successfully. What are the results of the Green Revolution? The farmers’ distress, agrarian crisis and environmental destruction. The Green Revolution has been popularized by imperialist forces as a powerful technique/strategy to control nature’s limitations so as to produce abundantly. Contrarily, it reinforced agrarian crisis which resulted in the rising farmer’s suicides. It caused serious damage to the environment in terms of Green House effect with atmosphere pollution, Destruction of Soil fertility, Soil Toxicity, Water logging and Salinization, Desertification and Water Scarcity, Genetic Erosion, Biomass reduction for fodder and Organic Manure, Nutritional Imbalances with the reduction of Pulses, Oil seeds, Millets, Pesticide Contamination of food, water, human and animal life.

Thus, the Green Revolution as a tool to establish the domination of Global Capital on the third world agriculture could successfully raise metabolic-rift. It is the clear evidence of its anti-ecological character.

Will the present mode promote Agro-ecology?

The development of agricultural models based on pre-green revolution methods of cultivation have been termed as agro-ecology in which the agro-ecosystems should mimic the bio diversity levels and functioning of natural ecosystems. These models have been productive, pest-resistant, nutrient-conserving and resilient to shocks and stresses. Moreover, they will not allow any waste because nutrients are recycled indefinitely. These models aim at closing nutrient loops and harnesses natural processes to control pests and build soil fertility. These sustainable agricultural methods have taken into consideration the knowledge of farmers.

In recent years, the Agro-ecology models have been assumed significance at the global level in view of the terrible adverse effects of green revolution on the peasantry as well as on the environment. Moreover, the Agro-ecology is the best answer to the issue of ‘Climate Change’. In this context, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN hosed a major international symposium on Agro Ecology in April 2018, which affirmed that the agro ecology is key to transforming food and agricultural systems and achieving sustainable development goals. Moreover, these models are proved to be relatively more productive when compared to Green Revolution methods. The study of Badgley in 2007 states that if entire arable land adopts agro ecological methods, then the production per capita calories will be in the range of 2641-4381 instead of 2786 calories with Green Revolution methods.

The perfect aim of capitalist mode is to establish the domination of global capital. Therefore, it will not promote models which are pro-peasant and pro-environment. Therefore, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), totally rejects the methods of Agro ecology and strongly states that there is no alternative to Green Revolution. The methods that are beneficial to the entire dominant class will be promoted at the cost of people and Environment. Thus, the capitalist mode would never be environmentally sustainable.

Who are made responsible to protect environment and what are its effects?

Though the mainstream global level studies since 1970’s have identified the seriousness of the challenge of environment degradation, they willfully deny the kind of process of development that is responsible for the problem. In addition, the dominant/imperialist forces have successfully thrown the blame on third world countries stating that their backwardness coupled with high population is the cause for environmental destruction. Thus, the consequences have been shown as cause, the victims are made responsible for the problem. The victimization of victims is the order of the day. All the international conferences organized by UNO since 1972 and till today categorically threw the burden of protecting environment on third world countries including India.

The main aim of recent ‘Katowice Climate Change’ conference held during 2-5, December, 2018, at Poland is to make members accept the Paris Agreement, 2015. This agreement, in fact, has been popularized as ‘great’ because it is agreeable to all the imperialist forces in view of its advantage to them. All the 196 parties accepted to not question about who is responsible for the problem of ‘Climate Change’ but accept to take measures to mitigate CO2 emissions to restrict temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius so as to achieve zero Green House Gas emissions by 2030-2050. Interestingly, every country decides its own goal. However, rich nations will allot the amount to the tune of 100 Billion US dollars to backward counties for this purpose. The major part of this is “Loan”. The developing countries, though they are not the cause have been compelled to accept to take measures to reduce the problem by taking ‘loan’ from rich countries. The poor nations are forced into debt-trap. Thus, the Paris Agreement’ shows the success of imperialist nations/forces in tightening the grip over emerging economies by using their muscle power. In this context, it is appropriate to remember statement of Time Gore, Head of Oxfam’s international policy that “in the Paris Agreement, the world’s most powerful nations had used the summit to flex their muscles against weaker ones… we have really seen the kind of brutal nature of the power politics of these talks”.

