“Am I saying that capitalism is going to have to change or else we will have an environmental catastrophe? Yes, I am.”
Taking a futures perspective, Robinson writes, “the main reason I believe capitalism is not up to the challenge is that it improperly and systemically undervalues the future.” On the longer scale, resources (including carbon) are underpriced, causing us to charge less for them than what they cost (an argument presented well by Buckminster Fuller, who calculated the true cost of oil based on the time of production at over a billion dollars per barrel). “When this is done deliberately to kill off an economic competitor,” he writes, “it’s called predatory dumping; you could say that the victims of our predation are the generations to come, which are at a decided disadvantage in any competition with the present.”
…the promise of capitalism was always that of class mobility—the idea that a working-class family could bootstrap their children into the middle class. With the right policies, over time, the whole world could do the same. There’s a problem with this, though. For everyone on Earth to live at Western levels of consumption, we would need two or three Earths. Looking at it this way, capitalism has become a kind of multigenerational Ponzi scheme, in which future generations are left holding the empty bag.
You could say we are that moment now.
Robinson argues that instead of trying to produce a “pyramid of wealth”, we should aim for a more broad-based economy of productivity that reduces inequality and accurately prices the cost of materials based on their unavailability to future generations.
“Believe in science.”
Robinson’s first recommendation for change include actually believing, and valuing, what our scientists are telling us.
“We need to trust our science. We do this every time we fly in a jet or rush to the doctor in hope of relief from illness… Science is telling us that if we keep living the way we do, we will trigger an unstoppable and irreversible climate change that may de-ice the planet and acidify the oceans, causing mass extinction.
His main point is that the we are talking about the end of the world here. There can be nothing more serious.
“It took tens of millions of years for Earth to recover from previous mass extinctions,” he argues, and despite our technological power and ever increasing intelligence, we are rapidly approaching the point where human society could be destroyed by climate change. We need to start acting like it.
Seeing in a new way
Robinson’s point is well presented. He concludes with a firmly futures-oriented question. “Does the word postcapitalism look odd to you? It should, because you hardly ever see it. We have a blank spot in our vision of the future.” This is the core message of scenario planning and futures work. You can’t see the future because you don’t want to see it; your beliefs and morals prohibit you from seeing what you don’t want to see, leaving your surprised and disturbed when things don’t go the way you expect.
Choosing not to study a successor system to capitalism is an example of another kind of denial… We have persistently ignored and devalued the future—as if our actions are not creating that future for our children, as if things never change. But everything evolves. With a catastrophe bearing down on us, we need to evolve at nearly revolutionary speed. So some study of what could improve and replace our society’s current structure and systems is in order. If we don’t take such steps, the consequences will be intolerable. On the other hand, successfully dealing with this situation could lead to a sustainable civilization that would be truly exciting in its human potential.
Well said KSR. The future is in our hands, but only if we look beyond what we want to see, acknowledge that we are creating our own grave, and that in order to survive we must change the system; belief systems, social systems, economic systems, and organisational systems. Otherwise we are well and truly doomed.