The ecocide at the heart of capitalism: or, Why a profit-driven system can literally never solve global warming

We must understand and explain what capitalism does and does not do, and can and cannot do about ecological destruction. Capitalism can promote development of more efficient solar, wind, hydro, etc. power (though this ability is tied to the price of the cheapest fossil fuel, and the relative abundance of coal means this ability will be quite limited for a long time) and battery and transmission efficiency. It may even be able to clean up certain continents and regions while polluting other continents and regions all the more heavily. However:

(a) Under capitalism, increases in efficiency tend to increase (rather than decrease) the consumption of a resource. This effect, known as the Jevons paradox, occurs because improved efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource, which tends to increase the quantity of the resource demanded, counteracting any savings from increased efficiency.

(b) Capitalism cannot solve the problem of reaching real sustainability*. It will always incentivize kicking the can down the road. This is because producing a product in a truly sustainable way is more expensive than producing it in a way that has an invisible-to-the-consumer environmental cost (such as using up a finite resource). Since, all things being equal, cheaper products that do the same thing will sell better, those who take the unsustainable route will undercut anyone trying to make things sustainably, drive them out of business, and take over their market share. The outcome will be a market full of actors none of whom will make truly sustainable products.

(* That is, actually being able to do it on an ongoing basis forever because no resources at all are being consumed at a rate that will ever exhaust them. That is what the word “sustainable” should actually mean.)

It’s not just a question of the greed of individuals, either. The system itself puts relentless pressure on anyone with decision-making power to promote short-term corporate profit at all costs. The corporations that make any attempt to conserve the world’s resources are outcompeted by those that willingly burn through them. Any CEOs who prioritize conservation tend to decrease a company’s profits and will soon be replaced by the board of directors with a CEO who keeps the greatest profits coming in. The politicians and government officials who refuse to do what corporate shareholders want are replaced by those who will. Countries and regions with laws that don’t favor corporate profit are starved of investment capital in favor of more corporate-friendly areas. Under capitalism, wealth is power, and the corporate shareholders rule the planet. Those who won’t promote profit for corporate shareholders are pushed out of power. Capitalism has no solution—can have no solution.

(c) Nor can it solve truly global problems like global warming and ocean acidification. The logic of competition-for-profit means that one company/country/region will always be incentivized to pollute to gain an advantage over its rivals (or just avoid being outcompeted and eaten by them). All actors on every scale are incentivized to cheat as long as their existence and well-being is endangered by others possibly cheating more than them. It is worthless for a world full of capitalist countries, each with its own capitalist bloc that must compete with all others, to sign a legal agreement to try to solve this problem. As long as competition-for-profit continues to play any role at all in large-scale economic activity, that legal agreement must inevitably be disobeyed by all actors.

(d) Only in a global political-economic system that is actually being run according to a single, unified plan (at least ecologically speaking) where literally everyone’s material standard of living is both guaranteed and tightly tied to everyone else’s can these problems be solved. If all would-be “cheaters” had to share the “profit” gained from contributing to global pollution with literally the rest of the people on the globe, there would be so little personal advantage to be gained from polluting extra as to not make it worth it.

Some further points are also important here:

One, there is no guarantee even with a democratically planned economy that society won’t choose to conduct civilization in a way that’s unsustainable–but a democratically planned economy is a prerequisite for our ability to choose to run it sustainably. In other words, there is no guarantee that a democratically planned economy definitely will solve this problem, but it is guaranteed that a capitalist economy will not.

Two, the necessity of competition–which pervades every aspect of life in capitalist society–disposes us emotionally toward short-term, self-centered thinking and concerns. A democratically planned economy, in which everyone’s well-being is assured and no one is economically pressured to exploit or be exploited, will produce people who are inclined to be more generous in spirit toward all humanity (including humanity to come) and all of nature.

Three, in such a society, it will be clear that there’s no way for everyone to have privately owned cars and air travel. If the society is genuinely democratic, we’ll have to reach a way to satisfy those desires collectively, which will incline us toward things like less-polluting mass transit and other economic systems that are more sustainable.

Four, in this vein, it is very much worth noting that

Cuba is a world leader in ecologically sustainable practices. It is the only country to have begun the large-scale transition from conventional farming, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, to a new agricultural paradigm known as low-input sustainable agriculture. (source)

Cuba is an interesting case. It is an island and a non-imperialist country, so, like the earth, it is a closed system (or more closed than the Soviet Union was, anyway), so the example of Cuba may help us visualize and predict some of the mechanics that a democratically planned world economy might have.


1. Those who want to better understand why capitalism specifically behaves this way are strongly recommended to read the first five chapters of Zombie Capitalism.

