Robert Biel: Imperialism and ecocide

[Quotes and Insights #30]

Three excerpts from The New Imperialism: Crisis and Contradictions in North/South Relations by Robert Biel (Zed Books, 2000)

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The rise of capitalism reflects the victory of the principle of unbridled exploitation over the various checks which had existed in earlier social systems. There has always been a possibility for society to ‘go wrong’ in this way. There are probably many examples of earlier societies which failed for environmental reasons, but the failure concerned only them. If capitalism had been established in one small society in a small area it would consume itself in its unsustainability and cease to exist. But it is inherently global, and this is the problem. It has sucked the whole world and its resources into the role of covering up its own deficiencies, creating a vortex where the inevitable crisis of its own sustainability will tend to drag everything else down with it. (p. 14)

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Capitalism’s calculations are based exclusively on monetary cost. If resources are available for a low economic cost – water, raw materials obtained for practically nothing by manipulating terms of trade with the third world, and so on  – they will eventually be used up. If waste products can be dumped without economic cost, they will be dumped. Such processes fund capital accumulation without capitalists having to take responsibility for their long-term impact. (p. 137)

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Some environmentalists argue that the environmental issue is so serious that it has to be given priority over class politics. This is wrong simply because it is capitalism that is the problem. But it would be equally wrong to say that the environment is a long-term issue which can be dealt with later, once the political conditions have been created, for grassroots movements are making it an immediate issue) and they are precisely the really existing forces which can challenge the system. (p. 151)


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