From the September 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
Humans would have to make wide-reaching changes in attitude and lifestyles quickly if they are to survive the changes begun by pollution and deforestation. scientists told an Auckland symposium at the weekend.
Scientists and researchers said the human race might die out without a new spirit of co-operation and collectivism. They said it was becoming increasingly likely that the planet would reorganise its systems to rid itself of pollution, the greenhouse effect, and ozone depletion. While the planet would survive, there was a fair chance the human race would not, they said.
So opened a news item that appeared on 27 March in the Wellington newspaper The Dominion under the heading "Scientists issue 'last chance' warning". Professor John Morton was quoted as saying that it looked as if humanity was likely to fail while another lecturer. Edward Goldsmith, was equally pessimistic. Economic and industrial policies, he said, had caused "the most terrible soil erosion and deforestation and were altering the ozone layer and climates", adding that “if our policies remain unchanged there is no question about it. there is no way man can survive another forty years".
The seriousness of the threat facing the human race right now needs no further comment. What does is the implication of the comments of the scientists that "policy" is the problem and that “policies" are the cure. Despite commendable scientific endeavour in their special disciplines, they have yet to apply it to humanity in general. What we have is a particular system of society which has evolved from the relatively short historical period of private property society that is in its closing stages.
Far from the policies of governments dictating the way in which wealth is produced and distributed, it is in fact the reverse. Policies are dictated by the world-wide system of capitalism. A way to look at this is to think of a boat being tossed on the waves of the ocean, the boat is the human race and the ocean is the market system (the buying and selling of goods).
Goods are produced for sale and not for direct consumption to satisfy human needs. The competition to sell goods causes a constant vicious circle which goes like this: Profits falling due to overproduction — introduce new technology to reduce costs (spend a large proportion of profits on new capital) — sell goods in larger quantities by undercutting competitors' prices because of reduced costs — competitors forced to introduce new technology — back to the same situation where started — introduce more technology, expand capital base.
The incessant drive to maximise profits means that enterprises generally will strive to reduce costs. The disposal of wastes is a large cost to enterprises, and they will try to do it as cheaply as possible — they will bury it in trenches, pump it into the waterways, exhaust it into the air. and a variety of other polluting methods. This is not from any malicious intent but because competition forces this upon them.
Often because of political pressures governments will try and legislate to prevent pollution. In some cases this has worked, but more often it is ineffectual. Also, to worsen the problem, enterprises and governments when faced with a choice of raw materials and producer goods are forced to take the least expensive route, again due to competition. This often means that the more environmentally harmful substances are used.
To sum up, we are faced with the most serious problem ever to confront the human race next to the nuclear war threat, and workers are continuing to support a system of society which is the basic cause of both problems.
If the scientists were forced to sit down and apply their techniques of scientific investigation to human society and its evolution. they would come up with only one answer: the establishment of a system of society where production will be for direct use, goods and services will be free to all, and where all will have a direct democratic input because they are social equals. Only then can we make rational decisions concerning production and our environment without the shackles of the market system. But then it is up to us and not the scientists to establish this system.