Capitalism and the Marxist critique of political ecology

Capitalism and the Marxist critique of political ecology

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1.1 Background to the study

Scientific evidence suggests that the Universe is a very large expanse of space that contains several galaxies. The earth falls under the Milky Way galaxy and so far, is the only planet (out of eight) that is confirmed to have enough resources to sustain millions of different life forms and species. Viewed from this perspective, the earth appears as the mother of all life; it provides the various favourable environmental conditions (in the form of habitats, ecosystems, and living quarters) for all beings found within its bosom. Thus, the natural environment consists of air, water, and land; these components form the core of the resources by which all beings on earth find succour. A cursory look at history suggests strongly that the earth can supply all of man‘s need but it does not have the capacity to sustain man‘s wants after all. It appears all the cities, industries, technology, and environmental exploration activities we find today have never been in the picture before; they were thrust unto the scene through man‘s unrelenting attempts to tap into the vast resources of the earth to improve his living condition (and even satisfy his greed). Thus man has derived food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and riches from earth since time immemorial. In other words man, upon the view that he is the most important being on earth; has vigorously sought to harvest all the resources that would make him comfortable and happy; perhaps at the expense of other creatures and even the earth itself.

From all indications the euphoria and massive celebrations of improvement in several aspects of man‘s life and civilization came to an absurd stop in the 20th century which is acclaimed as the one in which man made the fastest development in 2 history. Hence beginning from the latter part of that century to the 21st, man has witnessed a negative turn of events by which the cumulative ill-effects of his attitude, thought, and praxis toward the environment have become a source of woes rather than a source of well-being and wealth. Aside from terrible environmental degradation (depletion of the ozone layer and destruction of entire ecosystems) most human settlements are battling with the effects of overcrowding, shortage of natural resources, natural disasters together with severe environmental pollution. The air, water, and land, are fast becoming sources of deadly diseases while the noise and lighting in most residential and industrial areas is becoming either intolerable or unbearable. Damage to the environment has also resulted in unstable climatic and weather conditions which often produce destructive lash-backs in the form of tsunamis, floods, typhoons, or the encroachment of water bodies by stubborn weeds. And there is talk in scientific circles that if nothing is done urgently, the future is very bleak. The above evidence paints the picture of a world where man has, through his actions and inactions, unwittingly driven himself and the rest of the earth to the verge of total annihilation.

In a world where corporations create new life-forms and may soon geo-engineer the skies, does what we call ‘nature’ any longer possess autonomy and agency? In what ways, and to what degree, can the capitalist mode of delivering goods and services be said to ‘produce’ something that is, by definition, thought to be given rather than made? Is ‘nature’, in its various forms (large and small), something that can and should found a politics devoted to reforming contemporary capitalism or, perhaps, to superceding it? If not, how can the biophysical dimensions of capitalist accumulation be factored-in to a critique of political economy? This essay will address these analytical and normative questions by reviewing over 40 years of Marxist scholarship focussed on the relationships between capitalism and what we by convention call nature – human and non-human. 

1.2 Statement of the problem

Critics argue that capitalism leads to a significant loss of political, democratic and economic power for the vast majority of the global human population. The reason for this is they believe capitalism creates very large concentrations of money and property in the hands of a relatively small minority of the global human population (the elite or the "power elite"), leading, they say, to very large and increasing, wealth and income inequalities between the elite and the majority of the population.[3]"Corporate capitalism" and "inverted totalitarianism" are terms used by the aforementioned activists and critics of capitalism to describe a capitalist marketplace—and society—characterized by the dominance of hierarchicalbureaucraticlarge corporations, which are legally required to pursue profit without concern for social welfare. Corporate capitalism has been criticized for the amount of power and influence corporations and large business interest groups have over government policy, including the policies of regulatory agencies and influencing political campaigns. Many social scientists have criticized corporations for failing to act in the interests of the people; they claim the existence of large corporations seems to circumvent the principles of democracy, which assumes equal power relations between all individuals in a society.[4] As part of the political left, activists against corporate power and influence work towards a decreased income gap and improved economical equity.

Critics of capitalism view the system as inherently exploitative. In an economic sense, exploitation is often related to the expropriation of labor for profit and based on Karl Marx's version of the labor theory of value. The labor theory of value was supported by classical economists like David Ricardo and Adam Smith who believed that "the value of a commodity depends on the relative quantity of labor which is necessary for its production"(Ricardo,2008).

1.3 Thesis of the Study

The thesis of the study is that, in spite of its short comings, Karl Marx criticism of capitalism is applicable in practical everyday situation in difference sectors in life which include, household, private and public sectors e.t.c.

1.4 Purpose of the study

The main purpose of this study was to examine Karl marx critique on capitalism on contemporary scenarios. Specifically, the study was fashioned to expose and evaluate the theory to determine the extent to which it can be employed to tackle contemporary environmental problems.

1.5 Significance of the Study

In the light of the fact that environmental pollution is increasingly becoming a pandemic around the world, it has become imperative to fight for restoration of a healthy environment using all available options. This study is significance within the structure of the fight against this global pandemic because by critically evaluating Karl Marx capitalism, the extent of the theory‘s relevance has been revealed. The exercise has also provided an ideological framework which could be useful in many aspects; especially in ways that could influence both attitudes and praxis towards the environment. These include areas like, policy formulation/design, planning of strategies, and social reengineering, environmental remediation and environmental exploration. Furthermore, while there is vast material available on how this theory has been appraised and applied in different sectors, there is little available on how it could be useful in practical situations (given that environmental philosophy is quite a young discipline); thus the study will provide a resource material for other researchers on the issue of environmental pollution and its moral implications.

1.6 Scope of the study

The study is limited to the field of moral philosophy (specifically environmental ethics); it will also be concerned rather strictly with a critique of Karl Marx capitalism and its applicability.

1.7 Methodology of the study

The qualitative research design was used for this study. Data were sourced from books and journals. The historical, expository and evaluative approaches were adopted. The historical approach was employed to situate Marx‘s theory within the context and tradition of environmental philosophy; the expository approach enabled a detailed examination of capitalism; and the evaluative approach was used to gauge the tenability of the theory.

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