Culture of Profit

by Tomasz Konicz Saturday, Apr. 17, 2010 at 9:45 AM

The 2010 Worldwatch Report was compiled by 60 scholars. "To avoid collapse, nothing less is urged than a revolution of the dominant cultural model, the replacement of our consumer culture with a model of sustainable prosperity."


Capitalism is world destruction. The Worldwatch Institute report “On the State of the World 2010”

By Tomasz Konicz

[This article published in: Junge Welt, 4/1/2010 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

A vast amount of statistical material on environmental- and social questions is included in the report “On the 2010 State of the World” presented by the Worldwatch Institute (WWI) on March 18, 2010 in the German version. The non-governmental organization (NGO) with headquarters in Washington has published annual reports since 1985. The Green-friendly Heinrich Boll foundation and the NGO Germanwatch contributed to the German version. Titled “Living Simply – Sustainable as a New Lifestyle,” the study focuses on the ecological consequences of the capitalist consumer model.

Today’s consumption level leads to a “collapse” of civilization. That is the basic thesis undergirded with a large number of case studies and concrete examples. Superfluous consumption gets out of control above all in the first world. This is manifest in a rapid exhaustion of natural resources and an increasing consumption of energy – the most important factor for greenhouse gases. Thus the world comes to the brink of a resource- and climate crisis. “Consumption is climate killer No.1,” the study says.

A European on average consumes daily 43 kilos of metals, fossil fuels, minerals and wood. An average American consumes 88 kilos. According to the study’s rough estimate, “1.3 earths” would be needed to maintain the current consumption level. Consequently the global consumption of resources is not sustainable but too high to be maintained in the long term.

Altogether around 60 billion tons of raw materials will be extracted worldwide in 2010. From the resources of the earth, 1.2 billion cell phones, 297 million computers, 85 million refrigerators and 68 million vehicles were manufactured in 2008. In the decade between 1996 and 2006, global consumption rose 28 percent according to the study. Since 1960, it has tripled – taking into account population growth.

The study names “western industrial nations” as driving forces of this development. Only 1.4 billion people could be supplied if everyone had the consumption level of Americans. Today there are 6.8 billion people with a rising trend. The richest 500 million, seven percent of the world population, generate half of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Eric Assadovrian, one of the WWI directors, summarized the glaring global injustice when the report was presented in Berlin: “Two German sheepdogs consume more resources than a person in Bangladesh.”

While the empirical material compiled by 60 scholars is valuable, the practical conclusions drawn by the report are humble. “To avoid the collapse,” according to Assadourian, “nothing less is urged than a revolution of the dominant cultural model, the replacement of our `consumer culture’ with a model of sustainable prosperity. In introducing the report, Ralf Fucks from the Boll foundation said: “Enlightened citizens are vital after the incapacity of the governments to agree on a global answer to climate change.”

Whoever consistently fades out the basic rules of capitalist production can only arrive at absurd conclusions, probably because he regards them as “decreed by nature.” Our “consumer culture” is only the manifestation of the accumulation of capital that now constitutes capitalism. Economic activity in our society is focused on realizing profit. This added value can only be gained on the market by selling goods. For its maximization, a whole advertising industry develops quasi naturally. Profit maximization is central, not satisfaction of needs. Therefore hunger and misery grow along with consumption. Owners of German sheepdogs constitute a lucrative market and resources are expended for its satisfaction. People in Bangladesh do not constitute a market.

A criticism of the cultural superstructure of our society that fades out the capitalist relations of production is idle. The authors of the report imply this when they note that the “consumer model” is firmly anchored in the daily routine so that “a sense for sustainability” can only be established with difficulty. In truth, the crisis-laden process of capital accumulation drives the waste of natural resources decried in the Worldwatch report as a kind of world destruction machine in the most efficient way. Added value can ultimately only be generated by goods production. The capitalist invests his money as capital in raw materials, energy, machinery and labor power to manufacture new goods sold to realize added value. The enlarged capital is invested in still more energy, raw materials etc. to manufacture even more goods. This boundless process presupposes permanent growth. No one invests money to receive back less or the same amount of money. Therefore the expenditures – raw materials and energy – must be permanently increased. Thus the process of capital accumulation stands in the way of a “sustainable economy,” not the “consumer culture.”

When Assadourian urges “nothing less than a revolution of the dominant cultural model,” he pleads implicitly for overcoming capitalist relations of production and building a society beyond capital accumulation that gives rise to this “dominant cultural model.” It is really time to raise this discussion from the (idealistic) head to the (materialist) foot.


Original: Culture of Profit