FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com
(DV) Sullivan: Sacred Ecology and Capitalism







Sacred Ecology and Capitalism
by Charles Sullivan
June 8, 2006

Send this page to a friend! (click here)


“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”


“To sum up: a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. It tends to ignore, and thus eventually to eliminate, many elements in the land community that lack commercial value, but that are (as far as we know) essential to its healthy functioning. It assumes, falsely, I think, that the economic parts of the biotic clock will function without the uneconomic parts. It tends to relegate to government many functions eventually too large, too complex, or too widely dispersed to be performed by government.”


-- Aldo Leopold


Any economic system based upon greed rather than the public good and the ruthless exploitation of nature is not only wrong, it is a prescription for disaster. Capitalism not only embodies this self-destructive ideology, it depends upon endless growth (the ideology of the cancer cell) for its continuation. Endless growth, regardless how well it is managed, is an ecological impossibility on a finite planet. Thus the perceived success of capitalism is short-lived at best. Because it is based upon a cycle of voracious consumption and waste, capitalism will inevitably collapse. This is not idle speculation or wishful thinking on my part; it is a mathematical certainty based upon the most elementary precepts of ecological science.


Meanwhile, the ecological consequences of unbridled capitalism will be dire. The collapse of the world’s great ecosystems, driven by capital’s insatiable lust for material wealth, is already well under way and is almost certainly irreversible. To continue down this path will surely make things orders of magnitudes worse than if we change direction and begin to live responsibly and sustainably.  


Combined with a human population explosion, the growth of highly industrialized cultures driven by capitalism’s ceaseless quest for raw materials, new markets, cheap labor and higher profits, we are witnessing the systematic and wanton destruction of the biosphere in exchange for capital.


Free trade is not what the name would seem to imply. Free trade has nothing to do with freedom for people or the promotion of democracy. It is in fact the capacity for multinational corporations to do business without restrictions of any kind. Capitalists come in all sizes and shapes, some of them Republican, some Democrats; some conservative, some liberal. Future generations, whether human beings or polar bears, means nothing to them. They cannot see the world in its incomprehensible biological complexity, but only in terms of dollars and cents and profit margins.


The world’s largest financial institutions are run by gluttonous robber barons that have hijacked most of the world’s governments and set us on an irreversible course of self-destruction. They are literally consuming the earth, exploiting the world’s poor and altering complex ecological processes that provide habitat, a livable climate, clean air, potable water and abundant food for perhaps 30 million or more species. These are processes that have evolved over eons of time. They are a gift, a right of birth that belongs equally to all beings, not just to those who can convert them into private wealth.


Only the most maniacal and perverted thinkers could conceive of the idea of private ownership of the earth’s life processes. Monsanto and DuPont do not have a legitimate claim to the world’s genetic library. Any economic system that adversely affects the planet’s ability to sustain life is not only wrong; it is criminally insane and must be subverted at all cost.


Imagine having to pay a fee to breathe the air that is the birthright of every living organism. Several large corporations, including the Nestle’ company, is even now in the process of privatizing the world’s drinking water and doling it out for corporate profit. Nestle’ did nothing to create or manufacture water; it was already here in abundance through most of the earth’s 4.5 billion year history. It is absurd for the Nestle’ company to claim that they own the world’s drinking water. One cannot own what one cannot create.


Contrary to popular belief, the world does not operate on economic capital; it functions on biological capital. The ecological health of the planet is the underpinning of all of the world’s economic systems. When human activities such as industrialization, mining, logging, over-fishing and war disrupt the world’s ecosystems, they diminish the earth’s ability to self-repair and to sustain life. The combination of over population and the denigration and loss of habitat lead to a condition known as overshoot. And that is where we are today: overshooting the planet’s ability to sustain life with the capacity for self-renewal.  


Never satisfied that enough is enough, capitalism’s appetite for wealth is truly insatiable. Its stated goal is to own the world and to put it under private ownership. Those who command the capital, the wealthiest one-quarter of one percent of the global population, can thus force the rest of the world to pay for the privilege of breathing clean air and drinking potable water. Clean water and pure air are not the result of industrial production; they are the result of complex ecological processes that no man can duplicate, much less create. To privatize them is to hold the world’s people hostage to the wealthiest individuals and the corporate state. This is what happens when corporations such as Monsanto deliberately destroy the world’s genetic plant diversity and force growers to buy genetically altered seeds that produce sterile offspring.


As a result of human overpopulation, and capitalism’s inherent greed, virtually all of the world’s great ecosystems are in decline or collapse. The earth’s ability to replenish herself and to sustain her immense biological diversity (biological capital) is being diminished. So we are living in the midst of one of the planet’s great extinction episodes and it is human induced.


Every plant and animal that exists has an impact on the planet. It is therefore imperative that we live gently and with minimal environmental impact, lest we impair the earth’s ability to sustain life. The concept of the private ownership of nature simply does not produce a sound and responsible land ethic. Unbridled greed, like that driving virtually all of our governmental policies, has no place in a sustainable culture. Enriching the world’s wealthiest people at the expense of the biosphere is the worst kind of insanity imaginable. And that is exactly what we are doing.


It may come as surprise to most people but human beings, like all of the other animals that inhabit the earth, cannot produce food. We are totally and utterly dependent upon plants to photosynthesize and produce the world’s food supply. That is why plants are called primary producers by ecologists. With every forest or prairie we destroy we diminish the earth’s ability to produce food and to sustain life. Every parking lot and shopping mall that is built, every housing development, takes more land out of production and diminishes the earth’s ability to sustain life. 


