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Sacred Ecology and Capitalism

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Message Charles Sullivan
"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.

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Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer residing in the hinterland of West Virgina.
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