Thursday, August 30, 2018

Easter Island not Yellowstone Park: A response to The Incredible Aspie on capitalism and the environment

The Incredible Aspie recently visited Yellowstone National Park. I can imagine him walking through the trails searching for wild mushrooms to eat. After visiting the park, Aspie made a video defending the capitalist system against accusations that it is fundamentally incompatible with environmentalism--That is exactly what I began to do in a youtube comment, but realized that it would necessitate writing a blog post. In the video he addresses comments made by Owen Macdonald in a Twitter group chat called Poor Bastards, which I am part of. Aspie said: “While admiring the park for its natural beauty, I was also reminded of a debate I had in the poor bastards chat with the house communist Owen Macdonald.” For Owen and a growing number of other ecosocialist people the idea of capitalism and the environment being incompatible social processes is self-evident, if our goal is sustainability. When humans witness the coming Anthropocene they will not attribute this new stage in our planet's time scale to individual character flaws in people, as Aspie suggests. The changing circumstances are attributed rather to human institutions misguided by capitalism's constant drive for accumulation and economic expansion without consideration of ecological cost or the paradoxes in resource usage that come with more efficient use of fossil fuels. This has made it more difficult to "keep carbon in the ground" which should be one of the long-term goals of an ecosocialist project, rather than furthering its extraction to pursue national greatness under capitalism. When the means of producing and laboring is monopolized by the capitalist for extracting profit from the natural beauty that surrounds us, is it hard to avoid thinking of Easter Island, as I will discuss below. Some of our friends in that chat group still harbor a belief in making capitalist production more efficient and its ability, they claim, to stimulate the invention of earth-saving tech like carbon sequestration. May I ask this one question? Are capitalism's promised discoveries anything less than Mars colonization? Because then you have not recognized the *true* potential of the capitalist free market lmao! Aspie's video is an apology for the system that would turn all natural sustenance into a commodity--even seeking to extract profit from the very air he breathes and the timber resources of the park.

 In the video "Environmentalism and Capitalism: Are They Compatible?", The Incredible Aspie makes unconvincing arguments defending capitalism against the accusation that the two social processes are antagonistic. Instead he argued that capitalism is complementary to sustainability with the planet--one reason given was that it gives freedom for maximum innovation.


In a live stream a few days after he posted that video, Aspie defended the use of fossil fuels because he said they are the most efficient fuel. Aspie and several of his friends seem to be in love with a book called The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein. He argues that if humans value human life, they should value fossil fuels--for they have extended the ability for humans to enjoy personal mobility, and be used as a chemical input in synthetic fertilizers to increase yields of food.It seems though, that fossil fuels are valued most when it is white westerners discussing their access to them -- individuals in the western affluent states where oil and automobiles are growing in use. What is needed is to give access to fossil fuels to countries of the Global South while drastically reducing emissions in rich countries that have the capability to use public transportation to reduce carbon emissions.

(That book and arguments made by neoclassical economists today can be said to parallel arguments made by 19th century economist William Stanley Jevons, who believed that although Great Britain's supply of coal was being exhausted still argued for maximum use of the coal, using up existing seams of it, to bolster the national economy -- this is discussed further below.)

