Elements are found everywhere, all across the solar system, beyond the stars to the very tip of infinity. Elements make up the universe, and because they are compatible at large, the universe works in harmony.
But, if the elements do not harmonize, then, there are problems. As such, this article explores the elements of neoliberalism clashing with the elements of the earth.
As for a backgrounder on neoliberalism, regardless of whether one is a Marxist, a socialist, or a capitalist, the case can be made that Adam Smith’s capitalism (circa 1776) worked reasonably well for 200 years, giving rise to a vast middle class, and wonderful conveniences, like automatic washing machines, and a reasonable uniformity of class and status, epitomized in the 1950s by Dinah Shore’s: “See the USA in Your Chevrolet.”
It was during that era, when medical doctors appeared in advertisements for cigarette companies, that Milton Friedman, in 1951, first used the word “neoliberal” in an essay, “Neoliberalism and Its Prospects.” Thus, a supercharged version of Adam Smith’s capitalism was born. And, ever since, as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek spelled out the details of their take-no-prisoners brand of economics, capitalism has gone bonkers.
Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, would not recognize today’s brand of capitalism because it has turned virulent, narcissistic, and hoggish. In turn, there is no harmony between the policies of neoliberalism and the health of the planet. Not even close!
Freidman’s rugged neoliberalism parts company with Smith, who believed the state should build public works and forge institutions that would otherwise fail under market pressure; the state should fund schools, bridges, and roads, all of which Milton Friedman said should be left to the private sector, which philosophy continues to echo within the halls of Congress and the boardrooms of global corporations.
According to Robert McChesney, PhD, professor, University of Illinois, neoliberalism is “capitalism with the gloves off.” 1
The brutal truth is that neoliberalism makes no allowances for the planet, other than the use of it. Rather, neoliberalism’s emphasis is solely on winning, profits, individual gratification, and carte blanche expansionism, resulting in an epitome of corporate narcissism. The planet is like a factory to be used, not cuddled. But, there is no ROI (return on investment) within the climate of Mother Earth.
As it goes, with Philistine brutality, the Earth’s defiled, water’s acidified, and air’s gassed to extremes not seen in hundreds of millions of years.
As for capitalism’s relation to nature, environmental sociologists John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift, Monthly Review Press, 2011) argue:
… the source of our ecological crisis lies in the paradox of wealth in capitalist society, which expands individual riches at the expense of public wealth, including the wealth of nature. In the process, a huge ecological rift is driven between human beings and nature, undermining the conditions of sustainable existence.
“Undermining the conditions of sustainable existence” is unfortunately what is occurring, and it’s in clear sight. But, there is nobody doing much of anything about it beyond rogue individuals writing articles, or people listening to intellectuals like Chris Hedges carry on about the pitfalls of capitalism or Noam Chomsky dissecting capitalism’s underbelly.
In truth, those intellectuals are prime examples of ‘public relief valves’ which satisfy pent up frustration, but that’s kinda where it ends, followed by polite clapping at the end of their public speaking events. Whereas, nobody does much of anything constructive about the problem other than listen to the philosophers of the day, similar to ancient Greece in many respects.
Similarly, Socrates, who was tried on charges of “corrupting the youth and of impiety and sentenced to death,” suggested that the very nature of democracy makes it a corrupt political system, which he could’ve easily labeled neoliberalistic democracy, assuming a leap in time to the present; his statement: “When they are given great power, their shallowness inevitably leads to injustice.”
As it goes, in today’s world, public insouciance registers within the halls of a bungling Congress, failing to address the most pressing issue of the times, which is a rambunctious out-of-control climate, instead, copping-out with declarations about some kind of nonsensical pseudo energy fix by drilling/fracking for energy independence. It’s confusing.
It’s fossil fuel; it pollutes; it acidifies; it stirs a leviathan of methane lurking beneath the ice; it brings on extinction. It’s absurd and, maybe, psychotic.
Meantime, as the earth figuratively coughs, sneezes, and runs a fever, the only course of action for citizens of the nation-state is to adapt as best they can to horrific conditions, or rebel. If it were otherwise, the government would declare war on planetary ruination, and for certain, it would not adhere to the policy of both U.S. political parties, gloating over upcoming “American Energy Independence” because of the use of hydraulic fracking recovery techniques for oil and gas whereby they utilize extreme high pressure to forcibly inject a concoction of fluids containing toxic carcinogenic chemicals underground. What is that?
