Adapting Capitalism For Ecological Preservation Of Civilisation

Subject: Economics
Type: Process Analysis Essay
Pages: 12
Word count: 3047
Topics: Capitalism, Democracy, Globalization


Looking at the long history of humankind, it is obvious that it has reached a crucial turning point. In as much as the most catastrophic ends to humankind can be avoided, the uncertainty of the essential conditions for the development and survival of civilized societies continues to manifest through the debates about the role played by economic and political ideology. Human beings live in a material environment that consists of elements such as air, water and land. These are the main materials that constitute the ecology or environment. 

Historically, these materials have been considered as infinitely usable and durable, meaning that they are indestructible. However, as Germic (2009) documents, history has records of many instances where these materials have been destructed either through human agencies or through natural processes. Considering the fact that the natural processes are beyond the control of mankind, it could be valid to argue presumably that the foreseeable future would not be any different in relation to the toll of natural processes that cause destruction to the environment.

However, the destructions of the environment through human agencies have occurred throughout history, with small-scale destruction opening the doors for the large scale and technical destruction of the environment. Besides, more research on the effects of human activity on the environment has intensified in the past century, where the world ushered in the era of Industrial Revolution. Since the inception of the Industrial Revolution, industrialization has become the trademark of economic prosperity, as many countries strive to attain and maintain industrialized economies. With the advent of globalization, more technological innovations have been realized to enable such countries widen their pool of resources to assist in industrialization.

As Storm (2009) explains, the concept of industrialization is largely dependent on the political ideology to which a people subscribe. While making this observation, the author provided the patterns of industrialization based on two dominant economic ideologies, socialism and capitalism. The study goes ahead to document that countries subscribing to the political ideology of capitalism invested more in industrialization, as opposed to countries aligned to socialism, which invested in promoting social welfare. Of more significance, however, is the contribution of the capitalist ideologies on the environmental degradation or preservation efforts. 

Costanza (2009) elucidates that many scholars have conducted studies that linked capitalism to ecological destruction. Across these studies, it is assumed that the capitalist ideologies solely focus on economic posterity, thereby overlooking the ethical constructs that are attached to their activities on the core elements that constitute the ecology. Little research has been conducted to shed light on how capitalism can be harnessed to ensure that the environment is preserved, all in a bid to promote the sustainability of economic growth competition.

This paper aims at discussing the extent to which the prevailing norms of capitalism are adaptable in ensuring ecological preservation of civilization. In so doing, the discussion will borrow extensively from the advances made in China, perhaps the leading example of how capitalism can promote economic development while at the same time hindering environmental degradation. Against this background, the discussion will prove with clarity the need for more political leaders to share the belief that the current trends of capitalism have adopted a moral obligation to promote the sustainability of civilization through ecological preservation. 


In 1820, the entire world had a population of approximately one billion people. Today, that is the population of China alone. Over the last half century, the global population has expanded rapidly, and is approximated at 6.5 billion people. The increases in population coupled with the growing trends of globalization, Shen and Tan (2012) argue, have generated severe implications on the natural resources that support the environmental sustainability. This means, therefore, that more people are depending on a smaller amount of natural resources. However, the strain on natural resources does not overshadow the consumption of these resources by industries that compete to fulfil the economic development goals of their respective countries. All indications point to the inability of the earth to maintain the imbalances posed by scarcity of natural resources and depletion of the ecological elements.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalism has grown to become the dominant economic system that defines the political world (Markandya, 2009). Many countries that were previously considered as socialist gradually adopted capitalist market economies, which have since manifested through the unparalleled economic productivity and industrialization. The industrial strategies of development, therefore, have consequently been used by socialist nations to further their economic development agenda.

Entering into the 21st century, the negative ecological and social impacts of capitalism have led to the fundamental question on the sustainability of capitalism, with respect to its ability to promote environmental and ecological preservation (Costanza, 2009). The main issue in this debate is whether the capitalist economies are capable of proving their sustainability in the economic, social and ecological spheres. The negative impacts of capitalism, furthermore, have been linked to the widespread changes in climatic patterns, as well as degradation of the natural resources, which are the backbone of ecological balance. 

Amidst these claims, many economic, social and political leaders have attributed economic growth, technological innovations and globalization to capitalism. Going into the future, it would be vital to understand the prevailing norms of capitalism in order to paint a picture of the extent to which they can be adapted to ensure ecological preservation. As Storm (2009) writes, capitalism is a discipline of economic development that does things that people want done, such as eradicate poverty through providing employment. Besides, capitalism is defined by competition, which depends on the ability to provide better products and services at subsidized costs.

One significant norm of capitalism is planning for the long-term. Herein, capitalism is considered as a sustainable approach to economic supremacy. In this norm, however, other elements of sustainability such as social and environmental sustainability are not considered. Capitalism is anchored on the norm of value creation, which means that this economic policy of growth considers natural resources as worthy only if these resources can be used in value creation. The capitalist ideology, furthermore, is that destruction can only be noteworthy if the victims and nations involved have not registered any earned gains. To expound more on this norm, Hope (2015) explained that capitalists believe that the opportunity cost of economic development lies in the destruction realized from unearned gains.

