Ecocide, the End-Stage of Capitalism?

Climate Change Denial by Any Other Name

“Climate change denier”, a term we like to apply to many of the same right-wing fanatics who oppose vaccination and masking mandates in the name of “freedom”, could just as easily apply to most of our current governments.

The world’s leading climate scientists, the International Energy Agency and the Secretary-General of the UN himself, have all made it clear that avoiding catastrophic climate change rules out any new fossil fuel developments.

Yet, our governments choose to ignore the evidence-based, scientific consensus and continue to approve and promote new investment to increase the country’s production of dirty energy. Their justifications for doing so, range from the subtle to the defiant, but all involve lying about, or often ignoring, the evidence.

From the Trudeau Liberals’ opening up new deep-sea drilling in Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore, to their increasing Canada’s oil exports through the boondoggle TMX pipeline, to the refusal of premiers like Alberta’s Danielle Smith to even acknowledge the climate emergency and its demands. The script they read from belongs to their colonial masters in the oil and financial industries.  

All political stripes are guilty (bar the politically irrelevant Greens). Whether it is the Federal Liberals or the Liberal government of Newfoundland, the Conservative governments of Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, or the NDP government of British Columbia, their actions belie their claim to take the climate emergency seriously. They have earned the title of “climate change deniers”.

End-Stage Capitalism

How did we get into such a fix – apparently helpless to force our putative democratic leaders to act decisively to address an emergency that threatens our annihilation?

In a recent commentary in Medium, an on-line open platform, the British economist, Umair Haque, once a capitalist reformer who blogged in the Harvard Business Review, talks about “late-stage capitalism” having been replaced by what he calls “end stage capitalism”.

“Late-stage capitalism” describes the post-WWII growth of multi-national corporations, growing concentration of capital in fewer hands, globalized labour and goods markets, rules to trump national sovereignty when it hinders trade, and liquid international capital flows, amongst other things.

Haque argues we have now moved far beyond those debatable developments to “end stage capitalism”,

“where the very institutions responsible for destroying life on planet earth and causing a mass extinction — one of only five previous ones in all of deep history, billions of years of it — are making record-breaking, eye-watering windfall profits. In other words, we’re now at the stage of capitalism where the most “valuable” activity in the economy is…ecocide.”

Haque goes on to ask,

“How long can a civilization with an economy like that survive? When the most profitable activity in the economy is destroying the planet….which of course provides the air, water, food, medicine, every other form of basic (sic) imaginable…..what kind of future is left?”

The upside-down logic of our economic system is also obvious in a recent report from The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The CCPA study presents a welcome corrective to the political rhetoric about Canada’s current high inflation rate.

Far from being “Justinflation”, as Premiers Smith and Moe in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and federal Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre like to suggest, a more appropriate descriptor might be “Exxoninflation”. The big winners turn out to be the recipients of Haque’s “eye-watering windfall profits” in the oil patch and downstream industries.

Between the third quarter (Q3) of 2020 and Q3 of 2022, an additional $72 billion went to the corporate sector. Of those additional inflationary dollars that consumers paid out in the past two years, the CCPA finds that,

 “….price increases aren’t ending up in workers’ pockets,
they are ending up in corporate profits—particularly in oil, gas and mining.”

The embarrassing truth for Premiers Smith and Moe is that of the additional $72 billion in corporate inflation revenues, the largest share, or $18 billion, went to the oil, gas and mining industries. The CCPA data show that,

Of those $18 billion in inflation dollars flowing to oil, gas and mining, basically all of it ended up on the profits side. Only $656 million ended up in higher worker compensation. In a broader sense, 25 cents out of every extra dollar spent on inflation is going straight to higher oil, gas and mining profits.”

While some of those additional dollars went to the mining industry, they would amount to millions rather than the oil industry’s billions. These numbers also don’t include oil refining, which would probably account for a share of the additional $3.6 billion in profits the downstream sector registered in the same period.

All in all, pointing the inflationary finger at Trudeau speaks to both the ignorance of the finger-pointers, and the useful distraction it creates while the largely foreign-owned industry continues to fleece the provinces and this country to the benefit of the offshore recipients of its dividends.

The refusal of either federal or provincial levels of government to tax such windfall revenues is the epitome of irresponsibility, only underlined by the looming climate catastrophe.

As Haque argues, “we need to invest capital in preventing the end of our civilization.”

According to Haque, the UN has estimated,

a global transformation from a heavily fossil fuel- and unsustainable land use-dependent economy to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investments of at least US$4–6 trillion a year.”

That’s about 5% of global GDP. A large sum. But not prohibitive when our survival is at stake.

Yet, as currently structured, our capitalist economy can’t find the capital to save itself. What’s more, our colonized political system hampers our regaining agency to engineer a major reallocation of capital to ensure our own survival.

Time is running out.

Meanwhile, we continue to reward and invest in the perpetrators of our own demise.

How stupid is that? And what does that say about our responsibility for our choice of such inept leadership?

By Peter Puxley

Hi, I'm Peter Puxley, an economist, geographer and urban planner by academic training, and a political organizer/activist, development educator, journalist, policy wonk, researcher and political staffer by practice. I have tried my hand at poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing, some of which has been published.

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