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It’s not capitalism killing the wildlife

Summary:
Normally the burblings of the lesser minds in academe can be ignored. What does it matter what the students forget in 3 minutes time? There are times though when it’s useful to point out the inanity of what is believed. As with this, blaming capitalism for the disappearance of wildlife:The latest Living Planet report from the WWF makes for grim reading: a 60% decline in wild animal populations since 1970, collapsing ecosystems, and a distinct possibility that the human species will not be far behind. The report repeatedly stresses that humanity’s consumption is to blame for this mass extinction, and journalists have been quick to amplify the message. The Guardian headline reads “Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations”, while the BBC runs with “Mass wildlife loss caused by human

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Normally the burblings of the lesser minds in academe can be ignored. What does it matter what the students forget in 3 minutes time? There are times though when it’s useful to point out the inanity of what is believed. As with this, blaming capitalism for the disappearance of wildlife:

The latest Living Planet report from the WWF makes for grim reading: a 60% decline in wild animal populations since 1970, collapsing ecosystems, and a distinct possibility that the human species will not be far behind. The report repeatedly stresses that humanity’s consumption is to blame for this mass extinction, and journalists have been quick to amplify the message. The Guardian headline reads “Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations”, while the BBC runs with “Mass wildlife loss caused by human consumption”. No wonder: in the 148-page report, the word “humanity” appears 14 times, and “consumption” an impressive 54 times.

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The WWF report is right to highlight “exploding human consumption”, not population growth, as the main cause of mass extinction, and it goes to great lengths to illustrate the link between levels of consumption and biodiversity loss. But it stops short of pointing out that capitalism is what compels such reckless consumption. Capitalism – particularly in its neoliberal form – is an ideology founded on a principle of endless economic growth driven by consumption, a proposition that is simply impossible.

We;re neoliberals who even think that capitalism is a pretty neat system. Yet we’re entirely unaware of any manner in which capitalism is driven or founded upon any idea of endless growth or consumption.

We agree entirely that people like to become richer, that the poor like to become wealthy. Also that people like to consume, defining being richer as being able to consume more, but that’s nothing to do with capitalism, that’s to do with people. Any economic system at all must grapple with the, err, subject of the subject, us flawed beings out here.

But there’s more to it than this. Capitalism is, often enough, the solution to such environmental ills. As Garrett Hardin pointed out many environmental problems are Commons Problems, a viable solution to which is private ownership of the resource. Capitalism is a system of who owns - private individuals. Cows are privately owned, we’ve not a shortage of them, elephants are not we do.

More even that this there’s the point that capitalism and markets make the modern world possible, the support of us 7 billion humans. Imagine us all without the technologies which the Industrial Revolutions have brought us. We’d be trying to farm at 18th century efficiencies. That is, even with many fewer humans around there’d still be no wildlife at all.

Capitalism can indeed be messy and ugly in its early stages but the one thing ids truly promotes is efficiency, the use of fewer, less, resources to achieve a goal or human standard of living. Meaning that capitalist systems leave more left over for non-human living. As anyone observing the environmental wastelands of either socialism or even hunter gatherers under significant population pressure will be able to see.

It wasn’t after all, the capitalists that did for the Moa, Mastodon or the Dwarf Hippo now, was it?

Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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