"Development aid", "partnership", "technology transfer", "new world economic order" and
industrial capitalist "development" per se are only so many names for the conspiracy between the elites
of the North and South, who are simply struggling for a share of the cake and to socially secure
their positions of power. Behind this are concealed the main causes of the continuing dependence and
impoverishment of half of humanity. We Greens consider it one of our most important international
obligations to get rid of the disastrous model of the "good life" here at home, which lures the rest of
humanity into the tunnel without exit. Unless we are prepared to dismantle and transform our industrial
system all our sympathy remains nothing but empty gestures and phrases." -Rudolf Bahro
The Five Limits
"Sooner or later, we sit down to a banquet of consequences." - Robert Louis Stevenson
Industrialism's most successful ideology, corporate-consumer capitalism, is organized around the single great idea: to maximize profits while concentrating wealth and power. To do this, it requires that the economy, and its components (the modern corporation) be constantly growing - without limit. As the capitalist saying goes, "Grow or die".
Throughout the entire history of capitalist expansion, whenever limits were reached in the context of nation-states, there were always new frontiers to explore and conquer - a process that is known as colonialism (or imperialism). Our own United States began as a colonial enterprise, a royal corporation. Today, there are no new frontiers to explore - we are reaching the limits of our planetary home.
To understand our predicament, we can outline five areas that are impacted by the reality of planetary limits.
1. Resource extraction: It may seem like common sense to say it, but we live in a finite world and there is a limit to the natural resources that we can extract, process, and consume. Industrialist (classic) economics however, recognizes no such limits. The reasons are plentiful and varied.
With regard to oil for instance, capitalist economic theory states that supply is controlled by demand : that as demand rises, price also rises and more capital goods are produced. There is no place in this theory for that idea of limits on resource extraction, because historically, there have never before been limits! Furthermore, natural resources are regarded as "income" and not as "capital". Therefore, the "drawdown of resources" is not considered as a depletion of capital but a "spending" of income.
Other theories, sometimes called "junk science", proclaim that oil is actually made deep within the earth as a natural geological process and so we will never run out. Even though such theories have been disproved, the basic human impulse is to trust that we will somehow avoid the consequences of limits, and continue consuming the earth's resources forever.
Resource depletion goes beyond fossil fuels and includes such far flung subjects as global fish stocks, soil erosion, and the availability of fresh water. The crisis of depletion is vast and will have unforeseen consequences for our species, and all life on earth.
2. Industrial expansion: It might seem trite to say so but, Industrialism is build a foundation of ever expanding growth. Capitalist markets gain or lose value in relationship to ever growing productivity and market share. The capacity of Industrialism to continue growing is directly related to the ever expanding extraction and use of cheap, plentiful natural resources (especially fossil fuels).
3. Consumption: After the attacks of September 11, the American people were not exhorted to form citizens committees to investigate the causes of the tragedy, we were called upon exercise our civic responsibilities by shopping, we were told to consume. This is because we are no longer valued in society as citizens whose consent is needed for ruling our (nominal) constitutional republic: we have been transformed from citizens into consumers - and it is ever growing consumption that keeps the economic structures of Industrialism alive.
The contradiction of consumption is this: as global Industrialism reaches maximum productivity through seeking highest technological capacity and the cheapest marginal labor, the global consumer base is impoverished and increasingly unable to afford growing consumption. This "crisis of consumption" will be exacerbated by the "peak of oil" (the point at which half of the available oil in the world has been extracted) and relentless depletion of fossil fuels in general, because Industrialism is run on cheap and plentiful fossil energy. We will eventually see a contraction in industrial expansion and a reduction in global consumption. The contraction will be either voluntarily through concerted conservation or involuntarily through shortages of capital goods and consequent high prices.
4. Population: An increase in population represents two things to Industrialism, more workers (and at lower wages) and more consumers. An ever expanding Industrialism requires an ever expanding market. The fact is that in a finite world, only so many people can be supported at any one time. This is called "carrying capacity". World population has exploded during the history of the Industrial age through the creation of "phantom carrying capacity". Phantom carrying capacity is carrying capacity formed through exploiting the benefits of fossil fuels in all aspects of life - including food production and transportation. This phantom carrying capacity will disappear as fossil fuels deplete and fertilizer and pesticide production (that use fossil fuels as "feed stock" for their production) declines. This will lead to a reduction in agricultural yields by up to 60% and make food prohibitively expensive to transport long distances. An inevitable reduction in global population is assured. The extent of this reduction is unknown. Some experts assert that we have already overshot the planet's true carrying capacity by as much as two thirds, or 4+ billion people. Population reduction is the most difficult issue facing our species today.
