Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No Fracking No Wealth

The Anglican preacher, Thomas Malthus wrote, "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man". While many “populationists” as they are called today reject much of Malthus’ direct attacks on the poor, their arguments are nevertheless the same, too many people are the cause of social and environmental catastrophe.

I have always objected to this idea that population is the cause of society's ills simply as a matter of course, it always leads to an attack on the poor in one way or another. In the case of Malthus, he wrote his famous essay when the scourge of Republicanism and the French Revolution was terrifying the ruling classes of Europe and Britain in particular. Malthus, like Carnegie opposed relief for the poor. If you gave the poor welfare relief then they'll just take advantage of it; better blame the victims of capitalism than the capitalist system itself and especially not the class that governs it.  "Dependent poverty ought to be held disgraceful." Malthus wrote.   His famous essay as Marx explained, was a political statement "against the French Revolution and the contemporary ideas of reform in England."  It was a political tract. The ruling classes were terrified that any concessions to the poor and rising working class would threaten their power and very existence.

I am thinking more about this question as I am reading a little more on the environmental crisis that the capitalist system of production is creating on this earth and its inhabitants.  Fortunately more information on the effects of capitalist social organization on the environment and how we produce our food and other necessities is becoming available especially on the Internet. (See the link to the Climate and Capitalism website on this blog for example.

The Wall Street Journal has an article yesterday about fracking. Fracking is the term to describe hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting oil trapped in rock deep underground.  Water mixed with oil and chemicals is injected in to the rock at high pressure in order to release the gas and oil. Each one of these oil wells uses 6 million gallons of water to accomplish this task.

Our reliance on fossil fuels and the increasing use of fracking is increasing the competition for water in Texas which is experiencing a drought.  But because both food and energy production, like all production in a capitalist economy, is about profit and capital accumulation, it is this that determines how capital is allocated and where.  The consequences to the environment are secondary if considered at all---profit is king.  As Engels wrote, “As long as the individual manufacturer or merchant sells a manufactured or purchased commodity with the usual coveted profit, he does not concern himself with what afterwards becomes of the commodity and its purchasers.”

With the price of farmland rising, the speculators and wasters that brought us the housing bubble are back, investing in farmland. In Texas, with the competition for water for fracking, capital will flow in to this market.  Exxon is drilling three times the wells it was five years ago and the 2,232 (times 6 million gallons of water) wells that oil companies drilled last year tripled the total number in the state over the same period.  This is leading to the scramble for control of water rights, “easily outbidding traditional users such as farmers and cities” the Journal adds.

The corporations and their representatives in state and federal politics have ensured there are all sorts of laws on the books that give the energy corporations the upper hand.  For example, an oil company that has mineral rights on a piece of land can tap water aquifers without the landowner’s consent. These companies have also acquired, or are in the process of acquiring, rights to river water supply, notable the Rio Grande.  According to the WSJ they have won the right to 40,000 acre-feet of water a year which is enough to supply a city of 240,000 for the same period.

Like Monsanto and the giant agricultural concerns, they just have too much money and they have two political parties while workers have none.  It’s hard to resist the cash the oil companies have says one farmer. “If they didn’t get it (water) from me, they’d get it from my neighbor” And anyone that’s seen the movie Food Inc. understands that if you don’t yield to them, the corporations have lawyers and the courts that work in their favor.

This is just one tiny example that exposes the myth that it is population, too many babies---too many mouths to feed, the planet just can’t provide enough food to feed them.  These arguments generated in the universities and think tanks of the western industrial countries is directed at the poor, blaming the poor for their condition as opposed to capitalism and the way social production is organized, for profit. Arguing that there is not enough food obscures the fact that capitalist food production is wasteful and inefficient and takes the focus away from the way society is organized by blaming the victims. 

The situation in Texas is one example as I have said but lets consider these few details:
40% of all grain harvested is used to feed cattle for human consumption, predominantly in the wealthy countries like the US and Western Europe.

In their book, Too Many People, Ian Angus and Simon Butler point out

 “A single half pound hamburger eaten daily by a consumer in Brazil or the US uses up enough grain to meet the entire total daily energy and protein needs of three people in India with a combined grain and milk diet.”

It is poor women in general and poor women of color in the former colonial world that are the target of the populationists argument whether they intend it so or not. Once the overpopulation argument mantra has been accepted, all sorts of intrusive and coercive policies are used against women and the poor people of the world from sterilization or government policies that deny aid or benefits to women who have children.   I remember the IUD when they found out how dangerous it was, they banned it in the US. It was still sold in Uganda though. But as Frederick Robbins, one of the early researchers of the pill that was supposed to liberate women said, “The dangers of overpopulation are so great that we may have to use certain techniques of contraception that may entail considerable risk to individual women.” *

How similar they are to the Christian right; privileged white men determining what’s best for the women of the world and how they should control their reproductive system. Asoka Banderage author of “Women Population and Global Crisis” argues that religious extremists and population controllers are very similar, even some of the “radical” or feminist types in that they “attempt to wrest reproductive decisions and power from women and hand them to external authorities whether they be patriarchal religious entities or state and medical hierarchies”.

Karl Marx over 100 years ago wrote of the destructive relationship between capitalist production and the environment:

“Capitalist production…disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., prevents the return to the soil of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to lasting fertility of the soil….the social combination and organization of the  labor-processes is turned into an organized mode of crushing out the workman’s individual vitality, freedom, and independence. Moreover, all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the laborer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction.  Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the laborer. **

The environmental and social crisis in society is a crisis of how production is organized under capitalism.  The solution to this crisis is the collective ownership of land and the means by which we produce not only our food but all the necessities of life.  Production not for the profit of a few but the needs of the human society in harmony with the natural world in which we live.

*Quoted in Too Many People. I have not finished this book at this point but I strongly recommend it simply for the powerful arguments it makes against the modern day Malthusians and that it directs the blame where it belongs, the system of production we call the free market and not at the victims of this profit addicted system.

** From Capital Volume 1 Chap X1V section 10 “Modern Industry and Agriculture. Quoted in Ecology and Socialism by Chris Williams.

No comments: