The present crises in the global economy are a fulfillment of academic predictions that capitalism has internal contradictions that will eventually destroy it as a viable economic option.  There are two: (1) capitalism in its industrial production uses natural products (e.g., petroleum, minerals) and converts them into unnatural (polluting) products that are returned to nature, thereby slowly destroying the natural balance on earth.  The emissions into our atmosphere are the ones that are most often in the news, but of course there are many in our landfills and the oceans are unfortunate repositories of many pollutants.  This, if not corrected, will slowly cause capitalism to grind to a halt and threatens all life on planet earth.  This is correctable if we heed the call of those advocating Natural Capitalism (see:  This one is a long-term threat.  The second one is a short-term threat, the threat that we are now facing both in America and globally.  It is (2) the fact that the gap between the rich and poor (both individuals and countries) is widening rapidly.  In America, for example, while the rich are getting enormously rich and can effectively prevent higher taxes on them, the middle class is slipping into the lower class and the lower class is becoming destitute and homeless.  This is also happening to varying degrees in all other countries that follow more or less closely America’s cutthroat brand of capitalism.  The emergence of the Tea Party in American politics is merely the latest and most extreme example of the political and economic clout of the super-rich under capitalism.  The majority of people are now bewildered and becoming angry, but most hold out the hope that this is a temporary situation and that things will smooth out and the growth bubble will continue.  I am one of them, but what I see scares me.  My fright come from this: in my lifetime under capitalism the rich got very rich but the middle class didn’t care because they too were getting richer, if not as rich.  Now, the rich are becoming, or have already become, super-rich; while the middle class has stopped growing in wealth and is slipping toward poverty.  The middle class in America has also lost political power because they have allowed the rich to dominate the political system.  Most don’t even bother to vote or are cynical about the importance of their votes.  When bewilderment turns to anger, and that anger is converted into action, we might have trouble, the kind that can lead to the chaos now in progress in the Middle East and other parts of the world.  On a global scale, scary events are at work in Greece, Portugal and other countries that are facing a debt crisis.  If the rich are not willing to sacrifice to help avoid system failure they may kill the system that creates their phenomenal profits and pull the rest of us down at the same time. 



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Comment by Eugene L. Mendonsa on August 16, 2011 at 9:18pm
I think we disagree on some minor points and agree on the main ones.  Thanks for the responses.  Perhaps all the little good efforts will have a positive effect before industrial capitalizm destroys planet earth.  Let's hope. 
Comment by Elaine Forde on August 16, 2011 at 8:17pm

Eugene, your point seems a bit dismissive? The tin is an optional part of the design and probably due to this particular project being financed in response to the earthquake disaster in Haiti. The point is that arbor toilets have been successful in this case, I disagree that there needs to be/ is anything high-tech about a hole in the ground used as a toilet until full then topped with a sapling. The only expertise required is in placing toilets so there's no risk of contaminating water, but even this seems obvious.


You asked:

"Since we cannot even make a perpetual machine, let alone technological system, our present efforts fall very much short of Nature, which is a technology that recycles and regenerates.  We need to find out how that works and emulate Nature’s genius.  Will humanity do so at all?  Will we do so in sufficient time?"


Which is not a question I would ask, but since you did I thought to point out that technology which emulates observable patterns in nature does exist and is being developed right now, I also gave an example. I understand now that you must have meant these as rhetorical questions to emphasise their importance.


It seems counterintuitive to consider that local responses even should translate into international ones. I think this is where we fall over, because there is no one size fits all solution. Also, I would be surpsied if the One Planet Developmemnt policy recently implemented by the Welsh assembly government won't, as hoped, become a precedent that many industrial nations adopt, in a manner which suits their own specific contexts.


I like your definition of sustainable development but think it's worth noting that these days, the range of what is available locally is not limited to what is available naturally.



Comment by Eugene L. Mendonsa on August 16, 2011 at 3:55pm

The picture of the toilet in Haiti shows corrugated tin sheets in use.  This is not lo-tech and no average person in Haiti or elsewhere can produce such without an industrial base, usually organized by capitalists.  The permaculture ideas are good, just as those of small groups of people in the USA who struggle to live locally and isolate themselves from industrial production, but even they come into town to get supplies and cannot be entirely divorced from the system of industrial production.  The Wales works sounds great and I hope it all works out.  But it will remain a local response, not one that spreads internationally. 


When I wrote about sustainable development in Northern Ghana I defined it as using technology that could be created locally, by local craftsmen using local natural materials i.e., those that once used recycle back into nature.  I contrasted an imported tractor to a bullock plow pulled behind two fertilizer-spewing beasts, all made according to the above principles.  In the short term, the tractor plows 8 acres of land in the same time as the bullock plow does 1 acre; but it relies on an imported, polluting technology and a supply of petroleum.  The tractor costs thousands of dollars.  The bullock system costs $60.  The bullocks eat grass (see: Mendonsa, Eugene L.  2001.  Continuity and Change in a West African Society. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press).  All nice ideas but most rich farmers in Northern Ghana still want tractors because in their lifetime it brings them prestige.  Ah, the human factor!


As to the profit factor in Natural Capitalism:  I don’t think that in our world we will ever see the profit motive disappear.  Once plants and animals were domesticated the presence of a storable-stealable-surplus motivated aggrandizers to fabricate a political economy based on it.  As long as there are go-getters who want more of the scarce resources we are stuck with the profit motive.  Natural Capitalism tries to use that human tendency to the best advantage.


