By Sawraj Singh
We are experiencing more and more of the phenomenon that the anarchy and greed of capitalism is taking its toll on our climate. Development under capitalism is not guided by needs of society. It is motivated by profit. Add greed to this equation and you have a perfect recipe for anarchy. Anarchy is the hallmark of capitalism. We see anarchy particularly in urban development. We see this anarchy in all cities, both in developing countries and developed countries. However, anarchy is more noticeable and more marked in developing countries because of a less efficient and more corrupt bureaucratic capitalist system.
Capitalism lacks respect for nature. As a matter of fact, instead of living in harmony with nature, it promotes concept of conquering nature. The end result of all these factors: anarchy, greed, arrogance, lack of respect for nature and treating it only as a commodity to be exploited for maximizing profit, it becomes inevitable that there will be over-construction and unplanned construction. Moreover, environmental impacts of the construction are generally ignored, marginalized or compromised. This results in environmental damage which is making our climate erratic.
I saw erratic weather both in America and India. Seattle used to have very mild winters. It was rare to see snow in Seattle. Even if it snowed, the snow will not last long on the roads. For the last few years, sometimes it can get pretty cold in winter, even the roads can become icy. In Punjab, I see rains coming in a different pattern than the usual pattern. For example, this season, there was very little rain in late June and early July. However, we saw heavy rain a couple of times in September. In the last few years, I sometimes saw severe windstorms which uprooted many trees. I was not used to seeing such strong winds in Punjab.
Many people feel that there is a big increase in the frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes, and the devastation brought by them has also increased. Two major hurricanes have hit America in a short time interval. Some people are blaming God for being angry. However, we should not blame God or nature because the main cause for erratic climate and natural disasters is human activity, rather than natural phenomena. We have nobody but ourselves to blame. It is our selfishness and greed which is primarily responsible for damaging environment and climate.
Capitalism has incited such tendencies in people that they want to live to fulfill their desires rather than live to fulfill their needs. This results in overutilization of natural resources. This causes damage to the natural balance, which leads to erratic weather and natural disasters. We saw this phenomenon in the Uttarakhand state of India. The damage brought by devastating floods in the year 2013 was mostly the result of overbuilding and building in dry riverbeds rather than wrath of nature.
This area was generally known as "Dev Bhoomi" which means spiritual land. The idea was that people should go there for spiritual retreat rather than permanently settle there, because this land was geographically unstable and not fit for large-scale construction. However, developers disregarded this traditional wisdom and started building large hotels and resorts there. I feel this wrong approach, which was motivated by selfishness and greed, was responsible for the tragedy.
I saw the same pressure to over-build in America. One can compare Disneyland and Disneyworld from the early seventies to the present and see what capitalism can do. It can convert orange groves and marsh lands to concrete jungles in such a short time spell. These retreats from urban hustle bustle are now surrounded by concrete monsters who look like monuments of human greed who are staring and laughing at us and seem to be saying, "Oh really, you came here to escape from us?"
Oil companies will not allow us to come up with an alternate source of energy because that can cut into their profit. Automobile companies will not let an efficient mass transit system be built in America for the same reason. Together, they are responsible for the largest amount of emission gases, which are the biggest culprits as far as pollution and resulting global warming are concerned. Global warming is primarily responsible for erratic climate and natural disasters.
Capitalism has made us extremely selfish and greedy. We have become so self-centered that the only person we can think of is ourselves. We have completely lost a collective perspective to a point that we have lost this basic concept that our existence is not isolated, but is interdependent on others as well as on our surroundings. If we cannot learn to live together, then one thing is certain: we will perish together.
When I was writing my book Crisis in Civilization a Sikh Perspective, to give this message, then I came across a book Slouching Toward Gomorrah by Robert Bork. He blames radical egalitarianism and radical individualism (codewords for selfishness and self-centeredness) for America's decline. Even though he is coming from the right and I am basically coming from the left, but we are coming to the same conclusion that selfishness, self-centeredness and greed are responsible for the ailments of America (and the world). He blames the liberals and the New left for this sorry state of affairs.
I feel that the real culprit is capitalism and its consumer culture which has dehumanized us to a point that instead of human beings, we have become consumers. The biggest tragedy is that the worst is yet to come; we are going to become robots which will be digitally controlled by the capitalists. We are just going to be a number without any other human identity. This will only happen if we survive the climatic disaster or the most destructive and devastating Third World War brought on by the capitalists.
Chairman, Washington State Network for Human Rights