The basis for the Paris Agreement is “Kyoto Protocol, 1997 which has not been implemented till February 2005. Though the share of US in the world’s GHG emissions is as high as 23 percent and the share of Australia is more or less equal to U.S, these two countries refused to ratify Kyoto Protocol because they deny that the ‘global warming is industrially induced” despite it is proven in serious science research studies including the research work of Nobel laureates. Canada withdrew from the agreement as early as 2012. The US President, Donald Trump has repeatedly been calling the ‘Climate Change’ a ‘hoax’ and as an expensive bulls hit. Therefore, it has to be stopped. On June 2017, he announced the withdrawal of US from the Paris Agreement of climate change. However, the business tycoons of fossil fuels are behind this decision.

The third world countries will not have any chance and choice to speak against the Agreement. It is inevitable for them to accept it. The afforestation programmes in the form of conservation of forests/protected areas is one such programme imposed on emerging economies in this regard. In view of the serious effects of these projects on the lives and livelihoods of marginalized sections, it has to be discussed seriously. In fact, this programme is a powerful tool in the hands of imperialist forces to establish their control over forests of the third world at the cost of destroying the lives of millions of forest-dwelling communities.

Another powerful imperialist tool in this regard is the principle of ‘Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)’ of Kyoto Protocol. This led to the emergence of ‘Carbon Forestry’ projects which are based on the neo-liberal principles of Privatization, Commoditization and Marketization with which rich nations can exploit, control and regulate the natural resources of their world countries. Therefore, these projects have been strongly promoted by imperialist forces through they severely affect the lives of marginalized communities in the third world.

In this context, it assumes significance to analyse these two Imperialist/Neo-Liberal instruments. Though they are emerged to mitigate the problem of Climate Change, did they achieve their goal?

Strategy of conservation of Forests-Impact on Third World-India

In 1972, the first international conference on Environment, organized by UNO at Stockholm, Sweden on “Human Environment”, categorically threw the responsibility of protecting environment on third world countries. This pressurized the Government of India to pass “the Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972 in the same year. With this, the global capital could enter into India to play a critical role in conservative initiatives here. In 1973, the World Wild Life Fund for Nature (WWF), a big foreign NGO offered a million dollars to the then Indira Gandhi government compelling our government to commit equal amount for the project. Thus, foreign capital entered and forced our government to allot the scare funds for the conservation of forests/protected areas to mitigate the issue of environmental degradation created by the development process of developed countries. The first project started with 9 Tiger Reserves has now increased to 50. Moreover, WWF lobbied through government enactments and court orders to expand wild life conservation and protected areas thereby compromising the rights and the lives/livelihoods of local people. Because, these projects forcibly evict indigenous, forest dwelling communities. The global force are strongly supported by our own state especially through forest department officials to use coercive methods to displace local communities, they are the victims of ecological expropriation. It is a life and death question for the indigenous communities and compelled them to fight against these projects. However, they failed to achieve anything positive in their nature of living through generations is associated with forests. Alas! They are attacked as the cause for the loss of wild life.

At present, 5 percent of India’s land surface is governed under protected area systems such as National Parks, Tiger Reserves, and Wild Life Sanctuaries etc. There are 764 protected areas including 103 parks, 543 wild life sanctuaries, 73 conservation reserves and 45 community reserves. It is surprising to observe that after 2003, so many additional legal and non-legal categories of protected areas emerged. The Biosphere reserves, Elephant reserves and Heritage sites do not have legal backing. However, it is not difficult for the global capital to obtain legal backing. The enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) amendment act, 2006, gives the legal backing to the Tiger Reserves established since 1973.

All this affects the lives of 15 percent of India’s population numbering as high as 200 million. They are alienated from forests which is their major source of livelihood. They are termed as ‘encroachers’ by the imperialist forces who are the actual encroachers.

However, the protected areas have been aggressively promoted in view of the seriousness of climate change especially in Africa and Asia at the cost of lives of indigenous communities. These communities are not at all important for World Bank but it worries about the fall in the number of tigers. Therefore, in 2008, the World Bank, in association with Global Environment Facility formed Global Tiger Initiative which is aimed at protecting valuable ecosystem services and save tigers to compensate the environmental damage of rich nations and to promote Tiger Tourism. It declares that India’s tigers are part of the Global Heritage. Thus, our forests are controlled, owned and dominated by the global capital.

