Natural Capitalism – A Paradox

Thanks to a Kosmos 9 reader I got to know Paul Hawken. And thanks to Paul Hawken I started to think about Natural Capitalism.

Behind the idea of Natural Capitalism, which Hawken describes in the book with the same name, lies the idea that capitalism must be taken to a new level: an ecological one. Hawken describes how the economic system we are still having today was created in a cornucopian view present during the first industrial revolution. But let’s wake up to reality: resources are not never-ending.

“For decades, environmentalists have been warning that human economic activity is exceeding the planet’s limits. Of course we keep pushing those limits back with clever new technologies; yet living systems are undeniably in decline.“, Hawkens writes. His book aims high: together with Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins he tries to describe the new industrial revolution which will finally overcome this limited worldview. To me it sounds rather utopic when he describes “a future in which business and environmental interests increasingly overlap, and in which businesses can better satisfy their customers’ needs, increase profits, and help solve environmental problems all at the same time.” The three authors combine inspiring stories to show which small (and bigger) steps have to be taken in order to move towards the new type of capitalism. You can find some excerpts of the book here.

Now, personally I am critical. I mean, don’t the two words nature and capitalism strike you as opposites, as a unchangeable conundrum? I know how green technologies are on the rise and might actually do some good on this planet. But what we are left with is still an unchanged attitude of consumerism and accumulation; in short: capitalism. I am missing out on sustainability here. Probably I should move on to Hawkens older book in order to understand better; the Ecology of Commerce has a Declaration of Sustainability as its subtitle.

What do you think about the idea of Natural Capitalism?

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4 thoughts on “Natural Capitalism – A Paradox

  1. Yes this is an excellent point you are making. Aren’t Nature and Capitalism opposites? How can they coexist? Ah the complexity of it!!! I believe that we cannot adequately address this issue without dealing with the fundamental flaw in how we have constructed reality in the current world era, the Newtonian-Cartesian mindset. Essentially the kind of disconnected, reductionist materialism so beloved of most of our scientists and academics and one of the pillars of Marxist philosophy. In contradistinction so many so-called spiritual traditions tell a story of how we have lost some important connection to Life or God – call it what you will. On his revolutionary website the Professor of Theoretical Physics of Oregon University (retired) Amit Goswami says: Quantum Activism is the idea of changing ourselves and our societies in accordance with the principles of Quantum Physics. In the broad scope so far as I myself am concerned these things are profoundly correct. Yet as functionaries within the system we may feel that we want to have direct impact and relevance in terms of the form of ecological engagement and how we see the world behaving today! I can only sympathise and will provide my own recipe formula by numbers (hehehe) hoping that it may somehow help, and allowing enough space for anyone to self-organise the dots how they will . . . 1) According to the late system theorist Donella Meadows, co-author of landmark ecological book titled:The Limits to Growth, she asserts in a famous paper titled Places to intervene in a system that material flows are fairly low down on the hierarchy of values for changing the system. According to her, right at the very top of the hierarchy are first – The Ability to Change Paradigms (a later addition by the way) and 2nd the mindset or paradigm out of which which the goals rules or feedback arise and Thirdly the GOALS of the system. There are then whole list of items in descending order which are the things we usually focus on. 2) Capitalism in it’s pure definition according to Marx is . . . at its root and fundamental concept . . . all about what happens to the SURPLUS created through the use and investment of capital. In this sense capital is the machinery and property used to make more stuff. Factories, construction equipment etc & so forth. When controlling interests (let us call them capitalists) use the surplus thus derived from the hard work and sweat of people who work inside their production system(s) they often (invariably, systemically, culturally, inescapably) feel that it is their right and indeed their responsibility via a skewed understanding of Darwinian evolution and buoyed by Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand myth . . . to continue to exploit people whom they have thus effectively enslaved. Enslavement, exploitation, torture of the inner self of human beings by forcing them into drudgery and unfulfilling work, low pay etc, etc etc IS NOT A FUNCTION OF CAPITALISM. These things are what we as human beings have produced via our fears, ignorance, brutality and greed. But they don’t make the idea of capitalism WRONG per se. What they point to is the fact that we have not evolved (if this is the right word) or come to a level of conscious responsibility to be able to run our system(s) in a way that is going to work fairly for all. 3) Marx, Darwin and Smith . . .all thinkers from a bygone era. Their Victorian sensibilities are still informing our ideas, decision making and hence world-view today. Time to review the whole story about stuff and how stuff works? 4) The world runs on systems. Whether you like it or not everything operates inside a system, that operates inside another system, that operates inside a larger system . . . .this is called fractal organisation. 5) According to Quantum theory everything is actually connected even though things seem separate. This is the point upon which science and spirituality can find an integration. You can call the Universe God if you want to or you can call God the Universe but the thing is if everything is fractal and interconnected, and if you perceive and know yourself to be alive then what do you suppose the Universe or God imagines itself to be? Multi-dimensional, hyper dynamic, interconnected and beyond time as it undoubtedly is and . . .Finally 6) perhaps the universe is waiting for you to grok NATURE as that which you are – a super-abundant organism capable of delivering extra-ordinary outcomes AKA miracles and changing whole systems through your persistent insistence on the authenticity of your own systemic oneness. Perhaps what we need in the new era will be not be so much the old idea of Capitalists as Social Entrepreneurs with heart.

  2. Good points by all. This subject matter is core to humanity’s future but is neglected by those in power in order that the status quo may be maintained. Infinite growth in a world of finite resources is impossible. I spoke of this in my own post last week: http://knowthankyou.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/rebuilding/

    I would encourage you to read Richard Heinberg’s “The End of Growth” http://richardheinberg.com/bookshelf/the-end-of-growth-book

    The web site of the New Economics Foundation is also filled with good resources: http://www.neweconomics.org/

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