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GREENINGS: Addiction to capitalism will lead to overdose (Sept. 2019)

October 8th, 2019 · No Comments

As we take the drug of economic development, the planet burns

As the Amazon burns, we are reminded of what unfettered capitalism looks like. Greed has literally blotted out the sun in Sao Paulo. Images taken in the mid afternoon appear as dark as midnight, as smoke from the burning Amazon darkens the sky. 

Farmers in Brazil feel it is within their right to burn the Amazon. Why shouldn’t they be able to herd cattle and aspire to a higher standard of living? They aren’t wrong.

This is the legacy that capitalism is leaving us. Ironic that I’m sitting in Canada’s economic capital as I write this. The planet is now literally on fire, not just with the Amazon burning but also with unprecedented Arctic wildfires this summer. Does this sound like an apocalyptic end time? If you’re living in Sao Paulo, it is. Climate change is not some far-off distant thing. The crisis is upon us now. Children born right now have increasing odds of premature death due to the planet’s inability to sustain human life. This is not hyperbole. 

As city dwellers, we can take small steps: ride a bike, stop eating beef, consume less… All this is great, but useless when the ultra-elite are flying in their jets and corporations are profiting from unending ecosystem destruction. These crimes against humanity are carried out in the name of economic progress. Once upon a time we could look the other way as there were more rivers to provide us with drinking water, more forests to provide us with oxygen. As these resources begin to dwindle against a backdrop of increasing population, we have done lots to protect stock prices but nothing to protect something as fundamental as air. Our entire economic system is a positive feedback loop that requires more and more to sustain it. The more resources we take, the more the bankers expect us to take the following year. In my lifetime, not a single politician has failed to boast about “economic growth”. It’s a drug that we can’t seem to be able to wean ourselves from. 

Farmers in Brazil feel it is within their right to burn the Amazon. Why should they too not be able to herd cattle and aspire to a higher standard of living? They aren’t wrong. They were promised wealth so long as they worked the land, why shouldn’t they be part of the “growth”?  

The short-term gains will quickly give way to long-term pains when not only their cattle starve, but millions of people on the planet die from the consequences of climate catastrophe and ecosystem destruction. While the corporations and farmers clear land, Indigenous people in Brazil are losing their homes, and many more will die as a direct result of losing the land they depended upon for survival. Capitalism spares no one who is not part of the system. 

Money pledged by world leaders at the G7 to fight the Amazon fires is woefully inadequate. While Canada is boasting about its $15 million contribution, remember that a single family (Irving) just got a $7.4 million loan forgiven. That’s right, while propping up a single family’s business ventures, we will send merely double the amount to fight for 20 per cent of the earth’s oxygen-producing capability.  At the end of the day, capitalism and profits are STILL more important than the literal survival of human beings. 

The system all of us depend upon is about to fall apart and none of us have any idea how to save ourselves from extinction without sacrificing our income and means of survival based on our unreal fiscal expectations of infinite growth. 

This is the crux of the crisis. Most of us have become very comfortable living on a system that we know is on borrowed time. Without infinite growth, our economic model collapses, and right now, the entire earth is reminding us that the planet is finite. 

This is the harsh reality. We can drastically slow down climate change if we tell everybody to stop shopping for clothes they don’t need, going on vacations they can’t afford, and wasting food they don’t eat. What would happen to the stock prices around the world? What would happen to the prosperity of major financial hubs? What would happen to your own income?

We are addicted and we can’t stop. The overdose is coming. Our reality of finite resources is pushing against the economic models of infinite resources. So are we willing to go through withdrawal or just go over cliff when we get there?

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at


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