Whether it is cars or computers, the cost of new build to the environment in terms of resources and energy consumption is huge.
ANDY FLEMING analyses the contradictions between environmental sustainability and global capitalism, and speculates that unless the need for economic growth can be circumvented our legacy will be a resource-poor future for our children.How much would you pay for a run-of-the-mill entry level budget PC these days with a dual core Pentium processor, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard drive, 15 inch gas plasma screen and a fully registered copy of Microsoft Windows 7, both on disk and pre-loaded along with full wireless capability? I reckon about £279 at Tesco or PC World. I haven’t got that amount of money available so to buy one of their bloated machines I’d have to rejoin the credit fest... the main cause of the UK’s dire economic situation.
Eat your hearts out megastores, credit companies and the VAT man, I’ve just part exchanged my old dinosaur Celeron laptop along with an old PC monitor for a two year old second hand Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo laptop for 80 quid! So you can expect my productivity to increase along with the number of Andromeda Child blog posts (is that necessarily a good thing, I hear you ask!!!).I’m not publishing this post to show off, although I do think that I’ve obtained an exceptionally good deal from our local computer shop. My deal has made me realise exactly just what a consumerist wasteful, profligate society we have become. I could go on about other bargains that I’ve sniffed out in the past year. Take our family car, a W registration immaculate 1400cc Citroen Saxo automatic with 8,000 miles on the clock obtained for £1,000 from a local garage. The car is for all intents and purposes brand new, the engine has only just been run in, and lift the bonnet and you’d think that the vehicle was fresh out of the new car showroom. The only giveaway to the car’s age is the factory-fitted radio/cassette unit in the dashboard... my wife misses the CDs!
I take pride in cocking a snoop at our half baked economic system. Neither the government, financial institutions or large corporations like rebels like me. What is a pre-requisite to keep the West’s whole subset of capitalism going are passive gullible ‘consumers’ who will discard their old products even before they break, and then visit the local variant of the national or international clone megastore and purchase a new unnecessary upgraded replacement, preferably on credit. And to hell with the national debt and the cost to the environment.Despite what politicians say, the imperatives of global capitalism are completely incongruous with the finite environmental resources available on our finite planet. They say otherwise either because they are charlatans hood-winking the population at large about their green credentials, or because they are scientifically and geo-politically ignorant. What the twenty first century variant of capitalism really needs is growth, and lots of it. Growth in population, growth in the economy, growth in credit, growth in consumption, and growth in in-built obsolescence.
It’s my contention that just as exponentially replicating bacteria relying on the finite sustenance of the jelly within a Petri dish eventually deplete resources and poison themselves in their own waste products, so will mankind if the greedy West in particular continues to live way beyond its means environmentally. Put simply this generation of adults may be the first ever to leave a planet increasingly unfit for habitation and devoid of many of the resources necessary for our children’s future wellbeing.Now I’m not suggesting that we should all retire to caves or wattle and daub huts. But one has to consider whether or not the promotion by our economic system of replacing products that are perfectly usable with replacements produced at high environmental costs in order to maximise profits is a good economic model to pursue. Sure the wealthy minority consisting of bankers, company directors, shareholders and politicians love it, but it just isn’t sustainable. The problem is that global capitalism functions on generating growth in profits by selling more and more products, whether or not they’re needed. After all it is the profit motive and competition that keeps the whole edifice of capitalism upright. Integral to the process is the exploitation of Third World labour and the environment, the latter by filling the ever depleting number of landfill sites ever more rapidly often with items that can still be utilised, but sacrificed on the altar of consumerism.
Readers at this point are probably wondering to what brand of communism I subscribe. The answer is I don’t. Some of the worst environmental excesses occurred in the former Soviet Union, for example the environmental disaster of the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest inland sea in the world and now virtually a desert due to appalling centralised command economy agricultural techniques. And then there is the bad environmental record of contemporary tiger economies such as the nominally communist China, as it promotes and embraces its own brand of consumerism while denying its citizens basic human rights and freedom of speech.What are required are economic and political institutions that embrace the marvels of modern technology and its driving of the market economy and yet simultaneously regulate that market to ensure environmental sustainability on a global scale. This makes sense politically too... while half the world is poverty stricken, malnourished and is denied basic resources, the other half consumes to excess. A recipe for future economic and political conflict and chaos.Using my examples of cars and computers, if the world’s burgeoning population (estimated to become more than nine billion by 2050) all aspire to happiness and contentedness through Mammon and consumerism, then we’re all going to have to grow up and discard our vanity by satisfying ourselves by purchasing old Citroen Saxos instead of new BMWs and old Pentium dual core powered PCs instead of the latest unnecessary bells and whistles machines.
Anything less I speculate will lead humankind to the same fate as the bacteria in the Petri dish.