During that exchange of me posting comments in the livestream chat, Aspie became more than a little irritated and i could see his face growing bright red when I told him how lazy and quaint it was to type in the word 'environmentalism' and 'capitalist' into the dictionary and screen capture the first result on google. Certainly there are people who have thought of it beyond that. For instance, in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, widely considered one of the first books in the modern environmentalist literature, she sees it necessary for an environmentalist to be an advocate to address race and class inequalities in the way environmental toxins spread, such as DDT, and affect people's health. Environmentalism does not only encompass the idea of conservation, which the Yellowstone National Park is a good example of, but environmentalism is social change and justice for the people most affected by human-initiated environmental damage such as when immigrant farmworkers are affected by chemicals used in synthetic pesticides, or when a toxic dump or polluting factory is located in a poor neighborhood. Environmentalism is not merely appreciating and describing nature but acting to protect the delicate human relationship that sustains people. This is why Aspie is wrong when he suggests that "These are concepts [capitalism and the environment] are very distant from each other," aspie says at 90 seconds into the video. "One is an ideological sentiment while the other is an economic theory." One must re-evaluate the statement--the personal is political--and transform it through revolutionary praxis into 'the ecological is political.' we must use a sociological imagination when connecting the destruction of the environment to the economic imperatives of this century--to grow the urban areas with gentrification, to extract maximum energy from the earth through its soil and fossil fuels. We have found mainstream economics to be lacking in its ability to analyze the rift between humans and the environment. Classical marxists have continued to influence the ecosocialist writings. Aspie seems to forget that second part of environmentalism, that part not stated explicitly in the dictionary but inferred from the writings of others who connected economic expansion with the extreme rifts in natural processes, like soil fertility, and importantly environmentalism is inferred from the actions of people who sought to protect the environment, environmentalism is not valorizing those people or political-economic institutions that are destroying the functioning ecosystems we depend on.


John D. Rockefeller gave away part of his billions of dollars of wealth but he also made billions of dollars more from screwing the planet. Furthermore, a person who is persuaded by arguments that competition is inherent in free markets--often cited as a reason for innovation--should see that Standard Oil operated in oligopolistic competition with a handful of other competitors to dominate and manipulate the oil market to its advantage, to aim for maximum energy flux -- as much oil as could possibly be extracted was consumed by the treadmill of capitalist economic growth. Rockefeller is certainly not an environmentalist. And aspie wants us to think that his benevolence and charity -- $millions donated to health and education -- should demonstrate capitalists do not have a character flaw that would cause them to want harm on the environment. Aspie claims that Owen and others must commit to this assumption about capitalists having a character flaw that motivates them to destroy the environment. Actually, the individual capitalist--their motives and character--is irrelevant. Even if we are discussing the most famous capitalist, Rockefeller--what we are saying is that captialism's paradoxes of resource usage are what drives environmental destruction such as making a more efficient car, but with an order of magnitude more cars on the road the efficiency gains of a single car are negated. Capitalism is a system of accumulation and class exploitation.

    “The purpose of the capitalist enterprise has always been to maximize profit, never to serve social ends. Mainstream economic theory since Adam Smith has insisted that by directly maximizing profit the capitalist (or entrepreneur) is indirectly serving the community. All the capitalists together, maximizing their individual profits, produce what the community needs while keeping each other in check by their mutual competition. All this is true, but it is far from being the whole story. Capitalist do not confine their activities to producing the food, clothing, shelter, and amenities society needs for its existence and reproduction. In their single-minded pursuit of profit, in which none can refuse to join on pain of elimination, capitalists are driven to accumulate ever more capital, and this becomes both their subjective goal and the motor force of the entire economic system."
    It is this obsession with capital accumulation that distinguishes capitalism from the simple system for satisfying human needs as it is portrayed in mainstream economic theory. And a system driven by capital accumulation is one that never stands still, one that is forever changing, adopting new and discarding old methods of production and distribution, opening up new territories, subjecting to its purposes and societies too weak to protect themselves. Caught up in this process of relentless innovation and expansion, the system runs roughshod over even its own beneficiaries if they get in its way or fall by the roadside. As far as the natural environment is concerned, capitalism perceives it not as something to be cherished and enjoyed but as a means to the paramount end of profit-making and still more capital accumulation.”
- Paul Marlor Sweezy, "Capitalism and Environment" Marxist economist

While Rockefeller was known for some philanthropy, he oversaw the largest expansion in domestic America of oil extraction and profited immensely – so it is just kind of absurd that aspie would cite him in a video about environmentalism and capitalism being comparable. The wealth from extracted oil resources should have gone to indigenous people whose land was stolen away from them. not white male capitalists. Does someone extract surplus value from the land or environment by killing it or poisoning it? – then they are a capitalist who is using the land as a free gift to accumulate more capital. Rockefeller's net worth was estimated at $336 billion USD (in 2010 dollars). There are no good billionaires.


Now before getting on to Aspie's second point, I cringed when I read Humane's comment to aspie's Youtube video, my comments are in parentheses:


It is nearly impossible to be an environmentalist without Capitalism.[environmental destruction is caused by capitalism's treadmill of production, it's expanding scale of fossil fuel economy, okay but go on...] Capitalism is the only economic system where every participant can be freed from subsistence living. [capitalism moves people away from self employment and into wage jobs that require continual expansion of production] When people have to chose between living or polluting, they chose to pollute rather than die. [capitalist chose to pollute because allows them to expand their production, they take away from nature its free gifts and produce surplus value. and they use the means of production, not for purposes created by the associated producers in a planned economy, but by the interests of oligarchy – of the rentier and financier class that creates gentrification in our cities and plagues the sprawlling suburbs with poverty. but please go on ] ... Capitalism may produce more pollution up front, but reduces pollution over time whereas other economic system pollute consistently through their entire existence. [but you're so wrong about that, the environmental damage that we witness can be described as operating as a treadmill of expanding production. Yes cars have become more efficient, but there are more of them on the road. You say the emissions will just continue to approach zero, we'll still be able to drive cars have have this era of personal mobility under capitalism? And some of us then ask people like you? well we are still waiting for this wonderland of zero emissions but you still don't want a carbon tax? Okay, go on...] Capitalist have also invested billions in restoring natural environments that were devastated by natural disasters. I tried finding one example of another economic system doing anything even remotely close to preserving or restoring a natural environment, and came up empty. [coming up empty--is this why your gf left you, Humane? lmao.]


whenever I hear aspie or humane talk about the freedom to innovate under capitalism I must always ask them: what freedom for the millions who lost jobs or homes in the 2008 global financial crisis? the periodic crisis tendencies of capitalism cannot be averted, the inevitable economic downturns do not bring freedom for the unemployed. neither does the ongoing exploitation of workers not making enough money.what of the worker who in 2008 went a month without adequate nutrition because their rent increased and there provision for food? what of freedom for those millions of workers in the global south who suffer under conditions of poverty and poor wages due to the worldbank and IMF leveraging there debt in those countries in order to create 'free markets' and neoliberal regimes not unlike those employed by US government in Chile in 1970s? These capitalist interventions facilitate foreign capital investment with the means of production creating poor jobs. Capitalist expansion is not freedom for the poor farm workers or the over-worked laborer in a textile mill, making poor wages because her only choice in a global capitalist society was to surrender to debt. Is that much like the only choice a college student has when they finish school and try to start a new life?)


Aspie says in his video that capitalism is not the main driver behind destruction of environmental resources by industry. He points out the fact that in the communist USSR there was pollution also. But so too did the capitalist stages of Great Britan's 19th century, when it was not coal in the furnaces of people's homes that was the driver of ecological devastation – the health of the miners being just one example -- but coal was the actual foundation for a significant part of Great Britan's industrial output. Why do mainstream economists still fail to recognize or have an answer for the paradox that was first discovered in the 19th century: greater efficiency in industrial use of a resource results in a greater scale of the economy in which that resource is demanded. The cheap resource fuels economic growth – whole sectors of the economy are dependent on it and financial speculation on the growth of the oil and gas industry for example, has allowed financiers on wall street to make enormous profits – from the hedge fund managers to the lucrative military contracts aimed at imperialist expansion of oil production. In light of the ecological crises presently unfolding--climate change being just one, ocean acidification and pollution being another, biodiversity loss, another--why do those economists essentially adopt the same assumptions about consumer behavior and economic policy as they did in the 19th century? What freedom do we have to innovate a sustainable society when our economic system is complacent in using cheap electrons without considering their ecological cost? Aspie distinguishes himself from the positions of anarchocapitalists in the video [], even economists who believe in modest interventions of the state do not seperate their views from ancaps who consider capitalism to be as natural as the beautiful trees of Yellow Stone and the fungi growing in the shade of the forest canopy, rather the socially constructed reality that produces of system of accumulation and oppression--of human beings and the planet, the original sources of wealth. Yet They accept planetary defeat for 'brief but true greatness'.


