by Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
This is the second of two articles exploring the likelihood that capitalism is on the verge of collapse and what a post-capitalist world might look like.
Like many sustainability activists, I strongly believe that with advanced planning and preparation, the demise of capitalism could be an extraordinarily positive change for most of humankind. I tend to agree with Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute (see TEOFWAWKIT: The End of the World as We Know It) that global resource scarcity, aggravated by catastrophic climate change, will force the break-up of large nation-states into small self-governing regional units.
As a strong proponent of participatory democracy, I maintain that it will be up to the inhabitants of each region to determine how they will govern themselves and provide for their basic needs. At the same time, I feel that some features of post-capitalist society can be predicted — either because they are dictated by resource scarcity or because they are fundamental to true political and economic democracy:
1. The end of capitalism’s insane perpetual growth paradigm — the drive for continual economic expansion (and resource depletion)
If society commits to an equitable distribution of the earth’s remaining resources, work and production will be limited to provision of basic needs and the rearing and education of children.
2. Equal division of labor
Work will be shared equally among everyone, instead of shifting vast amounts of unpaid and low paid work to blue collar workers, women and minorities.
3. Reintegration of fathers into family life and child rearing.
A reduction in work hours will mean an increase in leisure time, freeing up men to involve themselves in family life and child rearing, as they did prior to the industrial revolution.
4. The end of oppression of women and ethnic and sexual minorities.
The oppression of women and minorities plays a distinct economic role under capitalism, owing to the vast amount of unpaid and low paid labor they perform. To a large extent, current population pressure is driven by the elite’s perpetual growth paradigm and the corporate media (see Population and Sustainability: Addressing the Taboo). With the demise of capitalism and the growth paradigm, the current economic pressure on women and sexual minorities to conform to stereotyped sex roles and produce children will cease. Moreover ethnic minorities will cease to be exploited as surplus workers to be moved in and out of the labor force to control wages. Indigenous minorities will be particularly valued for their knowledge of pre-industrial survival skills.
5. The restoration of extended families and communal child rearing
When the corporate propaganda driving mindless reproduction ceases, fewer people will have fewer children. This, along with an increase in leisure time, will create a strong incentive for childless community members to participate in communal child rearing and education.
6. Equal access to education
With fewer children and more community involvement in their education, bright and curious of children of both sexes and all ethnicities will have the potential to become little Einsteins. Unlike capitalism, where quality education is reserved for children (male children, in many cultures) of upper income Caucasian families.
7. Reduced global population
Without access to cheap fossil fuels, industrial agriculture will end. Heinberg predicts that without cheap oil and natural gas (for fertilizer and pesticides and to run farm machinery), the planet can support at most two billion people. Organic farmers in the Biointensive agriculture movement dispute this figure, based on twenty years of research showing that Biointensive methods can produce considerably higher yields (150-200%) than those of traditional agriculture. However, none of these studies take into account the massive land area required to produce meat.
As I write in Population and Sustainability: Addressing the Taboo, I am extremely optimistic about humanity’s potential ability to control population. Fertility levels are already plummeting in both the developing and industrialized world, owing to increased, urbanization and female literacy, as well as women’s large scale entry into the workforce.
8. Drastic dietary changes
Without the cheap transportation made possible by fossil fuels, we will be forced to adopt the 100 mile diet — limiting ourselves to the locally grown foods in season. Moreover based on equitable distribution of food and energy resources, all of us will most likely become vegetarian. At the moment the planet is only capable of providing a meat diet for 1/3 of the global population.
Will Global Population Drop Without Fossil Fuels?
Organic farmers in the Biointensive movement (an amalgamation of the eighty year old Biodynamic and French Intensive movements) dispute the 2 billion population limit Heinberg predicts for a post fossil fuel world. They point to studies showing that Biointensive methods increase crop yields by 150-200% (see http://www.theecologist.org/trial_investigations/268287/10_reasons_why_organic_can_feed_the_world.html). Given WHO and World Hunger studies revealing that our current system of industrial agriculture feeds only 84% of the world (the other 16% are continuously on the verge of starvation — see http://www.prb.org/Journalists/PressReleases/2005/MoreThanHalftheWorldLivesonLessThan2aDayAugust2005.aspx), we could estimate that a switch from industrial to Biointensive agriculture could potentially feed a global population of 7.8 billion.
Now here’s the catch: nearly all the research in Biointensive agriculture concerns yields of grains and vegetable crops. Preliminary research applying Biointensive methods to livestock grazing reveals that an agricultural system providing every global resident with meat is only possible with a global population of 2-3 billion.
The average energy input required to produce meat protein is eleven times greater that that required for grain protein production. A meat-based diet also requires ten times more land than a plant-based diet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_vegetarianism) and 100 times more water (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long). In the US alone, the amount of energy, land and water used to raise livestock grains to, would be sufficient to feed an additional 840 million people eating a plant-based diet. (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long).
The Privilege of Eating Meat
At the moment approximately 1/3 of the planet (those in the privileged industrialized world) consume meat (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long). Owing to shortages of cropland, fresh water, and energy resources, the other 2/3 (4.7 billion people) of the planet are compelled to survive on a vegetarian diet. With rapid industrial development in India and China, these ratios are changing rapidly. A growing middle class in both countries is developing an insatiable demand for meat, dairy and other animal-based products. In New Zealand this is a daily news item, as China and India purchase the bulk of Australia and New Zealand’s meat and dairy exports.
Hard Choices for Activists
What this means, in essence, is that sustainability and social justice activists are faced with some hard choices. If we are genuine in our commitment to replace capitalism with a more egalitarian society, we need to face the hard reality that no society is truly egalitarian if only rich people eat meat. Thus according to my calculations, a truly equal distribution of land and water resources will either require a strong commitment to reduce global population to 2-3 billion — or a commitment by 1/3 of the planet to give up meat.
If we fail to make this choice — and do nothing — we will be left with a scenario in which Malthusian forces (war, famine and disease) drastically reduce global population for us.
I am a 63 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. I have just published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW about a 16 year old girl who participates in the blockade and occupation of the US Capitol. In 2010 I published a memoir, THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE describing the circumstances that led me to leave the US 8 1/2 years ago to start a new life in the South Pacific. I blog at www.stuartbramhall.com