Heartfield on Carbon Capitalism

James Baird jlbaird3 at hotmail.com
Wed Oct 21 15:55:29 PDT 1998

>Well to wrap up: I get less worked up about mineral
>type depletions then I do about biospheric depletions,
>such as fisheries. Broadly speaking there are
>alternatives to these "commodities" too: there are
>plenty of alternative foods, and some of the "might
>happens" of my 1960s youth (soy-based fake meats) are
>actually available and I do eat them. It may be that
>soy culture is bad, but it is far better to raise soy
>and eat it then feed it to a beast and then eat the
>beast. The beast route is worse on the health, as a
>rule, and requires far more resrouce consumption. But
>it is simply wrong to say that it's ok to hunt species
>to extinction because there are other things to eat. I
>don't even want top get into it. I have less of a
>problem with hunting liquid petroleum reserves to
>extinction, and even to some extent would like to
>encourage it, but from my personal point of view, all
>this stuff about running out is yet-another-run around
>the we're-running-out-tree. I view it as part of the
>systemic qualities of capitalism, like recurrent crises
>on employment, consumption, etc.

While I don't completly agree with Mark on energy depletion being the "final wall" of capitalism (I think capitalists can continue to extract surplus value even in a world of decreasing overall value; maybe I'm wrong, I would like to be proved so) I think you both are too infected with the Julian Simon-type "substitutes will always be found" thinking. (I should know, I'm a recovering addict myself...)

Mineral resources can be recycled (given enough energy). Fish and forests will renew themselves (given enough time). Fossil fuels, however, are finite - every barrel burned today is one that can't be burned tomorrow, and the supplies are not renewing themselves. Its as if we were running a huge factory, full of power-sucking machinery, on a gigantic room full of batteries that took decades to charge up. When the batteries are used up, we have to fall back on the 220 volt current coming in - and it won't be enough to keep all the machines running. Short of a radical breakthrough in nuclear fusion technology, I see the same thing happening on a worldwide scale in the not-too-distant future.

Its a matter of energy density - solar, wind, etc. are fine for certain applications, but, short of covering, say, New Mexico with solar cells (a proposal that has been seriously made), the sources are just too diffuse to make a dent in our needs. And it's not just a matter of having to drive less miles in more-efficient cars: modern agriculture requires huge energy inputs to maintain its yields, and the alternatives to steel Greg mentioned (concrete, etc.) require as much or more overall energy input.

Jim Baird

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