William Stanley Jevons was an economist in the 19th century. This was the century of coal, J.B. Foster observed in The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth.10 Jevons was commissioned by the government of Great Britain to produce a report, an economic study on how the growth of capitalist industry in Great Britain had been impacted by coal consumption. The capitalist economy in the 19th centrury had relied on cheap coal, just as today it depends on cheap oil. Jevon's said that coal was a 'general agent' of industrialization—because looking back we can observe that Great Britain's economy depended on the steam engine and blast furnace technology. The dramatic increase in the use of coal allowed the furnaces of Great Britain to output half of the world supply of iron in 1870.11 This made it important to improve the efficiency of pig iron production, so the that the use of coal, the indispensable industrial resource of the 19th century, could be more utilized. Less coal used in one blast furnace meant that another furnace could be added, increasing pig iron output, expanding industrial production of the economy as a whole, enabling the economic empire of Great Britain to capture more of the world market – and thus, increasing the need for coal, not decreasing demand as one would expect with the greater efficiency of production. The line of thinking among Jevons and neoclassical economists of our century, who are motivated by a Benthamite utilitarianism, assumes that labor for production is pain (disutility) and consumption is pleasure (utility), and individuals greedily operate to maximize profit -- a misconception as explained in The Effeminate Degenerate's twitter thread on human behavior.

If Great Britan's coal reserves were exhausted, how would it affect the nation's prosperity-- this question motivated Jevons to write "The Coal Question: An Inquiry concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines". As Foster observed in The Ecological Rift, Jevons was mainly interested in the effects of coal on Great Britain's industrial hegemony. Neither ecology nor sustainability were part of Jevon's concerns in his book The Coal Question, nor are they a part of how today's economists conceptualize the environment. Watt's steam engine made coal consumption more efficient yet each successive improvement in the steam engine led to a higher demand for coal, due to the more widespread adoption of the engines as machines replaced hand labor. Yet his book became a best seller as more government leaders became fearful of a 'coal panic' ensuing due to a shortage in supply. This did not happen – Jevons was wrong in his calculations and failed to anticipate that oil and gas would be the key material input at the start of the millennium. What made Jevons arguments so convincing was that it was obvious industrial development depended on pig iron production being larger in scale, and cheaper. 'Next after coal...iron is the material basis of our power. It is the bone and sinews of our laboring system. Political writers have correctly treated the invention of the coal-blast furnace as that which has most contributed to our material wealth. The production of iron, the material of all our machinery, is the best measure of our wealth and power.” It was not lost on any of Jevon's readers that a modest improvement in coal's efficiency could have multiplier effects on industry – or that it would generate 'increased inroads upon seams of coal'. Jevons drew upon Malthus in his economic framework--who denied the possibility of scarcity in minerals -- food was short in supply, but raw materials 'are in great plenty' he wrote. 'a demand...will not fail to create them in as great a quantity as they are wanted.'12In The Coal Question, Jevons substituted coal for corn in the Malthusian argument about corn being connected to wealth in Britain. Jevons was proven wrong about coal presenting a threat to Great Britain's economy because he failed to predict that oil and natural gas, and hydroelectric power would substitute for coal in the future and avert a shortage of industrial energy sources. Nevertheless, Jevon's assumptions about capitalism in the 19th century may be compared to The Incredible Aspie's and others in Poor Bastards chat who maintain a faith in the status quo system where subjective value theory is based in marginal utility, where ecological considerations are set aside in the pursuit of accumulation and extraction.

The reader may have ascertained already that Jevons Paradox refers to the insight he wrote about when examining coal consumption becoming more efficient, only to observe an increased demand for that resource, not a decreasing demand as one would hope for.13 Improvements in efficiency led to further economic expansion. He wrote:

"It is a wholly confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth. ... If the quantity of coal used in a blast-furnace, for instance, be diminished in comparison with the yield, the profits of the trade will increase; and eventually the greater number of furnaces will more than make up for the diminished consumption of each. ... Civilization, says Baron Liebig, is the economy of power, and our power is coal. It is the very economy of the use of coal that makes our industry what it is; and the more we render it efficient and economical, the more our industry will thrive, and our works of civilization will grow."