5. Pollution: Pollution refers to more than the junk and trash we throw away, it is also the waste product from industrial processes - as well as the polluting qualities of many of the produced goods themselves (such as the goods manufactured by the Chemical Industry). The planets' ability to absorb and purify pollutants (sinks) has been seriously overtaxed and the result is massive enough to change the Earth's climate. Expanding industrial capacity, expanding consumption, and expanding population has had catastrophic effects on the environment.
We will look at each of the Five Limits in detail as we explore the Green Path to our new world, but first, an overview of the "Industrial highway" by Rudolf Bahro, a founding member of the German Green Party.
"Society as Megamachine: What Is The Industrial System?"
Excerpt from Rudolf Bahro "Avoiding Social & Ecological Disaster: The Politics of World Transformation"
(Gateway Books, Bath) pp. 91 - 95
We can give up the idea of constructing a picture of the industrial system based on the logic of self-extermination. There are always people who deny or doubt that we are really proceeding towards the waterfall, or even steering in that direction. This attitude leads to the kind of environmental protection which confines itself to dealing with specific problems at specific points - and to the pursuit of 'new social movements' (anti-this and anti-that) which germinate groups of environmental protectionists. So both sides pursue the same goals, and a ministry is duly set up. Disregarding all rearguard actions for the saving of time by capital reflux, even industry has accepted the idea of environmental protection in this limited sense.
Everything looks very different if we add up the growing potential for danger and reduce it to a common denominator. The industrial society itself becomes the problem, and what look like avoidable dysfunctions become symptoms of exterminism, directly curable only with great difficulty, thanks to the self-destroying logic of industrial civilization. These symptoms are appearances of a deeper-lying level of being, level of causation, and I call the syndrome of causes with which we have to deal, along with Lewis Mumford, the Megamachine - more exactly the modem industrial Megamachine.
The industrial system is in no way identical with the use of particular tools and machines for making work lighter and shorter. For example the mills of the Middle Ages are classed in England under 'industry,' and even today the English still sometimes call their factories 'mills'. A mill serving a couple of villages has a completely different social effect to a modern food industry, which can compel the whole agricultural economy to dance to whatever tune it chooses. The little dam for the mill-wheel still let the brook be a brook. Since ancient times there has been industry in Asia and Europe. But there was no industrial system, no society shaped by industrialism.
Industrialism is not primarily the power station, steel, concrete, computer and freeway, but the total social complex which Mumford called the modern Megamachine. It is above all a power complex which affects everything. This power complex is the soul of the whole, with capital as the spider in the web, which has created for itself a national governmental superstructure infinitely different from the ideal of the liberal night-watchman state, as it was in the dreams of the bourgeois Enlightenment. Our most modest tools have become dependent components of this whole, which appears to be alien and independent of us - the more so since for the most part we can no longer use the tools with skill.
The crux of the matter does not lie in the striking extremes, intentional instruments of destruction and risky technologies, even though we must comprehend such things as signals. Life cannot stand the basic load which industry lays upon it. It is ultimately with the Mercedes and washing machine detergents that we do the damage, rather than with bombs, nuclear power stations and dioxin - these swords of Damocles which we have suspended above ourselves. A private dwelling full of comforts necessarily confirms the whole worldwide infrastructure - including the need for armaments, because in face of monstrous differences in standards it is a threatened luxury.
I have a few more remarks about basic load. I want to recall the inventory of Ziegler (mentioned in Chapter 1), and especially his indicator of energy-use per square kilometer, which turned out to be at least ten times too big for the continued existence of the biosphere. What does it mean concretely if for example we think of the transformation processes it makes possible in the large-scale chemical industry?
In the conservative Wormser Zeitung a series of articles appeared about groundwater in the Rhine-Main district. The water is being acidified by chemical production to a depth of 200 meters, an effect which can never be removed. Secondly soil, air and vegetation were poisoned by 60,000 tons of solvents annually, produced, sold and made available for our general use by BASF alone. The third article dealt with agricultural chemicals which destroy the productivity of the soil and spoil foodstuffs: the concentration of nitrates alone in the soil has increased tenfold in the last hundred years. And the conclusion reached by the series? We should increase the size of control authorities, and their monitoring capabilities.
We talk about a 'post-industrial society' and about 'qualitative growth,' because our leading activities have moved in this direction. But by its new technologies the industrial system brings additional vastnesses of earth under concrete to the already over-industrialised countries of West Europe, North America and Japan, rooting up the last natural forests, while at home the artificial forests are poisoned, decimating the species-variety of life, and warming up the atmosphere, disturbing its climatic processes.
