Capitalism and the Global Environment


The environment is now facing a serious threat due to human activities. In addition, various environmentalists have questioned the role of capitalism and how it affects the global environment. It is important to note that the future of humanity depends on how effective our actions aimed at preserving the environment will be. Humans, as will be illustrated in this paper, are responsible for increasing interruption of seasons and climatic conditions, the shrinking forests around the earth, soil erosion, and receding water tables in different place. Capitalism, on the other hand, is defined as man’s undertaking of various activities aimed at accomplishing a given goal. This is what has led to human activities interfering with the environment. Capitalism, as defined by Pepper (1989), has introduced competition in the society as the economic system established can no longer support or maintain a sustainable use of resources. As noted in the paper, there is a need to create a central organization that will be mandated to combat the environmental neglect as well as to control the resources’ management. People should consciously plan out the use and control of resources, development and the use of technology so as to make sure that a peaceful co-existence between man and the environment can be promoted.

Capitalism and the Global Environment


The twenty first century world has found itself having to deal with the consequences of neglect of the environment that has been taking place for the last few decades. The question of environmental degradation cannot be wished away and ignored no longer, and neither can the world pretend that it does not exist. For the two decades, the humanity has been experiencing the wrath of the nature in as far as climatic conditions are concerned. The key environmental indicators are increasingly giving dismal signs in terms of the direction of the  climate, the well-being, and systems of the planet. The same effects are evident in the ever increasing interruption of seasons and climatic conditions, the shrinking forests around the globe, soil erosion and receding water tables in different places, the depletion of water sources and wetlands, the polluted and compromised streams, rivers and oceans, increasing droughts in various continents while the increased flooding dominate in the others. Plant and animal species have also paid a price as many of them have been completely erased from existence or face such an end. Therefore, there is an urgent need to preserve the environment if we want to have good climatic conditions suitable for mankind. This paper will focus on capitalism and its impact on the global environment and will offer some solutions as to how to minimize this impact.

The planet's natural capital in resources is being very quickly depleted, and the main culprit is seen as capitalism. This form of government and social living has been considered the reason why the humanity finds itself having to deal with environmental disasters on a global scale. Capitalism as a system has in its core the desire for everyone to do what he / she can in order to accomplish his/ her goals using the available resources. The capitalistic system combines a system of markets highlighted by private ownership, which has resulted in the enrichment of a few at the expense of the large majority. This has set in motion a global economy where every individual works for himself/herself and puts his/her goals first regardless of what the implications are for the larger community. The problem with this is that resources on the planet are finite, and if they are used at a faster rate than they can be replaced or they can replenish themselves, then a time when earth's resources will be incapable of supporting life is inevitable. This coupled with the ever increasing population of people on the earth is bound to put a strain on the earth's natural resources to the point which they are unable to support life as we know it. The more resources are spent for the purpose of private gain without being replenished, so the environmental condition is worsening. In this slight, it has become incumbent upon stakeholders to consider the possibility of managing a reversing environmental degradation whist having a capitalistic global system.

Capitalism is widely considered as the source of all the environmental problems being experienced on the planet today. The consequences of capitalism are property and many fatalities. Capitalism is, therefore, incompatible with the sound environmental practices and needs to be done away with for mitigation strategies against the current situation to be successful.

Understanding Capitalism

Capitalism can best be viewed and defined as a free market. It involves a socio-economic system that places emphasis on the acquisition and control of private property and voluntary exchange (Magdoff & Foster, 2011). This system is controlled by the law and relies on the same regulations of socio-economic practices. The underlying principle in capitalism is that individuals are allowed to pursue their own interests and profits, set their own goals, and pursue them. Corporations whose main aim is to make profits are the pillars of capitalistic economies in the world today. The owners of the corporation who are a very small percentage of the population end up controlling the vast amount of a country’s wealth while the majority of those who actually work to build the corporations end up enjoying a very small part of that wealth. Capitalism is a socio-economic system where the major property is owned and controlled by a few wealthy individuals. Therefore, gains and equity from these properties accrue to them (Magdoff & Foster, 2011).

Corporations and individuals operating in capitalistic systems always have the goal of maximizing profits. It is the only way in which they can survive. They usually aim to do this by meeting consumer needs while supplying goods at the lowest possible costs. This often means that corporations are always trying to produce more goods of a higher quality but at the lower costs. Since ultimately most resources come from the environment, these resources end up being over – used and exploited by corporations in their bid to produce more and expand themselves (Kovel, 2002 ).

Capitalistic systems inevitably end up exploiting both human labor and natural resources. Those who work the hardest and the longest are often the ones who are least paid while a few bureaucrats and the owner of the corporations do not work  very hard but get all the money. The hard workers are often at the bottom of the capitalistic pyramid, holding up the owners of corporations with their hard work, which is what actually keeps the corporations running (Beder, 2006).

Capitalism was born during the Agrarian Revolution where farmers were able to produce more food than they could consume (Kovel, 2002). This gave rise to the notion that resources were inexhaustible and that economies would always grow. However, in recent years, the large scale degradation of the environment through over–use and over exploitation of the same, coupled with the fact that earth’s population has dramatically increased since those days, has led to the realization that resources are, indeed, finite. A pure capitalistic system, which places emphasis on maximum resource exploitation for private profits and short-term gains, cannot be feasible.