Today we see the significance of the Jevons paradox in examining the number of automobiles in the United States. Even though there were more efficient automobiles in the mid 1970s -- it did not decrease the amount of fuel purchased because driving increased and eventually the number of cars on the road doubled. Likewise, although computers are more efficient with electrical consumption, there are more computers and datacenters operating than ever before. The issue of ecological sustainability is never discussed by Jevons. Human-initiated degradation of the earth is seen as a natural process -- if the environment is degraded to grow the economy, then it must be removed from the economist's analysis. The disregard that Jevons has for nature is contrasted with Marx and Engels, his contemporaries who argued against abuse of the environment. In the Dialectics of Nature, Engels cautioned against the cutting of trees on hillsides which later resulted in flooding and the destruction of cultivated land, commenting on the ecological destruction that occurs under the capitalist system. Jevons had no answer to the paradox he raised in the 19th century. Great Britain could use up its coal quickly or more slowly. Jevons chose to use it up rapidly... "We have to make the momentous choice between brief but true greatness and longer continued mediocrity," he wrote in The Coal Question. The choice was to pursue glory in the present and a degraded position for future generations. Today we must either adopt Jevons's conclusion or pursue an alternative not discussed by Jevons or Aspie--economics guided by people's needs and socio-ecological sustainability.15 Commenting on this problem, J.B Foster wrote: "in the context of capitalist society, the Jevon's Paradox therefore demonstrates the fallacy of current notions that the environmental problems facing society can be solved by purely technological means,"he continues to relate this to how advocates for fossil fuels, like alex epstein try to suggest that innovations in efficiency will lead to the economy being able to achieve growth without harming the environment: "Mainstream environmental economists often refer to 'dematerialization' or 'decoupling' of economic growth, from consumption of greater energy and resources. Growth in energy efficiency is often taken as a concrete indication that the environmental problem is being solved. Yet savings in materials and energy, in the context of a given process of production, as we have seen, are nothing new; they are part of the everyday history of capitalist development. Each new steam engine, as Jevons emphasized, was more efficient than the one before. 'Raw materials-savings processes,' environmental sociologist Stephen Bunker noted, 'are older than the industrial revolution, and they have been dynamic through the history of capitalism.' any notion that a reduction in material throughput per unit of national income, is a new phenomenon is therefore 'profoundly ahistorical."


Aspie differentiates himself at the end of the video from ancaps. but a society which pursues only the narrow vision of resource conservation is not acting quickly enough to bring human activity on the planet within certain 'boundary conditions', like CO2 emissions-- into acceptable levels for future generations to have any ability to live. Survival, not profit. Many in the poor bastards chat accept capitalism's continued existence as an unchanging fact of reality, rather than recognizing its inherent problems—like driving the planet toward extensive consumption of its limited fuel sources and threatening human survival. Instead of a timid state that yields to the larger capitalist society, what we need are immediate economic interventions like a global carbon tax.16 we need transitions strategies to keep carbon in the ground, yet devotees of epstein--now very prominent on youtube, seek to undo--or conveniently ignore the history of natural resource usage under capitalism. it tells a story of how the mines of many years ago now abandoned and sealed off, and the fracking sites that operate today poisoning the water, are driven by capitalist economic expansion and also national prestige and power--as volatility in the supply of oil resources can have a catastrophic effect on the national economy and even the ability for the military to function--it seems everyday one sees new roads being constructed, but how often do you see a new bus route being added or a new rail line that would make a difference in cutting CO2 emissions? today the degradation of the air, soil, and water are threatening the fate of the planet itself, which is probably why Engels wrote this, after observing the over-extraction caused by Spanish planters in Cuba who burned forests for fertilizer and caused floods, all for one year of profit: "The present mode of production is predominately concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result; and then surprise is expressed that the more remote effects of actions directed to this end turn out to be quite different, are mostly quite the opposite in character; that the harmony of supply and demand is transformed into the very reverse opposite."


