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    Shell's oil spill seen in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. | Photo: Reuters

Simply put: Capitalism is the problem.

Yet another oil spill has contaminated the Gulf of Mexico with almost 90,000 gallons of crude and threatened the livelihood of local Native American communities. The timing of this latest fiasco could not have been more convenient; activists were already on their way to Washington DC to take part in a rally to oppose off-shore drilling.

Environmental activism is all well and good, but if we're going to have any hope of halting climate change, reducing the devastating loss of bio-diversity and preventing serious resource overshoot – not to mention future oil spills – we need to address the structural issues that result in politicians frequently balking at the idea of drawing a line against some of the world's biggest polluters. Simply put: Capitalism is the problem. The so-called Free Market is no longer just a set of rules for allocating Earth's finite resource; it is now a religion, and the notion that the continued existence of humanity should take priority over a company's ability to make short-term profits is this generation's version of blasphemy.

Perhaps the most devastating consequence of runaway climate change will be a shutdown of the Thermohaline Circulation. The Thermohaline Circulation – or Global Conveyor Belt – is a system of ocean currents that is kept in motion by the differences in temperature and salinity between surface water and deep water, and climate scientists have determined that the excess fresh water from melting ice caps will likely disrupt those ocean currents. The result will be a drastic shift in the Earth's weather patterns along with a substantial loss of marine life. The Global Conveyor Belt carries oxygen from the ocean's surface down into the watery depths, oxygen that is absolutely vital for the preservation of many fragile ecosystems on the ocean's floor. What's more, an oxygen-free ocean creates the perfect breeding ground for anaerobic bacteria, which in turn release a deadly compound called hydrogen sulfide into the atmosphere. So if you'd like an accurate picture of what the Earth will look like after climate change has run its course, simply imagine every legend you've ever heard about Hell. A ruined landscape where most of the plants and animals cannot survive, an oppressively hot world where the very air tastes of sulfur: that is what will happen if we do not halt climate change soon.

So why this little diversion into the potential apocalypse lurking just beyond the horizon? Because our governments have known about the devastating consequences of climate change for decades, and so have some of the world's biggest polluters, companies such as Exxon. In 1977, one of Exxon's chief scientists – a man by the name of James Black – addressed his bosses, delivering a sobering message about the potential consequences of pumping billions of tonnes carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To their credit, Exxon initially decided to fund research to determine the scope of the problem. Sadly, those research projects were canceled just a few years later, and Exxon took a hard-line stance of climate denial. The profit motive locks people into a kind of thinking where, upon realizing the disconnect between what is demanded by the Market and what is necessary for the overall health of the human species, most people will choose the former every time.

The fact is that we could drastically slow climate change to almost nothing within the span of one generation. The energy potential in solar power, wind power, and geothermal power is more than enough to meet the needs of every community on this planet. Dr. Jill Stein of America's Green Party has a plan to transition the United States to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. But the simple reality is that in designing our business practices to minimize cost, we have also designed them to maximize pollution. China is such a popular place to do manufacturing precisely because its environmental regulations are so lax. Capitalism is predicated on producing as much stuff as possible – without regard for the finite supply of natural resources – at the lowest cost possible. The lowest cost means cheap, exploited labor, dirty production methods and tonnes of fossil fuel spent simply moving goods from one country to another. If we want to stave off the bleak future we are rapidly creating, we're going to have to turn our backs on globalization and the market ideology that underpins it. But heaven forbid we should question the Invisible Hand of the Market. Much better to just ride this train straight into oblivion.


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