2. I go into greater detail about the related crisis of massive and ever-growing resource shortages (“peak everything”) in my post “On the end of the world, which will happen in your lifetime if we don’t replace capitalism with socialism”

When I talk to you
When I think of talking to you who caught the corner of my eye

I am both talking to myself and talking to someone so qualitatively different from myself that they may as well be from a different universe.
I am talking to someone who is moved by the very same heat I am moved by.
But I am talking to someone who has built an engine and joints to be moved by it so utterly different from the ones I am moved by.
Someone who spent a hundred thousand years working on a different project.
I see the design; I cannot empathize with the pains that were taken in it.

I could tell you I want you to see me in the corner of your eye and
that would be that and we would both diagnose each other on the spot and
with an oversaturated smile know each other
but it would be too late and we would both have to throw up.

And what would happen after that? There is nothing about that in the Disney pattern
I have attacked my body for years trying to recreate.
In the numbness even now all over my body, I am trying to fit into a mold I saw two-dimensional characters enacting.
Ignoring my nausea, I am trying to be thin enough to fit into the fictional space I have been told about, have been sold on.

I am just as guilty as those whose carefully designed dream lovers omit me,
omit my prominent and sharp fractal curves and outgushings and edges.
So who can blame any of us, anorexic in one hundred dimensions psychological and physiological?

I want to scream out loud but I know with all my heart that the specific pain I want to express with it
would be extraordinarily easily missed.

When I say “kill me back to life”
I mean that to suffer in all the aspects of myself I have made numb
and then know feeling in them
would be preferable to a lifetime of numbness in those aspects.

Shall I say a thousand times that we cannot survive unless we replace our profit-driven economy with a planned economy? I guess I will and I must. And if I am being foolish and classist in the way I try to say that message, I want you to help me change, help me deliver it to literally every human alive–it is your life, your world at stake, too.

Who am I kidding? I an educated white mostly man have a world of respect to burn before anyone thinks I’m deep down foolish. Why should I think anyone else would want to burn as much as I have and do?

It doesn’t take away from the loneliness, and that is really and a thousand times all I am saying, again and again. And for anyone who is lonely from the station that their dignity and life demands of them, whether or not you can come closer and share your similar pain with me, I know it, and I respect you, and when we are in the midst of loving we are the same love, and I love you, and I would love you still more if I saw the loving that you are at work in the way it always is in the heart of you.

Back when October was the month of doors,
back when I felt all the majors flow through me in all the people I met and was not so different from
back when each new work of fiction was an open door,
where now they all lead to one patriarchal class society or another.

Back when even in ruts I was sharpening a blade or learning a lesson to apply to my destiny
My destiny was to confront and struggle to break the loyalty of the North American settler nation to white supremacist imperialist capitalism.
My destiny was to see that the kaleidoscopic, psychedelic all-path I once thought I walked on
was a product of immense privilege.

My destiny was to see the chauvinism that has been rotting for more than a thousand years
lines every street, rounds out every contour of every car that passes me,
lies stinking in mounds behind more than half the faces I see,
deadens every syllable I hear spoken.

I do not have the stomachs or the mouths to throw up with to convey how sick unto death I am
of our dead and dead and dead and dead and dead culture.
My nation has made slaves of the rest of the planet.
Anyone close to wealthy eagerly saves money to buy more slaves.

Everyone wants to start a business,
and in this word business there is both the libidoless eagerness for the deadness of money and the murder of human potentiality that is slavery.

It was with such excitement that I realized that a spiritual tradition had woken me up
it was with such excitement I saw that hundreds of millions claimed to have been awoken, as Christ was woken, by a sense of the very hot fire that is always at the center of my will
what good was it to see that they do not see Christ–they have only a libidoless eagerness for a vast dead forest,
for a rainforest turned into room after unseen but promised room stacked from floor to ceiling with $100 bills.

In great sadness I realize it is only fear. It is only an adventureless fear that holds them where they are,
only a fear that has dried of all its pungency and turned into a tasteless and odorless reflex.

I have never wanted anything but the hustle and bustle of human beings, whether the pollen flying or the fruit dropping or the sprouts writhing upward.
I do not need any of it stored up–I just want the hustle and bustle.

I have not secured one four hundredth of the truth, but even I know that much.

I used to write poems. When I was young and soaked in naivete I had a beauty. There is still a flower that beats in my heart but I forget about it for many months at a time. There was a time when I was made of you all, and you were younger, and the petals I was made of were tauter and tighter and more pungent. There was a time before I was 25 I controlled my neurochemistry so tightly with nicotine, and I heard out many of my own ideas. These days I hear the tiny tree inside of my acorns struggling to get out, and I can do as I always did and throw alcohol on the flame. Last night I was very drunk and I realized I had become split in two: the old liberal artist me and the new communist me. And looking around the bar I could switch eyeglasses and see either a sea of apolitical middle-class liberals or a sea of self-artistry of a great diversity of skill. I want to cross my eyes and bring them into one focus.

I see the wild onions blooming in the field across from me. Their flowers grow into their own roots, and they are so rife that new wild onions start to grow from their flowers. I once saw a three-turns fractal of a wild onion, flower become new plant bloomed into a flower become new plant bloomed into a flower.

When I have a crush, no, it’s not just sexual. I want to bring my idealized crush into such a tiny emotional space that all the beauty I see precipitating on their person, to squeeze it out and run through a field of their crystallized beauty like through a field of wheat under a blue blue Nebraska sky. I want to fall in love for a thousand years with no pain in a utopia with them and the beauty I see growing on/as them, delight in them like I delight in me, like discovering I have a new talent but the talent can speak, the talent cures loneliness.

The liberalism I have forsaken does contain the aesthetics that our communism must also have. It does contain the reverence our communism must have at its core. Communism does need a spirituality. Humynity is never without a spirituality. I want to rush across a field to my new love, two faces so distant but with an immistakeable expression where we know one another by the sign of the exact same flavor of sardonicness. Two trees that are one another’s soil. Their compost is my flowers, and I taste the flowers most deeply in the eating of their waste.

If there is anyone who ever speaks of me as a writer, they will call me a psychological prude. And I am sorry that it is that way, but it is true. I haven’t learned how to doubt a puritanism I constantly inhaled during my formative years. I was never the all-flowering. I could never taste my own pollen except in its spiciness, in its fillingness, in its caloric content. I could never _taste_ it. I could never trip or flow on it in itself. I could only taste the abstraction of it, and that struck me like a statue, all form and no flavor.

I was black powder with no colorant chemical. I was all heat, I was all Scoville. I was excited when I saw you with a self, I saw you with your own agenda. I saw you exist without me. I saw you breaking the rocks of a raw world. I saw you feeling every tear from both eyes. I saw your pain be a soil and be the rain in which you could grow. I saw in your every movement a new metaverse of metaverses. I saw something I hadn’t ever tasted. You were my nostalgia each time I saw you. I longed to have grown old with you, I longed to see the world you were made for. I longed for the society of chords that composed you. I longed and longed each time. I saw you be your own wishes; I saw you move instead of hope, shift like a sprinter into a new thing instead of growing in any way stale. I saw you, stranger, I saw you, I saw you in your quicksilver, I saw you in you, a molten mirror, I wanted to be you and be with you in being you. I wanted the ride, I wanted to be the ride with you. I wanted to make everyone into you with the words I am now writing. I wanted to be your Wikipedia entry, I wanted to be your “Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock,” I wanted to be the Gainesville heat you and I both live with. I wanted to find in you something that would last and last, two trees that would love each other so much that their love would break thermodynamics. I wanted to forget death in you while you overtook me and overtook time itself.

I wanted to make the revolution with you. I wanted to build a party of a new type with you. I wanted to meet you and hug you before and after our speeches. I wanted you to set me on fire. I wanted you to show me every flammable place in you so I would know them in me. I wanted you just once to hit me so hard I would shatter and become something utterly new. I want you to know you did hit me that hard.

I have met you. You help me be gay because you are on fire with being gay in the way I would be gay if society didn’t scare me out of it.

I have met you. You can’t settle down. Your tears are the gasoline and your mouth is the always smoldering coals.

I have heard you, you screamed the scream I would have, and did it so I never need to stop. You planted a scream with roots into the living earth and it never ends, and I can go and visit it and bow to it, and there is my voice, out of the spark that has floated from your fire.

I didn’t need nothin’ but you came. I didn’t need to be anything but here we are. I didn’t need to have any luck but I got all the breaks–they helped me become a communist in an era of social fascists. They helped me refuse to be a man in an age of overt transgender struggle.

But he told me to sing the love that has been singing. I looked him in the mirror just now. He said to live with the life of life. He said we were all the love of love. I wanted to sing my own pain when I heard that thing. I wanted to be the blossom that I specifically am when I heard that we are all the to blossom of blossoming, the to be of being.

I have wanted you all, always, and wanted everything, and most when you are taking off the masks you have been wearing. I never ever stopped dreaming even while I slept too deeply and sadly to remember my dreams. There is no communism and in fact no life without spirit, and there is no spirit or communism or life without you. I was nothing without you. I was not even the quiet. And I love you while I have anything to be or say that with.