I think you can have pockets of people who struggle to create mini-cultures that defy the general culture and larger industrial production system; but within any global system in the future, human beings will struggle and compete for scarce resources.  Cynical, but, alas, true I fear.  If it is true we have two options:  (1) a system that messes the nest; or, (2) one that recycles according to natural principles. 

Comment by Elaine Forde on August 16, 2011 at 2:49pm

The link wasn't meant to draw your attention to the publication, of which I'm sure there are many, but to the specific story about compost toilets in Haiti, which address the need to deal with human waste, and attempts at regenerating a barren landscape. This is completely low-tech.


But I disagree slightly with your take on the movement itself, which may be due to our existing on different sides of the world. I think that all ideas can be commodified to a certain extent, and as such I think the merchandise aspect of permaculture is irrelevant to the ideas it has, many of which are re-presented versions of much older and local knowledge. I live and work in UK, and my research field is in ruraI wales. Here, I see a dynamic activist movement and network of people, hubs and events at which people actually doing permaculture tell others or swap ideas. (such as the conference I attended just the last few days). The event was deliberately pitching a low money/ no money/ no-sell approach to ideas, such as low-impact housing, build your own solar panels out of reject pieces (30p/watt) to "permcultwr cymru", permaculture design for the specific welsh climate, based on traditional methods.


I have had a look at Natcap, it appears to be aimed at businesses and be pitching a way to profit by taking "natural capital" into account. My basic reaction to this is to question the usefulness of continuing to see nature as a resource to profit from, because this is basically what we have already and this has limited life now. Perhaps the difference- on the surface- is that under natural capitalism the idea is that profit can be made from activities which preserve natural resource rather than simply taking it, which seems better. But in both cases the rule is by profit and money, these are the primary motivtions and ultimate goal and (albeit on a quick appraisal) I am unable to see what Natural Capitalism can really offer, beyond a timely rebranding.

Comment by Eugene L. Mendonsa on August 16, 2011 at 1:55pm

Thanks for the permaculture link Elaine.  I am aware of it and its cousin in the USA, The Mother Earth News.  When I taught at the University of Colorado in Boulder I had access to “green” shopping, as Boulder is a very progressive place; but in Northern California, which is redneck country, we have no such option.  Fortunately, I have some acreage and grow much of my own food organically and we are blessed in that we can garden year round.  The problem with such movements, though I encourage them, is that the underlying social stratification prevents the majority of people from accessing organic food and after looking through the permaculture catalog I must say that they are pushing lots of high-technology gadgets, the manufacturing of which are no especially earth-friendly.  Nevertheless, the ideas behind such movements as Mother Earth, Permaculture and Natural Capitalism are noteworthy and laudatory.  Thanks for the link.

Comment by Elaine Forde on August 16, 2011 at 12:42pm

Hi Eugene, maybe you would be interested in permaculture? It's an approach to design which emulates natural patterns. I suppose you could call it a movement. It's been around since the 70s and applies to gardening, architectutre, even social groupings. I come across it a lot in my research at eco-villages but realise that many people are not yet aware of it. Perhaps one side of permaculture which is notable is it's application in emergency or disaster situations, permaculturists have had succeses in Cuba and more recently, Haiti (where landscapes are being regenerated and human waste managed safely in one move,


I have been at a conference since \i last posted and still not caught up on NatCap. but do hope to do so soon.

Best wishes, Elaine

Comment by Eugene L. Mendonsa on August 12, 2011 at 3:24pm

Thanks Elaine.  Natural Capitalism (see: is surely the way to go, but the growth of China, India, Brazil and other countries trying to imitate the over-consumption of America and Europe is somewhat frightening.  For the next generation or two the crucial question will be whether technology can convert to natural ways quick enough; or have we, or will we soon, pass the point of no return, polluting our earth and atmosphere beyond repair.

Your point about trends in capitalist behavior is cogent.  I take it that human beings are inherently irrational and this leads to thinking and action oriented toward short-term rewards and the kind of selfish behavior we recently saw by bankers and Wall Street barons.  If humans are irrational, then it follows that their large-scale enterprises will not necessarily be anything less. 

We build systems, both social and technological, that have many flaws and contradictions, leading to decline and decay.  On the social side see Jared Diamond’s Collapse.  Since we cannot even make a perpetual machine, let alone technological system, our present efforts fall very much short of Nature, which is a technology that recycles and regenerates.  We need to find out how that works and emulate Nature’s genius.  Will humanity do so at all?  Will we do so in sufficient time?



Comment by Elaine Forde on August 12, 2011 at 1:00am

Hi Eugene, I am interested in the point you make about processes of industrial production appropriating natural resources. Capitalism seems infinitely adaptable as one can now buy fleece jumpers made from recycled plastic bottles, and methane from landfills can be harnessed as fuel. I agree that somewhere at the end of such processes there remains some sort of un-deal-with-able waste that "we" seem to shrug off, although there is a growing feeling that the process is catching up on itself to some degree.


What I find interesting is how capitalism works at this tangible level- by seeing the world as a pot of resources to use at best and exploit at worst but also, and this is crucial, it works at an abstract level through the marketplace, which supports unviable concepts based on trends, futures and other magic. I am not sure how viable it is to harness methane out of rubbish dumps, or even harvest wind energy on every available hilltop regardless of aspect, but guaranteed, tax breaks, incentives and money will be available for such projects which distort their worth (I shy away from using "value" just yet!). This type of activity seems unrelated to the utilitarian aspects of the "thing" at their root. This is basically what we have seen the banks do catastrophically. 


I am not sure if human techne will ever stop. I do hope it will scale down though, and I believe it is possible. I am interested in the link to natcap and hope we can continue a discussion about such themes once I am more clued up.


All best, Elaine


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