A common misconception is that capitalism destroys the environment. I propose that it is not capitalism per se that is at fault but rather profit-seekers in an environment where protecting the environment is not rewarded.

Take the example of a gold mine or of virgin forest. The current situation is that miners will take all that there is and leave a big hole in the ground and that the slash and burn farmer will burn the forest for arable land. This happens. The reason they do it, though, is because there is no cost associated with doing so but a lot of profits to be made.

What if the situation was different? What if preserving the natural environment could become a source of income? What if money itself were not infinitely printable but was linked somehow to available natural resources? (a different kind of gold standard)

Capitalism is the way to make best use of scarce resources. If money can be created by the stroke of a banker's pen, the supply of money dictates that it will always be profitable to destroy the environment.

Possible solutions:

  1. make it extremely expensive to destroy the environment
  2. drive the price of natural resources up (this will eventually happen if the supply runs dry but can be done artificially by imposing taxes) to encourage more efficient use of them
  3. make it profitable to develop ways to save the environment
  4. change the very nature of money itself

Personally, I like the idea of changing the nature of money, though I have no idea how to do it. It would be a very interesting paradigm shift.

As a stopgap measure, stiff taxes should be placed on non-renewable resources. This would be political suicide to everyone except the Green parties but would be preferable to actually waiting for the stuff to run out before the natural supply and demand mechanisms drive the price up.

Successfully implementing a new paradigm where recycling actually makes money, where it makes economic sense not to abuse forests and fisheries and where the limitedness of natural resources is respected will have to be done someday (or the human race will die out from a lack of resources... damn, I'm starting to sound like Malthus) but it is better done sooner than later.

"I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague. And we are the cure.

-- Agent Smith, The Matrix