CAPITAL AS CLIMATE KILLER
By Tomasz Konicz
The growth pressure of the world economy makes a resource-sparing social order only possible beyond capitalism
[This article published on June 6, 2018 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, www.konicz.info.]
The latest publications of climate science confirm a depressing fact in investigating the greenhouse effect. It is always worse than feared. The pessimistic long-term forecasts on the consequences of global warming that were hardly considered at first by the mainstream of climate science often prove correct in further research.
This time the gloomy predictions of a study of the former NASA researcher James Hansen seem corroborated. Two years ago he encountered a broad skepticism of many climate scientists, as the Washington Post reported.
On the basis of complex computer simulations, Hansen’s team forecast that the melting of ice in the Polar Regions could extinguish the themohaline circulation, the “global conveyer belt” of ocean currents that influences the global climate.
Prediction of a Sudden Climate Reversal
The latest empirical studies seem to confirm the scenario that forecasts a climate reversal occurring by leaps and bounds. Accordingly, melted snow and ice has already impaired the cold salty seawater at the coasts of the eastern and western Antarctic.
This produces a positive feedback in this region in which the warm water in the deep Arctic Ocean straits melts away the gigantic glaciers faster and faster. A tipping point of climate change seems already surprised in the Antarctic. A few years ago, science regarded its enormous glaciers as relatively stable.
This threatening extinction of thermohaline circulation now affects Europe. The Gulf Stream, Western Europe’s central heating, considered stable a few years ago is already weaker according to the latest research. The current system has slowed down 15% since the 1950s. A fall or breakdown of this ocean current could have drastic consequences for Europe.
A dialectic of climate change may be running at a turbo speed and not gradually. Thus, quantitative changes in the complex climate system (higher CO2 level) led to a qualitative reversal of the whole system into another state after surpassing an allowable limit. The consequences for the civilizing process – rapid rise of the sea level, abrupt climate change and extreme weather events long unknown – would be disastrous.
Nevertheless, capitalism seems absolutely incapable of reform in view of this clear climate catastrophe. Despite all fancy speeches, all “historic” climate summits and treaties, a substantial reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases seems illusory.
Climate Change and the New Right
In 2017, the emission of climate gages hit a record level – despite the technical progress in renewable energy. A current ideology revived by the New Right sees the cause of higher resource consumption in “over-population,” particularly in the third world.
The theses of the liberal ideologue Thomas Malthus who interpreted pauperism at the end of the 18th century as a result of overpopulation enjoy great popularity again in view of the refugee crisis.
A glance at the facts reveals the untenable nature of these Malthusian theses. The richest 10% of the world population produce around 50% of worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases. The impoverished lower half of humanity is only responsible for ten percent of the emissions. The richest 1% of the world population generates 175-times more greenhouse gases than the emissions of the lowest tenth.
Capital as World Destruction Machine
This disparity in resource consumption is not only a global distribution question. Capital, as an overall social reproduction relation, destroys all initiatives establishing a resource-sparing economy.
The innermost nature of the capital relation inevitably produces an ecological self-destructive economic system. A sustainable lifestyle is simply impossible because of the present production method.
Money that increases through a permanent investment cycle “accumulates” or “exploits” as capital. Economic growth is only the visible economic manifestation of this process. However, the accumulation movement is connected to a material basis in goods production.
Since the outbreak of the 2008 financial crisis, this process of capital accumulation is coupled to goods production – and cannot be permanently maintained on the basis of pure speculative processes on the financial markets.
A business invests in paid labor, raw materials, machines and production locations to profitably sell goods manufactured there. Paid labor is the source of surplus value. In the end, capital accumulates an ever-greater quantum of spent abstract labor in this endless exploitation process. The expended capital is not “rejuvenated” but reinvested – in more raw materials, machines, etc. – to start a new exploitation cycle.
Thus, the seeming rationality of capitalist goods production serves an irrational end-in-itself – the multiplication of engaged capital. As its substance, paid labor is the only commodity that can yield surplus value. Consequently, the concrete practical value of a good is only important as a necessary bearer of surplus value.
This is seemingly rational for every market subject. No one invests money functioning as capital to obtain less or just as much. Investing must be “rewarding” and yield profit.
This economically “rational” logic unfolds its devastating potential on the macro-social plane since the expenditures for the production process – raw materials and energy – must be permanently increased. Therefore, capital is driven by a growth pressure.
Capitalist “business as usual” is like a process of burning more and more resources. Following its own drive law, capital must “use up” greater and greater quantities of energy and raw materials to maintain its accumulation movement – until it strikes its “outer limit” in the finiteness of the resources of the planet. In the end, this permanent growth pressure of this economic system results from the nature of capital.
Capital strives for the greatest possible “self-multiplication.” Money becomes more money. This “hollow” process of self-deception is blind to all social or ecological consequences of its permanently growing exploitation. As everybody knows, Karl Marx introduced the term “automatic subject” for this self-dynamic of the capital relation.
This is an automatic self-deception because it is produced unconsciously “behind the backs” of the market subjects striving for the greatest possible capital exploitation. It faces society as a foreign unstable power or as an often crisis-shaken “practical constraint.”
The increasingly disappearing resources of this world represent the ever-smaller eye of the needle through which this irrational process of capital exploitation must be forced under greater and greater frictions. Both ecological crisis processes – the resource crisis and the climate crisis – are promoted by this exploitation process that acts like an automatic “subject” striving for maximum profit.
Consequently, the capitalist world economy oriented in the end-in-itself of boundless capital exploitation functions de facto as a world destruction machine in which the real concrete world is burned up to perpetuate the blind growth of the real destruction of value up to the climate collapse.
Because of this necessity of permanent expansion, capital is the logical opposite of a resource-sparing economic mode that would be necessary for the survival of human civilization.
Increased Productivity as a Fire Accelerator
This process of world burning is fueled by the ever-higher productivity level of the capitalist world economy. On first view, it seems absurd. But the vast productivity increases of late capitalist goods production contributes to the escalation of the ecological crisis.
Since paid labor constitutes the substance of capital, the permanent increases of productivity force late capitalism to drive the “efficient” waste of resources and raw materials to its extreme.
Konicz, Tomasz, “The System Question as a Survival Question,” April 2018,
Young, Ethan, “Mapping the Resistance,” May 2018,