A frequent facile argument emanating from capitalists and their political supporters is that protecting the environment is too costly and will be detrimental to the economy. I heard it several times this August 2022, from a number of politicians and commentators on UK Radio and TV. Such facile opinions indicate a level of ignorance and self interest, which is breathtaking. In fact to state the reverse makes far more actual as well as logical sense. In other words, not protecting the environment will be detrimental for the economy! For it is a fact, obvious to anyone who seriously thinks about it; that without the natural world, that is to say without the inter-dependence of the inorganic material and organic material of the planet along with the myriads of species of ‘life on earth’, which actually make up the ‘environment’ – there would be no economy.
At their most basic level, economies are not fundamentally understood by reading economic treatise or considering reams of statistics. Nor are the primary functions of economic systems a means of making rich people richer. Although in the advanced capitalist countries those economies have been manipulated and distorted to do exactly that. However, beyond such distortions, successive economic systems are the way human beings have obtained the things they need to survive from the environment (ie from nature) and to reproduce their own species. The cycle of Nourishment, Rest, Growth, Reproduction, Ageing and Death (N-R-G-R+A-D) of each individual – within all species – depends entirely upon taking in and digesting organic and inorganic material produced and refined by other life forms existing within ecologically balanced global environments.
And, of course, at least since the time of the Cambrian explosion, the earth’s environmental balance has continued to evolve over many, many millions of years. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to ensure that this environmental/ecological balance – the foundation of all human economic activity – is protected by all of us and retained for the economic welfare of our current generation and for future generations. So whenever, we hear anyone placing the needs of the economic system in opposition to (or higher than) the need of protecting the environment, we are hearing a mixture of extreme ignorance and/or immense self-interest. Of course its often difficult to grasp the scale of the problem.
“Humans can’t truly grasp how much we have degraded the natural world because our baseline—our concept of what’s natural—shifts with every generation. For centuries, humans have been diminishing the natural world: the decimation of central Europe’s forests in the eighteenth century, the disappearance of grizzly bears from California in the early twentieth, melting glaciers in Switzerland, Iceland, and Peru in our current era. Today we live in a world that contains a fraction of the vast abundance of other species Earth once held…” (Erica Gies. ‘Water always Wins’ Section, (Human Blinders,) Chapter 1.)
So to assist those few who struggle with the complexity of modern economic and biological, class-based misinformation, the following is the environmental basis of all economic life on planet earth: Water vapour, having been drawn up into the skies by the heat of the sun, falls as rain (or snow) and ice melting in mountainous regions also conveniently lets water go were it flows naturally by gravity down rivers and streams into lakes and seas. In warm conditions, often during spring and summer, when any accumulated mountain snow and ice melts, this adds to the constant supply of water by precipitation. In normal times, this frequently occurs, just when it is most needed by plants and all kinds of ‘life on earth’. Water, essential to all life, tumbles down river slopes gathering minerals as it goes and floods valleys and estuaries, and enriching soils by mineral deposition.
Most of us tend to take all the above (and much more) for granted but we frequently overlook the fact that all of the above is done without any economic activity by any form of human or organic life and without any payment being made to anyone. This cost free climatic process of liquid and mineral dispersal is largely determined by the earth’s orbit round the sun and its rotation about its notional axis. The economic experts and capitalists neglect to make this clear when they eventually charge us for something that has cost humanity nothing or almost nothing to produce. The climate and environment is an active life-support system that planet earth donates to all ‘life on earth’ and it does so every orbit.
Furthermore, the sun shines at no cost and plants and algae absorb it as energy and they also absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and with inorganic substances and photosynthesis grow and release oxygen back into it. Again all this occurs with no human effort and at no financial cost. In other words, as we shall see, the planet and organic ‘life on earth’ on a 24/7 yearly process continues to do the major part of the economic activity needed by humanity and other organic life-forms – gratis.
Consequently, for millennia, the bulk of ‘life on earth’ was, economically speaking, able to live and breathe for free. Even when humans started planting crops in fields or breeding cattle and sheep on farms, beyond planting and reaping or herding and slaughter, a combination of environmental ‘life on earth’ and the planets orbit round the sun enabled the cost-free growth and nutrition of all these ‘domesticated’ foodstuffs.
Moreover, the myriads of forms of ‘life on earth’ continue to thrive on this natural planetary support system and start to grow and develop, by themselves, thus providing their own cost free sources of plant nutrition. This organic plant nutrition comes in the form of grasses, leaves, nuts, fruits, roots, tubers and grains for insects, animals and humans to consume or utilise in other ways. Until all land was privatised, all that ‘life on earth’, needed to do for multiple millions of years, whether it was strong, weak or average, was to push down its roots into the soil, or get up on its legs, or oscillate it’s fishy tail or flap its feathered wings and collect this land-based or water-based nutrition and supplementary materials free of charge.
For hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, the hominid species, survived and prospered economically just by the easy task of waking up after resting and gathering what nature provided at no economic or financial cost to their communities. Consequently, for most people in pre-history, (and those globally prior to the bourgeois colonial period throughout history), getting enough food, water and shelter was never a convoluted struggle needing an 8 + hour work day to obtain them.
Therefore, rare exceptions aside, living was not a desperate struggle to survive. But now, in most countries, the bulk of humanity have to work all day (if they can get it) and pay landowners and other owner/rentiers to obtain from them (and/or their ‘agents’) the nutritional products, water and basic materials they need to survive. Moreover, millions of human beings in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, are barred from obtaining all of these basics even though these means are still being provided annually by the planet and the environment – for free.
So who first came up with the idea and practice that certain people could own huge parts of the planets ecological environment with it’s associated ‘life on earth’ support system and charge others for these cost free productions? And who came up with the idea and practice that such ‘owners’ (sic) of land and nature could permanently restrict access to it in general and even decide to pollute it or burn it down – if they so wished? Furthermore, was it the same class of people, who invented the myths that living on planet earth was a life and death struggle and that only the fittest had the legitimate means to survive and prosper?
The next article on this blog will examine some bourgeois intellectually constructed fictions, such as the assertion that planet earth – in the guise of nature – has made it a difficult struggle for ‘life on earth’ to exist; when clearly it hasn’t. In this latter regard, the flawed hypothesis of ‘survival of the fittest’, and evolution as a result of the abstraction ‘nature’, ‘selecting’ which life forms will be the fittest to survive – as expounded in the petite-bourgeois ideology of evolution by ‘natural selection’, will be critually considered.
Roy Ratcliffe (September 2022)