The fantastic rise of the human population and industrial production is driving global warming, which has so altered the atmospheric chemistry that traditional weather patterns, oceanic currents and trade winds no longer behave as they have traditionally. These oceanic and wind currents have a profound impact on the global climate. Altering them has consequences that are not well understood. However, one predicted result is more intense hurricanes and typhoons, which we are already witnessing. The number of hurricanes and typhoons appears to remain fairly constant at about eighty per year. It is their intensity that has changed.


Another prediction of global warming is the worldwide melting of glaciers, accompanied by a rise in seawaters. We are also seeing this phenomenon. These effects exert a profound impact on global climate and hence every living being. Ignoring the consequences of our actions will have dire consequences that will probably result in the death of billions of human beings, and untold numbers of other species, all of which contribute to the ecological health of the planet.


As these phenomena worsen the American consumer continues to expend enormous quantities of fossilized energy in order to drive inefficient, polluting, petrol guzzling hulks of steel, oblivious to the harm they are doing to the biosphere. Because so many Americans lack ecological literacy and social conscience, they do not have a clue. They have been thoroughly indoctrinated in the advertisements of Madison Avenue to consume and waste, as if the earth was infinite and their actions were without consequences. But there is no cause without its attendant effect. Superfluous consumption in one place creates want and impoverishment in another. That is what happens when the world’s wealth is not equitably distributed.


We are a materially wealthy but spiritually impoverished people lacking a land ethic because we lack a spiritual connection to the land.


Those who are running rough shod over the global economy do not care if they destroy the earth. They view the earth is a resource to be exploited for private gain at public expense. They have no spiritual connection to the earth or the processes that create life. Their industrial strength religion has taught them that the earth is an imperfect and vile place that must be subdued and conquered. For them wilderness is evil and unruly. By the time they succeed at annihilating the earth they will be dead, rising into the clouds with harp strumming angels in a beautiful harmonic convergence on the last day, gently flapping white feathered wings of their own. It certainly would be beautiful to be rid of them.


The indigenous cultures that once populated this earth of majesty viewed the world with a deep sense of reverential awe and respect. They knew the earth was endowed with a living spirit that made their own existence possible. The world view of the American Indian, for example, prior to being Christianized, was far more sophisticated and appropriate than the modern industrial view wrought from capitalism and industrialized religion. The Indian understood the world in terms of interconnectedness and interdependence. All things are connected. Destroying the webs of interdependence that bond the world together is to obliterate the sacred relationship that exists between all beings, both animate and inanimate. It is the path to self-annihilation. Who but a fool or an idiot would choose to take that path?


Among the Indians, consensus decisions were made based upon how the proposed actions would affect the next seven generations. That is the kind of visionary thinking that is wholly absent from corporate boardrooms.


With the rise of capitalism as a dominant paradigm, the sense of the sacred is nearly lost. Nature was commodified and placed under the private ownership of multinational corporations. The world’s indigenous cultures were systematically obliterated and a great cancer was unleashed upon the world that would consume everything in its path like a cloud of locusts. Because capitalism requires new markets and an inexhaustible supply of raw materials the world lost much of its biological and cultural diversity to corporate plunder. In biological systems diversity is the key to long-term stability. Left to continue its destructive course, capitalism will reduce the world to a nearly sterile monoculture -- a monument to gluttonous depravity and waste.


Whereas the Indian saw the great Appalachian forest as a complex web of relationships that were the source of life, the capitalist saw the forest as mere commodities measured in board feet, free for the taking. The Appalachian forest was clear-cut and hauled to the lumber mills, making the mountains bald before their time. The forest was put on short cutting rotations, like a crop of corn that provided the robber barons with enormous wealth, all of it stolen. Today they are managed for multiple abuse by industrial foresters trained at our finest universities.


Eventually the mountains themselves would be blown apart when the mining companies sought cheaper and faster ways to mine coal. The process is known as mountain top removal and it is in vogue in West Virginia and other regions where the great Central Appalachian forests once flourished. Ecologically and economically devastated communities are left behind, while the timber and mining companies move on to greener pastures to repeat the process over and over. These destructive practices spread across Turtle Island like a cancer, destroying world-class biodiversity and leaving only a few fragmented, ecologically impaired islands behind. The same destructive forces have been set loose upon every part of the word. This is socialized cost and privatized wealth in the most extreme, subsidized by our tax dollars.


Wherever the extractive industries have gone they have left polluted waters and depauperate landscapes, and exhausted and impoverished workers in their wake. The company owners get rich while the workers continue to live in abject poverty and are still dying in the mines. This is the legacy of capitalism, as witnessed by a historical record that is beyond dispute. It is there for the entire world to see, as if etched in granite. You can see it in the face of the miners and the impoverished remnant forest, in the toxic waste left behind in Butte, Montana, where the water in the aftermath of copper mining has the acidity of battery acid.


It makes no moral, ecological or economic sense whatsoever for us to continue down this path of self-deception and self-annihilation. As we have seen, capitalism produces only a few winners, and leaves death and devastation in its wake. Either we rebel or die. Think about the kind of world we are leaving future generations. How can they ever forgive us this trespass?


Imagine, if you can, living in a world based upon mutual aide and cooperation, rather than cutthroat competition; a world where people cared for the earth and for one another, and the world’s wealth was equitably shared among all beings.   


Charles Sullivan is a photographer, freelance writer and social activist living in the hinterland of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at: earthdog@highstream.net.

Other Articles by Charles Sullivan

* Fruit of the Poison Tree
* Externalizing the Cost of War
* Understanding Root Causes
* Talking Revolution
* In Defense of Progressive Values
* The Congressional Millionaires Club
* Searching for Journalistic Integrity