Revolution #186, December 20, 2009

A Question for Jared Diamond: Will Capitalism-Imperialism Be Stopped from Destroying the Earth?

Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles, is known to many people around the world for his best-selling books Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. A major op-ed piece by Diamond appeared in the December 6 issue of the Sunday New York Times, titled "Will Big Business Save the Earth?"

In his essay, Diamond writes, "There is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know—because I used to share that view. But today I have more nuanced feelings."

In Collapse, Diamond analyzed and closely examined how and why ancient and modern societies have fallen apart—for a number of reasons, but especially due to ecological disaster. And he raises the question of implications of such collapses for the world today—where the very fate of the planet is at stake.

But now, here is Diamond, in the pages of the New York Times, promoting the view that the giant capitalist corporations that have been responsible for pushing the world toward ecological collapse can now be relied on to save the earth. Diamond cites three corporations which are among the world’s largest capitalist entities: Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and Chevron.

WHAT HAPPENED here, Jared?! Your book, Collapse, forced people to confront the enormity of the environmental crisis. But now you’re arguing that paltry, if that, reforms by capitalist corporations will save the earth??!!! C’mon, Jared.

The crucial reality is that Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and Chevron are part of a whole system—the system of capitalism-imperialism. The fundamental problem that we face is not "greed" or "human nature"—but that this system is driven by the logic of "profit above all" and "expand or die." It is a vampire system that feeds off the blood of countless millions of people around the world whose lives are constrained, ground down, snuffed out.

Diamond speaks positively about Coca-Cola’s supposed efforts in contributing to the conservation of the world’s largest water basins. But meanwhile, what is the "answer" given by the capitalist-imperialist system as a whole to the problem of 20% of humanity having no access to clean water? To increasingly privatize water resources in order to sell for profit what should be a rationally shared resource of all humanity.

Chevron is the same corporation that, among its many crimes, is responsible for the massive contamination of a huge area of the Ecuadorean rain forest with 18 billion tons of toxic sludge—which people call "Chevron’s Chernobyl in the Amazon."

Capitalism is a system in which the production and distribution of the necessities of life is carried on through cutthroat competition between individual capitalists or groups of capitalists constantly trying to gain advantage over other competitors. And this is a worldwide system, with a huge divide between the handful of super-rich powers that super-exploit and live off the backs of the majority of the world.

The truth about how this system works is something that is scientifically knowable, if you confront reality as it is. And taking this approach, the only conclusion that you can come to is that nothing short of radical, wholesale change in the way society is organized and run—in the near future—will prevent an ecological collapse on a world scale. But that is not where Jared Diamond goes—and he has turned to illusory "solutions" that place false hope on the very system that has brought the world to this brink in the first place.

Jared Diamond poses the question, "Can big business save the earth?" The answer is NO. The real, and extremely urgent, question is: Will the people of the world STOP this outmoded and monstrous system before it destroys the earth? 

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