As Dauvergne (2014) writes, globalization is the brainchild of capitalism. In his article the author explains how globalization has contributed to ecological collapse, stating that globalization is encouraging more production and economic growth with minimal concern on the arising unsustainable and unequal patterns of consumption. The ecological inequality exacerbated through capitalism manifests through marginalization of the poor, indigenous communities and the vulnerable people in the society. Besides, capitalism promotes no ecological balance or environmental justice in the globalised world. 

Whereas other people perceive the net ecological impact of globalization as positive, others hold the view that its net negative impact lies in the ecological decay into which it is sinking the world. Globalization, being one construct of capitalism, fosters the establishment of curative institutions that promote economic growth. Capitalism in its nature vouches for the establishment of collaborative institutions that compete effectively and fairly in providing products to the consumers. The cooperation of these institutions related by capitalism is one way through which capitalism can influence ecological preservation of civilization.

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In contending with the cooperative institutions, Bernauer (2013) explained that ecological degradation in the 20th century accrued from the lack of cooperation among institutions. Prior to the growth of capitalism, many political economies targeted the welfare of their societies through promoting internal harmony. However, with the advent of capitalism, the cooperation of institutions could be used to develop a new approach to sustainable economic growth. 

As such, capitalism has been painted as a profit maximization economic growth pattern that only promotes investment in technology and industries. Despite the fact that capitalism has its virtues deeply embedded in remarkable economic growth rates and productivity, Brockington and Duffy (2010) noted that capitalism stimulates the logic of profit maximization that may be significant in inducing producers to invest in technologies that promote efficiency in productivity and environmental protection.

In China today, capitalism has enabled the government to provide incentives for investing in programs and projects that guarantee long term ecological preservation. The prevailing profit maximization norm of capitalism is a significant contributor to the incentives that entrepreneurs in China have utilized to increase productivity using the environmentally and socially friendly mechanisms (Ghotge, 2015). Using the same motif of profit maximization, economic agents could be persuaded to allocate resources in a manner that reflects dynamism in growth and sustainability. 

Today, the competitive forces of the market have compelled firms within the capitalist market to invest in cost-cutting technologies. As Hope (2015) observes, firms operating in the capitalist markets can resist the competition pressures by investing in technologies that guarantee then a competitive advantage over their peers in the market place. The introduction of advanced, more efficient and cheaper technologies into the capitalist markets could trigger the virtuous cycle of investment among competitors in acquiring similar technologies. This argument is anchored on the capitalism principle of optimized profit, which Markandya (2009) defined as the advantage that firms in such markets enjoy by virtue of having advanced production methods. 

While analyzing the contributions made by different scholars on the raging debate about the role of capitalism in ecological degradation, Huan (2014) noted that many scholars blamed capitalism for the prevalence of most ills that have befallen the world. While at it, few scholars acknowledge the important role played by globalization, free trade and capitalism in improving the living standards of the low-income populations around the world. According to this article, counter-arguments could be made to illustrate how capitalism promotes environmental preservation.

The intensity with which capitalist markets compete to maximize profits and production capacities depicts the intensity with which this economic growth phenomenon destroys the ecological balance of the planet, Costanza (2009) writes. However, looking at the statistics presented by Turner (2010), an opposite trend emerges. The environmental quality and standards of living have made vital strides over the last century, with the strain on natural resources largely attributed to population growth, not to industrial revolution. In making this observation, the author draws statistics from various countries and the United Nations. In one such study, the author observes that the quality of water and air is gradually improving in the industrialized economies, with forest cover expanding in 60 countries. The food production has doubled over the last five decades, as the cost of food has decreased relative to the inflation rates.  

From the above discussion, it is evident that capitalism is not to blame for most of the ecological crises encountered in the world today. Nonetheless, capitalism could be harnessed to provide solutions to some of these challenges. Today, government regulations do not play a vital role in the promoting environmental sustainability, as much as they do in encouraging the growth of industries.  Instead, the scarcity of resources has obligated many firms in the capitalist markets to adopt innovative ways of attaining their core purposes, which are profitability, cost reduction and competition.

Therefore, the capitalist prevailing norm of cost-reduction can be used in making capitalism adaptable to ensure ecological preservation of civilization. To expound more on this position, the discussion will make a reference to the automobile manufacturing industry. Over the last half of the 20th century, the automobile industry has grown all around the world (Gerhardt, 2016). Many of the capitalist nations have remained the leading manufacturers of automobiles. The gas engines used in these automobiles are efficient and more powerful. 

From the ecological standpoint, other automobile models have been developed to resemble hybrids of electric and gas-powered engines. However, the capitalist norm of competition has tuned the automobile manufacturers into determining their successes through the percentage of market share that they enjoy. On the other hand, the capitalist mindset has tuned customers to believe that utility is maximized when the costs of consumption are reduced. Consequently, many automobile companies are adjusting to the pressures presented by the consumers who want to reduce the costs of using these automobiles by saving on the amount of gas. 