This strategy successfully alienated forest-dependent communities from forests. Further, it could delink the ownership of forests from our State and establish the domination and control of Imperialist forces. Despite the damage done to millions of marginalized people, this strategy could not stop environmental degradation in the form of Green House Gas emissions. This clearly shows the anti-people and anti-ecological nature of the strategies developed and promoted by the capitalist mode.

Impact of Carbon Forestry, a Neo-liberal tool, on Third World Countries

What is Carbon Forestry? Why is it accepted by industrially advanced nations in the Kyoto Protocol? What is its impact on third world countries including India?

The Kyoto protocol which came into force in 2005 conference successfully brought forests under the ambit of Climate Change deal. In this regard, there market-based mechanisms emerged. Out of the, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDA) is related to Third World Countries. Under this program, Carbon Forestry Projects have emerged especially in the form of “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)” and “Afforestation and Reforestation Projects (A/R)”

In these projects, the land use will be shifted to plant trees so as to create private plantation forests to conserve and increase carbon stocks. In these projects, the earth’s carbon-cycling capacity will be quantified based on the UNO’s regulations and the GHGs will be measured in CO2 equivalents. The offsets generated by these projects will be made commensurate with emissions in developed countries through crafting rules at appropriate scales. Till the generation of carbon credits, the State and Global Institutions will play active role. Later on, market mechanisms will take over to sell carbon credits to developed countries to allow them to equivalent GHG emissions.

However, the Global Private Investors and International Organizations like UNO with its REDD and World Bank with its Forest Carbon Partnership facility have been showing their intense curiosity to external financial support for intensifying the development of Carbon Forestry Projects in third world countries. India tops in this regard among third world countries. This strategy successfully creates private plantation forests, commodities forest carbon and makes it available in the market for sale. This programme enables powerful global corporate forces to enter into third world countries encroach/grab land with the strong support of the respective national governments which are characterized by Comprador Bourgeoisie. This falicilities to transform lands into carbon forests. This process involves usage of coercive methods for eviction of indigenous and marginalized people. They forgo their lives, livelihoods and culture. All this sacrifice is to conserve environment destroyed by developed world and to produce saleable carbon. This is again to enable industrialized developed nations to continue equivalent emissions of Green House Gases. Oh.. “What a great achievement!!”

Contrarily, there is no abatement in the destruction of natural forests in the third world. It will continue to strengthen the economic power of global capital. The destruction of natural forests and construction of private carbon forests increase simultaneously. Further, they are mutually dependent i.e. rise in the former will lead to rise in the latter. The case of India will explain this fact clearly.

In India, the national mission for Green India (GIM) which was adopted in 2008 has the aim of converting an additional 10 million hectares into carbon forests in 2010-2020 with a budget of Rs 460 billion. Interestingly, what is the source of finance? It is generated through the diversion of natural forests for the purpose of so called “development”. “Destroy natural forests, collect compensation and construct private carbon forests.” Both the processes will displace millions of people and convert them into refuges who will lose their lives totally. What a great neo-liberal solution promoted by the ‘Kyoto Protocol’ to mitigate the challenge of climate change!

This strategy will not stop the destruction of natural forests rather results in their rise. Further, it will enable rich nations to continue GHG emissions equivalent to the carbon credits generated. Private corporate ownership is established on these forests. It is associated with privatization and leads to the demise of strong common property resource of nature and forests. As the utility of forests is reduced to the narrow objective of carbon sinks, trees will be selected to grow in the carbon forests as per their capability to produce carbon by negating all other characteristics. The carbon credits so generated are marketable. For this, millions of indigenous and marginalized communities should forgo their livelihoods as well as culture. Moreover, the private ownership of global capital is established on the land of third world countries. Now, the land and land use will be decided by the global capital.

The emergence of capitalism itself is based upon the exploitation of labour and nature. For this, it alienates labour from labour power – conversion of labour into a commodity, alienate human beings from nature. This process has been increasing aggressively in the process of development of capitalism leading to the rise in the metabolic rift. The neo-liberal tools of mitigating the problem of Climate Change successfully commoditized nature and alienated nature from nature itself. All this process results in the destruction of environment further and throws millions of people into abject misery. This evidently shows the anti-people and anti-character of capitalist mode. Therefore, the system never achieved sustainable human development. Thus the present mode is in its untenable stage and hence requires a radical and revolutionary transformation. This inevitably needs the initiation and active role and involvement of progressive groups, intellectuals and democrats to build powerful movements of people to build structures to move towards the achievement of sustainable human development.

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