Since industrialism is imposing itself on the total population of the planet, each single human being multiplies his or her demands, without gaining anything by doing it. On the contrary: the person who goes to buy groceries at the supermarket, and who up to that time has been a member of an agrarian community, is more threatened by hunger than before, and involuntarily comes to depend on the agricultural industry - an industry known for consuming more energy than it produces. And wherever it occurs, governments celebrate economic growth as a success! Everybody more readily buys a new car. The spiral of death has appeal, and we are so far removed from a natural sense of danger, that we interpret what is patently dangerous as if it were safe. The parasite is very happy at getting larger chunks to eat out of the body of its host, and proudly compares its growth with its equally nit-witted competitors.
The Megamachine really is not the same as the concept 'industrial system'. Firstly, we may think of the worldwide scientific, technical and informational substructure, subdivided into nations, uniting the great units of production, today more important than the market for maintaining the integrity of the whole. It is not only the streams of finance and transport and the cables for the corresponding communications that belong to the Megamachine, but also the education centers, mass media and bureaucratic apparatus.
Back in 1968 Erich Fromm summarized the general result to which Mumford came, when he analyzed the modern Megamachine in the following way:
He means a new form of society which differs so radically from hitherto-
existing society that the French and Russian revolutions pale in comparison
to this change: an order in which the whole society is organized like a machine,
and in which the single individual becomes a part of the machine, programmed
by the program given to the whole machine. People are materially satisfied,
but they stop deciding, they stop thinking, they stop feeling, and are directed
by the program. Even those who run the machine are directed by the program.
The industrial system is more than a composite of plant, communications and institutions. It is identical with industrial society. It is the integration of all human forces and activities, which are indeed the actual substance of all its outward appearances. What was once true for the machinery of the single factory, that the worker was a subordinated part of it, is now true for every citizen of industrialized society. The single human being is carved up according to its subordinate functions: he or she belongs to the Megamachine as a television watcher, counted among the quota of people who switch on, no less than among the quota of those who install the sets. And even the big banker is a servant, a functionary of the flow of capital and the laws that govern it. The Megamachine has, for all practical purposes, apportioned our entire daily lives among its various aspects. Freely conscious participation - there is such a thing - exists only like the gods of Epicurus, devoid of meaning, in the 'between worlds', an irrelevant place.
The Megamachine falsely turns around the social life process. If we really want to create a new order, the first job is to decide a standpoint. Do we want to accept the existence of the Megamachine, its demands on us, and its psychological anchoring, as the norm determining us? Do we want to order things from the point of view of the spider in the web - or do we want to choose a vantage point outside the Megamachine? In the second case we may not take industrial society as an inescapable reality - even though it is the result of following the line of least resistance, the natural consequence of our history and the constitution of our consciousness up to now.
The Megamachine shouldn't be adapted or reconstructed, but left alone, or better still dismantled - preferably by those who have felt themselves bound to industrialism to the end. If we are going to have an encounter with the Megamachine, we must do it from the point of view that the entire industrial development has violated the limits of the natural order in its course and form of regulation.
However, the colonizing of individual existence isn't rigidly determined, and in western countries it appears to be more flexible than anywhere else. But the principle is reliably installed, and mere rebuilding is quite unable to make any difference. This Megamachine is the direct subject of exterminism, and to the extent that we are still integrated with it, the taking of the most reasonable attitude on any single point makes no significant difference. It is totally anachronistic to talk of democracy when we are simply dealing with aspects of the Megamachine. To want to build up a force of environmentally-friendly police and get rid of water guns - well, who thinks this is enough to be occupied with at this level!?
The Megamachine is an alienated machinery moving according to its own laws, laws which are not directly dependent on us. In view of its magnitude and worldwide interlocking, there are only two possible solutions. Either we draw ourselves back from it, in that we dissolve it and newly constitute social life down to its material fundamentals, or we assemble ourselves on the peak of the structure and find there a new consensus about how to deal with it. In this case the question would be, which constitution of society and consciousness do we need in order to be able to govern our civilization from a central world point?
In practice it is the local level and the world level which will be decisive, and it is the nation state which must be abolished. Think globally, act locally - this embraces both in thought and action the regulatory structures which will be essential, if only because we must establish worldwide limits in population and consumption per head. In other words, what would an authority have to look like to be able to govern the world as a just manager of Mother Earth and of the cultural patrimony? How would it function socially, and how could it be made possible psychologically?