Reply To: Mon 17 Feb: World Systems, History and Ecology

Author Replies # Posted on February 18, 2014 at 15:19

Seminar 2 Jason Moore. 17 Feb 2014.
As the second seminar attended in the course Current themes and debates in Global Environmental History, Jason Moore’s different ideas and concepts about capitalism as a world ecology was discussed. Moore rightfully argues that a crucial phenomenon to understand if one seeks apprehension of current global environmental challenges (e.g. questions around food, energy, depletion of natural resources) is capitalism. Thus, not only biophysical aspects is central to environmental history, but also dimensions such as global financial markets, interest rates and power dynamics between states, capital, producers and areas (Moore, 2011:113).
Moore argues that capitalism is the current world-ecological regime. In this regime the accumulation of capital and the production of nature are joined as an organic whole where we can move beyond the “social” and “environmental” binary into a dialectic bundle of human and extra-human nature (Moore, 2012:227-228). The Cartesian divide of capitalism and nature can therefore be transcended in favor of capitalism in nature (Moore, 2011:108).
For me, the most interesting part of this engaging seminar was Moore’s explicit critique of capitalism and his distinctive way of stating that “capitalism is done”, as a response to the question what the fate of capitalism might be. Preconditions for a continued accumulation of surplus and the capitalist world system are what Moore calls ‘the four cheaps’ – cheap food, labor, energy and raw materials (Moore, 2010:233). This has laid the ground for the agricultural revolutions that has sustained capitalism as a world system. Today, Moore argues that we see the end of the four cheaps, which thus marks the end of capitalism. What is interesting with this, of course, is what will come next, what will ‘replace’ capitalism. It might be something worse, it might be something better, but Moore stated that we are now facing a profound moment of choice where our actions spell the direction the future path will embark on. I agree with this to a certain extent. I do not think that the world will simply cease to exist, or that humanity will come to an end, I believe that what we do today will impact the possibilities for the future, how ‘bad’ the situation will be. In this way we are facing a crucial moment in time of history. But on the other hand, Moore’s distinctive answer of saying that capitalism is doomed might be somewhat simplified. Capitalism is still the current world order, and it will not disappear overnight. People of power and economic incentives will fight extremely hard to sustain the capitalist world order to keep beneficial positions. And even though the four cheaps might be running out, can’t capitalism keep on going for quite some time still? As discussed in class, ecological limits are to a large extent in fact socio-political limits, and therefore we can continue to deplete natural resources extensively. The question is just whether you are lucky enough to be part of the few percent of the world that can afford to buy ourselves out of a worsening environmental situation. As Moore said in the end of the seminar, we have to define our own world-ecologies. What is important, and what kind of world do we want?
Although critique of capitalism and our economic system’s impact on the environment is not something new to me, Moore’s perspective of seeing capitalism as the defining structure of our time, as an ‘capitalocene’, has definitely broadened my perspective on the world’s current ecological crisis and on environmental history. Once again, the importance of transcending the nature/culture binary has been emphasized, and even though this is something we have come across multiple times during the course of the program, this seminar has given me a different perspective on why it might be of importance.