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The main argument that has spearheaded the belief that capitalism is incompatible to sustainable development is that many firms emit effluents that have practically destroyed the environments. In contrast, a lot of efforts have been directed towards protecting the legacy of ecological preservation. Besides, the ongoing threats posed by ecological disasters such as the Fukushima nuclear accident have been used as stepping stones to ensuring that similar disasters do not occur in the near future. 

The idea that capitalism is contributing to the looming ecological crisis is subject to contradiction, with this argument plausible due to the fact that its proponents use the exponential growth of capital to derive their argumentative bases. However, capital has a long history of resolving the ecological difficulties, as Germic (2009) narrates. Besides, the past predictions about the end to capitalism and civilization due to depletion of natural resources have been deemed retrospective with the modern day continuing capitalism.

As such, it is important to note that capitalism seizes the environmentalist mindset for itself when establishing a legitimate foundation for the argument that capitalism is good for the long term sustainability of the ecological preservation. Through capitalism, the dominant ecological discourse that has defined nature as an element that is subject to human control is quashed. Besides, through the economic development norm of capitalism, it could be possible to argue that more investments can be made to fill the gaps related to sustainability of the social formations that constitute the world of capitalism. 

Ecological preservation of civilization borders on sustainable growth, which Bernauer (2013) defined as growth that is consistent to the constraints and demands of nature. In achievement sustainable growth, it is necessary to secure the link between economic and environmental polices across all levels of governance and sectors of the economy. Therefore, it is important to note that there are environmental benefits to economic growth, a factor which makes the norm of economic growth a determinant of the extent to which capitalism can enable ecological preservation of civilization.

As such, there are several ways through which economic growth benefits the environment. As Dauvergne (2014) narrates, economic growth raises the expectations and creates demand for improvement of the environment. With capitalism, more people enjoy better living standards denoted by higher wages, good shelter, food and clothing. The ability to satisfy these basic needs means that majority of the population can pay more attention to the factors that determine their quality of life. 

Looking at capitalist nations like Germany, the unemployment levels are very low, similar to those in the US and UK (Gerhardt, 2016). Across these capitalist economies, the demand for better environmental protection is higher as opposed to the developing countries such as China and Brazil. However, across the divide for both developed and developing nations with capitalism, the agenda of ecological preservation is spearheaded by wealthier people, property and homeowners. It would be candid to argue therefore, that capitalism through economic growth eradicates poverty, hence turning the focus of the public from satisfying their basic needs to improving the quality of life. 

In addition, the correlation between the increasing income and ecological concerns is held as a true phenomenon among countries as it is among the social groups. In a bid to justify this position, Huan (2014) stated that China, just like other industrialized nations with high standards of living, tends to direct more resources on environmental issues in order to promote the quality of the environment. Between 1972 and 1984, for instance, the Asian economic boom propelled Japan into the leadership position on the global economic power index. Similarly, between 1990 and 2009, China invested heavily in industrialization of its economy, which has contributed to the dominance that the Chinese economy commands in the global economic power index today (Ghotge, 2015). One dominant trend across these two nations is the historical legacy of environmental degradation. With the attainment of economic supremacy, the Chinese government has invested heavily in promoting ecological preservation, since the focus has shifted from reducing poverty to enhancing the quality of life of the Chinese people.

As earlier stated, the skyrocketing levels of population growth are partly to blame for the ecological degradation and imbalance. Through the prevailing norm of economic growth, capitalism can mitigate the ecological pressures of high population by stabilizing population growth and reducing poverty. 

In China, for instance, the population explosion over the past few decades has magnified the pressures on the environment. The continued rapid population growth in China threatens to erase the environmental gains realized by the environmental investments in this economy. However, the literacy levels in China have increased along with the expansion of the capitalist economy. As Markandya (2009) writes, the World Bank has documented education as an acceptable strategy of lowering the fertility rates. Therefore, the ability of the Chinese government to realize economic growth that enables the funding of education programs to eradicate illiteracy of the population could be a long term strategy of reducing the population growth that asserts pressure on the scarce natural resources. 

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In as much as capitalism has been construed as an agent of industrialization, the resultant economic growth from capitalism has been depicted as a contributor to ecological preservation of civilization. This paper echoes contributions by scholars such as Brockington and Duffy (2010), who have argued that ecological preservation is considered an activity that can only be attained in the absence of industrialization and globalization, which are both preserves of capitalism.

However, prevailing norms of capitalism have been used to define the extent to which capitalism can be adapted as a mechanism for ensuring ecological preservation. The main norms of capitalism discussed herein include competition, cost minimization, economic growth and profit maximization. Consequently, it has been established that capitalism sets the tone for the provision of incentives that determine the investment in technologies to guarantee efficiency and environmental protection. Besides, through economic growth, capitalism can eradicate poverty and minimize population growth, which have been found to be elements of ecological degradation.

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