Socialism and resources
A look at how capitalism dictates production or use in four fields of activity and compares this with how these could be managed in socialism
Fish provides about a fifth of the animal protein in our diets worldwide. In total it exceeds that of poultry, beef and pork combined. Globally, the marine fishing catch almost doubled between 1975 and 1995 when demand was for 75 million tonnes a year. This is expected to rise to 110 million tonnes in 2010. Overfishing has led to declining yields requiring more intensive fishing methods. In socialism, it may be necessary to make plans to allow the number of fish in the sea to increase. One possibility would be to produce more from fish farming. Democratised versions of capitalist fisheries could transfer some of their workers and equipment to organisations managing fish farms. In 1994, fish caught from the sea accounted for around 72 percent of the total fish harvest, with only 15 percent from fish farms, and 13 percent from freshwater. It would benefit marine ecosystems if our intervention in the seas was reduced, allowing species time to repopulate. With a transfer of emphasis away from marine fishing to fish farming, fish yields could potentially be maintained at sufficiently high levels. The mentality encouraged by capitalism is to strive for profits at the expense of long-term consequences. The warnings raised by the environmentalists and scientists are muffled by the demands of economic exploitation. Following a socialist revolution, the wealth of knowledge and skills held by those who work in the fisheries could be applied to a conservation-based use of sea marine resources. The expertise and technology provided could be acted on, without the constraints of the market.
Another example of a vital resource plundered for profits is the world’s forestland. Between 1960 and 1990 Asia lost a third of its forest, and Africa and Latin America lost 18 percent each. Overall, this amounts to the destruction of one fifth of all tropical forest cover in just forty years. By the end of the twentieth century, an area the size of the United Kingdom was being cleared every year. The reason for deforestation is spiralling demand for timber and paper. Multinational companies tear up the rainforests, sell their trees to Europe and North America, and then sell the cleared land to ranchers. Plants and animals are being made extinct, native tribes are being made homeless, and cleared land is suffering from soil erosion. With fewer trees and plants to hold the soil together falling rain washes the topsoil away. This wastes vital nutrients and spreads desertification. At the same time, landfill sites across the globe are burying waste paper from Europe and North America and leaving it to rot amongst the wasted glass, metal, plastics and drums of hazardous waste. Recycling paper has long been an alternative to using wood pulp from freshly felled trees, but it is usually considered too costly and inconvenient. Faced with the choice of paying for recycling plants or keeping that money as profits, capitalist companies have to go for more profits. In socialism the barriers preventing more recycling wouldn’t exist. There is widespread concern for the state of the rainforests. We all think it’s bad for ecosystems to be decimated, for wildlife to become extinct and for the planet’s lungs to be chipped away. In socialism, with democratic control of resources and production solely for need people would be able to do something about it. Deforestation could easily be reversed. One option would be to go in for reclamation of soils and extensive tree planting programmes. These could be carried out on the land created where capitalism’s office blocks and sub-standard houses would be cleared.
Fuel and power
Deforestation also means there are fewer trees and plants to absorb the carbon dioxide we are producing by burning fossil fuels. In the mid-nineties, coal, oil and gas provided 90 percent of power and these fossil fuels create carbon dioxide. By the late 1990s, emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere were four times greater than in 1950. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached their highest level in 160,000 years. This has led to the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere allows radiation from the Sun to pass through and reach the Earth, but it doesn’t allow heat coming from the Earth to travel back through the upper atmosphere. So, the planet slowly heats up. It has been predicted that the planet’s average surface temperature could warm by 1.0C to 3.5C before the year 2100–this would be a more rapid change in climate than has occurred for the last 10,000 years. With such a rise in temperature, the polar ice caps would start to melt, causing sea levels to rise, and weather patterns would be disrupted. From the environmental point of view, alternative sources of energy to fossil fuels are better because they impact less on the environment. They don’t produce the carbon dioxide which is smothering our planet. But one barrier preventing the development of wind power, solar power and power from the sea is their expense compared to burning fossil fuels. In most countries, fossil fuel prices are kept low by state subsidies. And because alternative sources of energy require new technology, research and development of infrastructure they are expensive and financially risky. Capitalist companies need to keep costs low in order to maximise their profits, and so the costs of alternative sources of energy plus their threat to existing energy interests makes them less attractive, for the capitalists at least. Of course, protecting the environment isn’t the only consideration. The needs of people have to be met. But in socialism, it would be more straightforward to balance the needs of people with conserving the environment than it is in capitalism. Once the profit motive no longer operates, different sources of power can be judged not on their financial cost and the likelihood of a profitable return. Instead, they can be judged on their real merits : the pollutants they release; whether the fuel is plentiful or not; and whether their extraction damages the environment. Another important consideration is the efficiency of the fuel. Fossil fuel burning power stations are usually less than 40 percent efficient. In other words, for each tonne of coal or oil burned less than 40 percent of the energy released is converted to electricity. By contrast, in hydroelectric power stations, where water flows through turbines, 95 percent of the mechanical energy created when the turbines turn can be converted to electricity. In socialism, people would have more control over their lives, and this will include the vital work of energy production. This would be reflected in the community, and there might be trends towards communities having more autonomy, in some respects, and so in some places power production might become more localised. A town might have its own wind generators, for example, and it could still be connected to a country-wide grid to transfer power in if there was a local shortage or out when there was a surplus.
Since newsreel, cinema and television first showed pictures from around the world, the inequalities which capitalism creates everywhere have been brought vividly to life. Any news bulletin shows us pictures of starving children in Somalia, and obese children in California. More and more people in developed countries are suffering from obesity, while globally one in five of the population suffers from serious hunger. But even in developing countries, enough food is being produced for between 1.6 and 9.3 times the actual population there, depending on yield. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, food production has more than doubled-a faster rate of growth than that of the population-especially in Asia and Latin America. However, the food which is being produced in developing countries doesn’t always go to feed the people living there. Instead, it is being exported to places like North America, where food supply exceeds requirements by almost 50 percent. The explanation for this isn’t, however, to be found by looking for physical differences between countries. Instead, the problem is in differences in wealth. Most of the world’s capital is to be found in North America, Europe and Japan, so that’s where the food goes. Food and other commodities follow capital like birds follow a trawler. Even the minority of capitalists in the poorest regions of Africa and Asia never go without.
After a socialist revolution, capital would become obsolete. So, the reason behind the current problems with food distribution would no longer operate. Instead, the problem would become a short-term, practical one. People in Africa would probably be reluctant to continue sending out the vast majority of their produce. Instead, they might want it to be distributed more locally, to areas which might still be at risk of shortages. This wouldn’t necessarily cause shortages for people in the areas which are now called the developed countries. Many of them would have a background of working for organisations which would have no place in socialism: banks, insurance companies, anything to do just with buying and selling. These people would need to find new ways to spend their time. And food production is both an essential and fulfilling occupation. Business parks and office blocks could be bulldozed to make way for plantations and food factories. People in Europe and North America could start to produce more food for themselves, and the areas of the southern hemisphere which currently produce food for export could keep more of their produce for themselves. Globally, food production might became more localised, while still allowing for products to be transported elsewhere if they couldn’t be grown there. In socialism there would no longer be any need for a community to bring in wheat from thousands of miles away when it can be grown nearby.