Capitalism differs from other economic systems through its emphasis on private ownership and personal profits as opposed to public ownership and control of resources. Socialism, for instance, as a system focuses on public ownership of resources. Socialism mainly is identified with a socialization of production in an economy. It paces a large emphasis on de-privatization of ownership and rather the encouragement of social or public ownership. Equity and the natural as well as other resources are owned by citizens. . This situation ensures that wealth is equally distributed among the public. Marxism, on the other hand, places a lot of emphasis on equitable distribution of wealth among societal classes. Capitalism is also increasingly being accelerated by the invention of new technologies (Williams, 2010). The owners of these technologies control  most of the wealth that results from them. This increased technology is referred to as capitalist’s techno sphere.

Capitalism and the Environment

The question of whether today’s environmental problems can be overcome in the face of the existing global capitalism is can only be understood after determination of the effects that capitalism has on the environment. The continual degradation of the environment, especially in the past two decades, has resulted in the significant environmental problems that have, in turn, affected the socio-economic situation in numerous countries. It has increasingly become apparent that the vast exploitation of natural resources is affecting the wellbeing of the planet as well as its occupants now and also for posterity. Capitalism has been blamed for being the number one causative factor for environmental degradation. Its emphasis on a private profit system is the root cause of the environmental challenges being witnessed on the planet today (Clayton, 2003). It has inherently a predisposition to the exploitation of both human labor as well as finite natural resources in a bid to make profits. Beder (2006) asserts that capitalism is inherently unable to sustain a system where utilization of natural resources is done in a way that is sustainable. This presents a situation where the threat of complete depletion of those resources and the resultant survival challenges are becoming a reality. The capitalist is ever expanding his / her enterprise so as to survive in a competitive market. Many times this expansion does not put the environment into consideration. This “unplanned, large-scale, globally-interconnected production poses grave threats to the environment” (Magdoff & Foster, 2011).

Another reason why capitalism is particularly harmful to the environment lies in its preoccupation with quick returns (Cunningham, Cunningham & Saigo, 2005). The goals of capitalistic enterprises tend to be short term ones. Future consequences of present actions are not normally prioritized by capitalists. In this regard the consequences of natural resource over-exploitation on posterity has not received a lot of consideration until recent years when the consequences of environmental degradation are having an effect on people and the same enterprises that created them. In the United States, for instance, Capitalist Corporation built nuclear power plants for gains that were envisioned then. These plants were built without due consideration of their possible impact on the environment and on people’s health. When the profitability of the nuclear plants was not satisfactory, they were abandoned, and their effects on the environment have been witnessed by people. 

Capitalist economic systems are also unable to maintain sustainable use of resources since capitalism by its nature introduces competition in the society (Pepper, 1989). Individuals and corporation compete to produce the best products so that they can appeal more consumers, which translates to more wealth for them. In that case, there is always a need to produce more and, therefore, this creates a need to use up more natural resources. Producers always want to lower their production costs, and this often results in the neglect of taking care of the environment in their production processes, since these processes are expensive in many times. For instance, an industry may choose to discharge its sewage into the rivers, thus polluting the environment, instead of recycling them. It is evident that recycling may be more expensive, thus raising their costs of production. The raised costs of production mean higher prices for the consumer, which means fewer sales and profits. Therefore, the opportunities to neglect the environment are numerous in a capitalistic system.

Capitalism fragments the society in to many private pieces, which makes it harder to control what they all do to the environment. A socialist system, for example, is centrally controlled for the good of the public. Production is centrally controlled, and this makes it easier to control the manner in which resources are used as there is only one body that does it. Since all resources are owned collectively in a socialist economy, every natural resource is the responsibility of the public (Beder, 2006). Capitalists do not take responsibility over resources that they do not own. Therefore, it is possible for them to pollute them without being held accountable. In cases where they take responsibility over the environment, they simply pass on the costs to the consumer. In such a way they fail to feel a sense of responsibility over the environment. There exists an incompatibility between capitalistic technology and the environment.

Capitalism also encourages individual consumers to act solely based on their immediate needs. The perception of these needs is often manipulated through aggressive advertising, and it  results in desensitization of the environment. An individual would rather do what feels good rather than reflects on its impact on the environment. To this extent, the behavior of individual consumers is a factor contributing to the ecological crisis.

The developed nations through their aggressive industries place a lot of strain on the environment. As a result, the poorer nations who do not have the economic and technological might to mitigate against the effects of environmental degradation end up suffering. The global warming, which has been largely brought about by green house emissions mainly done in the developed countries, have resulted in changing the climatic patterns all over the earth. Events like droughts and flooding have then been the consequence in some poorer nations, and this has led to large scale fatalities where these countries are unprepared and unable to deal with catastrophes of such magnitudes (Arnocky, Stroink & Cicco, 2007).

