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Reforming capitalism

By Liz Ross - posted Thursday, 4 December 2008

In my first article I detailed the ills of the system (especially around the environment) and why it is the way it is. The pressing question facing us is: what’s the solution?

For many the most obvious answer still would be to reform capitalism itself. Make governments act, force companies to go green with legislation that has real teeth or use financial incentives to encourage sustainable production.

Now it is possible to imagine a capitalism that lived off the profits based on the production and sale of renewable energy. You can’t go anywhere these days without seeing new environmental businesses setting up, especially water tanks and solar panels.


The car company Saab flashes its green credentials with ads boasting about “Going Grrreeen” because it uses biofuels. There are companies growing rich on renewable energy, organic farming or environmentally sound building practices. After all there’s no law that says for capitalism to survive it has to rely on fossil fuel sources; that it has to have plastic or die.

So also, it can seem to be common sense to take steps individually, to clean up your own backyard.

As well many environmental groups can point to gains that have been won. In Melbourne, for example, when the Victorian government proposed placing a toxic waste dump in the middle of working class western suburbs, and home to Melbourne’s market gardens, a coalition of workers, unions, local residents and market gardeners ran a successful state-wide campaign and forced the government to ban future land-filling of hazardous waste. In addition there was a complete overhaul of hazardous waste management, including recycling and waste reduction.

Union initiated Green Bans and the anti-nuclear movement certainly won gains earlier, both drawing in unions, resident actions and mass rallies.

It’s even conceivable that in the face of an immense global crisis brought on by climate change, where the social upheaval and instability threatened the survival of key sections of global capitalism, that some dramatic world-wide shift to sustainable production could happen.

So it may be possible that capitalism can spend its way out of a planetary meltdown, but the crucial question is: what will be the final cost to humanity of its survival?


Restructuring the world economy to provide some level of sustainability is not going to be just a case of simply switching from one profitable enterprise to another or paying a bit more for energy and water. Because “we are where we are”, we have a world system based on massive extraction of non-renewable energy sources and other resources generating enormous profits for existing companies, alongside a world arms race leaning more and more to nuclear weaponry and ratcheting up the pressure to mine uranium.

None of these firms will give up their profitable businesses without a fight, nor will governments simply drop the push to nuclear energy and resource surety. In fact we could - and will if capitalism continues along its present trajectory - see wars fought where the new renewable energy firms challenge their rivals oil and coal for market dominance, or countries fight over access to food and water resources. In other words the market forces of capitalism running rampant.

So if the ruling class cannot provide the answers - and there’s a lot more in this pamphlet and in issues of our magazine that spell this out - who can?

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See the Socialist Alternative pamphlet How capitalism is costing us the Earth. Also Mick Armstrong From Little things, big things grow. Order from

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About the Author

Liz Ross is an activist and member of Socialist Alternative.

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Why capitalism is not the answer - On Line Opinion

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