Meanwhile, the climate unquestionably and metaphorically screams for help by burping, gassing, panging, and erupting; e.g., an earthquake (March 6th, 2014), magnitude 4.5, at Gakkel Ridge, which fault line crosses over the Arctic, resulting in a massive spike up of methane in the atmosphere to 2,395 ppb, showcasing what’s in store when the ice melts.
It’s all about global warming.
Yet, the impending dangers of climate change are mostly hidden from public view. This may explain why the problem is under-appreciated and under-reported. From the Arctic to Antarctica, from Sydney westward to Fairbanks, climate abnormalities are dangerously lurking on the surface and in the water, awaiting a “tipping point,” as warned by the National Academies in their recent 200-page report.
Off the U.S. West Coast acidification is dissolving seashells, and in the Southern Ocean, pteropods, at the base of the food chain, show severe shell dissolution because of excessive levels of CO2 from burning fossil fuels.
And, in South America, the World Bank has expressed alarm over the loss of water resources as glacial water towers disappear at an alarming rate, similarly in the Tibetan Plateau, similarly in the Alps (where glacial loss averages 32’ thickness over the past 10 years.) How else was Ötzi the Iceman (3,300 years old) discovered? It’s global warming!
Up North, the Arctic sea ice is disappearing and threatening a massive release of methane, which has been trapped by the ice for millennia, which, in turn, risks runaway global warming and onset of the Venus Syndrome.
Along those lines, The Arctic “sea ice area” registered a record low on March 10, 2014 at 12.95 million square kilometers. 2 And, summer is right around the corner. It’s all about global warming!
Worldwide, twenty percent (20%) of coral reefs are already gone and another fifty percent (50%) are on the verge of total collapse because of excessive CO2 and the heat absorbed by the ocean (which absorbs 90% of Earth’s heat) as a result of CO2 from burning fossil fuels.
And as for the upper atmosphere, excessive Arctic warming has altered the jet streams at 23,000-39,000 feet, causing extreme weather patterns all across the Northern Hemisphere, like polar vortex and massive 100-year floods, every few years. One hundred year floods are passé because of burning fossil fuels.
All across the board, the climate experiences problems building upon problems, which eventually cascade into a “tipping point,” because of excessive levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by fossil fuels, like oil, gas, coal and bitumen or ‘pitch’ via XL Pipeline, one of the world’s dirtiest fuel sources. This is literally scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of energy! And, everybody knows all about it!
The National Research Council of the National Academies (NRCNA), in a 200-page report, Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises, 3 clearly identifies abrupt climate changes expected this century: “The current rate of carbon emissions is changing the climate system at an accelerating pace, making the chances of crossing tipping points all the more likely… surprises are indeed inevitable.”
That bleak report was backed and funded by U.S. intelligence agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academies. The National Academies consists of: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council.
Neoliberalism is a process that builds by making choices. As for the climate, the choices have been disastrous because of the high-handedness of neoliberialism’s hardnosed policies whereby only ROI (return on investment) counts, nothing else. Otherwise, why would rational people continue subsidizing the exploration and development of fossil fuels, especially scraping the bottom of the barrel? Come on, they know the consequences.
As such, it’s no secret that global warming is challenging the sustenance of the planet; it’s a sober reality. The neoliberal enthusiasts, along with everybody else, have known this all along.
In the final analysis, the choices for neoliberalism are many; however, when it comes to the climate, one of the options is create doubt by way of defiance.
And, that’s where things stand!
There’s no ROI.
Post Script: “A study – co-authored by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson and UC-Davis researcher Mark A. Delucchi – analyzing what is needed to convert the world’s energy supplies to clean and sustainable sources says that it can be done with today’s technology at costs roughly comparable to conventional energy. But converting will be a massive undertaking on the scale of the moon landings. What is needed most is the societal and political will to make it happen,” Stanford News, January 26, 2011.
- Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order, Seven Stories Press, 2011. [↩]
- INSIDC, National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder CO [↩]
- The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., December 2013, [↩]