A sustainable effort in combating environmental neglect and degradation control of resources need to be put in a central organization that aims at doing good for the whole society. Furthermore, it must be controlled at national levels and at an international level (Arnocky, Stroink & Cicco, 2007).This is a condition that is incompatible with a capitalist socio-economic frame work where the emphasis is on private ownership. A global socialist socio-economic situation would make it possible to consciously plan out the use and control of resources, as well as the development and use of technology so as to make sure that a peaceful co-existence between man and the environment can be promoted (Arnocky, Stroink & Cicco, 2007). Non-economic factors that affect the society would be considered under a socialist order. An environmentally sound and equitable global society is only possible if a private profit is not a key preoccupation.

In its nature and because of what it stands for, it would appear that capitalism is unable to sustain a system where economic progress and positive environmental regard can co-exist. All practices and creeds which capitalism as a socio-economic system is founded on will ultimately lead to the degradation of the environment. The bottom line is that it is incredibly difficult to control privately owned resources. Recently, capitalist governments have tried to use the law to impose regulations and policies that favor the environment. However, the slow rate of the effect of this measure may not be enough if it is measures against the speed at which the environment is being degraded. On the other hand, incentives to make sure that the responsible use and conservation of resources are done correctly may work in certain places and not in others.

Mitigation against the effects of bad environmental practices involves a lot of planning at a social, political and economic level. It is incompatible with the compartmentalization that is a pillar of capitalism and with the notion of private profit.

A Combined Approach

There are those who believe that a combination of capitalism and socialism where different rules are applied in different conditions is the best case scenario. Although capitalism is no-doubted one of the major factors that has not only caused but continues to by its nature encourage environmental degradation, it is possible to have a co-existence between a capitalistic global system and sound environmental protection measures. It is possible to mitigate the disasters brought about by environmental degradation and even reverse the same through sound policies and practices within a capitalistic society. It is clear that the governments, which may be even capitalistic, must start regulating market and economic practices so as to ensure that most externalities are done away with to ensure that the good of society in the end is kept paramount. This may require the enactment of certain regulations that may seem socialist. It may involve the public ownership of certain capital assets and natural resources, as well as the private ownership of others.

Socialism and the Environment

In recent times, socialism has come into focus and has been a subject of interest by various stakeholders, concerning whether it can be the answer for the global environmental crises being faced. Although it is widely being acknowledged that mitigation strategies for the environment need to involve serious social planning, it has not yet been fully agreed upon that socialism is the way to do so.

Critics of socialism view the environmental degradation in the former socialist nations, such as the Soviet Union and China (Kovel, 2002). If socialism works to protect the environment in the following nations, then we should see a difference in their environment as a result of better social planning. However, it has not been the case. There are a lot of environmental degradation, pollution, deforestation, and various other forms of assault on the environment.

However, many would argue that the environmental degradation witnessed in many former socialist nations has had other influences that have led to its degraded state. These include things like war, influence from greedy dictators, and effects of global climatic changes, which have resulted mainly from the environmental pollution in other capitalist nations. 

Socialism, if executed in the manner in which it was first instanced where property is held in joint ownership by the public, can be one of the most effective tool to fight the environmental degradation of capitalist economies (Kovel, 2002). Since capitalism is what has led the world to its current economic crises, then logic would dictate that new ways of doing things need to be found. This means an entire change in the economic system. Things cannot be done the same way, and different results expected. However, factors, such as technology and industrialization, that are present in socialist socio-economic as well as capitalist conditions are the major culprits of environmental pollution and degradation need to be dealt with. . Socialism as a socio-economic system is considered the best way in which production and environmental protection can co-exist

In a socialist world, profits would not be the number one determining factor of production. The economy would be fuelled by cooperation as opposed to competition (Foster, 2002). The capitalistic preoccupation with reducing cost would not be at play. As a result, more energy and resources would be invested in ensuring sustainable and environmentally friendly processes in production. Waste management would be efficient. It would also be easy to enact laws and policies that protect the environment since there would be no privately motivated engineering of laws to suit self-centered goals. It would become easy to have the public vote for technology that was environmentally friendly and research on the same would be highly prioritized (Cunningham, Cunningham & Saigo, 2005). It would become easier for safer sources of energy to be invested in as the priority would be given to conservation of the dwindling fossil fuels as well as the atmosphere they pollute when burnt. Clean forms of energy, such as solar, hydro and wind energy would replace the fossil and oil energy sources (Arnocky, Stroink & Cicco, 2007). The overriding goal in socialism would be to meet the needs of every, including a healthy environment for the present and posterity. For the environment to be sustainable, irreversible damage and cumulative pollutant emissions must be completely stopped. Resources must be used at a pace with which they can be allowed to self-replenish. The technologies adopted should co-exist with the notion of renewing resources and conserving the ones that have already existed.


Since capitalism in its nature is opposed to many of the measures that are required in an intervention to save the environment, socialism as a system of government may hold the key to a permanent solution. The nature of strategies to be employed in order to protect the environment fundamentally involves a situation where the power to control resource exploitation is put in the hands of one central power or body. An economic system that is fundamentally based on private ownership and self–entered ambition rather than social good is increasingly ineffective in a mitigation campaign for the environment.

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