Capitalism As Sustainability Part 1



Let’s start easy on this one.

I provide food, a living place and clothing for myself by caring for the needs of an elderly group of Pittsburgh’s citizens and the building they live in. The residents don’t give to my charity and I don’t threaten them at gunpoint to give me their money, yet money changes hands. They’ve bought my time and I willingly return week after week to do it again and again.




I also write and magazines decide whether my writing is of value to them – whether they can in turn make money from my product in a way I couldn’t have by simply typing up an article and trying to sell it directly to people. The magazine will potentially make much more money from my contribution than I would have but this certainly doesn’t upset me. They offered me a one-time price and I accepted.




I’ve been selling calendars of my photography lately and, again, I’m usually not holding a gun on anyone to force a quick calendar sale. People buy things like calendars for reasons probably understood only to themselves – they see beauty and perhaps a link back to things and places they want to be reminded of but I don’t know that – I just put it out with a price tag. It’s not an appeal based on my need either – just a mutually agreed upon exchange – value for value. It’s called capitalism. Both parties benefit by the exchange.


But to change gears, a darker picture has been painted of this system of exchange since, well probably since its inception. We are told today to associate capitalism with man’s darker impulses – with greed, with inequality and with consumption of irreplaceable resources.  Capitalism exploits third-world nations, pre-figures war and allows the hording of wealth by an aristocracy. Indeed, capitalism is sometimes overtly described as the enemy of the environment, the prime mover of the industries responsible for the felling of the forests and pollution of the waterways. All this so that the Wall Street tycoons can revel in undue profits.




Environmental publications such as Sierra, Environment and Climate Wire, to name just a few, cover an array of environmental topics from the harmful effects of concrete to carbon dioxide enrichment of the atmosphere. But the solutions advanced almost uniformly are not matters of voluntary exchange but are rather stamped from templates of coercion and limits. After consuming any single issue, a definite anti-capitalistic undercurrent can be sensed, as though capitalism is what precedes environmental catastrophe, and, as anyone literate knows, there’s nothing but catastrophe in today’s environment. Wouldn’t we all be better off when high-minded and altruistic experts made the big decisions for us instead of the heartless machinery of the markets? Wouldn’t we enjoy a greener and cleaner world?




Following this line of reasoning, adherents of environmental socialism must find it bewildering, or at least worthy of elaborate rationalization, to find that free (capitalistic) countries are in fact the green and greening ones on this planet while species eradication, deforestation and indescribable water pollution are all characteristic of centrally planned economies. Ignorance of this pervasive reality leads one to question whether environmental betterment was ever the underlying goal at all or was it really destruction of capitalism all along?




I would like to be better off next year than I am this year. This doesn’t put me in a special category though, this is a truism of being human – we all hope this. Some hope for a better car, maybe a better house or just new “toys” while some of us would like more invested or in savings. Some maybe just don’t want to be sleeping under a bridge by next year but we all, as humans, share in the innate pull of progress. Capitalism is just our vehicle and the illiberal alternatives lead invariably to human and environmental catastrophe.

And human betterment goes even beyond the desire to benefit us. We want to better those we care about. We want to pass down financial stability to our offspring, both in terms of a conventional inheritance and through the inheritance of knowledge. It’s analogous to the passing down of a DNA inheritance elsewhere in the biological realm, an inheritance that will benefit all future generations. Passing along multi-generational betterment is the most natural, organic thing there is.

What isn’t natural is to rely on the charity and wealth of others. In the biosphere (the realm directed by reality rather than schemes) organisms don’t have the charity option. They must provide for themselves or perish. They have to find a way, even if that requires multi-generational adaptation to changes in such things as water, climate or prey availability.


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“Sustainability” has become a buzzword of the left and while it remains trendy now, it’s hardly a new idea. We are told that fossil fuels are not sustainable, that commercial fishing is not sustainable or that the way we care for our lawns is not sustainable.

But implicit here are two assumptions:

  • That the world we live in is static and
  • That only certain enlightened, disinterested people can know sustainability and they know it all.




But if these two are lynch-pins of the theory, then the theory erodes quickly under scrutiny. Nature is nothing but change, over the short term and the long. Weather changes and climate changes. Animals migrate and native ranges shift. Rivers re-arrange their structures and cut new paths and valleys in time. The sea erodes the shoreline even as the sea level changes over centuries and continents rise and fall over millennia. Why would we ever fee entitled to stasis?




To believe prognostication centering on sustainability, one must place faith in the foresight of those arguing for sustainability. But this too raises immediate difficulties. Who holds the prescience to see the full range of possible outcomes and the degree or magnitude of each that will certainly befall civilization? And magnitude is exceedingly important. What about the problem of disparate and contradictory predictions from equally well-credentialed sources? If two or more prognostications utterly contradict eachother, then the range of outcomes may run the spectrum of possibility, much like some of us might have guessed intuitively.

Little in this world is simple.

One thought on “Capitalism As Sustainability Part 1

  1. Hi Cedric,
    I’m one of your elderly charges at the Park Mansions. Our son-in-law told us about your beautiful work, and he was right! I spent many months of my growing years in northern Minnesota, back when parts of it were still wilderness with virgin timber. Experiences in the wilderness shape you, and never leave you. They are always a part of who you are. The world would be a better place if we all had a little direct experience with nature. While I don’t agree with everything you believe, I certainly respect it. At heart, we both have a deep-seated love of nature, its beauty, tooth and claw as well as “pretty.”
    Your web site is a credit to you and your artistic ability. Your photographs are well beyond amateur, but I suspect you already know that. It’s excellent work all the way around, a joy to see.


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