A tweet by Owen Macdonald, 3/27/18.
Owen's response to this news article about landslides in Texas occurring due to increased oil and gas drilling is exactly correct. The land conservation groups want to protect is turned into a commodity by the capitalist system. the most visible example of conservation is Yellowstone National Park. But the conservation of the air and water does not happen in one place, which is why environmentalists are very active in the fields of law to protect species and ecosystems. Environmentalism is not merely the appreciation of natural beauty, as I stated in the introduction, but environmentalism is demonstrated through one's actions. Owen is an environmentalist. Aspie is not an environmentalist, at least not from what I had seen in his video. Criticisms in owen's tweets rattle the cage of ancaps in the poor bastards chat -- that is why I usually retweet him. In light of my discussions above, Aspie's video was an inadequate response to the points Owen was raising in the chat, and I hopefully showed that Aspie ignored other considerations and history when asking the question "are capitalism and the environment compatible?"

The giant stone statues of Easter Island. The society was destroyed by ecosystem collapse caused by cutting down trees to build statues as symbols of power.

Around the years of 1400-1600 A.D., there was a civilization on the remote Easter Island, hundreds of miles from the nearest inhabited place. What happened to it? Giant stone statues were erected by clan chiefs as symbols of power and prestige in their system of social class. Their status depended on having large statues which required cutting many trees. There were so many trees and habitation destroyed in the erection of new statues that the Easter Islanders drove their ecology and society toward destruction.5 Such a narrow logic may be compared to our own times, a class system which threatens our existence. Now we must confront it and reorganize society according to the needs of all inhabitants -- that is a goal of an environmentalist.



[1] Aspie, The Incredible. “Twitter Profile of I'm Not Aspie (@hdselbach2).” Twitter, 26 Aug. 2018,

[2] Macdonald, Owen. “Twitter Profile of Owen Macdonald (@OwenMacdonald8).” Twitter, 5 Aug. 2018,

[3] Aspie, The Incredible. “Environmentalism and Capitalism: Are They Compatible?” YouTube, 2 Aug. 2018,

[4] The Effeminate Degenerate 🌹⚧. “I Think Anthony Fantano's Terrible Tweet Is a Good Excuse to Go over Why the Human Nature Defense of Capitalism Is Bullshit. /1 #WednesdayWisdom.” Twitter, 14 Mar. 2018,

[5] “History of Easter Island.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 July 2018,

[6] “The First Ecosocialist International: Combined Strategy and Plan of Action.” Ecosocialist Horizons, 2017..

[7] “Neoclassical Economics.” Supply and Demand, Markets and Prices, College Economics Topics | Library of Economics and Liberty,

[8] teglin. “Rachel Carson and George Mitchell: Warnings about the Future", teglin 🌐 Blogspot, 6 July 2018,

[9] Philpott, Tom, and Stephanie Mencimer. “Drifting Pesticides Keep Making California Farm Workers Sick.” Mother Jones, 22 Dec. 2017,

[10] For further discussion of ecological paradoxes and the capitalist treadmill of production, see John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “Ecological Imperialism: The Curse of Capitalism,” in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, ed., Socialist Register 2004, p. 186–201, and "The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth" (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010), p. 169-182. David Harvey, The New Imperialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), and Spaces of Hope (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

[11] Eric J. Hobsbawn, The Age of Capital, 1848-1873 (New York: Vintage, 1996), p. 39-40

[12] Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population and a Summary View of the Principle of Population, p. 100.

[13] Giampietro, Mario and Kozo Mayumi. "Another View of Development, Ecological Degradation, and North-South Trade," Review of Social Economy, 56, no. 1, (1998): 24-26.

[14] Jevons, William Stanley. "The Coal Question: An Inquiry concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines." (London: Macmillan, 1906). p. 140-142. See also Juan Martinez-Allier, Ecological Economics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987).

[15] Foster, John Bellamy. "The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet" (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009) p.127.

[16] Corbett, Jessica. “Calling for Global Carbon Tax, James Hansen Says We're Failing 'Miserably' at Tackling Climate Crisis.” Common Dreams, 19 June 2018,

Edited on 9/30 and 9/31/18 for spelling and clearing up some grammar issues.