These are thoughts I have in the quiet moments before getting out of bed in the morning, while walking or cooking or washing dishes, in the quiet moments before I fall asleep. This is what I try to make sense of, then fret about. And this he articulated so well. Clear, accessible, sane. I guess after writing about these things for years, in a moment it all coalesces:
Capitalism Is Killing The Planet – It’s Time To Stop Buying Into Our Own Destruction, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 30 October 2021
If I may synopsize … While we are distracted, the world’s big players (the beneficiaries of capitalism) are looting and ransacking the planet. The distractions are largely of their making.
Do you remember the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign? I do:
“People start pollution. People can stop it.”
Nope. Corportations are responsible for the lion’s share of pollution. They distract us by shaming us.
Our focus on MCB* aligns with the corporate agenda. The deliberate effort to stop us seeing the bigger picture began in 1953 with a campaign called Keep America Beautiful. It was founded by packaging manufacturers, motivated by the profits they could make by replacing reusable containers with disposable plastic. Above all, they wanted to sink state laws insisting that glass bottles were returned and reused. Keep America Beautiful shifted the blame for the tsunami of plastic trash the manufacturers caused on to “litter bugs”, a term it invented.
* MCB: This is Monbiot’s acronym for micro-consumerist bollocks, “tiny issues such as plastic straws and coffee cups, rather than the huge structural forces driving us towards catastrophe.”
The corporate focus on litter, amplified by the media, distorts our view of all environmental issues. For example, a recent survey of public beliefs about river pollution found that “litter and plastic” was by far the biggest cause people named. In reality, the biggest source of water pollution is farming, followed by sewage. Litter is way down the list. It’s not that plastic is unimportant. The problem is that it’s almost the only story we know.
I totally had been buying in to the plastic litter theory. Now I feel like the wool had been pulled over my eyes. Of course …
I’m not saying the small things don’t matter. I’m saying they should not matter to the exclusion of things that matter more. Every little counts. But not for very much.
So, they shame us. Then they distract us with things. It’s about stuff. And having. And consuming.
The great political transition of the past 50 years, driven by corporate marketing, has been a shift from addressing our problems collectively to addressing them individually. In other words, it has turned us from citizens into consumers. It’s not hard to see why we have been herded down this path. As citizens, joining together to demand political change, we are powerful. As consumers, we are almost powerless.
Consumption in itself contributes to collapse:
It scarcely matters how green you think you are. The main cause of your environmental impact isn’t your attitude. It isn’t your mode of consumption. It isn’t the choices you make. It’s your money. If you have surplus money, you spend it. While you might persuade yourself that you are a green mega-consumer, in reality you are just a mega-consumer. This is why the environmental impacts of the very rich, however right-on they may be, are massively greater than those of everyone else.
But being alive means we consume, right? That doesn’t mean we can’t be responsible about it. And so he offers his solution:
The difficult truth is that, to prevent climate and ecological catastrophe, we need to level down. We need to pursue what the Belgian philosopher Ingrid Robeyns calls limitarianism. Just as there is a poverty line below which no one should fall, there is a wealth line above which no one should rise. What we need are not carbon taxes, but wealth taxes. It shouldn’t surprise us that ExxonMobil favours a carbon tax. It’s a form of MCB. It addresses only one aspect of the many-headed environmental crisis, while transferring responsibility from the major culprits to everyone. It can be highly regressive, which means that the poor pay more than the rich.
I like kernels. I like to condense an argument down to one or two words. The word I have arrived at here is “greed”. More and bigger. The sad part is … people don’t get more and bigger without other people having less and smaller. One doesn’t make a billion dollars, one takes a billion dollars:
Massive wealth depends on exploitation.
In reality, the great fortunes amassed under capitalism are not obtained this way [“hard work and enterprise”] but through looting, monopoly and rent grabbing, followed by inheritance.