Town of Geneva Climate Smart Coordinator Jacob Fox answers your questions about recycling, composting, lawn care, etc.
• • •
Today’s question: Is capitalism always bad for the environment?
I often hear that we cannot have clean air, clean water, and clean soil while living in a capitalist system. I want to disagree with that.
Capitalism usually aims to maximize consumption. Unfortunately, we currently live in a world where many of our industries are extractive. For example: a plastic straw is made from fossil fuels that take millions of years to form. Once the straw is used, it is buried in a landfill, and its value is gone. The process of making the straw was extractive; the transportation of the materials was extractive; and the process of landfilling was extractive. Extractive is defined as a removal of a material without worrying about its renewal. The consumer now gets blamed for buying the straw and all the extraction in the process.
Now imagine if that straw was made from hemp. That hemp was grown in soil, and while it was growing, it was sucking carbon out of the air and feeding soil microbes. When that hemp straw gets used and then thrown in the compost bin, it goes through a process that makes more soil. If regenerative products are consumed, they lead to more regeneration.
If we can create regenerative systems, also known as “circular economies,” then capitalism and environmentalism go hand in hand.
Many of these systems currently exist in the Finger Lakes. You can buy meat from a farmer who raises animals in a regenerative way. You can buy milk, eggs, produce, or cheese from a farmer that farms in a regenerative way. You can buy clothes made by someone local, using local regeneratively produced fiber products.
When you buy from these people, you are using your dollar to support farms that protect our natural environment. Additionally, this dollar will stay in the area and lead to more local transactions, known as the multiplier effect.
Too often we are chasing short-term profits over long-term sustainable profits. Our plan for the use of non-renewable resources should not be to mine a mine as quickly as we can or to extract all our oil immediately. We should really consider the value of resources that cannot be renewed, and work as hard as possible to not waste them.
Most of our systems today are not even capitalist. There are so many tax breaks, subsidies, PILOT agreements, policies, and other mechanisms getting in the way of true capitalism. Not to say that many bad things have not been done in the name of capitalism, but that doesn’t mean that it is a total failure.