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Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse


Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse

Richard Smith

If we don’t change the conversation, if we don’t deal with the systemic problems of capitalism and come up with a viable alternative, our goose is cooked.


Interesting that the article blames capitalism, when the biggest culprit is China, while US emissions declined by 0.5%


I would argue that capitalism drives production and consumption, even in China.


The main work, the main source of employment, by far the largest complex of economic activity, involving the large majority of working humans, has to be, ecological agriculture, and related food and ecology work.

Production of food, in ways that reproduce ecological complexity, diversity, and resilience.

Without “conventional” agriculture’s reliance on massive industrial operations: fossil-fueled fertilizers, pesticides, machines, and transportation.

Without industrial commodity mono-crops and plantations.

Without fractionated processed industrialized “foods.”

Without the corporations that presently strangle the ecology with toxic industrial commodity mono-crops; that distort politics with blatant bribery and corruption (“lobbying” and “campaign contributions”); that twist scientific research and academic teaching with funding and endowments to Universities; and that manipulate our consciousness with incessant cradle-to-grave propaganda (“advertising”). The corporation as we know it - “limited liability,” investor-owned, and profit-driven, with “personhood” and civil and constitutional rights - must be ENDED.

As the “alternative to ecological collapse,” and as the foundation, core, and main employer of a “new economy,” we must invest in, and create infrastructure and regulation and taxation to support and develop, labor-intensive, resource-conserving, soil-building, forest-growing, ecology-centered and community-centered food production, with ecological stewardship as the central principle, and ecological health as the most important measure.


You really lost me at population is not the problem as it is a big part of it. The earth is not infinite and over population is a big part. Otherwise, run away capitalism is a huge part of the problem, of course, millions have been dying for decades because of war, starvation, disease, drought which many of it caused for the past 7 decades by US military action and non action to climate change. Is it still true that we consume 25% of all resources with only 350 million people in a 6 billion population?


We did not need a new economic system to replace horses with cars. Innovation did that. Climate progress will require wealth redistribution to enable the free time for creative problem solving. Individuals inventing new technologies will destroy giant entrenched industries. It happens all the time. Supporting new technology is far less complicated than new economic systems. Money has limited the possible for thousands of years, a tall mountain to climb. We can use the existing economic system to create a new world of clean energy.


Absolutely, right. China has a quasi-Capitalist economy now.


Totally agree! I’d give you 10 thumbs up if I could.


This article is basically contending that we face major ecological problems which have come about under capitalism (true) and makes the leap from there that these problems are inherent to capitalism and thus proposes the only way to solve these problems is to end capitalism. But there was no compelling case made for why these problems are an inherent part of capitalism, particularly given the wide disparity in ecological footprints among the world’s capitalist countries. The implication was also that ending capitalism was the only route to solving these problems without even demonstrating that it is a route to solving these problems. We have multiple examples of how attempts to get away from capitalism (none of which were ever entirely successful) did not avoid these problems associated with production, consumption, and the ecological impacts of extraction and pollution. Where is the example of even a single instance where ditching capitalism succeeded in avoiding or solving these problems? And finally, to say something needs to happen, or that it is required, or that it is what we must do is basically an imperative disguised as a declarative. He doesn’t argue for the truth of those propositions. He just asserts them as if they are self-evident. Any position can be argued that way, including utterly contrary positions. They only seem convincing to those who already agree–which is to say they convince no one because they don’t actually provide a reason for anyone to change their position.


Food is the original solar power.


Thanks Paula Rae.

i do some real work to produce food ecologically, in the city where i live. My own composting of food and yard waste (along with some compostable recyclables), to build soil; substantial production of food for humans and habitat for pollinators at the property where i rent; and participation in a larger project to grow food on public land, for open community harvest (Beacon Food Forest).

i’d like to take on more, in terms of promotion and development of working models for people to transition out of the present system of looting nature for profit. But i am both busy with my personal life, and daunted by the scale of the problem.

It is very hard for most people inside this system to recognize, intellectually and at the gut level, the need to genuinely seek paths OUT of this system, even though those pathways out will not come with high salaries, and will involve intensive work to harmonize with and restore the ecology.

But we need as many “civilized” people as we can get, to take on that work now and build those skills now, in readiness for the transition. Whether that transition happens more-or-less intentionally and deliberately, or (as seems far more likely) in chaotic response to the collapse of existing systems.


Exactly. Plants convert it, and animals including humans depend on it.

We must transition our human systems, our human economy, our human agriculture, to support the ecological balance of this complex plant / animal solar energy cycle.

Or, we must (in the near term now!) suffer the consequences of overturning that ecological balance: mass extinction, ecological collapse, and civilizational collapse.


Bless you! Yes, transitioning out of the “system” is much more difficult than first imagined. The hardest fact to accept, that most people will resist till the bitter end, is that profit, high salaries, lots of “stuff,” i.e., toys etc., will be a thing of the past. Sustainability, equitable living arrangements, zero growth, will be the future.


Yes, the author’s position is authoritarian even totalitarian in it’s presentation. It just makes points about the way things are as if they are self-evident and they do it without any explanation. I found their arguments shallow even hollow.


Why is it then that the countries with the worst ecological records tend to be the former communist countries? Compare the former East and West Germanies, the massive dead zones in the former USSR, China’s record ever since the “Great Leap Forward”.

It’s not a matter of capitalism.


Capitalism would externalize every bit as much pollution as the communist countries did, if it could. It’s only our (past) affluence that enabled environmentalists to hold industrial capitalists to account and force them–entirely against their will and fervent opposition–to abate the rape they longed to perpetuate. As capitalism consolidated its power and wealth in fewer hands, disempowering the environmental movement and destroying the regulatory agencies that kept its excesses in check, we entered the era of fracking and tar sands, something that wouldn’t have been possible when the EPA was strong and functional. And don’t even get me started on the environmental record of the U.S. military, capitalism’s “enforcer.”

Let me ask you this: Do Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry, Steve Mnuchin, etc., etc,–our uber-capitalists–engender confidence that we will address environmental issues? Capitalists HATE environmentalists! What exactly are you thinking?


On a earth sense maybe, but nuclear fusion was the first and original solar power in the universal sense.


You cannot solve the problem on the level of the problem. Humans are the problem . If you want to save the planet then humans must go. Humans are not designed to save themselves from the natural tendency to self destruct . :broken_heart: Mr. Smith was correct.


You’re right that population is certainly a part of the problem, as Smith noted in his book cited in the article. But what he argued in his book and longer articles like his Six Theses paper for the Next System Project is that capitalism is “overwhelmingly” the biggest driver of planetary collapse because while the human population has tripled since WWII, resource consumption of steel, aluminum, wood fiber, chemicals, plastics and so on has multiplied by factors of 6 to 15 (aluminum) to several thousand for plastics. And this overconsumption is due to capitalism not merely population. Still he should have restated that point in this opinion piece.


This piece by Smith is an opinion piece not a scholarly article so he does not have space to include all the evidence for his arguments. But he does cite his book and article on China. Go read those for the evidence.